Ahead of the NZ debut of Eat Well For Less, literal first-time cook Sam Brooks gives a few of his own (barely tested) tips for how to eat well for less.
We all spend too much on food. I know I do. Back in the golden age of “restaurants” and “eateries”, I would be found eating more outside of my house than in it. Who eats at home anyway? That’s where I do my sleeping.
Which is why the show Eat Well For Less is ideal for someone like me, especially when the supermarket is my main source of food, rather than, say, the local cafe. The show’s had several hit seasons in its native UK, hosted by award-winning greengrocers (who gets to judge those!) Gregg Wallace and Chris Bavin. There’s only so much help that version can be for us though, given the difference in food prices in the UK and New Zealand – you’d cry if you saw how cheap wine was over there, friends.
Thankfully, the show’s been spun off with a New Zealand twist, hosted by local chef Mike Van de Elzen and restaurateur Ganesh Raj, and it drops on TVNZ1 tonight. Over eight episodes, we’ll see how a cross-section of New Zealand families spend their weekly grocery money and how they can improve. Expect more than a few people finding out how much sugar is in a V, or how much fat is in a mince-and-cheese pie.
The show is more relevant than ever now, since the pursestrings are a bit tighter and supermarkets are not just a budget-conscious alternative to eating out, but a necessity.
I’ve a confession to make: before lockdown, I did not cook, and I did not utilise my supermarket efficiently. You might have been able to tell from the above paragraph where I called supermarkets a “budget-conscious alternative”. Over the past month, I’ve learned how to cook for myself, or at the very least, not eat out, and I’ve learned a few things! So, in the spirit of Eat Well For Less, I’m going to share a few of those tips with you now.
(Note: if you want the real deal on how much you should be spending on your dins, watch Eat Well For Less New Zealand on TVNZ 1 tonight. These are tips for amateurs from an amateur, designed to provide you with a laugh more than accurate information. The microwaver leading the microwaver, if you will.)
Depending on the recipe, that dried pasta will do you just fine
The fresh pasta that you see in the fridge, next to your overpriced cured meats and ready-made soups? It’s a scam, fam! It’s way more expensive, and there’s an awkwardly large amount of it, forcing you to either cook it all, or cook an arbitrary amount and save the rest for later, where you’ll ultimately forget about it.
More often than not, what makes your pasta better is the sauce it’s in, and the extra price on the fresh pasta isn’t going to do much. It’s all about seasoning your pasta while it’s boiling. Salt that starch, baby! (Food editor’s note: ideally you should salt the boiling water before you add the pasta to it.)
Buy for the person you are, not the person you might want to be
We all want to buy the ingredients for a salad, put them in the fridge, promising we’ll use them all before they go off. If that’s the person you are, great!
But if it’s not the person you are, don’t stress. Go in baby steps. Maybe, and I’m obviously not talking from personal experience here, learn how to cook those vegetables before you make them the base of a meal. Wild idea, I know! What kind of adult would need to learn that in their late 20s?
But realistically: start off small. Don’t buy that massive bag of 20 potatoes, just get a few. You don’t need 15 onions this week, trust me. Get comfortable with the food that will become a staple before you go full noise on it.
Microwave meals are expensive!
One of my first trips to the supermarket had me running straight to the microwave meal section, afraid that the hordes of hungry people would have cleared the place out of the delicious, cardboard-coated meals that I couldn’t even begin to make for myself.
Turns out I needn’t have worried. There were plenty of them. Do you know why? Because these things are damn expensive for what you actually get. Yes, it’s a meal, but they’re something you can definitely make yourself for a fraction of the cost. Just look on the back of the box, note down the ingredients, and Bob’s your uncle.
In saying all that, sometimes you don’t want to cook. Often, even. So to have something relatively nice (to say nothing of the nutritional value, which is… low) that is five minutes away is a blessing.
Frozen can beat fresh, sometimes
By which I mean, if you can freeze it, you can make it last. If you can fruit or vegetables frozen, chances are it’ll be better value for you. If you’re planning on cooking it that very night, go fresh. Otherwise, go frozen. Make it last!
Plus: frozen berries scientifically taste better in wine. Take that from a pro!
Learn what’s in season
Look, I never had to think or consider what food was or wasn’t in season before now. For me, the seasons are “can wear kimono” and “can’t wear kimono”. I am no Jim Hickey.
We’re lucky enough in New Zealand that we can get much of our produce year round, but we have to pay a premium for it. If it’s out of season, you pay more. If it’s in season, you pay less. If it’s an avocado or a lime, you pay your first-born. See ya, Scotty!
If you know absolutely nothing about which vegetables are in season, check out this handy guide right here.
Look, just do your best, dear
Eating well is hard if you rely on restaurant menus! Take it from someone who’s been there. But it can be really rewarding, and even kind of fun, to wander around a supermarket and figure out what you’re going to cook for the week. Looks like leeks are on special, so the flat’s going to be eating leek soup, leek noodles, leek rice, leek everything!
But ultimately, do your best, and if you need to sneak a pack of Tim Tams or a Cadbury Creme Egg into your basket just so you can get through that week, good on you. You probably deserve it.
However, if you want to learn some legitimate, helpful tips and you already know basic things like “what is in season” or “microwave meals are expensive”, you know where to tune in.
Watch Eat Well For Less New Zealand on Tuesdays at 7.30pm on TVNZ 1.
This content was created in paid partnership with TVNZ. Learn more about our partnerships here.