Under $5: Inflation-fighting meals my fussy family will actually eat
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The latest, surprisingly low inflation figure might have stayed the Reserve Bank’s interest rate hand, but, a quick show of hands, who is feeling suddenly flush? Go on – don’t be shy.
What, no one?
Despite the persistent cost of living crunch, there’s still plenty of ways to get creative when cooking, even for the fussiest kids.Credit: Dionne Gain
The 3.5 per cent rise in interest rates since last year is designed to push down the price of everything else. Yet February’s 6.8 per cent inflation reading masked far higher electricity prices (up 17.2 per cent), housing construction costs (up 13 per cent) and food prices (8 per cent).
But in that third food category, you and your household can get what I call “stinge-spired” and serve up cut-price culinary concoctions the kids will actually eat.
Here are my fussy family’s favourite inflation-fighting meals:
Meat and seafood: This category of annual inflation has pulled back to 3.3 per cent, but prices remain far steeper than a year ago.
In my house, that has either put meat off the menu – much to my 10 and 13-year-old’s delight – or meant downgrading to cheaper cuts and getting clever about cooking. Hello marinating, bakes and braises.
For example, old school coq au vin works brilliantly with still cheap-as-chips chicken thighs.
My low-effort, low-cost version is to toss into an enormous pot on the stove top: 500 grams of diced chicken thighs, a sliced leek, button mushrooms (or whatever type are on special), four thinly sliced bits of bacon, a fat squeeze of garlic paste, a bottle of dodgy white wine and a bunch of chopped up dill (have you started a herb garden yet?).
Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon cooking one of her favourite inflation-fighting meals.
Simmer with the lid on for one hour and serve with kid-friendly mash to soak up the juices.
What if your kids are small and/or likely to spurn this? I used to blend the finished casserole progressively less each year, so they initially couldn’t tell what was in it.
Dairy and related products: Now, this category is up a dreadful 14.3 per cent in the year to February. But without cheese, my children would probably be malnourished.
Home-made pizzas are our Friday night go-to and so minimalist they are probably even cheaper (not to mention healthier) than Domino’s.
It’s a pain that we mostly like different bases – pitta bread, purpose-made pizza bases and, for me, two pieces of low-carb mountain bread. But all are in the bread section of supermarkets and I buy a packet of each when on sale and freeze down the side of the deep freeze.
Side note: consider picking up a second-hand deep freeze if you don’t have one. Cooking in bulk and freezing dinner-sized portions for weeknights saves a huge amount of time and money. And top tip: almost everything freezes, including milk that would otherwise go to waste.
We make our own pizza sauce in bulk by cooking down in a large saucepan a few big tins of chopped tomatoes, pureed onion, more squeezy garlic, a dash of balsamic vinegar and whatever our herb garden contributes (oregano, parsley and a small amount of rosemary works beautifully). It does us, stored in portions in that deep freeze, for months.
Been buying pre-grated cheese? Doing this yourself saves a packet – compare the unit prices. And an amazingly small amount atop a pizza melts and satisfies even my margarita-obsessed cheese fiends.
An adult version could simply feature salami or pepperoni as an extra, while my “salad on mountain bread” – as my kids call it – is a pesto base (just basil from the garden blitzed with a tiny bit of feta and olive oil), a layer of roughly cut raw kale, mushrooms pre-nuked with more herbs and olive oil, and a quarter of a round of blue cheese crumbled across it.
Yep, the remaining three-quarters of the cheese get individually frozen for the next three Fridays.
Fruit and veg: Absent in my children’s diet so far have been greens. The struggle is real, right? But even with prices surging an annual 5.8 per cent, I subscribe to health by stealth.
In fact, my last bolognese had so many hidden vegies it turned green. I make a 10-litre pot and dish it up with a number of non-pasta alternatives, such as with corn chips and fail-safe cheese as nachos, in ramekins with a pasty round baked on top, and as a filling for jaffles. Throwing in tins of lentils also cuts my meat cost and ups the goodness.
But most households have their bespoke bolognese recipes, so I want to share our other pasta fave: attractively dubbed as ‘slime worms’, though you might prefer to call it green pasta.
Boil pasta suitable for the number of serves, but about five minutes before it’s ready, add broccoli that has been chopped into small florets to the water.
Scoop out about one-third of a cup of the nutrient-filled water about two minutes before cooked, then put this in a jar along with finely chopped garden herbs (any will do, but basil, chives, coriander and parsley work well), salt, pepper and a fair old squeeze of lemon.
Shake your slime/green sauce and mix through the drained pasta and broccoli, first puree-ing the latter if you need to disguise it.
Pasta, braises and pizzas have significantly cut the food portion of my budget. Not one of the above recipes costs more than $5 a head, usually under.
I’d love to hear how you are feeding your family for less.
- Advice given in this article is general in nature and is not intended to influence readers’ decisions about investing or financial products. They should always seek their own professional advice that takes into account their own personal circumstances before making any financial decisions.
Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is the author of How to Get Mortgage-Free Like Me. Follow Nicole on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
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