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10 Ways to Eat Locally, Seasonally and Spend Less

2011 June 8

By Allison Goodings

With food costs going up, it makes sense to invest a little bit of time and effort into some simple and easy ways to cut your food bills and minimize or prevent waste. With these simple tips, you can eat locally, seasonally and affordably!

10 Ways to Eat local and Spend Less!

  1. The whole hog – buying larger quantities of ingredients can help to improve the quality of your meals. Sometimes more IS better! I find it much more economical to buy, for example, and entire side of wild salmon than small individually portioned fillets – the fish market charges much less per pound this way. Once at home, I can suitably portion the salmon for my family and freeze them for future meals – plus I also get those small scraps of leftover fish or odd sized pieces that are perfect for poaching and adding to a salmon quiche or a great salad. If you’re very adventurous, many fish markets will give you the fish head and bones for free, too – which a crafty cook can turn into fish stock!
  2. Go wholesale! Check out larger wholesale markets for great deals – go with a friend and divvy up large quantities! Every few months some friends of mine organize an early morning trip to Smithfield Market, a London wholesale meat market. These markets are where all the best restaurants get their products, so you know that the quality is top notch, fresh and local. Many butchers don’t mind cutting that humongous organic rib roast down into three smaller roasts, provided you buy the entire thing – and usually at a fraction of the cost!
  3. Keeping track – an inventory of ingredients makes planning dinners fast and easy. This may sound completely silly, but how many times do you stand in front of the fridge/freezer/cupboard wondering what to make for dinner? I find keeping an inventory of ingredients, especially the freezer where I keep most meat and fish I buy in larger quantities, is absolutely essential to stress-free cooking. One quick look at my list and I know that I have a few portions of chicken in the freezer that I should use up this week, and that I also have a frozen artichoke and mushroom lasagna ready to go for the night when only a fast and easy dinner will do!
  4. Rediscover your freezer – not just for Hagen Daaz and scary miscellaneous foods anymore! Freezers are a wonderful resource and also a hindrance. Have you ever opened your freezer and not been able to identify items? Proper labeling is crucial, and can make identifying foods less of a mystery. By regularly rotating and eating the foods stored in your freezer, you can also make space for that second lasagna you made because the zucchinis were such a great price or that lovely beef roast you shared with a friend when you went to the meat market!
  5. Hatching a plan – spending 20 minutes on menu planning will free up your week from the “what are going to eat” headache! First of all, check your calendar – who is home for dinner which nights and how many meals do you need to plan? Next have a quick look at your fridge for anything nearing its use-by date and plan some meals for early in the week to finish them off – some dill and parsley looking less than their original freshness, half a container of cream cheese and a little chicken stock plus a leftover cooked salmon fillet equals a quick and easy pasta sauce to throw over penne! Another check of your freezer list will remind you that you have some lovely pork chops that could form the basis of a quick evening dinner. Jot down these recipe ideas onto your kitchen calendar and from that you can easily create a shopping list of things you actually need and plan on using in the next week. Wouldn’t you much rather spend 20 minutes doing a bit of planning than spend the same amount of time each night trying to figure out what to cook? I thought so!
  6. Grow your own – fresh herbs can be pricey and spoil quickly, but herb plants can last for months! Fresh herbs are wonderful to cook with, but can be a really easy way to throw away money if you’re not careful. If you’re like me and can’t have only one or two fresh herbs on the go at once, you’ll need to make sure to use them regularly before thay find their way into the compost bin. One way is to grow your own – many supermarkets sell small plants that will happily live on your window sill for a month or more, and will continue to produce beautiful herbs for far longer than the cut variety will. For a little more money upfront, you’ll have an indoor garden of herbs! Other money-saving tips with herbs: fresh dill freezes perfectly well for many months, and less than perfect coriander (cilantro) plus garlic whizzed in the food processor into a pesto with vegetable oil will happily keep in a jar in your fridge for many weeks and packs a great flavor punch when added into stir fries, curries and pasta dishes (try parsley pesto with toasted walnuts too!).
  7. Love the glut – hit your local market to take advantage of cheap and plentiful vegetables when the farmers are desperate to get rid of them! Too many tomatoes? No such thing! Well maybe for the guy selling them, but for the savvy shopper, too many tomatoes are a dream! Go on, buy the overflowing basket of tomatoes and think of all the possibilities. The easiest solution is to sauté a couple of onions with the chopped tomatoes and make a simple tomato sauce to be thrown into the freezer and enjoyed all winter. If you’re feeling more adventurous, try making some different varieties of sauces (basil pasta sauce, spicy tomato chilli sauce) to brighten and spice up those cold winter days in the future. Just make sure you label things well before putting them into your well-organized freezer!
  8. Kickin’ it old skool – preserving and canning may seem like old fashioned activities, but they’re easy to learn and can help you to enjoy seasonal goodies long into the future. Making preserves is really fun and easy. Who wouldn’t want a cupboard filled with jams, jellies and pickles to spice up your meal-planning?
  9. Share your skills – do you have a knack for making jams? Have a secret family chilli recipes? Invite some friends over and teach/learn away! Cooking with friends is always more fun than cooking alone, and learning a new skill or sharing a talent with others can make the time fly. I enjoyed sharing with friends my grandmother’s cabbage roll recipe and they were thrilled to learn – especially when they were able to take yummy things home with them!
  10. Chat up your local shop owners – they’ll be happy to let you know when something is coming in season or when the best time to buy something is. My green grocer is always great at letting us know when the local asparagus is going to be available in the shop vs. when it will be available AND affordable. Generally speaking, prices for specialty ingredients go down after the initial excitement when they enter the market. Unless of course you LIKE spending a small fortune on new season asparagus!

When not feeding her friends and family, planning what to cook for her next meal, or daydreaming about asparagus, Allison lives and works in London, UK for the Canadian High Commission.