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Top Tips for Thrifty Cooking

Wednesday 15 February 2012
Love your leftovers

Make leftover rice into rice patties. Combine the leftover rice with fresh herbs, a little grated cheese and an egg to bind everything together. Shape into patties and cook in a moderate pan, or in the oven. I serve these with a drizzle of sweet chilli sauce or some relish/chutney and a salad.

You can also use leftover rice in Fried Rice dishes, in fact it is preferable to use leftover rice as it holds its shape better. Steam some frozen mixed vegetables and stir fry with leftover rice and meat until everything is piping hot, add a dash of soy sauce and you’ve got dinner in no time.

Leftover cooked pasta or noodles can be made into a frittata the same as leftover potatoes and other vegetables. To make a frittata, combine pasta/noodles with eggs and add herbs and some leftover roast or deli meat. You can make Mini Frittatas for lunchboxes or a large one for lunch or dinner. Simply mix everything together and then cook in an ovenproof frying pan over a low-medium heat for 8-10 minutes, then transfer to the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes at 200°C/ fan 180°C/ gas 6.until it has cooked through and is set. Serve with tasty relish and a big salad.

All those packets of leftover dried pasta that are different shapes can be broken up so they are more or less the same size, cook it and serve with loads of pasta sauce or put it in a minestrone soup.

Use up leftover hard cheese and stale bread by whizzing up in a blender or food processor to make cheesy crumbs. This makes a tasty topping for cottage pies, fish pies or other savoury bakes – as well as a delicious coating for fish or homemade chicken nuggets.

Leftover cooked potato can be used in frittatas, to make homemade gnocchi, fishcakes or bubble & squeak. To make bubble and squeak, fry finely chopped onion and garlic in a pan, add some finely chopped chilli if you like, leftover sausages or a little bacon, add chopped or mashed potatoes and any other leftover vegetables you have, and fresh spinach if you fancy some greens. Cook until it forms a golden crust on the bottom, then serve sliced into wedges with ketchup, chilli sauce or brown sauce and a salad.

You can use leftover meat sauces, casseroles and tomato-based pasta sauces as fillings for pastry parcels, calzone, crepes, and as a delicious topping for baked potatoes.

Leftover sausages can be cut into chunks and added to bean stew, risotto or pasta sauce. Use as a pizza topping, in bubble & squeak, or make mini toads in the hole using muffin tins.

Leftover cooked meat can be added to soups, a risotto, pasta sauce; used as a pizza topping or even as a quiche filling. You can also use cooked meat in quick pasta dishes or pasta bakes.

Leftover cooked vegetables are really versatile. You can add them to pasta sauces, use them as quiche fillings, pizza toppings, or use them to make fritters, a frittata, omelettes or risotto;

Leftover cooked pulses or beans are a great way to bulk out soups or casseroles to make them go further. Whizz them up with spices to make a dip or sandwich spread; or add to a salad for added protein.

For more recipes, ideas and suggestions about how to Love Your Leftovers go to the Love Food Hate Waste website.  It's fab! You can also show your support for them by dowloading code for a sidebar button linking to their site, like I have. 

Make the most of what you buy

Buy a bigger packet of mince, if it is cheaper, and either make a huge batch of simmered mince to use many ways or package the raw mince into small packs and make several dinners out of it such as, meatballs, burger patties, Bolognese sauce, stir fries and many others. Bulk out meatballs and burger patties using breadcrumbs or cooked rice.

Instead of buying chicken breasts for one meal, buy a whole chicken and spread it over several meals. Serve roast chicken with vegetables for the first dinner, then use leftover cooked chicken to make a chicken stir fry, wraps, creamy chicken pasta or chicken and leek pie with either mash or pastry topping. You can also use some leftover cooked chicken with stock (homemade or from stock cubes) to make a delicious soup. Bring the stock to the boil and add finely chopped chilli, ginger, garlic, a dash of soy sauce and either a can of sweetcorn or some frozen mixed vegetables. Then add leftover chicken, heat through before serving in bowls topped with some chopped fresh coriander.

Make sure food is stored correctly and that you keep an eye on what needs using up first, this should cut down on wastage. If you are freezing leftovers, or cooking in bulk to use later, make you package meals properly and that they are clearly dated and labelled, you want to avoid unidentified frozen object issues.

My Must Have Food Staples

In the pantry:


Use in a risotto or oven-baked pilaf, serve as a side dish with curry, meatballs, chilli, or stew. You can also use rice to make rice pudding.

Pulses and legumes, including baked beans

Pulses and legumes are in the class of vegetables that includes beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas. Curries, dhals and stews made with lentils are cheap and healthy. You can also use lentils or beans to bulk out meat dishes and casseroles. Chickpeas can be used to make falafels or hummus, and are great in salads too. Baked beans are a cheap and filling meal on their own or on toast, as a filling for toasted sandwiches or a topping for baked potatoes.

Dried Pasta

Great for quick dinners and lunches, you can add a tin of tomatoes, tin of fish and some fresh herbs to cooked pasta for a super quick dinner. Who doesn’t like Spaghetti Bolognese (meat or vegetable) or Macaroni Cheese? Pasta salads are a great lunchbox filler or weekend lunch and you can flavour them whichever way you like.

Tinned fish

You can use tinned fish as a sandwich filler, in salads, to make fish cakes or fast pasta dishes when you need a quick and low faff dinner, or for fish pie if you need a cheap and filling dinner.

Tinned Tomatoes

There are so many dishes that can be whipped up using tinned tomatoes. You can make soups, pasta sauce, add to stews for extra flavour, mix with herbs and heat to use as a topping for baked potatoes or homemade pizza, the list is almost endless.

Porridge Oats

You can use oats for much more than just porridge and flapjacks. Oats can be added to Bolognese to bulk it out as the oats take on the flavour of the Bolognese and soften so you can’t tell they are in there. Oats can of course be used for fruit crumble toppings or soaked in milk and used to bulk out a meatloaf or meatballs.

Flour and Yeast

If you don’t bake regularly then only buy a small amount of flour as it can go off. I always have cornflour available to bake shortbread and also use as a thickening agent for casseroles. Plain flour can be used to bake cakes, biscuits, scones bread, and make homemade gnocchi. If you have plain flour but need self raising flour, just add 2 tsp of baking powder per cup of plain flour.

Herbs and spices

I always have salt, black pepper, mixed herbs, curry powder, cumin, coriander, chilli flakes/powder, paprika, turmeric, oregano, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, ginger, and mixed spice.

In the freezer:

Frozen Mixed Vegetables

These are cheap and so useful to have on hand as a side dish or an easy way to add vegetables to casseroles, pasta bakes, omelettes, frittatas, add to cheese sauce to make vegetable parcels (using puff pastry) or liven up macaroni cheese.

Frozen Berries

I freeze berries that I forage in the summer to use in the winter and you can also buy frozen berries fairly cheaply on offer in the supermarket. I use frozen berries to make smoothies, instant ice-cream (add frozen berries to a little yoghurt and whizz up for an instant dessert), fruit compote to have with crepes, pancakes or to fill puff pastry squares and make turnovers. Add frozen berries when you are cooking porridge to liven it up and add an extra vitamin boost.

Puff Pastry

This is super versatile for both sweet and savoury dishes. You can use puff pastry to top a casserole to transform it into a pie, make leftover casserole into pasties, make vegetable parcels, fruit turnovers, savoury pinwheels for lunchbox snacks, and even a cheats pizza base.

In the fridge:


You can use eggs in so many ways besides boiled, poached or fried. Frittatas and omelettes are a brilliant for quick meals and can also make the most of leftovers. Eggs are also used in baking, to make pasta, and of course in homemade custard.


Cheese is of course useful as a topping for pasta bakes, pies, tarts and quiches, added to savoury baking and of course is a vital ingredient in Macaroni Cheese. It’s also great as a lunchbox sandwich filling with relish or chutney, in toasted sandwiches or as a topping for baked potatoes.


Of course milk is useful to drink, make porridge and have with cereal, but it’s also useful when making mash, in baking and to make custard.

Seasonal Fruit and Vegetables

If you eat produce that is in season produce it should be cheapest, freshest and tastiest. Combine fresh vegetables with the staples listed above to make soup, curries, frittata, pizza, pasta bakes, quiches, tarts, stews, etc. Use vegetables to make meals go further and increase the ratio of vegetables to meat.

Fresh fruit is the perfect snack and lunchbox staple. You can also use fruit to make smoothies, compote, crumbles, turnovers, and sorbet.

There are also loads of fab money saving ideas in the Thrifty Families Blogging Carnival which is a collaboration between Becky from Baby Budgeting, Jen from The Madhouse and A Thrifty Mum, and Cass from Frugal Family. Jen and Cass also blog at Frugalicious Food.  Pop over to their blogs and check them out.

What are your top tips for thrifty cooking and what ingredients do you always have on hand for a quick meal? Leave a comment and let me know, we can all help each other save money and waste less food.


  1. Love this post. What allot of hard work and thought .. and what great advice!!

  2. I particularly like the leftover rice ideas, it's so easy to cook too much rice, although using bigger plates is a handy disguise for the error.
    I'm not too sure about having useful tips, but find that it's handy to plan to make full use of your ingredients. For example Quiche uses several egg yolks,so the remaining egg whites are a perfect excuse to whip up some meringues, two courses for the price of one.
    Thanks for the interesting post.

  3. Got a few good ideas there, thank you very much.

  4. love this post, I am bad for throwing stuff away and I buy too much! I am starting to keep a notebook of purchases as well as meal planning, I am determined I can cut the cost of our shopping down considerably!!

  5. Good on you Danielle! It's hard but worth it :) Meal Planning and cutting costs becomes second nature after a while LOL

  6. These are some great ideas! I'm glad I looked around on your website. I hate throwing food away. :)

  7. I just love this post. I'm gonna print it and hang one the fridge. My roommates throw away way to many food. :( Waste of money.


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