Wellbeing

How A Chef Feeds Two People For $100 A Week

Think eating on a budget means eating boring? I’m here to prove you wrong.

Earlier this year I moved to a different city, bought my first house and left full-time chef work – all major financial decisions that have drastically improved my quality of life and, well, left my bank account a little smaller.
My partner and I don’t spend a lot more than $150 on groceries each week anyway (don’t ask about the wine/scotch fund), but like anyone we get lazy and get takeaway sometimes or have friends over for drinks or buy stuff that looks nice and then wastes away in the back of the fridge (we’re getting better at that, promise).

So this plan is really just a framework to show you how small extras – like pickled red onion or dill mayonnaise – are really cheap ways to take your dinner to the next level. This plan was trialled and tested by my non-chef partner too, so it doesn’t take 12 years in the industry to pull it off.

It just comes down to some planning, some small tricks and a few pantry essentials.

 

The budget

As I say, I probably only spend about $150 on groceries a week anyway, but when I was asked to do this challenge, trimming the fat meant literally in some cases. We didn’t buy cheese for afternoons where we get lazy and just snack on cheese instead of cook dinner. We had to think twice about whether we’d go with free range or cage eggs ($3-4 difference) and how far it’s possible to stretch a single chicken breast (those babies easily feed two, it turns out).

One thing I know for certain is that we wouldn’t have made budget without shopping at the farmer’s markets. This is for two reasons: in some cases (though not all), food simply is cheaper at the markets.

But the other reason is that the food is considerably fresher and lasts longer in the fridge. This meant we didn’t have to shop every day at the supermarket, which we all know leads to impulse purchases.

After our big shop on Sunday morning, we only needed to go to the shops once more during the week because we forgot the filo pastry. Oh, and fresh food tastes a million times better than food that’s been in cold storage for six months.

fresh food tastes a million times better than food that’s been in cold storage for six months

Another thing: if we were vegetarian, this would have been a piece of cake. It’s the meat dishes that added up quickly. But we’re not vego, so that’s how it is.

The shop

We started out with the farmer’s markets on Sunday morning, where we spent $39.40 on the following:

  • 1 x bag of tomatoes (approx. 10)
  • 1 x bunch ladyfinger bananas
  • 2 x dozen eggs (we go free range, which are about $3-4 more expensive)
  • 1kg bag of onions (approx. 7)
  • 1 x punnet of cherry tomatoes
  • 12 x small avocados (score! These were on sale and cost us $5 in total!)
  • 2 x red onions
  • 1 x bag of lettuce leaves
  • 1 x bag of spinach leaves
  • 1 x bunch of silverbeet
  • 3 x sweet potatoes
  • 1 x jap pumpkin
  • 1 x bunch of dill
  • 4 x eggplants
  • 2 x corn ears
  • 2 x large potatoes
  • 1 x bunch of spring onions
  • 4 x dates

We then went to a local bakery, because the market lady had sold out. We spent $9.95 on two rolls, a loaf of Turkish and a loaf of spelt, which we had sliced.

Then we went to the butcher, where we spent $19.93 (gulp!) on six pork sausages and two marinated spare ribs for slow-cooking.

Finally we went to Coles to round out the things we were missing, and spent $36.85 on the following:

  • filo pastry
  • 2L milk
  • feta cheese
  • quick oats
  • passata
  • ricotta
  • sour cream
  • 100g loin ham
  • 1kg bacon (we literally buy a kilo of bacon every week)
  • 400g chicken breast fillet

This took us to $106.13 – $6.13 over budget.

Our freshly stocked fridge.

The pantry

We don’t start with an absolutely clean slate/fridge each week and we’re presuming you don’t either. This following things were in our fridge and pantry:

  • olive oil
  • salt flakes
  • cinnamon
  • peanut butter
  • mayonnaise
  • honey
  • butter
  • cheese
  • garlic
  • chicken stock

If you don’t have these things, you don’t necessarily have to go out and buy them all. Mostly they’re just extras – flavour-enhancers. Although why you don’t have olive oil and salt is beyond me…

How it works

All these meals feed two people, unless otherwise stated.

Sunday

We get up early to go the markets. I make peanut butter and smashed banana toast with a drizzle of honey because it’s quick but also delicious and sweet. You could add a pinch of cinnamon too.

After our shop, it’s pretty much lunch time, so we make toasties with the cheddar that’s in the fridge as well as the tomatoes and ham we just bought.

In the afternoon I make a batch of caramelised onion as well as pickled red onion and put them into sterilised jars. (Instructions below, don’t panic.)

For dinner, my partner makes a silverbeet and feta pilo, which is perfect for guaranteed lunch leftovers.

To make one, sauté a diced onion and two cloves of garlic until soft. Stir through a whole bunch of thinly sliced silverbeet (stalks and leaves) as well as a few handfuls of spinach, and cook until soft. Season. In a bowl mix four eggs and most of a block of feta. Season well. In your baking dish, layer six or so filo sheets so they hang over the side of the dish, brushing each layer with olive oil as you go. Combine the egg and silverbeet mixtures, then spoon into the prepared dish. Bake in a preheated 180C oven for approximately half an hour, until the filling is set. Makes four servings.

Monday

Delicious porridge, making Monday morning more bearable.

There’s something about Mondays that suck even when you don’t work them. I make creamy porridge by combining a cup of oats with a cup of milk and stirring for about 8-10 minutes until the oats are softened. I throw in two chopped dates, half a chopped banana and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Top with sliced banana and a drizzle of honey.

For lunch, it’s leftover silverbeet pie. It’s obviously nicer reheated in an oven, but still delicious via a microwave if that’s your only option.

For dinner, I cook up all six of the pork and fennel sausages (leaving two aside for leftovers). Mash one and a half of your sweet potatoes by chopping and boiling them until soft, then dousing them in butter. Halve a handful of cherry tomatoes and cook them in the pan you’ve cooked your sausages in, which should take about five minutes. Serve with an episode or two of Breaking Bad (we’ve just started watching).

Tuesday

You knew that bacon was going to be put to good use. For breakfast this morning I make crispy bacon and eggs with fried tomatoes. I allocate three rashers of bacon between us, with two eggs each. Chop your tomatoes in half and sear them in the pan until they get caramelised (about 6-7 minutes).

For lunch, I make a ham, cheese and tomato toastie for myself and my partner has the leftover sausages and mash. (One sausage each was probably not going to cut it. Maybe should have bought two more extras, ‘cause there was enough mash…)

For dinner, we make pumpkin soup. Soup is the best budget dinner. A whole jap pumpkin covers us for dinner and two lunches (so basically it makes six serves, at least). We love pumpkin, but the following formula works just as well with other veggies: cauliflower, Celeriac and parsnip, leek and potato…

Soup is the best budget dinner.

To make soup, dice an onion and a few cloves of garlic. Cook them on low heat in a big stock pot with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt to help prevent them burning. Cook until soft. Cut up your pumpkin (or other veggies) into chunks and add them to the pot. Stir to combine, then add enough stock or water to just cover everything. Bring the pot to the boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook until pumpkin is soft. Blend everything together (preferably with a stick blender to prevent extra washing up) and serve with a dollop of sour cream and some crispy bacon if you can be bothered. If your bread is still soft, serve it fresh. Otherwise serve it toasted with butter.

Wednesday

For breakfast, I make peanut butter and smashed banana toast again.

For lunch, it’s leftover soup.

For dinner, I make grilled chicken burgers with caramelised onion, tomato and dill mayo – with a side of sweet potato chips.

To make the chips, peel and cut your sweet potatoes into rounds or chips. Lay them on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Cook for 45 minutes in a 180C oven, flipping them half way. To make them more crispy, continue to cook but keep a good eye on them! They can burn quickly.

To caramelise onions, chop them fairly thickly (but evenly – use a mandolin if you have one) and then throw them into a frying pan over medium heat with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Cook them slowly so they don’t burn. When they’re getting nice and soft, add a dollop of butter and a tablespoon of sugar (brown sugar is delicious if you have it, otherwise white sugar). Stir to combine and cook for a few more minutes. Remove from heat. If you cook four onions, you’ll have leftovers for your toasties on the weekend.

To make the dill mayo, chop half a bunch of dill finely and stir through half a cup of plain whole-egg mayo.

To assemble, cut your chicken breast in half lengthways, so you have two equal, thin slices. Season each piece and drizzle with olive oil. (If you have a spice mix you love, rub it in here.) Get your grill pan or BBQ ready, and sear each side of the breasts until golden and juicy (around five minutes each side). If you aren’t quite ready with all your other components, place the chicken in the oven until you’re ready. In the meantime, toast your bread rolls (or leave them fresh if you prefer), slice your tomatoes and finish your caramelised onion and dill mayo.

Thursday

The avocados are ripe now, so we have smashed avocado toast with pickled red onion.

For the pickled red onion, slice your red onion as you would caramelised onion (or whatever thickness you like – how much do you like a gobful of onion, is basically the question here). Place the onion into sterilised jars leaving a small gap at the top. In a separate bowl, whisk a cup of white wine vinegar, a glug/four tablespoons of olive oil, one teaspoon of salt and a pinch of white sugar. (You can double or triple this recipe if using more onions.) Cover your onion with the vinegar mixture so it’s all submerged, then seal her up. In just a few hours you’ll see the onion turn bright pink and be incredibly flavoursome. You’ll use it on everything – toast, salads, cheese boards…

Smash up your avos with a pinch of salt and pepper, spread over your toast and finish with a generous amount of pickled onion.

For lunch it’s pumpkin soup again, which may sound boring, but it’s actually nice knowing you’ve got a plan for lunch and you don’t need to think about it. Besides, it’s easy to heat up in the microwave.

it’s actually nice knowing you’ve got a plan for lunch and you don’t need to think about it

For dinner, we make an eggplant tian (or parmigiana). Start by slicing your eggplants into rounds. If your eggplants are reasonably fresh (ie. from the market, not the supermarket), you don’t need to salt them to remove bitterness (as they won’t be bitter yet). If you picked them up at the supermarket (where they’ve probably been in storage for a while), you’ll need to lay them out on a tray and sprinkle them with salt. Leave for half an hour, then wipe them clean (you’ll notice beads of moisture on them – this is water containing the bitterness you don’t want). Now season them again, and place them in a 180C oven for 45 minutes to cook. Meanwhile, dice an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic and sauté in a pan until soft. Add the bottle of passata (or tinned tomatoes) and stir to combine. (You can add a glug of red wine here if you feel like it.) Let the mixture thicken a little (5-8 minutes) and then remove from heat. To assemble, line a baking dish with a layer of eggplants rounds, and then a thin layer of the passata mixture. Stir through a few globs of ricotta. Repeat until you’ve used all eggplant and passata. Finish with a sprinkle of cheese, then bake in the 180C oven for 30-40 minutes until bubbling. You’re right. It does sound delicious.

Friday

This morning it’s poached eggs on toast with caramelised onion and fresh cherry tomatoes. Don’t be put off if the idea of poaching eggs is too much for a Friday morning (it’s actually easy). You can also have this with fried or scrambled eggs.

For lunch, it’s leftover eggplant, which heats so easily in the microwave it was basically born for non-sad desk lunches.

For dinner we have slow-cooked spare ribs. If you’re organised, you can throw these in a slow-cooker at breakfast and you’ll be rewarded with the most tender ribs ever by dinner. If you don’t have a slow-cooker (or you slept in), you can make these in the oven just as easily (and much faster).

Start off by making a marinade for your ribs. I like mine with some BBQ sauce, ketchup, honey, English mustard, cayenne pepper and paprika with a tiny splash of bourbon. Cover the ribs with most of the marinade, leaving a little bit for the end. Cook at 150C for 3–3.5 hours. When you’re almost ready, glaze with remaining marinade and cook for a further 10 mins. 

Saturday

You might think the day before the food shop is depressing, but we’ve still got plenty to go! This morning we have creamy porridge again, but you might still have enough for eggs and bacon or avo toast. It’s Saturday. Go wild.

For lunch we make BLTs by cooking up some bacon and serving it on Turkish bread with fresh slices of tomato, some lettuce leaves and leftover dill mayo. You’ll probably still have some leftover eggplant though, if you’d prefer that (eggplant or bacon… your choice).

For dinner, we make a ‘fridge frittata’, which is basically any leftover veggies and eggs. You should still have at least six-eight eggs, so whisk those together and add your partially cooked veggies. (Things like pumpkin and sweet potato, for example, are much nicer when you’ve already cooked them in the oven for 30-40 minutes. We just chop everything up and put them on baking trays, and roast till almost cooked then sauté quickly in a pan and add your egg mix along with some salt and obviously any leftover ricotta.

The result


And there you have it! Did you think it was all going to be quick pasta dishes and repeats for days? Did you think it was going to be hard? HA! Proved you wrong.

Happy cooking.