If we play a little word association game, and I say cheap, what springs to mind?
How would you fill the gap: ‘cheap and ……’?
Collocations are two or more words that often ‘go together’. The term is used in corpus linguistics to indicate ‘a sequence of words or terms that co-occur more often than would be expected by chance’.
According to the Ozdic Collocation Dictionary, the most common collocation phrase for ‘cheap and’ is ‘cheap and nasty’.
Google’s predictive search has a slightly nicer suggestion, ‘cheap and easy’, as in the top recommendation, ‘cheap and easy meals’. But even ‘cheap and easy’ can be a nasty jibe depending on what – or who! – it is directed at.
So how can we turn ‘cheap and nasty’ into ‘cheap and tasty’?
There are many ways to modify existing menu plans to make them more budget friendly. But there’s another way to approach menu planning – making budget menus or recipes more delicious and appetising.
Here are my top tips:
1. Ignore the photos.
Many cook books with tried and tested favourites have no pictures at all. You know, the sort printed up by school parent committee or country women’s associations. Even professionally-produced budget recipe books often have lacklustre and uninspiring images. Ignore the photos. Bad photos reflect only upon access to technology, photography skills and budget, not taste. Don’t let them put you off.
On the other hand, glossy recipe books and popular blogs usually have food stylists on hand that you won’t have access to anyway. And they don’t reveal the fact that actually, they made seventeen versions of this dish before one came out ‘perfect’ enough. This video illustrates just how much retouching goes on in food photography (it’s worth watching to the end). If you’re smart enough not to hold yourself to the ridiculous standards of ‘beauty’ that the media promotes, you should be smart enough to ignore food media too. Ignore these photos as well. Beautiful photos only make you feel inadequate about your own cooking or kitchen. They tempt you into buying esoteric ingredients you’ll never use. Don’t let them suck you in.
Good photos are no guarantee of success (just take a look at Pinterest fails!). And bad or no photos are not an indicator of a lack of deliciousness (just take a look at your grandmother’s handwritten favourites).
2. Choose ingredients that are big on taste.
There are plenty of ingredients – many of which can be picked up for $1 or less – that will add a lot of flavour to your meals. Onions (especially bought in bulk bags). Garlic paste. Salt and pepper. Chili sauce or soy sauce. Herbs and spices (look for the ones in little packets you can transfer to glass jars rather than buying unnecessary containers each time). These are all inexpensive and packed with flavour. Build up a collection and add these to your repertoire.
3. Think outside the box.
You don’t have to follow recipes to the letter. If there are ingredients you don’t like, leave them out, or substitute something you prefer. The same goes for menu plans. If you don’t like cereal, and the menu plan suggests cereal in the morning, feel free to change it. A carton of eggs costs about the same as a box of cereal. The same goes for a bag of frozen vegetables you can microwave for a healthy breakfast with some spices and a little butter. Flour for pancakes is even cheaper. Think about what you can substitute for the same price or less.
4. Presentation is vital.
Just because you shouldn’t put too much stock in how a recipe looks (you can’t judge a book by it’s cover!) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take pride in the presentation of your own food. As Cynthia & Alisa Mayne rightly point out in their excellent books How to Feed Your Family for $75 a Week and How to Feed Yourself for $35 a Week you can dress up any meal by using the very best of what you have.
Maybe you have some china or silverware you received as a wedding present or inherited? Use it. It doesn’t have to be a ‘special’ occasion. If you don’t have cloth napkins, even an artistically folded tissue or kitchen towel can look spectacular. If you don’t have flowers in your garden, grab some sprigs of greenery from a public space. (As long as you’re not lopping off great branches, you shouldn’t run into any trouble!) Perhaps you have some candles you’re ‘saving’ for a special occasion. Use them. Every meal is special. Enjoy what you have.
5. Mind your language.
The way you talk influences how you feel about your circumstances. And the way you present your food linguistically influences how others feel about it too! This is why expensive restaurants have large, delicious-sounding descriptions on their menus to whet your appetite (and try to justify their equally large prices!). Don’t think cheap and nasty – think simple and scrumptious!
Next time you eat out, take a close look at how the prices and descriptions of menu items align.
Discover how you can save with menu planning and feed yourself on $35 a week!
Find out how you can get your family on board with saving, and take your food from just cheap to tasty!
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Happy New Year!