There are already a myriad books and sites telling you how to ‘change this unhealthy chicken dinner into a slimmer version just by swapping out a few things’. What I want to show you is how to change your whole pantry, extending it out into the garden; to change the way you live and eat.

Try swapping all those expensive, additive laden ‘flavorings’, sauces and seasonings for a few choice herbs in small pots on a window-ledge or among your flowers in their bed. You will be amazed when you try chicken breast grilled with sage leaves and lemon slices, or brushed with a paste of lemon leaf, ginger and garlic. Keeping flavorings simple is not only cost effective, its taste sensational. If you can actually taste, all three flavourings, as well as the good quality base product, you will have a much more sensational meal than bland meat with a salty seasoning all covered in a thick indiscriminate sauce.

A good tip when it comes to shopping for flavors is to buy ‘dry goods’ with a long shelf life, in bulk. Buying a few kilos of organic dry beans will work out cheaper than buying small packets from the supermarket. Buy a few of a product you like, when it is on special or you see it at a shop cheaper than your local. Dry fruits, nuts and spices you use often work out much cheaper in bulk. From this follows, cooking in bulk. Cooing a meal for four takes little less effort than cooking for twelve, and freezing the leftovers for healthy lunches.

Soups and stews also benefit from cheaper cuts of meat and work out as a whole to be very cheap meals; even with the addition of an artisan loaf of bread and some good quality oil or butter to go with it. Making your own stocks is really easy! You can buy chicken or other bones from a butcher really cheaply, sometimes getting them for free. Just simmer slowly for several hours starting with cold water. Then strain into muffin tins or small Tupawares and freeze, then you can tip them out and store like ‘ice cubes’ loose in a bag. The bones after a roast chicken dinner can also be used to make stock. Add a few vege if you like or fresh herbs right at the end for extra flavour.

Bread is one of the best products to make yourself. With relatively little effort and an investment of a few hours inactive time, you can have fantastic wholesome breads. There are great bread mixes available, made from whole grains with no additives. They have all the instructions on the side and usually come with the yeast. Don’t be tempted by the extra additions like ‘bread improver’ or milk powders. They do not really ‘improve’ the bread. But do try adding things like extra seeds or herbs. Corn bread is the easiest, 1 cup each of yellow corn flour, plain spelt/wheat flour, fresh corn, grated cheese, eggs, and a corriander/capsicum/onion mix. Combine, add a little water or beer if needed and pour into a hot, oiled baking tray.

I even make my own pizza dough, partially cook the bases with home made tomato sauce and freeze them topped with cheese when cool, in stacks with baking paper in between. Then when hungry, I take out enough to feed me or the crowd and bake them one the baking paper used to separate. You can add extra toppings or just have them as margaritas! A tasty trick is to use basil pesto or olive tepanade as well as or in stead of the tomato base and to use good quality mozzarella and parmesan you grate yourself. Left over cheese can be bagged and frozen too.

Making your own snack foods and drink cordials is another way to change your pantry and relieve your hip pocket. Such snacks as popcorn can be make in a pot, they do not actually require special machinery. The amount of oil is negligible and if you use a good quality oil it adds taste as well as adheres flavourings. I like olive oil, salt and chilli. Rosemary and salt on macadamia oil cooked popcorn is also tasty. Ghee (clarified butter) has a high smoking point so can be used and gives a buttery taste. Frozen grapes, berries or orange wedges make really tasty summer treats. Making your own icy pops with fruit juice is healthy and tasty. Cordials made from reduced berries, lemon, orange or other fruits and a little sugar can be kept in the fridge as alternatives to artificial colored and flavored drinks.