I cooked with canned food for a month to save money – and here’s how it went

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I cooked with canned food for a month to save money – and here's how it went

In an effort to cut down on food costs, online editor Annzra Denita Naidoo challenged herself to make all her lunches and dinners using canned food for one month. The experience turned out to be transformative and nostalgic – plus, it really did help to save money.

I bought a flat. I know, in this economy? But I stopped eating avo toast and buying daily coffee (my poor millennial heart) to get it, and I got great deals at the Bank of Dad and Mom (forever grateful to my parents). While I’m super-excited, this means I need to make some budgetary changes. So, to kickstart this, I decided to cook with canned food for one month to cut down on my food costs.

I admit, I was nervous. I do like canned food, but I mostly stick to the bean, lentil, fish and tomato categories. I’m not a big fan of the pastas and meats; there’s way too much trauma from school aftercare when it comes to these. With my preferences and somewhat fussy tastes, I didn’t think I could make exciting, interesting meals all month long. Fortunately, I was wrong.

ALSO READ: I got an air-fryer and it did not change my life

Getting nostalgic

Like with most things, I started with what I know. And the thing I know most about is tomato chutney. I spent years making chutney with my dad when I was young. It was the beginning of my love affair with cooking (read all about that here). I used canned tomatoes to make a chutney base that I used for shakshuka, spicy pasta sauces and creamy chickpea curry with coconut milk. Pro tip: use leftover coconut milk in smoothies.

ALSO READ: The nostalgic, but slightly terrifying, task of setting up my first spice cupboard

I rediscovered how much I love sausages, baked beans and mash. It’s honestly one of my favourite meals, especially since I curry the baked beans, Indian-style. I hadn’t made this in ages, and it instantly transported me to my childhood.

The “poor man’s paella” I invented at university also holds up after all these years. It’s made with leftover rice, tuna, canned mussels and bacon. It’s more of a fishy fried rice than paella, but I didn’t know better when I named it. And it tastes good, which is all that matters.

20-minute chickpea curry

Find the recipe for 20-minute chickpea curry here. 

I contacted my parents for some recipes I loved but never made for myself. Sardines braised with onion and chilli on toast. Fish cakes made with pilchards. I even got the recipe for my mom’s canned-fish biryani, which is always a hit. I haven’t made it yet, but I can’t wait to try. All these nostalgic dishes got me excited to follow through on my challenge and gave me the confidence to try new recipes.

Thank goodness for TASTE

TASTE has an excellent canned food recipe collection, which was perfect for moving out of my nostalgic bubble. One recipe I had to try was Hannah Lewry’s one-pan pork chops. Since I manage the TASTE website and social media, I have a good sense of what recipes you all love. This one is very popular – and for good reason. Quick, easy and delicious, it’s the perfect midweek meal.


Find the recipe for one-pan pork chops here. 

Hannah’s chicken frikkadels with creamy beans and spinach is also perfection. I couldn’t find chicken frikkadels, so I used Woolies’ smoked paprika and coriander chicken steaks, and the marinade made the beans deliciously spicy. Another Woolies product that made my canned food challenge easier was the Easy To Bake Mexican Style Cornbread Kit. Made with canned sweetcorn, it was great for lapping up creamy beans, or enjoying on its own, with butter melting into it. Plus, it freezes well, which is great in a household of one.

Find the canned food recipe collection here. 

I was already a fan of Abigail Donnelly’s 3-ingredient mussel pasta and it was a lifesaver on days when I did not want to cook. Instead of ordering food, I whipped this up. Trust me, you need to save this recipe – it’s ready in under 10 minutes, and it’s a great loadshedding recipe. Abi’s sardine pasta is also amazing. It’s a reminder of how simple dishes can be the most satisfying.

Sardine pasta

Find the recipe for sardine pasta here. 

I’ve also become obsessed with Abi’s butter-bean mash. I knew about it in theory, but I’d never tried it before because of my deep love for potatoes. Now my life is forever changed. Not only is it delicious, it’s the perfect serving size for just me, and it tastes great cold or warm. This will definitely be made on repeat.

ALSO READ: How my quest to make the perfect masala chai reconnected me to my heritage

Social media continues to serve

It’s no secret that I am fully hooked by “foodtok”. Luckily for me, there were plenty of recipes on social media that made this month exciting. The viral rice bowl of 2020 is still a fave, and I make it with canned tuna or canned salmon. Pro tip: keep single portions of rice in the freezer so you can make rice bowls faster. This is also great for loadshedding.

ALSO READ: Social media made me do it: how “FoodTok” influenced my cooking

One of my favourite food creators, Carolina Gelen, did a video making three meals with versatile tuna fishcakes. I made small versions of the fishcakes for breakfast and rice bowls, and a slightly bigger version to make tuna burgers. They were so good! I will always make my own tuna burger patties from now on.


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A post shared by Carolina Gelen (@carolinagelen)

While this challenge was mostly for meals, social media showed me I was limiting myself. Crispy air-fried chickpeas and butter beans are top-notch snacks. Three-ingredient lemon ice cream made with lemons, coconut milk and maple syrup helped with my dessert cravings, so I bought fewer treats. This is just the tip of the iceberg of epic canned food recipes. There is so much more to make.


I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun I had making these recipes over the month. Getting creative, reminiscing about my younger days and trying new things – it really was lovely, and I will take the lessons I learnt and apply them in my life going forward.

Another bonus was spending less time actually cooking. I know this is obvious, since canned food requires little to no cooking, but I didn’t think about it at the start, so it was a pleasant realisation. I know now that I can add more canned food recipes to my midweek rotation in a way that fits my tastes and lifestyle and will help me save money.

I shaved between R1500 – R2000 off my food costs in total. This was done by bulk-buying canned food and checking out specials for non-perishables to save even more. Plus, there were plenty of items in my pantry already, like pasta and rice. And I cut down on the takeaways by a lot. This was an all-round win.

Annzra Denita Article by: Annzra Denita

Annzra Denita is the digital editor of TASTE. Eating good food is her absolute favourite thing and making good food is a close second.

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