Cook like MasterChef (on a budget)

POPULAR TV shows like MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules often inspire viewers to replicate their culinary masterpieces.

But just how easy and expensive is it to cook top-quality meals at home?

Unlike cooking show contestants, who have ingredients laid out in front of them, everyday cooks need to think about the affordability of their meals.

Owner of Life's A Feast cooking school in Noosa, Gail Rast said, “It's very possible to make a gorgeous meal on a budget. I do it all the time.”

Ms Rast's top tip to eating well without spending a fortune was to buy and cook with seasonal ingredients. She said fruit and vegetables that were in season were at their best, cheapest and could often be sourced locally.

When out shopping, Ms Rast said it paid to keep an eye out for any items on special and stock up if needed.

“Meat, pantry items, anything that can be stored,” she said were best to bulk up on when on sale, but warned shoppers to “be sensible about this”.

Buying home brands was another money-saving technique.

“Don't be afraid of home brands,” Ms Rast said. Home brand pantry staples including flour, sugar and tinned tomatoes were often the best buys.

She said her next tip, take a shopping list, was “quite obvious” but helped plan what you were going to cook and eat.

It could save money by stopping you from buying “a whole lot of stuff you don't need”, she said.

Creating beautiful winter meals using cheaper cuts of meat was another way to keep cooking costs down. She said cuts like chuck and blade were perfect for braises, casseroles and curries.

Steering clear of recipes that involve rare, hard-to-find ingredients could also save time and money.

“If it's hard to find and not readily available, the chances are that it's going to be more expensive,” Ms Rast said.

Most importantly, Ms Rast said cooking at home should be fun.

“Don't be afraid to experiment,” she said.

“Treat it like it's a bit of fun rather than a chore.

“I look forward to cooking dinner every night, while I know some people just cringe at the idea.”

For budding chefs, Ms Rast said cooking classes and even the internet with various recipe websites and YouTube clips could help broaden skills.

Coles produce general manager Greg Davis said Coles' in-store recipes and brochures, including those by Curtis Stone, were “developed with a clear focus on quality, seasonality and fresh produce and won't blow the budget; we're showing Australian shoppers they can prepare a meal that will impress even the harshest critic, and they don't need to be a qualified chef to do so”.