Comparing three of the cheapest ways of cooking meals

Over a year on from the start of  the cost of living crisis and the biggest hike in fuel prices seen in most of our lifetimes, prices are still high. More than double those in 2018, just 5 years ago.  This is affecting everyday activities such as heating our homes and cooking.

We shared our Green Guide to saving money and the planet  with our Everyday Green Community in 2022. With 100 useful and sustainable tips to saving money, it's even more valid now. So please head over and have a look. You can download a handy checklist to keep on your fridge and refer to as you make changes, really see for yourself which ones are making the biggest difference.

This month we are adding a 'mini-guide to cooking methods'.

Autumn and winter, typically mean more hot dinners and nothing beats a  warming dish for making you feel cosy on a cold or dreary day. But with the cost of electricity and gas rocketing, how can you make these meals with as least cost as possible?

As you can see from this table from Utilita, back in 2022, there are considerable financial savings to be had in changing the way we cook. If unit prices have changed, for the better (or worse!) we will still see the same relative savings. And saving CO2 emissions at the same time.

But can we recreate our usual family meals?

I have been putting various methods of cooking to the test for the last few weeks.

I already own a microwave and a very old slow-cooker that has seen many years of use. I borrowed an air fryer from my mum for this experiment and tried to use these three methods of cooking as much as possible to create our usual family dinners, as opposed to my electric cooker and hob.

Here's what I found:

I used to use my oven and hob to cook most meals, with the microwave mostly used for reheating. The slow cooker tended to be saved for casseroles and stews and used only occasionally.

Slow Cooker

This last month I have cooked the following using the slow cooker.

  • Vegetable soups
  • Stews
  • Curry
  • Lentil and mince Bolognese sauce
  • Red Bean Chilli

Cooking the accompaniments like rice in the microwave and pasta in a saucepan on the hob towards the end of the cooking process meant that we had our usual meal at a much reduced cost. Soups worked out really well, so easy to prepare and leave on low for around 6 hours. The house smelt amazing all day and meal times felt more organised too with the preparation taking place in the morning!

Air Frying

I also cooked using the air fryer -fell in love with it immediately! It takes just a minute or two to warm up and I cooked so many different types of roast root vegetables, and courgettes, squashes etc. So much quicker and crispier than using the oven and using much less oil too. Grilled chicken, chips and also jacket potatoes were also a great success. Anyway, put it this way- I will be getting one for myself when my mum asks for hers back! Here's a list of some of my air fryer dishes in the last few weeks:

  • Roasted veg - courgettes, carrot, beetroot, squash, leeks, sweet potato
  • Crisps -kale, peelings from potatoes and sweet potato
  • Jacket potatoes (Microwaved for 5 minutes first)
  • Oven Chips
  • Grilled chicken and fish
  • Baked apples
  • Cookies (Yes! But small batches only)
  • Fruit crumble
  • Toasted sandwiches
  • A roast chicken joint

 I was able to create a couple of simple complete meals using the air fryer in a fraction of the time it would have taken in an oven.


I did invest a while ago in a microwaveable sauce pan and used it for veggies to accompany our meals, it worked really well for most vegetables. It was quick and mess free. I already owned a microwave rice cooker, so we used that and it's quicker than cooking rice on the hob.

We also tried mug cakes and cookies and these were reasonable if not quite as nice as oven baked.

  • Steamed veggies - carrots, broccoli, peas, beans, corn
  • Rice
  • Baked beans
  • Mug cakes & cookies

Oven and hob

Cooking in the oven is expensive because it's so big and you have to heat up the whole oven structure and the air and shelving inside - that requires a lot of energy to get it to a high enough temperature to cook in. An air fryer is so much smaller and quicker to heat up but it has the limitation of being small.

I recommend saving the use of your oven for when you are going to be cooking a lot of food that will take up space. And make sure to make the most of the space and the time it is on. In our Green Guide we recommended:

 "Make the most of your oven when it’s on:

When you have the oven turned on, fill every shelf. Sweet potato and carrot peelings can be crisped up when you have the oven on for cooking dinner! They make a tasty snack with a bit of oil and salt in place of packets of crisps, or if you have chickens feed them plain cooked peelings. If you only have one thing to heat up, use your microwave instead – it uses significantly less electricity than heating your oven. When using your oven, set the timer for 5 minutes before the cooking time and turn the oven off. It takes a long time for ovens to cool so it will carry on cooking. After cooking, fill your dirty baking trays or cooking dishes with soapy water and return to the oven – they will clean themselves and steam clean the inside of your oven – with no elbow grease."

One thing we cooked on the hob only - pasta, it is at its best in a pan of boiling water! 

Here are a couple of extra tips, again based on 2022 prices: