3 Ways an Op Shop Can Help You Learn to Cook

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Long gone is the stigma that an op shop (like Vinnies or the Salvos) are just for poor people. These days op shops have taken on a life of their own with savvy shoppers and hipsters congregating on them for great bargains and vintage products. Even interior designers are getting into the action with re-purposed goods becoming features in expensive houses and on TV (just look at what James Treble does on Channel 10s ‘The Living Room’.).

Basically, op shops are now a land of adventure and its probably time that smart home cooks get in on the action. I’ve written before about budget cooking, and I fully advocate for it being a smart way to shop and cook and op shops are the perfect accompaniment to help you stick to that  budget. Budget cooking doesn’t need the poor stigma either: its basically just shopping within your means, eating the foods already in the fridge, freezer and pantry and just generally being smarter when you do the groceries each week. My other budget posts can explain this further.

With op shops you can combine the best of both worlds: smart shopping and budget friendly products.


Try the simple ideas below and you’ll see how a small budget can give you bigger bang for your buck at an op shop.



What op shop does not have a huge but cheap collection of cookbooks? I’m sure you’re thinking that the collection is probably full of 1970s cast offs with books full of duck l’orange and apricot chicken. There’s likely to be some books like that but you’ll also be able to pick up some of the classic cookbooks like The Women’s Weekly Birthday book so you can make every cake you remember from those childhood parties (remember the castle cake? Or the swimming pool cake?). That book is one that gets reprinted over and over again because its just such a useful cookbook.


A lot of the modern cookbooks are full of strange or exotic ingredients or give you complicated techniques to try. If you’re just learning how to cook then the older  cookbooks might actually be simpler for you until you’re ready to move on. For instance the Classic Chicken Casserole I found recently had simple recipes, simple techniques and simple ingredients that I could buy in any store, not just the fancy health food stores or specialist retailers.

But the best bit about op shop cookbooks is that you can find inspiration at such a low cost – $20 is sure to get you at least three cookbooks or even as many as 20 depending on where you buy them and how much each one is going for. You might just find a copy of something you’ve seen at the mall for a much better price.


Platters and Dishes

Knowing what to cook is only part of the cooking experience. Presenting your food in a way that makes the food seem more enticing is another handy skill in the kitchen. You eat with all your senses (not just your mouth and sense of smell) so you want to make colour and style a part of a home cooked meal as well.

One of  the easiest ways to present food well is to use a nice serving platter or dish. But platters can be expensive and tend to hide in the back of cupboards gathering dust until its time for a big family gathering. They’re the kind of thing you get as wedding presents and don’t know what to do with later. However there’s an ad on TV at the moment that asks why do we lock good things away and not use them? Serving platters and pretty dishes should be used at as many meals as you make and they are the perfect item to buy from op shops.

I found the below collection of serving platters at an op shop in Healesville, Victoria, on a recent trip there. The green palm leaf style platter drew my attention. It would be good to use for serving a whole fish (a thinner type of fish) but I can also imagine some desserts spread out along it, or a chopped fruit salad the highlights and contrasts with the green all at the same time.


Like platters and dishes, glassware is something usually given as a present but it can be used for everyday use. One of the excuses is that the good glassware shouldn’t get used daily because it might break. If this is what’s stopping you then head to the local op shop and pick up some fancy glasses that will set you back a few dollars rather than a few hundred.

Fancy glasses can be used for making smoothies and cocktails look amazing. They can also be used for eating breakfast from, such as bircher muesli or a fruit and yoghurt parfait (this is especially good to do if you’ve recently started a diet and are struggling with smaller portion sizes – getting a smaller prettier glass can change your mind before it changes your body).

Fancy glasses and unusual bowls are also great for presenting desserts in. Even a bowl of ice cream and Milo can become a sought after treat rather than a daily occasion if you just take a little time to prepare it in an inexpensive glass from the op shop.

Cookbooks, platters and dishes and glassware are only three examples of what you might find at the op shop. You could also find:

  • A new dinner set.
  • A fancy teapot or tea set.
  • Fondue sets.
  • Steak knives or other utensils.
  • Brandy, whiskey, cognac, champagne, wine or sherry glasses.
  • Butter dishes and milk jugs.

If these are the items you’re after for your kitchen, why not get them from the op shop? Even if you just get some cheap ones for while you’re learning and a good set later on, at least you’ve given a donation to charity and you can always re-donate the platters or dishes again for someone else to use along their own cooking journey.


Question: What’s the best kitchen item you’ve found at an op shop?

2 thoughts on “3 Ways an Op Shop Can Help You Learn to Cook

  1. I memtioned that I bought some wine glasses at an opshop. I love the treasures you can find. My mum volunteers at one and constantly buys me amazing clothes from there – a $5 leather jacket has been my fave!
    Great tip about the cookbooks too.
    A thing I learnt when mum and I organised dad's 60th was to buy a stack of plates from the opshop, instead of paper plates – no waste and much prettier and easier to eat off. We kept a few really nice ones, and gave the rest back.

  2. That's a brilliant idea for the plates! – I'm totally going to remember that for the next gathering I throw. Thanks for the comments Carly. Hopefully you find a great cookbook at the next op shop you visit.

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