If you want to cut your expenses, food should be high up on your list. Food shopping is a large part of most people’s budgets and it’s also one that you have a lot of control over.
It’s not easy or quick to cut what you spend on rent, council tax or transport costs, but adopting a few new food habits can help you reduce your grocery bill and still eat well.
Plan, plan, plan
Planning is the key to reducing what you spend on food. This may seem a faff, but 10 minutes thought at the weekend can save you a lot of hassle and extra trips to the shops during the week:
- write a meal plan for the next week, making sure you include some cheaper meals;
- if you think your meals have got stuck in a rut, write a long list of say 30 meals to pick from each week. We had toad-in-the-hole last week and the kids were delighted – somehow an old favourite had dropped off my mental radar and I hadn’t cooked it for ages;
- turn your week’s meal plan into a shopping list, making it easier to resist temptation, quicker to shop and reducing the amount of food you waste;
- cook extra so you can freeze some (easy meal for next week) or eat the leftovers for lunch;
- always have at least one ‘store cupboard meal’ that is quick to cook and you won’t need to shop for, so even if your meal plan goes wrong you don’t need to get a takeaway.
Check out the reduced price shelf
Always see if there is anything there and be ready to ditch your planned evening menu for one using a bargain you grab. Think if you could freeze a reduced price item if you can’t use it today – having a ready meal in the freezer may not be gastronomic bliss but it can save you having to order a takeaway after a bad day at work.
Try ‘downsizing’ from any advertised brands to supermarket own-label alternatives. You may be surprised how little difference there is – much of the own label stuff is made in the same factory that the big brand foods are.
Check out any ‘ethnic’ shelves in your supermarket – the produce there can be amazingly cheaper than similar food in the rest of the shop. Look at the different costs of buying paprika in one supermarket: Sometimes you can tell the difference but after a couple of weeks you don’t mind as you have got used to the new taste. It’s very much a personal preference in the end. Most frugal shoppers have a couple of items that they won’t compromise on – for me it’s the brand of tea I like and sausages!
If it’s something you use a lot, you could have a bit of fun doing a blind tasting with your family. See Two tins of tomatoes. Is there a difference worth having? for an example.
Meat and fish are usually the most expensive ingredients. So aim to include more vegetarian or vegan dishes in a week – cheap, healthy meals. And vegan will help save the planet as well.
My family love their meat so I look for ways to increase the taste in vegetarian food and use different coloured vegetables to make the food look more interesting.
- macaroni cheese with peas
- cauliflower cheese, roasted tomatoes and garlic bread
- add chopped cucumber and peppers, sweetcorn and/or kidney beans into tuna mayo mix for pasta salad or sandwiches
- veggie bakes care great comfort food for winter months, here’s a basic recipe you can adapt to any vegetables you have around: Vegetable bake – quick and cheap.
- vegan food can be yummy, not worthy and boring. Try this Laksa Soup and Creamy Roasted Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce.
- these 4 different variations on veggie burgers, may become firm family favourites.
Look for ways to use less meat in a meal:
- make the meat a smaller part of the plate by adding things like stuffing, Yorkshire puddings, pastry, serving it with garlic bread etc;
- these Stuffed Potato Cakes can be veggie or include just a small spoonful of meat or fish;
- add a tin of baked beans into shepherds pie – my kids complain if I leave it out!if you are cooking curry, cook a dhal as well. The family will think this is great, getting an extra dish, but it means you need less meat.
- dhal is also one of those things where it’s easy to make a huge pot and freeze portions.
And more puddings! Apple crumble is easy and means that everyone is full even if the main course is smaller.
Look for ways to stretch other expensive foods too. If you buy fruit juice, dilute it by 25% and slowly increase that to 50%. Not just half the cost but it’s more thirst-quenching and has fewer calories.
This doesn’t have to be Masterchef standard…
If you like those ready meals of chili con carne, then using a packet mix will halve the cost. And then comes the lightbulb moment when you realise that a teaspoon (or two ?) of chili powder, a teaspoon of ground cumin and a bit of salt is going to work just as well. Cost down to very little!
Out all day and tired in the evenings? Get a slow cooker, so you can come home to a house smelling of stew or casserole. Cheap cuts of meat usually take longer to cook but are often tastier.
And make twice as much and freeze half, so you have a supply of quick and easy meals.
Don’t throw food away
The average family with children throws away food worth £700 a year! Ideas for avoiding waste include:
- turn elderly vegetables into soup. Or roast them with some garlic and a sprinkling of chili then make a veggie curry with them.
- make stock from the remains of a roast chicken (put it in a saucepan, cover with water, add any or all of a peeled onion, chopped carrot, half a dozen peppercorns and simmer for an hour. Strain then freeze if not needed soon.)
- stale bread is perfect for breadcrumbs and bread-and-butter pudding. If you are short of time, just put the bread in the freezer and crumb it later.
- brown, over-ripe bananas make the best banana bread and muffins. Again you can put them into the freezer for later (you can’t freeze bananas normally as they will go black, but it doesn’t matter for the overripe ones.)
- you can freeze half a lemon, or cut it into slices, put on a tray and freeze separately, then put the frozen slices into a bag – great if you like a slice of lemon in a drink.
- herbs such as parsley, mint, thyme freeze well.
- know the difference between “eat by” and “best before” dates – food after a “best before” date is often fine!
Don’t go mad at Christmas!
It’s only for a day or two – the shops aren’t closed for a week!
- does everyone like an iced fruitcake? Most children and lots of adults would prefer a chocolate log;
- make your own cranberry sauce. This makes a nice present for other people as well!
- ditch the big production roast turkey for a curry (great if you have a vegetarian to feed), or a Mexican feast, or lasagna.
- save up your Nectar or Clubcard points all year and use them for the Xmas shop
- make sure you plan to use all the leftovers.
Be proud to be frugal!
I was reading an article this morning about adult children living at home often weren’t contributing enough to the family budget. I was interesting and I was agreeing with most of it until I read “More than half (52 per cent) admit they’ve switched to cheaper brands”
Admit? That suggests that it’s something to be ashamed of. You might “admit” to having let your credit card balance get higher than you can really manage or to having stopped paying into your pension.
But being frugal with food isn’t just good for your wallet, it’s good for your waistline (less fat), your health (less salt, more vegetables) and the planet (less waste). And it can be just as tasty!
When your debts are long gone, it will be nice to have great steaks and Dover sole etc. But there is still no point in paying six times as much as you need to for paprika, or not using so food so it goes off and has to be thrown away.