Over the last eighteen months we have managed to reduce our monthly expenditure on food by between one third and a half. It is anybody’s guess how much we used to spend before my records began. But in December 2009, the first month of records, we spent on food £548.98. Yes I know December is not exactly a usual month and that is why I am not going to be comparing it with any odd one, but with December 2010 – our spending on food was £353.40. All else was the same – four adults and one growing up lad (all sons back home for Christmas); Christmas dinner that if anything was nicer in 2010; and our customary New Year’s Eve party for our friends. During a normal month now we spend about £280 on three adults and a growing up lad. This was achieved by applying the following four rules.
No ready meals
And when I say no ready meals, I do mean no ready meals. Everything these days is cooked from ingredients including dips, bread, stews, biscuits and pasta sauces. Ready meals are not only expensive they are also bad for you – just look at the long list of ingredients some of which you won’t recognise. Cooking from scratch is not only good for your pocket but also for your health and for your waist line. As an added bonus I discovered that cooking is very relaxing and strangely satisfying; and that preparing most meals doesn’t take long. Putting on a loaf of homemade bread takes about 4 minutes – I have timed it.
No waste of food
We used to go shopping, buy a wagon-load of food, then wonder what to eat, get a ready meal and, in due course, throw the shopping away. Now, we shop for what we want to cook. Once a month the family sits together and decides on the menu; the shopping lists are generated in parallel. As a result, we very seldom throw away food.
Cooking stews and soups
I have become the master of stews and soups. And let’s face it – they are delicious and they are good for us. Better than eating ‘dry’ food, as my mum used to call it – this is the food that doesn’t have juices: sandwiches, ham for lunch, and grilled meat for dinner. Grill is lovely from time to time, but all the time can cause digestive problems. These days we often have soup for lunch – I also take it frozen to the office, instead of buying lunch there. Soups are also a great way to get some vegetables in our ten year old son.
Batching works in two ways. First, we buy meat, cheese and milk in bulk from COSTCO. It is cheaper – not by much but it adds up – and also the meat and milk are very good quality, mostly stocked from nearby farms. We buy meat for six weeks and put it in the freezer in cooking portions. Second, I have learned to cook for at least two meals – one to have immediately and one to freeze. Because we work, we also make sure that we cook during the weekend and freeze so that minimal cooking is done during the week.
One aspect of ‘batching’ that we are just starting to explore is starting and maintaining a store cupboard. I have two posts on this written by a good friend of mine which will be published over the next two weeks – with photographs and tips.