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Eat Well for Less - Saving Money on Food Bills

Posted Dec 11 2012 12:00am

Since we're currently going through a pretty tough time financially in the UK, more and more people are trying to think of ways to reduce the cost of living. One area where it is often fairly easy to reduce costs is in the weekly food bill.

Now, like many people, years ago when I was a student I had a very limited supply of money and my diet was dire. It's still a family joke that I existed on dried supermarket noodles for four years and actually it's not that far from the truth! Noodle sandwiches, noodles on toast and noodles with beans were a common enough meal in those far away days!

Then, as a young working woman, my diet improved although at one point I confess it even became rather extravagant with my husband and I, then unmarried, eating out two or three times a week... and yes we both put on some weight then!

However, eventually we grew up and got some sense realising that eating out instead of cooking home meals was a ridiculous waste of money and not the healthiest of lifestyles and these days we have home-cooked meals every day and only eat out on special occasions or as a real treat.

I would never suggest going back to the frugal eating of student life, especially when you have a growing family, but there are lessons to be learnt from the budget constraints of those days.

Eating at home need not be expensive, boring or seen as a chore. Of course, it's easy to get stuck in a rut and find yourself eating the same foods over and over again, but it is possible to change. For example, in our family, since I do most of the cooking, everyone tends to eat chicken or fish but very rarely red meat as I don't eat red meat. And, believe it or not, it is possible to eat chicken, fish or just vegetable meals without feeling like they never change or without breaking the bank. 

The question is, how do we reduce our grocery bill whilst still eating wholesome food? Well, basically you simply need to take more care of your spending by thinking very carefully before and during your grocery shop. Make lists and make more lists so you don't end up loading your trolley with items you will neither need, use, nor really afford!

For instance, it's possible to make six chicken breasts last two days in our house between all six of us (one of whom is just a baby). What I do is put all six breasts in my slow cooker with lots of thawed frozen vegetables and some fresh carrots, potatoes, herbs, stock and spices if required. When the meal is cooked, I shred the chicken and unless I've added potatoes, I bulk it out with cooked wholegrain rice. This particular dish easily feeds our family for two whole days and I just have to be careful to reheat the second day's meal carefully to prevent food poisoning.

Some evenings, rather than cooking a full meal, we have a great big thick bowl of vegetable soup which I make in the pressure cooker and serve with shop bought crusty bread which is often fairly cheap and tasty. My soup tends to be made with lots of potatoes, carrots, onion, leeks, lentils (green, red or both), tinned tomatoes, vegetable stock and whatever else takes my fancy. Sometimes, I just make a lighter soup with peas, carrots and cream if I have some and sometimes I add some chicken if we have some needing used up. The soups always go down well with the family and are incredibly filling unlike many of the shop bought soups which take almsot as long to cook but which are nowhere nearly as tasty or nutritious.

You might think making your own soups, stews, casseroles and curries would be very expensive, but if you shop around or plan your ingredients beforehand you can keep the costs down. In fact, recently I popped into a local greengrocers with my sister who was stunned at how cheap the vegetables were when compared with some big name supermarkets. She was also surprised by how fresh and alive some of the vegetables and fruit appeared as they often look very bland, colourless lacklustre in supermarkets.

You might have noticed that in the meals above I mentioned cooking them in my slow-cooker and pressure cooker. These methods are cheaper than some standard methods and whilst some will argue about vitamin and nutrient loss from both methods, I don't worry too much about this as it's still better than eating junk food and oh boy does it taste much better.

With home-cooked meals, you'll find your family tends to fill up for longer and that they won't be constantly nibbling between meals. The reason for this is that their blood sugar levels will be more stable than if they were eating junk fod which tends to fill them up but only for short periods of time. I noticed this in my own eating habits very evidently a couple of years ago when I changed my morning diet from two slices of toast and a cup of tea to a bowl of hot porridge and a cup of tea.

When I was eating toast for breakfast I was starving within a couple of hours and craving biscuits and other sugary treats. When I started eating porridge (which I cook in the microwave for two and a half minutes using just water and don't add any sugar) I easily lasted until midday by which time I was looking forward to a healthy sandwich or toasty! In fact, I went on about it so much that my husband and son both eat porridge now, with milk and honey, though my daughters still favour weetabix!

Actually, on that very subject, I've rarely bought so-called kids cereals as they are so full of sugar that I just knew my children would be hungry too soon again after eating them. Thankfully, their school has a healthy snack at breaktime so they eat fruit mid-morning and I make them a packed lunch every day for their lunchtime though I do allow a little biscuit bar with this.

I've also recently started cooking my own apple tarts and scones so the children have something nice to look forward to after school and better for them than junk food. It costs a lot less than buying them from the shops and they taste much better too although I haven't tried selling mine - maybe that could be my next step, making money from home-cooking instead of trying to save it!

I hope you got some useful tips in this post and that it has inspired or at least encouraged you to try planning your own meals to cut costs. Let me know if you have any suggestions below and be sure to check out my top tips for living more frugally if you're suffering from the budget blues!

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