Credit Crunch Shopping on a Budget

We are now potentially facing some tough financial years ahead, our purse strings are tightening daily and many have reluctantly turned away from their environmental good intentions. Organic food sales have dropped by 20 per cent this year, hardest hit have been organic egg producers with dairy, chicken and fruit farmers bearing the brunt of failing financial markets.

All this can make pretty bleak news for those of us who try to eat well. There is also a real concern that many people will turn to cheap convenience food and put good nutrition way down their list of priorities. However – this is not the time to forgo our health, and good food, as we know, is part of that. So what to do? If we can eliminate as much waste as we can, use leftovers and be shop savvy, we can still make savings along the way and maintain a level of good health. Last week I took a family shopping with a seriously restricted budget as the husband had sadly lost his job. We managed to knock £17 off their weekly supermarket spend and reduce all their convenience food at the same time – I call that a result!

Below I’ve set out some simple ideas that will hopefully help you in the coming months. It takes a little time and initiative but eating healthily on restricted finances can still be done!

BEING SHOP SAVVY

Most important of all – make a shopping list and budget for the week and stick to it!

Avoid buy one get one free, unless its something you will definitely eat!

Don’t stockpile fruit and salad – it will end up rotting in the bottom of the fridge or the fruit bowl. If you can make smaller, more frequent journeys to the shops, this will prevent waste.

Buy cheaper cuts of meat and slow cook in stews. If you are not sure ask your butcher or at the meat counter. You don’t always have to scrimp on quality – free range chicken thighs are a fraction of the cost of chicken breast.

Rice portions. I’m forever cooking too much – at least three times the amount I need, and I’m ashamed to say it often goes in the bin. Remember to weigh rice out before cooking. A small cup per person should be enough. If you have cooked too much, turn it into a cold rice salad adding chopped peppers and spring onions, and add some sultanas and refrigerate for the next day.

Frozen fruit and vegetables are fine – especially, peas, raspberries, blueberries and most vegetables.

Avoid buying fresh baby vegetables . If you are in any doubt, check to see how much they cost per kilo!

We are very lucky to have extremely good drinking water in East Sussex – there is no need to buy bottled water!

Avoid ready grated or ready chopped foods, particularly vegetables and grated cheese.

Choose a large loaf of bread rather than a packet of four flabby rolls – it will go further.

Try out the deli counter – you often get more slices of ham/meats for your money than you would if it was repacked.

I’m hoping you don’t buy them but if you do (!) – ditch the cheese slices and cheese spread. Replace with a block of cheese instead. Replace any potato chips/wedges and buy a large bag of spuds and prepare them yourself.

Find out what time your local supermarket starts cutting prices on perishable foods (it’s often late at night). The other week I managed to get a bag of watercress for 15p, a bag of parsley for 5p and a cucumber for 12p. Look for reduced salad, bread, poultry and meat.

If you or your family get through loaves of bread each week, it might be worth investing in a bread maker. They cost about £40 but you can buy large bags of flour and an average family size loaf will usually work out at about 50p.

Buy loose as often as you can, and avoid salad in bags as they can go off very quickly.

Buy in season (you are not paying for it to be transported from abroad). Go to www.eattheseasons.co.uk for ideas.

If you would like some more ideas on how to use up leftovers and how not to waste food go to www.lovefoodhatewaste.com.

If you’re still interested in eating organically, try to buy food directly from farmers or from groceries which gets supplies direct from locally-sourced producers. Supermarkets tend to set organic food as a premium product, but if you cut out the middle-man, you won’t be paying for their costs.

Talk to your mother or grandmother! They may have lived through tough times and have a catalogue of ideas. For example, a roast chicken on a Sunday can be stripped down to the bones and the meat used for a casserole, and then the bones boiled up with vegetables to create a broth with barley or lentils.

Go to Jamieoliver.com for help with cooking on a budget. There are some great ideas on the blog and forums and he has some of his Ministry of Food recipes as well.

Never go shopping when you’re hungry. It’s a recipe for disaster – you’ll end up with all sorts of extra cakes and pizzas in your trolley.

Supermarkets are cleverly designed to entice you to buy more, with expensive items at eye level and the cheaper varieties on the lower levels, so keep that shopping list close at hand and wear blinkers.

Allow plenty of time to do your weekly shop – so you can ponder on which are the cheapest options or hunt down any bargains. If it’s at all possible leave the children at home. If that’s out of the question, see if you can find a creative way of involving them in your shopping – maybe counting out tomatoes or working out which cheese is the cheapest.

Try buying budget or economy own-brand foods, especially carbohydrates such as pasta and rice, and tinned goods such as tomatoes and fruit. They are often cheaper because they use less expensive packaging than the premium brands. Watch out for economy processed foods though as they often contain more sugar and salt than other brands.

Some fish is hugely expensive but there are some varieties around that are still affordable. Try mackerel. Ask your fishmonger what he’s got that is cheap today. And if you’re desperate for cod, it’s cheaper in the freezer section.

Beans, lentils and pulses are all excellent forms of protein and significantly cheaper than meat and fish. They are also seriously tasty … vegetarians are onto a winner! To bring your shopping bill down try having a vegetarian meal .

Growing your own is by far the cheapest way to get your fruit and veg so, if you’ve got the time, it’s a wonderful way to reduce your food bill. You can produce totally organic food and get some exercise at the same time. Either cultivate a patch in your back garden or contact your Local Authority about an allotment. Even if you only grow a couple of things, you can always trade with other growers. The National Society of Allotments and Leisure Gardeners have more information on their website.

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