Thursday, 15 September 2011

Thrifty Thursday #3 - Bend And Stretch

thrifty thursday

Thinking about being thrifty with my food budget this week. I think the two key principles are just that - bend and stretch. Be prepared to bend things a little [your shopping list, your recipe, your meal plan] and learn to stretch what you have to feed more mouths or serve more meals.

The obvious things go without saying – make a ‘food audit’ of everything in your cupboard, fridge and freezer then try and work out what meals you can make from them. See if you can manage to find a week’s worth of meals there without going to the shops.

meal_plannerThen make a month’s worth of menu plans [you can find free charts on the netmums site and many other places] and work out just what you do need to buy. Try and be firm with the family, if Friday is designated casserole, then that’s what it is!

Except – and this is where the bending comes in – if circumstances change unexpectedly, you may need to say ‘ok, we’ve been at the hospital/waiting to collect Granny from the train/held up in a traffic jam – so tonight we will get a takeaway instead’ As there are just two of us, I often make just 6 ‘main meal’ plans for the week, and we still manage to get fed every day somehow!

And if you had planned to cook one vegetable but something else is on offer, then bending your meal plan is an economical choice. Courgettes v carrots, sweet potatoes v. butternut squash.

deliaThen there is bending of recipes – I know that Delia’s recipes always work if you follow her instructions to the letter – but don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients sometimes. White sugar for brown, sultanas for raisins, a different oil or vinegar, chicken not pork.

As long as you are sensible and don’t expect exactly the same result, you usually get a passable meal. Not advised when someone important is coming for dinner though! Bob and the girls are much better at this than I am – there was the memorable occasion when we were first married. A colleague from school was really upset, and I invited her home to have her evening meal with us. When Bob got in, she was still sitting on the sofa weeping. “I’ll do the meal” he volunteered “What are we eating?” so I said “I was going to make some sort of risotto – there’s some bacon in the fridge” For reasons I will never know, he failed to see the bacon [in the packet labelled BACON] but he made a fabulous risotto, substituting large croutons of fried bread!

Then there’s stretching – making one meal go further, making three portions into four…

A can of baked beans will make a lot of meals go further – throw some into

  • a cottage pie
  • some pasta sauce
  • a casserole

You can also add a handful of porridge oats or lentils to all the above  to stretch them.

Increase the volume of a bowl of salad with unexpected extras

  • some frozen peas
  • a chopped up apple
  • chopped hardboiled egg
  • a few chunks of melon
  • large homemade croutons
  • left over cold cooked potatoes, cubed
  • a few leafy herbs from the garden – mint, lemon balm, parsley
  • chopped nuts [esp the ones left after Christmas]

jamieoliver usaTake all the veg in the fridge, a can of tomatoes [and maybe another of beanz]and some meat from the freezer and make a batch of savoury mince. Serve it on Day 1 as it is, over pasta or rice, Day 2, top with mashed potato in a cottage pie, Day 3, if any remains, use it to fill jacket potatoes.  Jamie Oliver suggests adding the odd spoonful of chutney to pep up the flavour a little [most people have at least one jar lurking somewhere] If you cannot face 3 days of the same basic meal, portion and freeze it to serve later. Or use your veg to make some soup. Make it interesting with croutons, or dumplings, a swirl of yogurt, or a sprinkling of cheese.

Fruit can be made into a fruit salad, or a smoothie. Shirley Conran said in ‘Superwoman’ that it is a mistake to offer a mixed fruit bowl every day. Offer one sort of fruit each day – then at the end of the week make a mixed fruit salad with what remains. Serve it with homemade yogurt – not cream!

If I have only one pot of yogurt left,  I divide it between two pretty little glass dishes and add fruit [eg a peach, diced, and divided between the two] So much better than saying “There’s a yogurt or a peach left, which do you want?” If you have a limited amount of food, then divide it onto the plates or bowls before you serve it.

If you do ‘family service’ where everyone dives into the communal big bowl, you risk the last person getting a smaller share. Another true story from my past…

When I was a student, we sat eight to a table in the Dining Hall. I had a guest with me one Friday night. As the guest, he was handed the tray first and took THREE fish fingers. I took just ONE. For the whole meal, he berated me for not eating enough – whilst I and my friends sat in embarrassment, there had only been 16 fish fingers to start with! Reader, I ditched him.

pattenCheck out the old WW2 cookbooks for some excellent meal stretchers. Especially anything by the doyenne of the Ration Book Kitchen, the fabulous Margeurite Patten – 95 years old and still going strong! 

Be creative. Use your leftovers. Check out the Love Food Hate Waste website.

Martin Lewis, MSE says “drop a level at the Supermarket” If you usually buy ‘Tescos finest’, switch to their ‘regular’ brand, if you buy the regular stuff, switch to their ‘value’ range. He maintains any family can save a few hundred pounds a year on their food bills that way. [where do we ‘value’ shoppers switch to? Aldi, I suppose!]

Also remember that ‘Use By’ is a Health and Safety warning on foodstuffs that are perishable – but ‘best before’ is a recommendation only, there may be some deterioration in quality and flavour after this point, but it won’t kill you. Can you cope with ‘out of date’ stuff ? I usually say if it smells ok, hasn’t turned blue, and hasn’t got whiskers, then I will try it. If you can cope, then do check out Approved Foods – I’ve been very impressed with the two orders I have had from them this year. Website here. AF sell ‘beyond date’ stuff legally, and they are very helpful.

allegraTry to avoid buying ‘pre-made’ stuff- learn to cook from scratch. It is healthier and usually cheaper. “Economy Gastronomy” by Allegra McEvedy is a good book to borrow from the library, if you need somewhere to start, in terms of meal planning and budgeting. Or anything by Shirley Goode [she blogs here]

I also use “The Benefit Book” by B Lawrence, and the “More With Less Cookbook” by Doris Longacre [a Mennonite, but never shiftless]

I’m sure there are loads of you out there with a favourite frugal food tip to share. We’ve had lots already this month about foraging and making jams and chutneys and the like from what Bob describes as “God’s amazing bounty” of the fruit of the hedgerows.

For twenty years I served my family with meals made from leftovers – they never did work out what the original meal was.

As Christians, it is our family practice to say Grace before meals, and recognise God’s continuing provision for us. Just occasionally [ok, more often than one would care to admit] I have had major disasters in the kitchen. But my family have nobly struggled through and ate what I put in front of them. I will never forget one evening though. Bob looked at the strange, unrecognisable mess on his plate, and smiled lovingly at me

“Ang, you’ll have to thank the Lord for this food, because I don’t honestly think that I can!”


  1. I always keep a tin of beans in the cupboard and a bag of sweetcorn in the freezer in order to stretch meals if needbe.

    I also remember eating with a friend as a student and regularly adding in a line to grace of 'and please protect our stomachs' - normally when we were having pasta and gloop (not bolognaise, just a tin of toms and anything else we could find to throw in that looked edible or possible edible!)

  2. Good stuff, Ang! About Aldi - I did price check when we'd been in France about a year. I wrote down the basic items of my weekly shop from Leclerc (read ASDA for UK buyers)and their prices. I then went shopping in ALDI and our local Intermarché (a mid-sized local supermarket). I discovered that ALDI, selling mainly brandnames, couldn't beat the regular supermarkets' ownbrand items, therefore there was no saving to be gained by my shopping at ALDI. I don't know if that's the same in the UK.

  3. That's interesting information Floss- I have found that in many cases Aldi IS cheaper here -and sometimes where the Aldi & supermarket prices are the same, the Aldi goods are often better quality. I guess that we have to keep watching these things - "the price of peas is eternal vigilance"

  4. I do agree with Floss about Aldi or even our local Lidl. Very often I have found that the supermarket price is either the same, or slightly less!
    Making things seem more is very fulfilling....lentils added to soup, a few leftover potatoes fried and popped into an omelette, oh and definitely Beanz added to meat.

  5. that comment from Bob has put quite a smile on my face but lots and lots of great tips x

  6. Now isn't that funny Ang and Floss - As a "valuer" I decided to price check when I was in Aldi and for the stuff I was looking at - tinned tomatoes and beans - it was cheaper for me to stay with Sainsbury's value. It was a while back though.
    Stretching meals - when I dish up I have a have the plates in a row and one or two freezable containers too and so the frozen portion is sorted before my menfolk clamour (unnecessarily!) for seconds. These become instant ready meals for busy times.
    I used to keep a price book now I can keep it in my head and notice that price offers are cyclical so I saved some money by dropping down to value and then used that as a fund to start stocking up a little when offers were on. So now I only tend to buy some things when on offer.
    When I make chilli I freeze some even if it's only a small portion because that one portion can feed four if it is a topping on a pizza or spread on quesadillas with cheese.
    When my sons started bringing lots of friends back from uni to stay I bulked out meals with veg and beans as you said Ang and an additional carb - baked potatoes, a dish of home-made low fat oven chips or home- baked bread. To fill them up without buying more of the expensive bits like the meat I started to do a soup starter and or a pudding.
    I bought a set of fancy glass bowls (4 for 99p at Morrisons) because you can make a few pudding things go a long way a value 9p jelly, mousse, a small amount of fruit, homemade yoghurt, scoops of ice cream, grated square or two of choc, some left over cake meringue crumbs etc. This way I could feed guests with what I had bought for us by stretching the meat with less expensive other ingredients.
    I also made sure I had value spreads for toast (Peanut butter, jam) for cheap suppers - boys have hollow legs!
    Great post.

  7. Monthly menu planning is the way to go. I try and faithfully do this. When I don't, my shopping bill rises dramatically!! I then shop a week at a time but I know exactly what I need to get. Within a given week the meals for certain days can be swapped if the need arises. Cx

  8. I have the Shirley Goode recipe book as well, love her Potato Kugel recipe. On my post today, I have a link to a recipe for lasagna with baked beans in it.

    Gill in Canada

  9. Here's the link to Gill's useful post

    thanks everyone, for the great ideas you have shared!

  10. We always have apple in salad, leftover cold potatoes,sweetcorn,roast beetroot,peas. Usually all we have to add is lettuce, cucumber and beans for protein.
    Not pushing the vegan life here, but having a lentil based meal (eg daal) once per week will make a difference to the grocery bill.
    Jane x

  11. Thanks for all the helpful tips. We have Aldi's here, and it is usually cheaper than regular markets and the same, if not better, quality.
    While in the Middle and Far East, we prayed a few times "Lord, please kill whatever's in it and help it to nourish our bodies"!
    I love Bob's quote :-)

  12. Mum burned the first meal she cooked my Dad after they got married and Dad, so I'm told, sat there and sang "Ma, I miss your apple pie" while Mum wept. I don't know if he ate it from the plate or picked it off his face after she hit him with it!

  13. Oh forgot to say when I cook I always try to take some of the veg or some meat a soup out of it for the freezer even if it is just a potato and onion soup - it's stretching what I'm using. I got the idea from Ready Steady Cook when they used to empty the bag of food and make several things from each of the items.

  14. My favourite really thrifty meal is what my family calls having chicken bones for supper. You can buy chicken carcases sold for stock very very cheaply - cook and pick off the meat - there is loads. Then saute the pieces with some finely chopped onion and/or garlic, plus some bits of bacon, leftover bits of ham. You can feed a family of 5 from one of these carcases! We also buy ham from the butcher as a quarter or half ham - much more economical than those plastic packets with a few thin pieces in, and much more sustaining for hungry boys. It also means that you have the ingredients for an instant meal in the form of ham and eggs for those days when you get home late.

    Pomona x

  15. A brilliant post, lots of useful tips, and I LOVE Bobs' quote!

    Sue xx

  16. Wonderful post and such interesting comments! I am doing my best to raise at least some of our produce, and to bake more than buy (cookies, say, or bread). I also try to make as many "two night meals" as possible, especially when the meal is meat-based. Because I try to buy locally raised meat, our meat bill is high, but I try to off-set it by getting the most out of the meat I buy and also by throwing at least one really cheap meal in a week, such as beans and rice (which is actually one of my favorite dishes).


  17. Have followed the Goode blog- deeply informative stuff! Goodness- all these wise and efficient folk!


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