ElizabethD asked how I kept my food budget so low. Admission – I have already gone over the £30 I allowed myself for this month – although many of my purchases in the past week have been ‘pantry’ items which will last more than a few weeks. I will see how things work out and report again in March.
I am not an economics teacher- I trained as a maths teacher. My tips for economical food purchasing are based on these verbs
add, subtract, multiply, divide, integrate, differentiate, and square.
Not necessarily in that order though!
p²square [meals, that is!] plan your meals with the foods you already have in store – and be creative. Make intelligent substitutions in order to use that random tin at the back of the shelf!
÷ divide – portion control is really important. Not so difficult with discrete items like sausages- but harder with things like casseroles. Either I ‘plate up’ the meals in the kitchen, or I make it quite clear in the dining room “this stew is planned for two meals” so we make sure to leave half of it in the dish.
integrate – you’d be amazed how much ‘free’ food is around, and you can integrate that into your menus. Obvious things like -windfall apples, hedgerow blackcurrants - but you can also- use up freebie sachets of ketchup by squeezing them into a stew or pie filling; keep that little ‘Lotus’ biscuit in a packet which came with your coffee – and serve it with ice cream for dessert; do Jamie’s trick of adding a spoonful of the Christmas chutney into a casserole; if you didn’t eat the jam in the little jar, which came with the scone at the cream tea, it will liven a dish of plain yogurt. We don’t drink instant coffee- but if I am sent sample sachets, I put them in a jar, for those cake recipes that need ‘1tsp coffee granules’
differentiate – another important one. Make it quite clear to the family if food is ‘OK for snacks’ or ‘ear-marked as an ingredient’ There is nothing worse than getting to the kitchen at 5pm to prepare a meal, and finding that someone used those rashers of bacon for a sandwich at lunchtime, or ate the last banana. My family are used to labels saying “Do Not Eat This!” on the lock’n’locks in the fridge. [Practise writing on bananas with a ballpoint pen – go on, do it! - - it is one of my secret pleasures]
-subtract – when you are making a quantity of things, subtract
a little tiny amount from each one, to make an extra cake/cookie/ dumpling. Example, the instructions on my big bag of suet mix from Approved Foods tells me that 1lb of mix will make 11 portions. By reducing each portion in size, I got 12 portions, and halved them to make 24 dumplings. I used 8 straightaway for our 2-day weekend casserole, and froze the rest, ready to pop on top of future meals.
xmultiply – every meal can be multiplied to serve another day by intelligent use of leftovers. But I have found that it is really crucial to plan their future use immediately. If I put a single leftover portion of casserole in the fridge and I condemn it to a slow lingering death - even if I label it hopefully ‘You could microwave this for lunch, on Thursday, Bob’. It is far better to chop the veg and meat a little more finely, and add some liquid [gravy, stock, boiling water] to make it up to 600ml. That will be a two portion soup for tomorrow. The small amount of stewed fruit should go straightaway into a labelled lock’n’lock. ‘stewed apple-date- enough to top 2 portions of ice-cream or yogurt’ Make that last slice of bread into croutons before it goes dry or mouldy, and store in a screwtop jar in the fridge]
+add- or more accurately, s-t-r-e-t-c-h dishes with additions.
Bulk out casseroles [yeah, we eat lots of them round here]with a handful of oats, or rice, or lentils, or macaroni. Sling a can of baked beans into a cottage pie. Add some stock or water to the soup to make it serve 3 not 2, and top with those croutons. Please be sensible – over-adding oats will turn the stew into porridge, and don’t dilute your chunky chowder to bouillon! Some of the worst custard I ever tasted was made by someone who took 1 can of custard and added an equal amount of boiling water in an attempt to make it go further!
So there you are, Elizabeth and friends – some of my ‘mathematical’ top tips for saving money from my food budget. Those involved in Primary Schools will have observed that I did not mention the dreaded verb ‘chunking’!!
Anyone else got any good ideas to share?