Thursday 16 February 2012

Home Economics

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.

thrifty thursday

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.

+  -  x ÷  clip_image001  clip_image002  p²

Not necessarily in that order though!

square [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.

clip_image001integrateyou’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 Lotus_Biscuit. jpgfilling; 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’

clip_image002differentiateanother 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

AF Mcdougalls_Suet_Mixa 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 Ambrosia_Devon_Custardmake 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 friendssome 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?


  1. What an excellent post Angela, my sentiments exactly. No kids here to eat me out of house and home now and DH knows better than to eat stuff without asking or being told LOL. I was most impressed by your freezer organising post too and it has urged me on to get mine sorted. Thank you for that x

    Enjoy your day

  2. Very good! Our 'sharable' one is: eat soup and bread as a starter and then the meat course can be smaller - very useful with teenaged boys. Our other one, more specific to us, is to 'glean' food wherever possible - Ben's work canteen throws away food at the end of the day so he often comes home with a portion or two of stew or a piece of cheese or some fruit. Two of my pupils arrived yesterday with a bag of rubbish from their KFC lunch. I'm not ashamed to say that I 'gleaned' a whole load of cute little sachets and tubs of sauce which will come in handy... but as you say, I will have to PLAN to use them, or they'll end up mouldering in the fridge. Thanks for the tips, as always!

  3. PS I got your email and have written a comprehensive reply. My machine just won't let me post it! Very strange... thanks for your suggestions, though.

  4. Wonderful advice! Many thanks! I have a small dish of stewed apple just waiting to be reinvented!

  5. I don't know that I have any good ideas to add to your interesting post, but just an observation. A budget is great but I feel that breaking it now and again, if you can afford to, is actually saving money. We are wheat intolerant and wheat free bread costs £2.50 for a small loaf, so we eat a lots of rye crispbread and rice or oatcakes. Our local co-op had oatcakes reduced to 70p (94p in Asda) and vegan fake-cheese sauce (dairy problems too) normally £1.80, reduced to 80p. So we stocked up and may go over budget. But we have 5 weeks' worth of oatcakes and 2 or 3 months of sauce. I think of my food budget as a guideline, so when hard times hit, we have reserves.

    1. Yes, I'd agree that at times it makes economic sense to go over budget if it adds to your reserves of food you often eat. My Approved foods order happens every 3 or 4 months, but I consider the cost spread over that time.

  6. Wow what a helpful post. Any more?


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