I have really noticed how much my weekly food shop has gone up in the last few years. Recently I have been looking at this in a bit more detail and trying to see if there are any ways I can cut the cost. I admit we do spend a lot on food as a family. I like cooking and trying new recipes and this can involve buying different ingredients. However I also make all our meals from scratch and so this can be cheaper too. For example it is much cheaper to make a chilli or spaghetti bolognese from scratch using mince, onion, garlic, kidney beans and tin tomatoes than a ready made meal or even using a ready made sauce. I like to buy organic where I can. We always have organic milk and organic vegetables. This is because the vegetables are not sprayed with pesticides and chemicals and the cows are fed mainly on grass rather than on processed food. We do find as a family that the organic veg tastes better. Research also shows that organic milk contains less of the unhealthy saturated fats and more of the healthy omega 3 chain fatty acids. I do my weekly food shop online (with Ocado) and find that it is easier to plan my meals around their special offers. I also take advantage of bulk buying, such as multi packs of tin tomatoes or baked beans. I like to buy special items such as sirloin or tuna steak when they are on offer and put them in the freezer for a treat at the weekend. I have been trying out more 'own brand' foods. Most supermarkets these days do their own 'no frills' value range which is considerably cheaper than the brands. I have found that bread, tin tomatoes, cream cheese, cereals and natural yogurt really don't taste any different than the branded versions, which is a good way of saving money. I have found that some branded versions are best. Heinz don't make beans for anyone else. The shops own brands beans seemed to be lower in quality and taste. I have found the branded Tilda rice to be less starchy and much easier to cook with.
So is eating healthily expensive? Can you still eat good quality, healthy food on a budget? I think the answer is yes. It just requires a bit more thought, planning and determination to make it work. There are lots of healthy foods that are not too expensive. These include oats, bananas, rice, pasta, potatoes, baked beans, tinned fish and pulses. Making meals from scratch means that you can bulk out meat curries or stews with less expensive items including lentils, veg or chickpeas. Or you could consider having a vegetarian meal once a week and save money on meat and fish. Buying seasonal fruit and vegetables also helps. Taking sandwiches to work or home made soup is much cheaper than buying lunch out or from the canteen.
This week we are having mackerel risotto for dinner one evening. The Government guidelines recommend we eat two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily such as salmon, mackerel, sardines or fresh tuna. Salmon fillets can be expensive at about £5 for two fillets. Mackerel is a lot cheaper. I buy the cooked peppered mackerel fillets. These are about £2.50 for four fillets, which if used in the risotto would serve a family of four. The other ingredients (onion, risotto rice, peas and spring onion) are all well priced.
1 onion peeled and finely chopped
300g risotto rice
2 pints of fish or vegetable stock
240g cooked mackerel fillets (I like the peppered ones) skin removed and fillets cut into small pieces
100g frozen peas, defrosted (100g of spinach can also be added)
salt and pepper to taste
4 spring onions finely chopped
Heat a tsp of vegetable or olive oil in a large shallow pan
Add the onion and cook over a medium heat until softened and golden
Add the risotto rice and stir
Add a ladle of boiling stock and stir to combine
Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring frequently
When the stock has reduced, add another ladle until all the stock has been used up and the rice is tender. (I find it best to keep the stock in a pan on the hob at a gentle simmer)
Stir in the peas, mackerel fillets, spinach (if using) and spring onions.
Season to taste with salt and pepper
Serve with lemon wedges and greens or a rocket salad