My tips for planning my food shop

Supermarket aisles from a shopping trolley's point of view

Because I am spoilt by our government and given a whole £350 a month to live on, I have to think really carefully about what food I buy. That said, as we are all locked down and not able to do anything remotely interesting, I simply refuse to make my really small life feel any worse than it has to.

So, I try really hard to make interesting but cost effective food so I have at least something to look forward to at the end of yet another day that is exactly the same as every other day.

Today, I did the online shop for the period from 11/3 to 11/4 because my Universal Credit is paid on the 11th of the month. Excluding food for Lucy the cat, toilet paper, washing up liquid and some scourers, I spent £46. I will top up on bread and fruit & veg over the month but I aim to send no more than £80 in total for the month.

There is an important caveat on the following tips. I saved the basics (pasta, rice, tinned tomatoes, longlife milk) that were part of the Govt supplied food boxes during Lockdown 1. As I was having chemotherapy during that time, I was shielded so I kept the stuff I would eat and everything else (about 75kgs of food) was donated to charity.

So, I have 2 cupboards loaded with lots of basic food which can make a small bit of meat or a few veg go a long way. And it is just me so I am only cooking for one person. In any ways, this is much more expensive than cooking for 4 but I hope some of this helps others.

1. Meat. I am a carnivore but obviously never buy things like steak or fish. I eat a lot of pork because it is the cheapest of the meats and so incredibly versatile. I budget for no more than 100g of meat per meal. Bulk it out with potatoes, pasta, rice, lentils etc, and it does not seem paltry. I remember a cooking programme on TV where a chef let slip that restaurants portion meat and fish at 120g per person so I am not being a miser.

2. Charcuterie. Tasty salami and chorizo are great on a pizza or in a pasta sauce. If you buy the supermarket versions, they are actually very tasty and great value. Depending upon size, 4-5 slices of salami in a pasta sauce is enough to make me think I am not eating a vegetarian dish.

3. Cheese. I always buy the big block of Smart Price Cheddar from Asda. It is £3.65 but lasts me for the best part of the month. Do your research on what is actually cheaper with other cheeses. For example, it is cheaper to buy a mozzarella ball than it is to buy ready grated mozzarella. The balls freeze and one is the perfect size for a pizza. I found some mozzarella balls in the market down shelf for 35p and froze them immediately. As I make my own pizza bases, I can make a pizza for about £1 including toppings. A wedge of parmesan is not cheap but a little goes a long way and lasts me for a month.

4. Sausages & Bacon. Apart from an occasional sausage and mash or Toad in the Hole, I am not a huge sausage fan. But, with the skin removed, sausage meat broken into little pieces and fried until crispy is great with pasta. A little goes a long way so a pack of 12 sausages can easily last 9–10 meals for me. The same applies to bacon. A couple of rashers in more than enough for one meal.

5. Only buy what you will actually eat. I used to buy things because they were on sale, not because they were things I like to eat. Its a false economy because I would often end up throwing the food away, Now, even thought it might be £1 more, I only buy things I know I will eat. Happier Sam and less waste.

6. Veg is relatively cheap and things like dumplings cost almost nothing. A casserole or stew is a cheap way to eat. Lots of veg and dumplings over the top (which are really just flour, butter and milk with a bit of flavouring) used with tinned tomatoes and a can of soup is a really cost effective meal that can be stretched to lots of meals. I regularly make chicken or pork stews and throw it in the freezer (bagged into portion sizes).

7. Baking. Flour, yeast, baking powder, and salt are cheap. Although I have real problems with using yeast, some flour and water can be turned into a flatbread easily. I don’t buy pita bread or anything like that. I save money by making them (or a decent approximation) myself. Muffins are cheap and easy to make (buy frozen fruit as it is much cheaper) and a batch of 6 blueberry muffins can be rustled up in 30 mins for about £1.50.

8. Keep it simple. As much as I love the look of Yotam Ottolenghi’s food, I will not cook something that needs 25 ingredients. Like is too short. SO, a quick stir fry with a few veg and a bit of chicken and an easy sauce is much more likely to come out of my kitchen. When planning my monthly shop, I focus on meals that do not need lots of ingredients. I am more likely to actually make them.

So, long story short, I go through the meals I like and know I am likely to cook and construct my shopping list around those recipes. I also make sure I have a few things that mean I can rustle up an approximation of something I fancy eating. A bit of spontaneity is important in our currently restricted lives. So, the bacon, chorizo, and salami mean I can make a yummy pizza. The parmesan means a bowl of pasta or risotto tastes better. I swap things in ad out of recipes based on what I have available. I make it easy to provide myself with a bit of variety whilst buying food that is reasonably priced. I don’t have all the answers but I am trying.

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