Food prices have rocketed in the last three years so there’s no better time to start looking at your shopping list and seeing what you can cut back on or swap for something cheaper. Wanting to feed your family for less doesn’t mean compromising on the foods you and your family like. It’s all about thinking of savvy ways to dodge an ever increasing food bill.
This is the most important way to decrease your spending. Firstly, think about what you want to cook for the oncoming week, what ingredients might work well with a couple of dishes, and how any leftovers or food nearing its use-by date might be incorporated. Secondly, take note of whether any plans mean that some family members might be eating elsewhere – if they are; change your food quantities accordingly to prevent unused food sitting in the fridge.
Have a look at LoveFoodHateWaste which is a great resource for all sorts of foodie knowledge. It’ll show you how to make sure you cook the right size portions so no food goes to waste, and is jam-packed full of fantastic recipes for using up the leftovers in your fridge.
2. Make a shopping list, and stick to it
Those cream cakes you just walked passed on the patisserie counter – they might smell nice, and be glistening in the neon supermarket lighting, but do they feature in your recipes for the week? Are they a necessity item? You can make up any answer you like, but if they’re not on the list they ain’t getting in the trolley. Being strict about this will stop you making impulse purchases and buying things you don’t really need. If only there was something similar in place to stop us buying of novelty hats on holiday.
When you’ve completed your shop, it’s always worth maximising your spend by adding points to supermarket store cards, like Sainsbury’s Nectar and Tesco’s Clubcard. Your points can be exchanged for vouchers, saving money on your future shops.
3. Compare prices
Mysupermarket.com is an independent comparison site that allows you to compare product prices and shop online between the four major UK supermarket chains; Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Ocado, without having to visit each site separately. Now you can make sure you’re getting the best deal.
4. Use featured supermarket recipes
Some supermarket chains have helpful food plans and cheap family recipes on their websites, with Sainsbury’s and Tesco providing lots of ideas for cheap eating.
Sainsbury’s meal planner sets out three meals a day, for four people, for seven days. There are three plans to choose from, and the ingredients and meals have been chosen so that your shopping for the week will cost just £50 (subject to change due to rises in inflation).There are also options to personalise the meal plan, allowing for special dietary requirements, feeding children under four, and varying family sizes.
Similarly, Tesco features a selection of family meals on a budget that cost less than £5 for a family of four, such as a Greek pasta salad that you can make for just £1.15.
5. Know the difference between sell-by and use-by dates
So many people throw away food prematurely by confusing the dates printed on the product. The sell-by date is just an indication to the shops to ensure the quality when customers make a purchase, it is only the use-by that should be taken note of. Saying that, quite often even the use-by dates are over-cautious so it’s always worth checking for yourself to see whether food can still be used after that date, though perhaps don’t chance it with meat and dairy products.
6. Buy cheaper cuts of meat and different types of fish
The most commonly used and popular types of meat and fish are also the most expensive. Try branching out from common fish staples like cod and salmon, and go for some much cheaper rainbow trout instead. Alternatively, buying a pack of salmon off cuts is much cheaper than a whole fillet, and works perfectly in pastas or risottos.
With meat, instead of going for the premium cuts like beef sirloin and rib-eye, you’ll find that other cuts taste just as good but need a little more cooking. Going for a brisket or fore shank piece of meat will be cheaper, and great for casseroles and slow roasting. Meanwhile chicken legs and thighs work really well in all sorts of dishes and are much cheaper then chicken breasts.
7. Use local shops
Local butchers and greengrocers are likely to have more variety and cheaper prices than the supermarkets, and you can also get advice on works well on a much more personal level. Along with that, making friends with butchers and greengrocers can sometimes lead to “mates’ rates”, and supporting local businesses is never a bad thing as it will benefit your local community.
8. Embrace the humble vegetable
Even if you’re not a vegetarian, opting for a veggie meal twice a week can help cut down your spending, whilst making sure you’re getting those important five-a-day. This doesn’t mean you have to miss out on protein either, as you can include ingredients like eggs, cheese and nuts into your meals, as well as meat substitutes like Quorn.
The Vegetarian Society has a fantastic selection of interesting and delicious veggie recipes, so if you get stuck for ideas it’s well worth a look.
Buying strawberries in December is never going to be as good as buying them in June, firstly because they will mainly taste of water having been grown artificially without seeing any sun, and secondly because they will be much more expensive. If you stick to foods that are naturally in season, they will be cheaper, tastier, and give you much better quality for your cash.
To check what’s in season now, or what will be in the coming months, the BBC website has a month by month account of seasonal food and suggested recipes of how to use it.
Yes, it’s buy one get one free. Yes, getting a lot of food for half the usual price is very tempting. But, if you never usually buy that particular item, and are unlikely to use it, then you’re spending unnecessary money.
It’s only a good deal if you were going to buy it anyway, otherwise stick to the above ‘shopping list only’ rule! Have a look at our article on sneaky supermarket tricks to make sure you outwit the supermarkets and their offers.
11. Don’t buy processed food
Buying and cooking the raw ingredients yourself is healthier, as processed foods and ready meals tend to have high levels of salt and sugar, and it works out cheaper in the long run. Opting to cook foods yourself also gives you the opportunity to get the kids to help out and learn to cook too, which they can’t do if the food just goes in the oven or the microwave.
12. Be recipe savvy
Do you really need that much meat, or could you take out a third and put in more vegetables? Could you add a bit of milk instead of all that cream? Would dried herbs do the same job as fresh ones? These are the types of questions worth asking when you’re cooking. Small changes and tweaks could result in massively cutting down on more expensive ingredients, and more often than not, the finished product will taste exactly the same.
For more ideas and advice on how to be thrifty with food, have a look at MoneyMagpie’s food columnist.