20 ways to cut your food bills by 20%

20 ways to cut your food bills by 20%

Fiona Beckett
0 recipes
Published by
Absolute Press
Mike Cooper

Depending on how frugal you already are there are many ways to make substantial savings on your food bill. If you currently waste a lot you could save as much as a third of what you spend.

Only shop when you need to

This is possibly the most valuable lesson to take on board - certainly the one I've found has changed my shopping habits most. Don't buy food unless you need to. Take a look at what you've got in the fridge, freezer or storecupboard before you go to the supermarket or down to the local shops. More than likely you can make a meal from it. In fact, you could probably survive the week. Try and have at least one No Food Shopping Day a week, as I call it in the blog. A day when you think you need to go to the shops but you hold off. No stopping off for a sandwich or going to a restaurant either. Good for the soul. Better still for the purse.

Make a shopping list

Not just off the top of your head. Check which ingredients you already have so you don't end up duplicating them.

Avoid impulse buying

This is the discipline I've found it hardest to stick to. I get totally over-excited about good ingredients, especially in markets and invariably buy more than I need - or at least I used to. Supermarkets are also brilliant at making us part with our money. Just because a product is new, doesn't mean you have to try it.

Stop stockpiling

Get out of the habit of making 'just in case' purchases - food for family or friends who might drop by. They might - but you might go to their house instead and not need any of it.

Plan ahead

Exactly how far ahead depends on your temperament and lifestyle. If you never know where you're going to be from one day to the next, it's hard admittedly but in that case the answer, if you want to avoid wasting massive amounts of food, is only to buy fresh, perishable produce when you know you can eat it within 24 hours. This strategy may involve more visits to the shop, but you won't spend as long in there as you do for a big supermarket shop - so long as you resist impulse purchases.

....But Not too far ahead

Some people prefer to do a big weekly shop but I must say I'm not one of them, partly because I'm not a big fan of supermarket shopping, but mainly because it's so easy to buy more than you need. The best way I find is to plan in two to three day blocks, shopping on a Friday or Saturday for the weekend then taking stock on Monday or Tuesday in the light of what's left over and what we're doing for the rest of the week.

Do not over-cater

One of the most common reasons for wasting food is over-catering, especially when you're entertaining. Cheese is a classic example. You go out and buy four or five different kinds to fill a cheese board. Half of that - if you're lucky - gets eaten on the night. The leftover Cheddar and maybe the Brie gets used over the next few days. The rest lurks in the back of the fridge for a couple of weeks until you discover it mouldering away. Instead, buy one really great cheese - one that you can use up during the week if any is left over - and you'll find the whole lot goes.

Exercise portion control

Adjust your idea of portion size by using the very useful calculator published by lovefoodhatewaste.com. We all tend to eat too much protein. The standard recommendation for chicken, for example is 140g per person for an adult and 100g for children. That doesn't take into account whether the meat is on or off the bone or what age and size the children are (teenage boys have an awesome capacity to put away food) but it's a useful reality check.

Set leftovers aside

The only way to limit how much food gets eaten and whether you have any left over is to serve it out yourself, firmly putting aside any you need for the following day before it even reaches the table (an essential strategy in the case of a Sunday roast). That may mean denying your family second helpings but they'll be mollified if you offer them a pudding instead (which is exactly how families used to eat 30 or 40 years ago).

Ban fridge-raiding

Of course, there's no point in creating loads of lovely leftovers if everyone picks at them freely throughout the day - or night. It may sound draconian but you need to issue an edict against fridge-raiding - or at least create a 'no go' shelf from which the family - including you - are strictly banned.

Feed everyone the same food

And while we're on the subject of changing family habits how many different meals do you serve in one night? If you're making more than two - and even that's only justifiable if there's a vegetarian in the house - it's too many. I can't claim to have got this right over the years - we did occasionally let our ultra-fussy youngest, (inevitably the youngest), opt out of the family meal. And what's the result? An ultra-fussy - though very sweet, of course - adult. More to the point, it's expensive and time-consuming. Even with a vegetarian in the house it's possible for the whole family to eat the same meal at least two or three nights a week.

Don't follow recipes slavishly

Yes, even these ones! They're only there as a guide. Too often we rush to the shops simply because we think we're lacking what we imagine is a vital ingredient in a recipe (and pick up a whole load of other stuff while we're there). But there's often a substitute. To take some common examples you can get an onion flavour from onions, shallots, spring onions, chives and leeks, a tomato one from fresh tomatoes, tinned tomatoes, passata and tomato paste and give a spicy kick to a recipe with fresh chillies, chilli powder, chilli sauce, hot paprika or pimenton and cayenne pepper. A blue cheese like Stilton can easily be substituted for Gorgonzola in a pasta recipe. Who cares if it's British rather than Italian? Necessity is the mother of invention.

Have a good basic storecupboard -and freezer stocks

A supply of basics such as pasta, rice and pulses, some tinned tomatoes and a range of herbs and spices will make rustling up a scratch meal a lot easier. So will a well-stocked - but not over-filled - freezer.

Learn to spot a bargain...

Many people miss out on bargains because they're not aware that they exist or fail to realise just what good value they are. A great example is a ham hock, a brilliantly frugal buy that will stretch to 8- 10 helpings. Another is Quark, a low-cost, low-fat cheese which is mysteriously cheaper than any comparable product simply, I suspect, because it's German and has a funny name.

...And Sometimes walkaway from one

A bargain is not a bargain if you can't eat or cook it before it goes off. Example: a couple of kilos of bananas for a £1 may sound like a fantastic buy but what are you going to do with them? Live off smoothies for a week? Bake ten banana breads? Probably not.

Avoid overpriced ingredients

Which means carrying around in your head what things should cost. There comes a point when even healthy ingredients like a red pepper - recently spotted at over £1 each - are simply not worth buying (frozen vegetables like peas, peppers and spinach and fruits such as raspberries can be cheaper than fresh and are just as, if not more, nutritious). Prime cuts of meat such as steak and chicken breasts are always going to cost more than their less glamourous counterparts.

Cut down on convenience foods

I say cut down rather than cut out because sometimes convenience foods can save money - when you're cooking just for one, for example. But in general, if someone else saves you time in the kitchen, you pay. Bagged salad leaves, pre-prepared fruit, ready-grated cheese, pasta sauces and salad dressings... just add it up.

Buy produce in season (asa general rule)...

'As a general rule' because so efficient are distribution systems nowadays that it can, depressingly, be cheaper to buy in season produce like asparagus and tomatoes from another country (usually Spain) than to buy it home-grown. Of course, it doesn't taste as good but if frugality is the only object it's hard to be patriotic. Nevertheless, you will generally find that root vegetables and citrus are cheaper in winter and salad vegetables such as cucumber, tomatoes and lettuce and berry fruits like strawberries and raspberries are cheaper in the summer.

...And Buy it loose

It's not simply that pre-packed fruit and vegetables are significantly more expensive than their loose counterparts - they also encourage you to buy more than you need, particularly if you're shopping for one. Particular culprits on cost grounds are prepacked fresh herbs (much cheaper by the bunch from Middle-Eastern or Asian grocers) and nuts, dried pulses and cereals (all cheaper from the bins in health food shops).

Make and take your own lunch

I suspect part of the reason we all go out and buy sandwiches at lunchtime is to get out of the office. But making and taking your own packed lunch can save a significant amount every week. Take a walk in the park, go for a swim or find some other displacement activity. Or have your lunch at work and just go out for a coffee rather than for food.

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