Lentil vegetable stew: A Simple Supper

lentil vegetable stewLentil vegetable stew

I have been visiting my mum in hospital after work and my daughters have been great at organising dinner. Last night darling daughter no 2 made a really tasty lentil vegetable stew with crusty baguettes. She adapted it from a Nigel Slater recipe to suit what she could find in the fridge, as follows:

2 onions
2 tbsp veg oil
2 tsp rosemary
2 bay leaves
3 medium carrots
4 parsnips
2 sticks of celery
125g mushrooms
2 small sweet potatoes
150g red lentils
2 tbsp plain flour
750ml hot veg stock
2 tbsp redcurrant jelly
Large handful of spinach
tbsp wholegrain mustard

Chop all the vegetables and fry up in some oil until the parsnips are starting to turn golden. Stir in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the stock to the pan with the herbs and lentils and bring to the boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the spinach, mustard and redcurrant jelly and stir then leave for a further ten minutes for the spinach to cook. This lentil vegetable stew would be good with rice but we enjoyed it with some ready to bake crusty baguettes from Aldi.

Update on mum

I was able to take my mum home today. She has a lot of cramp in her new hip joint, but other than that she is doing well. My dad sorted her tea and I left her in bed as she didn’t get much sleep in hospital so needs to catch up. One down, one to go – my dad’s op is on Sunday.

It was a glorious day today with daffodils and primroses everywhere. I love spring! Until tomorrow, bye for now.

Using it up: Cheap meals from the freezer

 

cheap meals

Our freezer is rammed full with the possibility of lots of cheap meals. It looks as if I have been unconsciously storing stuff up for a no deal Brexit… We need to eat it! Here is what is there:

What’s in our freezer

A ton of redcurrants and blackcurrants from the garden.

Two bags of foraged blackberries.

For some odd reason, two packs of fish fingers. We hardly ever eat them, but a fish finger sandwich makes a nice lunch.

A large pack of diced beef, bought yellow stickered.

2 packs of lean steak mince, again yellow stickered.

Pack smoked salmon trimmings.

3 fish in breadcrumbs

2 bags Yorkshires

6 pots home made soup

3 beef burgers – I bought these when we had our last language student

2 vegeburgers

Pack of vegetarian butternut squash sausages

Half pack vegetable falafel

A giant pig in blanket – seemed like a good idea at Christmas…

Jam roly poly

Frozen peas

1 steak

1 salmon steak

4 chicken thighs

2 lots of vegetable tagine, home made

Box of ready to bake sausage rolls

2 packs pitta bread

2 lots of home made chick pea curry

1 lot of home made chicken and chick pea curry

1 naan bread

2 loaves bread plus various odds and ends saved for bread pudding

A container full of veg ends for soup making

Ready for Brexit?

cheap meals

The start of our Brexit stash

I don’t even know how some of this arrived in the freezer! I think the girls must have bought the sausage rolls and jam roly poly when they were here at Christmas.

Anyway, the meal plan this week will incorporate some of this. I want to make space for some frozen fruit and veg, just in case there are shortages if there is a no deal Brexit. Despite my comment at the beginning of this post, I have started a Brexit store of tins and non perishables in the last couple of weeks.

The media may well be scaremongering, but it pays to be prepared. We will be stocking up on seeds to grow some of our own fresh food this summer as well. We had a year off last year, but now is the time to get the wellies and spade out. (Well, as I can’t dig with my trapped nerve, I will have to stick to the light stuff for now!)

As I have rambled on, here is  a rough meal plan to create cheap meals and use stuff up.

Cheap meals from our freezer

Saturday

Beef stew for Mr S and defrosted aubergine and chickpea stew for me, with kale and potatoes. This will be one of my vegan days.

Sunday

The same for Mr S as there is a lot of beef in that pack! I will have a chick pea curry and we can both have rice.

Jam roly poly and custard for pudding.

If we are home, fish finger sarnies for lunch.

Monday

cheap meals

Chicken and chick pea curry

Another vegan day for me. I will have lentil dahl with rice . Home made soup for lunch.

Tuesday

Burgers, home made chips and peas.  My daughter is round for lunch so will shall have some of the pittas with falafel, humous and salad.

Wednesday

I will make some kind of pasta dish to use the smoked salmon in. This one looks nice. I will substitute the double cream for a Lactofree version. We will have some broccoli with this.

Thursday

Just me for dinner so I will eat leftover pasta from Wednesday.

Friday

Butternut squash sausages, with mash potato and vegetables.

This week of cheap meals from the freezer should free up a little space, hopefully.  I am hoping my neck pain will allow me to finally make some currant jelly too at some point. Do you plan your meals and find it saves you time and money? Check out some of my favourite frugal recipes here.

This week I am linking up with Katy Kicker. If you want more ideas on meal planning and saving money, take a look at her blog.

Don’t forget to come follow me on Instagram and Twitter to check on our money saving efforts. I also have a Facebook page – follow me and you will know when a new post has been published on the blog.

 

This week’s thrifty achievements #fivefrugalthings

This week’s thrifty achievements

Still suffering from a fibromyalgia flare up, so I have done little except go to work and drag myself home again (it feels like). Last night I had the longest, deepest bath and the pain in my shoulder seems to have eased a bit. I am hoping to be back to my usual self very soon! I did manage some thrifty achievements, though!

Joining the food co-op

As I said in my post Do you use a zero waste shop, I was bemoaning the lack of a zero waste shop here.

However, a friend reminded me that there is a small food coop locally, so I have joined that. The products are ordered in bulk according to the desires of the members and apparently much cheaper than the shops. I can also take my own containers. Can’t wait to use it!

Soup, soup, marvellous soup

thrifty achievements

To make sure I used up all of the bits and pieces in the fridge before I went shopping again, I made soup! A big batch of my favourite thick veggie soup. Full of vitamins and fibre.

I love soup, although this is almost a stew, so thick you can stand your spoon up in it. In went celery, carrots, potatoes and peas, thickened with red lentils in Marigold vegetable stock.

thrifty achievements

This is so quick and easy – incredibly cheap too! I made enough for six really big portions and put some straight in the freezer.

Back in my favourite shop

Now that I have discovered our £1 charity shop, I can’t keep out of it! It is chock full of the most incredible bargains.

Frugal achievementsI spent £11 and got a pair of winter boots, a Monsoon skirt and another pretty silk one, a couple of dresses, some vest tops and a witches hat. Well, it is nearly Halloween!

I also got the potato cookery book that I mentioned in last week’s meal plan. It has some lovely budget recipes in it.

I will sell most of these items and hope to make some extra cash for Christmas.

Bargain book

I love Amazon for second hand books too. I am interested in making some of my own chemical free and low waste toiletries. I managed to find this one, Natural Beauty: 35 step-by-step projects for homemade beauty,  for £1.25! Not bad! I saw it new for £6 on the Book People but this was even better.

I will try it out and let you know how I get on,

Yogurt making

thrifty achievements

I dig out my old yogurt maker a few months ago to try my own lactose free yogurt. It came out ok but was a bit runny. I am going to try again with whole milk and some added milk powder to make it thicker.

In the meantime I found this organic stuff on offer in Sainsbury’s for £1.20. It is delicious and I will use some of it as my starter when I make my next batch.

So, these are this week’s frugal achievements. What are yours?

I am linking up with  Cass Emma  and Becky in their Five Frugal Things linky.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

A meal plan for Zero Waste Week

Next week is Zero Waste Week and I have a blog post coming along all about it! I try really hard not to waste things, especially food, but I am not perfect and sometimes something slips through.  However, my meal plan for Zero Waste Week needs to be better. If I make a bit effort it will make me more conscious day to day.

I won’t achieve zero waste. There isn’t enough time in my life to grow all our food from scratch. Neither is there a specialist zero waste store nearby for me to buy all of our ingredients with no packaging. However, by using much of what we already have, especially those items tucked at the back of the cupboard that I am cheerfully ignoring, I won’t be wasting them. The ingredients I do buy must be minimally packaged, so I will be taking my reusable bags and containers to the shops to avoid plastic bags as much as possible.

meal plan for zero waste week

What is lurking?

Here are some of the items lurking in the back of the cupboard. I want to use at least some of these as part of my Zero Waste Week meal plan.

Tins of potatoes, chickpeas, green lentils, aduki beans, tomatoes and sweetcorn.  I also have a tin of coconut milk and a can of mushroom soup that has been there for, possibly, years! (Why is it there? None of us like it!). There is a large jar of green olives too, which we forgot about. Usually olives get eaten really quickly as we love them. A pack of poppadoms too.

I have a jar of korma sauce, a green Thai curry kit and a small pot of tikka masala paste.

Lots of tuna! About 6 cans. Plus a small tin of anchovies. A jar of mango chutney and another of apple sauce.

I also have a massive bag of pudding rice. Rice pudding is a favourite for me but it requires forward planning. There is also a bag of organic coconut flour that I bought on a whim in Aldi. Buying an unfamiliar ingredient with no plan for using it is not a good idea.

In the freezer there is a lot of frozen fruit: blackberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants. We also have a bag of apples someone gave us in the fridge and our tree is full of ripening plums. There are also quite a few cans of fruit – prunes, peaches and pears. I am not in a hurry to use these as we have fresh and frozen to eat first.

There are some frozen chicken breasts and 4 small lamb chops that were yellow stickered.

There are two portions each of chick pea curry and chilli con carne that I batch cooked last week. I also have some veggie burgers that I don’t like and some meat sausages that were bought on offer that Mr S isn’t keen on. I need to find a way to sneak these into the zero wast meal plan!

The Zero Waste Meal Plan

Saturday

Lunch is courgette soup from the freezer. I use old butter pots to store this.

Dinner will be lamb chops for Mr S and veggie burgers for me (I will smother them in onion gravy). We will have these with new potatoes and frozen corn on the cob. Leftover plum cake and custard.

Sunday

If we are in we will have cheese on toast or a sandwich for lunch.

Dinner will be lamb chops again for Mr S and a piece of haddock for me, this time with roast potatoes and broccoli. Fruit crumble and custard.

Monday

We have quite a few eggs. I will make Spanish omelette and use the tinned potatoes if we don’t have enough fresh.  We will have this with tinned corn or whatever needs eating.

Tuesday

Chick pea curry for me and chilli for Mr S from the freezer, both with boiled rice. We will eat the poppadoms with this and some mango chutney.

Wednesday

Tuna penne with black olives, except I shall use the green ones! I will make a simple carrot salad as there is a large bag in the fridge.

Thursday

Just me for dinner tonight. I will probably have something on toast whilst I write some more blog posts!

Friday

Chicken and vegetable curry with rice. The girls will all be home, so I will make a large pan full using the chicken breasts, some peppers, courgettes and carrots. I will do a smaller pan without any meat and perhaps add the green lentils.

Work lunches

All my lunches at work will be either leftovers or home made soups and sandwiches. I don’t buy a pre-prepared lunch anyway, so no unnecessary packaging here. Also, I never buy coffee out and make mine in the office. I will take some home made cookies (see below) for snacks.

Snacks and sweets

I will make a slow cooker rice pudding tomorrow and at the same time some stewed fruit, using up the apples and some of the frozen berries. This will be good to take to work next week instead of buying more fresh fruit.

I did an internet search for recipes using coconut flour and found these gluten free chocolate chip cookies. We have half a bar of dark chocolate in the fridge, so I can use that up rather than buying choc chips. I planned to make biscuits this week anyway  as home made means less packaging, so this works well. Another super easy biscuit recipe is this peanut butter cookie recipe. My friend bought these into work yesterday and they were delicious. Gluten free and super easy. I have a huge jar of peanut butter so can bake some of these if I have time.

Progress not perfection

In the end, any effort towards reducing our waste is one worth making. We are aiming for progress, not perfection. One step towards zero waste is far better than standing still like a rabbit in the headlights watching an environmental disaster unfolding!

So, this is my zero waste week meal plan. I am still at a loss as to what to do with the tin of mushroom soup, so your suggestions would be gratefully received! What’s on your menu this week?

As usual, to keep my shopping budget on track,  I am linking up with Katy Kicker and the Organised Life Project. If you want more ideas on meal planning and saving money, take a look here.

How to slash your food bill

I am on a challenge to dramatically reduce our food bill. It has been slowly creeping up. I want to save more money than ever in the run up to Christmas. If you want to slash your food bill too, read on!

It is all about being organised. I want to get it as low as possible whilst eating a nutritionally good diet. Here is how I intend to do it. I will let you know how I get on!

slash your food bill

Give up on the major supermarkets

I spend so much less on our weekly shop if I stick to Aldi or Lidl. Of the two, I prefer Aldi as I find their own ranges excellent and their fruit and vegetables of better quality. However, Lidl is round the corner and has better parking so I do pop in their too.

Iceland is another good budget supermarket. Although I avoid their huge range of ready meals, the prices are very good for plain meat, fish and vegetables. Even some of their tinned goods are good value.

Approved Food is also worth keeping an eye on. However, you need to factor in the delivery charge of £5, but if you spend over £55 on your first box you get it free. It’s worth combining an order with a friend. Be careful though – it is easy to fill up your basket with chocolate and treats! A good one for Christmas maybe.

Buy fruit and vegetables at the market

Most towns have a market. Ours isn’t the best, but we do have a couple of decent fruit and vegetable stalls selling at way below supermarket prices. If you go at the end of the day on there are likely to be huge reductions on perishables.

Look out for food bargains in places like Poundland, Home Bargains and B&M.

Eat less meat and fish

There is no doubt about it, meat and fish are expensive. I don’t eat meat anyway, but I do often go for fish as an easy option. I tend to buy frozen or tinned, which is much cheaper. Mr S and my daughter are confirmed carnivores. However, I intend to cook meals just twice a week with meat or fish at the centre. Let’s see how long it takes them to notice!

I will continue to use tinned tuna, sardines and anchovies as these are flavoursome, nutritious and inexpensive. Pulses will begin to feature more in our dinners.

Planning, planning, planning

It is worth repeating! Meal planning saves loads of time and money. Keep a running shopping list and make sure you always take it with you when you go grocery shopping. Be aware of how much items cost. If you don’t, how do you know when you are getting a bargain?

Some folk keep a price book so that they know where they can buy each item cheapest. I don’t have the time to go to lots of different shops, though, so I don’t think this would work for me.

Shop from the larder

This is really important if you want to slash your food bill. Be honest, how many times have you gone shopping and duplicated items you already have rammed at the back of your cupboard? How often do you go through everything in your fridge, freezer and larder and plan your week’s meals using what you already have? It is surprising how little extra you have to buy when you shop from the larder first.

Cook every meal from scratch

Cooking from scratch saves lots of money. Home cooking doesn’t have to be complicated. A cheese omelette with home made chips and some frozen peas is one of my favourite meals. Quick and easy too! Keeping it simple is essential for me. I don’t have time for fancy cordon bleu style cooking.

There are other advantages to cooking from scratch. If you make a spaghetti sauce you know exactly what is in it. You can control salt and sugar levels. What you make will contain minimal additives. You can even get a warm, green glow because when you quit buying convenience meals you will bring a lot less packaging into your home.

Keep it simple. I avoid recipes that insist I go out and buy lots of things I don’t usually use. Miguel Barclay’s book FAST & FRESH One Pound Meals: Delicious Food For Less is good for inspiration. He has a new one
Miguel Barclay’s FAST & FRESH One Pound Meals, which is on my Christmas wish list.

Make soup

This is where your end of day bargain vegetables from the market come into their own. Or if you grow your own and have a glut. Make soup!

I make a huge vat at a time and freeze it in old yogurt and margarine containers. This makes lunches for pennies.

Soup isn’t difficult to make. You don’t need a recipe most of the time. I find a base of chopped, sauted onions and celery means pretty much anything can be thrown into your soup. A decent veg stock such as Marigold is worth buying, but supermarket stock cubes will do. For a nice thick soup, use some potatoes.

Save any scraps of mashed potato, cooked rice and pasta and leftover vegetables in the freezer. When you make your next batch of soup, throw them in! A simple hand blender is a useful investment if you are going to start making soup. However, you don’t need a fancy soup maker.

Batch cook

Batch cooking takes a little organisation and time, but pays dividends in terms of money saving. If you tend to buy lots of jars of spaghetti sauce, for example, you can save loads by making your own in big batches and freezing. I will be making a simple sauce of tinned tomatoes, onions, garlic and herbs this weekend in a huge pan. To this I can add minced beef or Quorn mince to make a bolognese, use it for lasagne, turn it into a veggie stew with the addition of pulses and chopped vegetables, add curry spices and chicken or lentils and have it with rice. I  might even have it as it is on pasta with some grated cheese.

Other good things to batch cook are curry, casseroles, pastry, bread rolls… there are loads of dishes that freeze well.

Head for the supermarket value brands

I don’t have the money for any brand loyalty. If you want to slash your food bill, then switch to the supermarket value brands. If you don’t like those, move up to the supermarket own brands. One will suit and I bet no one notices.

Shop at weird times

Ilona over at Life After Money is the maestro of the yellow sticker bargain. I am in awe! She knows exactly when to visit each supermarket in her area for the best reductions and does her shopping in the evenings near closing time. She doesn’t worry about best before or even use by dates. I am going to do some more shopping in the evenings to see what I can find. About 3.30 on a Sunday seems to be a good time at my local Asda.

Ilona is a huge inspiration – if you don’t know her yet and want to save money, you must pay her a visit! Incidentally, you can read my interview with her here.

Use up leftovers and don’t waste food

If you waste food, you are throwing money down the drain. I did a whole post on this here. Being organised, meal planning and eating from the larder will all help you to reduce your food waste and save lots of money.

Buy in bulk

Buy large packets of non perishables, as they are always cheaper. For example, the basmati rice in the world foods section seems to come in huge bags and works out much cheap gram by gram, as do dried lentils and pulses. Iceland is good for large bags of frozen fruit and vegetables.

Grow your own to slash your food bill

For the past few years we have had two small vegetable patches, a greenhouse and lots of fruit. This year we haven’t had the time or energy to grow our own. However, all is not lost. It seems our friends all have a glut at this time of the year. We have had runner beans, salad items, courgettes, beetroot, aubergines, tomatoes…all the things we usually grow.

I have also seen people selling their gluts outside their houses very cheaply. it is worth stocking up to freeze or make soup.

We do have fruit still and have a freezer full of redcurrants and blackcurrants, and now the plums and apples are on the way.

Go foraging

At this time of year blackberries are everywhere, free for the picking. We already have some in the freezer. We have picked sloes, cherries, nettles and apples in the past, all growing wild. If you want to get really good at finding food for nothing, invest in a copy of Richard Mabey’s classic book Food For Free .

Drink more water

I am talking about tap water, which is pretty much free. The more water you drink, the less tea, coffee, fizzy drinks, juice, squash and alcohol you will need. A much healthier option. Don’t buy the bottled stuff though as that won’t save you money and creates a lot of plastic waste.

Frugal food bloggers who can help you slash your food bill

There is a lot of information on the internet to help you slash your food bill. You could try some of my Favourite Frugal Recipes! Thrifty Lesley is another blog I go to for frugal cooking inspiration. There are loads more on my Best Frugal Blogs post.

What are your ideas to slash your food bill?

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

Favourite Frugal Recipes

Favourite frugal recipes

RECIPES WE HAVE ENJOYED

I firmly believe that it is possible to eat a varied and healthy diet on a budget. These aren’t all my creations and I have given credit where I am using other people’s recipes. Here are some favourite frugal recipes we have enjoyed here at Shoestring Cottage:

Soups, salads and starters

Carrot salad (V)

Courgette and celery soup

Croutons, garlic and oregano

Leftovers soup

Poultry stock

Roasted pumpkin soup

Favourite frugal recipes: Main courses

Bacon and mushroom quiche, crust less (low fat)

Beef and mushroom casserole, slow cooked

Brown rice cashew nut pilaf

Cashew and mushroom roast (V)

Cheesy mushroom and lentil cottage pie (V)

Cheesy potato bake (V)

Chestnut, mushroom and parsnip roast (V)

Chickpea burgers (V)

Chick pea curry (V)

Chilli chicken
Creamy mustard chicken (Jack Munroe)

Chicken with chickpeas

Chicken andchorizo casserole

Chicken, maple roasted

Chicken pasta with chorizo
Chickpeas with spinach (V)

Courgettes stuffed with feta (V)

Courgette and tomato eggy bake (V)

Curried vegetable and chick pea stew (V)

Frugal fish pie

Greek salad (V)

Lentil vegetable stew (V)

Leek and potato pie (V)
Liver and bacon, Hairy Bikers

Macaroni cheese (V)

A marinade for meat

Mediterranean fish stew

Moroccan rice with chicken and sausage

Meatloaf

Pasta with bacon and vegetables

Pasta with leeks, cheese and bacon

Pork and lentil casserole
Pumpkin risotto (V)

Ratatouille (V)

Red Dragon Pie (V)

Rice with Mediterranean vegetables (V)

Risotto, leftovers

Sag aloo, Jamie Oliver (V)

Sausage and vegetable ragu

Sausage, Apple and herb stuffing

Spaghetti cheese casserole (V)

Spanish eggs (V)

Spanish omelette (V)

Spiced almond risotto (Sarah Brown) (V)

Spicy courgette stew (V)

Spicy chick peas (V)

Spinach cheese frittata (V)

Stir fried vegetables with noodles and toasted cashews

Tarka  Dahl (V)

Tomato sauce, slow roasted (V)

Tuna penne with black olives

Turkey and mushroom risotto

Vegetable curry, cheap and easy (V)

Vegetable paella (low fat and V)

Vegetable gratin (V)

Cakes and desserts

Apricot fool

Banana and walnut loaf (GF)

Banana muffins

Barabrith

Bread pudding, spiced

Chocolate brownies (GF)

Chocolate cake (Hairy Bikers)

Eve’s pudding
Farmhouse fruit cake

Flapjacks
Pancakes
Pavlova fruit trifle

Pumpkin cake

Spiced apple cake

Yogurt, home made

Bootstrap cooking

I am trying to eek out this week’s groceries by being creative and using things up. It’s good to do this every now and then as it makes me look properly at what is in my freezer and cupboards and use ingredients that have been hanging about a bit. I am lucky that we still have broccoli, spinach and chard in the garden too so I haven’t had to buy much veg. I did pop out to get milk from the local Co-op yesterday though and picked up parsnips and peppers reduced to half price. I will make a spicy parsnip soup for lunch today.
I don’t have much meat though so we are eating more vegetarian dishes. The other night I made a stew out of pretty much everything we had in the fridge: celery, sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, mushrooms, peas and garlic with a tin of tomatoes, brown lentils, dried herbs and some vegetable stock. It was lovely with brown rice and a bit of grated cheese. I do like easy, no fuss dinners when I have been at work all day.

Last night we had some chicken thighs from the freezer in chicken chasseur as I had red wine that was a bit old for drinking but fine for cooking. I always use the recipe from A Girl Called Jack: 100 delicious budget recipes (my affiliate link). This is one of my favourite cook books ever. I have the second one but it doesn’t appeal to me as much. I have also signed up for her third which was crowd funded through Kickstarter. I should receive a signed limited edition copy for my money next month some time. I know Jack has become a vegan on the last few months so it will be interesting to see how this affects the recipes on offer. It wasn’t billed as a vegan cookbook but I don’t mind as lots of meat makes cooking more expensive. It is called Cooking on a Bootstrap.

As with anything related to Jack Monroe there is an interesting story behind the use of crowd funding to get the book out. It will actually come out with a ‘proper’ publisher in 2017. You can read about the saga  at https://cookingonabootstrap.com.

Off to the garden now as I have more seeds to start for the garden. Happy Sunday!

How to save money on your food bill

Food can be expensive. You may well be looking for ways to save money on your food bill if you have a hungry family to feed. I am sure you want to give your family good, nutritious food but if you are on a tight budget it can feel like an uphill struggle. However, if you give in to cheap ready meals or takeaways on a regular basis you are unlikely to save money.

Take the packaged frozen curry. You will each have a tiny portion of rice and sauce for £2-3. So for a family of 4 you will spend £8-10 on one meal! Do this as a takeaway and you are likely to be looking at £25 plus. You could make an excellent quality delicious chicken and vegetable curry for a fraction of the cost very easily, which won’t be full of salt, fat and preservatives. So my first tip has to be…

Learn to cook! Scratch cooking will always be cheaper and healthier than eating convenience foods. There are so many books, websites, You Tube videos, etc. to help you. Just start and you will be amazed at what you can make even if you have always considered yourself a ‘can’t cook/won’t cook’ type of person.

“Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale”- Elsa Schiaparelli

Don’t waste food

Want to know how to save money on your food bill? Stop chucking good food in the bin! According to WRAP in their report Household Food and Drink Waste in the United Kingdom (2012), the average family wastes £700 a year on unused food and drink. Adopt a zero tolerance approach to food waste. Only buy what you need and cook what will be eaten. Freeze what you don’t use immediately or take it to work for lunch. Encourage your family to understand the value of food and not to waste it.

A good example of a food that is regularly binned is bread. If you don’t use it very quickly freeze a sliced loaf and just defrost what you need as you go along. It only takes 10 minutes to defrost at room temperature. Bagged salad is another – if you buy it build it into your week’s meal plans to use within a few days of purchase. An interesting book on reducing food waste is My Zero-Waste Kitchen: Easy Ways to Eat Waste Free (Dk) (this is an affiliate link).

Have an honest look at what you habitually put in your shopping basket that is not essential. If it is full of fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes, crisps and biscuits, try cutting down on some of these. This will benefit your family’s health as well as your wallet. Keep them as treats and try to avoid too much snacking between meals.

Don’t go food shopping when you are hungry!

Work out your costs

Work out the cost of the recipes you make regularly. This enables you to calculate what actually constitutes a cheap meal. Work out how much 100g of cheddar or flour is, or 500ml of milk, etc. I keep a price book so that I can record the cost of various ingredients. Obviously this needs updating from time to time.

Take a packed lunch to work. If you have access to a kettle, take your own mug and tea or coffee. If you don’t, take a flask.

Unless your kids are entitled to free school meals, pack a lunch for them too. Don’t be swayed by expensive individually-packaged mini cheeses, cheesy dippers, etc. Read the ingredients label – you don’t want your kids to eat that rubbish, do you? A sandwich or wrap, some fruit, a yogurt, and for a treat a piece of home-made cake or a supermarket own brand chocolate biscuit should fill them up. Fill a bottle with squash or water too. I actually buy a sports drink and re-use the bottle lots of times as they seem to leak less than plastic bottles specially designed for the job.

Try eating vegetarian food at least a couple of times a week. You don’t need meat at every meal. Veggie stuff is healthier and cheaper and is as likely to taste good as anything with meat in it. (I don’t mean just substitute meat for Quorn here. It has its place but isn’t necessarily cheap!). Meat Free Mondays and the Vegetarian Society  both have lots of recipe ideas for vegetarian dishes. Pulses such as chick peas, kidney beans and lentils count towards one of your 5-a-day and are low in fat, full of fibre and packed with protein.

Chick Pea Curry

Incredibly cheap, easy and vegetarian. Serves 4

2 x 400g cans chick peas 3 tablespoons oil 2 onions 1 teaspoon chilli powder 2 teaspoons ground cumin 1 teaspoon ground coriander 2 teaspoons chopped root ginger (I usually buy a piece and freeze the rest, but I’m sure dried will do) 2 cloves garlic, crushed 1 400g tin of passata or chopped tomatoes 2 tablespoons tomato puree Half a pint of vegetable stock Seasoning

Chopped parsley and a tablespoon of yogurt or sour cream for garnish (optional)

Chop the onions and fry until soft but not brown, then add the spices and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato puree and chick peas, then the stock. Cook for 10-15 minutes on a low heat, seasoning to taste. Sprinkle on the chopped parsley and yogurt or sour cream if you have any. Serve with rice.

Take a look at chicken….

If you roast a chicken, save the carcass and freeze it. When you have two or three make chicken stock. Just boil them up with an onion, celery and carrots for a few hours. Add a couple of bay leaves and whole pepper corns. Then strain if off and you are ready to go.

Use your stock to make soup! Use cheap vegetables in season or visit the market at the end of the day for some reduced produce. Even better, if you have a bit of garden you can grow your own veg.

Buy a whole chicken rather than chicken pieces – it is much cheaper to buy this way and it’s not that hard to cut it up if you have a sharp knife. You can freeze the parts you don’t plan to use immediately.

Don’t assume that pre-packaged produce is more expensive than loose – sometimes this isn’t the case so price-check before you buy.

Keep an ice cream box in the freezer for collecting leftover cooked vegetables, rice and mashed potatoes. These are good for adding to soups and stews. You never know quite what you are going to get, but it usually tastes really good! For soup, make a base of fried onions and garlic, add any veg in your fridge that is going soft, then thrown the frozen leftovers on top with some stock to cover. You could make it a more substantial soup by adding lentils, pearl barley etc. Season to taste and you have a delicious, comforting meal for next to nothing.

Brown Rice with Mediterranean Vegetables

Serves 6

1tbsp olive oil 1 onion, chopped 2 cloves garlic, crushed I green pepper, chopped 1 large or 2 small courgette, diced 100g mushrooms, sliced 325g brown rice, cooked with a veg stock cube 600g (1.5 cans) chopped tomatoes 2tbsp chopped parsley (or 2tsp dried mixed herbs) 1 tbsp soy sauce Salt and pepper to taste Grated cheddar to top (optional)

Heat the oil and gently fry the onion and garlic until softened. Add the courgettes, mushrooms and pepper and continue to cook for 5 minutes, then add the tomatoes and the cooked rice. Simmer for 10 minutes then add the parsley and soy sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a good sprinkling of grated cheese.

Try one of the budget supermarkets, like Aldi or Lidl. They save you money because they don’t have such a huge choice of items and so there isn’t so much temptation, they don’t bamboozle you with buy one get one free type offers, plus some items are so much cheaper you wonder how they make any money. I estimate that I save £25 to £30 a week when I shop there and the quality of the food I eat hasn’t suffered. Don’t forget to take your own shopping bags. Iceland is also really good value, especially if you don’t mind buying frozen meat.

Go online

If you don’t fancy a budget supermarket, try shopping on-line. For some people this is a good way to stick to a shopping list and avoid the impulse buy. However, you will have to pay a delivery charge so consider getting your shop delivered at the start of the week when it is cheaper rather than the weekend.

Comparison sites such as mysupermarket.com can help you find the cheapest place to buy your goods. The idea is that you select a trolley load of products and it calculates which shop will save you the most money.

Use the ends of bread for bread pudding, or whizz them up in a food processor for breadcrumbs.

Start your children on proper food early. Encourage them to try different tastes and textures as young as you can. Don’t create fussy eaters or you make an expensive rod for your own back.

The power of frozen

If you have space for a freezer, they are a sound investment. It doesn’t need to be new and you might even find one on Freecycle as I did (although if you are buying new, buy an energy saving one). Don’t throw leftovers away, freeze them. Bits and pieces of meat and veg can be turned into soups, added to casseroles or made into pie filling. If you see meat or fish on offer, stock up and freeze. For me, freezing the glut I grow in the garden is essential, giving me free fruit and veg up to Christmas and beyond.

Plan your meals for the week. Breakfast and lunch plans tend to be fairly loose at Shoestring Cottage – just cereal and toast, soup and sandwiches – but I always know what we are having for dinner. This means we don’t waste food, we aren’t tempted to buy takeaways because we haven’t got anything in and I can prepare in advance so I save time too.

Frozen vegetables are cheaper than fresh; you can use just what you need and they come ready chopped! It is also claimed that they are frozen very quickly after cropping so therefore contain more nutrients than fresh vegetables. I find peas, sweet corn and green beans particularly good.

 Sample Food Plan

I work full time so I need quick, nutritious and fuss free food. I plan for evenings when I will be late with an easy dinner.

Sunday: Roast chicken, roast potatoes, vegetables (don’t forget to freeze the chicken carcass)

Monday: Stir fry vegetables and chicken (left over from the roast) with noodles

Tuesday: Chick pea curry and rice (see recipe)

Wednesday: Fish pie (home made with cheap white fish) and vegetables

Thursday: Sausages and mash with vegetables

Friday – easy tea for the end of the week. Jacket potatoes, with tuna mayonnaise or beans and grated cheese, with salad.

Saturday – Brown rice with Mediterranean vegetables and crusty bread*

Vegetables will be either frozen or in season, and hopefully from my veggie plot. If I have any leftovers I freeze them in single portions to make ‘ready meals’ or take them to work for my lunch the following day. Puddings for those who are still hungry will be fruit or yogurt. I usually bake a cake at the weekend and make a dessert for Sunday lunch such as fruit crumble or bread pudding with custard.

Slow cooker stews

Use a slow cooker. If you haven’t got one, look out for a second-hand one. Cheap cuts of meat taste just as good as expensive cuts if you slow cook them, you can make delicious veggie soups and stews, and can even have a steaming hot bowl of porridge ready for breakfast if you are organised the previous night. They cost pennies to run too.

One pot dinners save energy. Throwing meat and veggies in together often creates a delicious blend of flavours as well.

Do regular store cupboard stock checks. Include the contents of your fridge and freezer too. Plan your meals around what you have and what needs using up.

If you have a good market in your town, you are lucky. Use it to buy your fruit and veg – it will be cheaper than the supermarket.

Don’t chuck out those brown bananas! Make muffins or banana bread and freeze for lunch boxes.

Banana Muffins

This makes a large batch so that you can freeze some for lunchboxes, etc. If you don’t want to do that, halve the ingredients.

500g self-raising flour
250g sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3 medium bananas, mashed
240ml milk
160ml oil
2 eggs
Cake cases

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade (gas mark 4). Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Then start to slowly whisk in the milk, oil and egg until well combined. Finally, fold in the mashed banana and combine well. Spoon the mix into your cake cases and bake for around 15 minutes, until golden and springy to the touch.

These are lovely warm, but equally nice cold. However, you can reheat them for about 15 seconds in the microwave.

Search out the yellow stickers

Try visiting the supermarkets later in the evening as the chances are lots of food items will be reduced. I look out for meat in particular and put it in the freezer. If you have the time, late Christmas or New Year’s Eve are likely to yield some bargains as the stores will be closed the following day.

Try the basic ranges in your local supermarket. Can you really afford to pay for all the expensive marketing and advertising that is behind the big name brands? If you don’t like the value brands, try trading down to at least the supermarket own brand.

Approved Food

Consider buying some of your groceries from companies such as Approved Food. They sell goods that are on or past their best before dates but are still perfectly safe to eat. You can save up to 70% on the original price.

I have bought catering sized packs of couscous, vegetable stock and pasta for just a few pounds, which formed the basis of many a cheap dinner at Shoestring Cottage. They are good for casserole sauces too. I find these very helpful when I need a quick dinner but don’t want to give in to the takeaway or ready meal.

Grow a few herbs. A small rosemary plant will soon become quite a big permanent bush and is useful in so many recipes. I have a large pot of parsley outside my kitchen door all the time, and just pop it in the greenhouse when it gets really cold. Thyme is also incredibly easy to grow in the garden, and a pot of basil on the windowsill is great with tomato and pasta recipes.

Free Food

Go foraging! Blackberries, sloes, elderflowers, and chestnuts are all easily available. We have found a good source of cherries too and made delicious cherry jam. The absolute classic source of information on foraging is Food for Free by Richard Mabey, originally published in the 1970’s. This has since been reprinted, revised and updated many times and lists over 200 plants that can be found for free if you know where to look.

Keep an eye out for windfall fruit in season. If your neighbours have established fruit trees, they may well have more than they can use. You could trade some home grown veg for some of their fruit, or ask if you can take some and give them some home-made jam in exchange. My neighbour gives us some of his tart and tasty greengages when he has a glut, which freeze well and make lovely pies, crumbles and jams. In return we have given him pumpkin plants and leeks.

Drink more water

Drink more tap water – it is the cheapest beverage you are likely to find and better for you and your family than fizzy drinks and endless cups of tea and coffee.

Keep a jug of water in the fridge rather than buying the bottled stuff. Not only is bottled water expensive when you can get it for free from your tap, it creates huge amounts of plastic waste. Where I live, in East Anglia, the water can have quite a strong smell of chlorine, but I find this disappears once it has been in the fridge for a couple of hours. You could buy a water filter, but these can be expensive as the filters need replacing so frequently.

Batch Cooking

Batch cooking involves getting organised and planning ahead, and maybe spending a day a month just cooking. It saves you money because you fill up the oven and get several dishes cooked in one hit, you can buy your ingredients in bulk and need fewer trips to the supermarket, and if you have a freezer full of meals you save time and never have to give into the unhealthy and expensive ready meal.

You could start with a basic Bolognese sauce, which could be divided into portions and stashed in the freezer, and then adapted as you come to use it for chilli con carne, cottage pie, curry, etc. If you have some ready prepared dishes in the freezer you are less likely to give into the temptation of the takeaway when you get back late from work as well. I tend to do this in a more modest way, and frequently cook double something, such as a shepherd’s pie or casserole, and freeze half for the following week.

Save a few margarine and ice cream containers. These are good for freezing leftovers, home-made soups or food you have batch-cooked and make perfectly good lunchboxes too.

Look at your portion sizes. Over eating is expensive and bad for your waistline. If you don’t eat it, it may end up in the bin.

Make your own yogurt. You don’t need a special yogurt maker. This site has loads of advice and recipes. I make plain with UHT milk and stir in some jam or honey.

Just a Little Meat

Meat is expensive. Try bulking out a casserole , curry or bolognese by adding cooked green or red lentils, or TVP (textured vegetable protein, available in supermarkets and health shops). Or you could try the ‘just a little meat’ strategy I use. Although I would happily eat vegetarian food most of the time, my family don’t feel the same way. To stop them feeling deprived, I use small amounts of bacon, leftover chicken or chorizo sausage in stir-fries and pasta dishes. Here is one they particularly enjoy.

Quick and Easy Pasta with Bacon and Vegetables

500g pasta, cooked 250g bacon, grilled 1 tbsp olive oil 1 large courgette, cut into cubes 1 red onion, sliced 2 cloves garlic, crushed 100g mushrooms, wiped and sliced 2 tins chopped tomatoes 2 tsp Marigold vegetable stock 2 tsp dried mixed herbs Salt and pepper to taste Grated cheese to top

Heat the oil and gently fry the onion and garlic for 3 or 4 minutes, then add the courgette and mushrooms and cook gently for about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir, then add the stock powder and dried herbs and mix together well. Finally, chop up the cooked bacon and add to the sauce. Season to taste. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, then add the cooked pasta. Serve with a little grated cheese and a green salad.

Try to avoid buying junk food when you are out. It may seem cheap but it is dearer than a home-made picnic.

Keep the ingredients for a few quick and easy meals in your store cupboard for the evenings you get in late and tired so that you aren’t tempted to grab a takeaway. My favourite quick and easy tea is pasta with pesto or a stir in sauce, paired with a basic tomato salad.

Do multi-buy offers always save money?

Beware the multi-buy offer. The consumer organisation Which has frequently highlighted issues with some of these so-called bargains, finding examples where multi-buys didn’t save any money at all, or where the price of an item had gone up for a few weeks before the offer came in, then dropped to its original price as part of a multi-buy offer. They can also be wasteful. If you can’t use three lots of butter before the use by date and end up throwing one away it is not saving you any money.

On its website following a complaint to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in April 2015 Which said: ‘Many retailers are creating the illusion of savings that don’t exist, which in turn mislead people into buying products they may not have chosen if they knew the full facts.’

Stuck for inspiration? The Internet is awash with sites offering budget recipes. Netmums.com has a lovely selection of family friendly ideas. Also look out for old cookery books in charity shops – if you can find good basic books by old style cooks such as Delia Smith and Marguerite Patten you are likely to discover great family dishes that don’t use expensive fad foods.

With a little planning, thought and creativity you can save a lot of money on your weekly groceries and have a really healthy and varied diet!