Real Food is Cheaper than Junk Food

After the holidays money might be tight. Whereas we spent a quarter of our income (25%) on food 40 years ago, it’s now only about 10% and price is one of the most important factors when people choose what to buy.

A common reason people give me for not eating real food, is that it’s too expensive. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you’ve ever watched Eat Well for Less, every family ends up saving £1000s by doing their own cooking. Why do we think real food is more expensive than fake food? Perhaps because the manufacturers are so adept at presenting their wares as cheap.

Ready meals are £2.50 a pop, (should that be a ping?) and most people recognise they often aren’t great (read the reviews eg not the mouth wateringly delicious dish you see on the ads and the picture on the packet but “90% salty, watery mash, 9% chicken, 1% mushroom & didn’t even see any leek – rubbish ). Many are not even complete meals but parts of meals to which you have to add your own veg or salad – that pushes up the cost still further. Takeaways are very expensive costing anything from £3 or £4 upwards for the basic meal, plus sides and other unhealthy extras like fizzy drinks which can push the meal up to a fiver.

Other people might be willing to sacrifice their money and food quality to avoid a few minutes of cooking but you want good food, good value and good health so I’ve had a go at costing some recipes. They all come out under £2 per person, from the most decadent pork stroganoff and salad at £1.87, through pasta with salmon sauce and salad at £1.62 (below), to liver and onions with cabbage and mash at 81p for the most nutritious food on the planet (NB liver is high in vitamin K so not good with warfarin).

If you have a take-away twice a week and eat ready-meals the rest of the time, you could save at least £500 a year per person, probably far more, by cooking your own food. Adding up seven of these meals comes to £9.73 for a week. Does that sound worth a little time in the kitchen?

Recipes serve 2 adults, final price per person shown in bold.

Pasta and salmon sauce

In a pan of fast boiling water, cook pasta 25p

In a small saucepan melt a knob of butter 10p

Add a 213g tin of pink salmon £1.84

Add 1/3 tin tomatoes (freeze the rest in two containers) 12p

Add a big pinch of fresh dill (freeze the rest for other meals) 6p

Make a salad while everything cooks – see below 52p

When the pasta is almost ready, add 1/3 tub double cream 25p

to the sauce – warm it but don’t let it boil.

Drain the pasta, stir in some butter 6p

Pour the sauce over and serve with the salad

Total cost £3.20 that’s £1.60 per person.

So easy, so quick, so tasty!

Salad

Some meals seem to go with salad, others with veg. There are so many ways to make salads and wonderful varied ingredients you can use. Here’s an easy one that I’ve used in this recipe series.

Wash and chop a few lettuce leaves 5p

(buy a whole lettuces, not expensive, chemical-soaked pre-prepped bags)

Slice a carrot very thinly or grate it 8p

Slice some radish 9p

Add some baby plum tomatoes 20p

Drizzle with dressing 10p

Total for salad 52p for 2 or 26p per person

For the sake of your health, make your own dressing with olive oil and some sort of vinegar. Bought dressings usually contain vegetable oil which you need to avoid – here’s why.

You can make salad that costs even less by slicing savoy, white or red cabbage very finely and adding grated carrots, tomatoes, chives, celery etc.

Savoy cabbage tastes good with olive oil and white wine vinegar.

White cabbage is better with mayonnaise. Here’s an easy way to make your own.

Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated and it doesn’t have to use loads of equipment and make lots of pans dirty. Here’s one you can make for one in a little pan or for 20 if you have a huge cauldron – but there’s only the one pan to clean. Hurray!

One-pot chicken

In a medium pan, melt a knob of butter 10p

Chop one medium onion and cook for 3 mins 20p

Add a teaspoon of coconut oil 5p

Fry 4 chicken thighs until browned all over £2.64

For the best flavour, use thighs with skin on and bone in.

Turn down the heat

Add:

– 1/3 tin chopped tomatoes 12p

– 125ml brown rice 15p

– a dash of lemon juice 12p

– ½ pt stock 7p

– good pinch of dried oregano 4p

Stir, cover with a lid, simmer gently for 20 mins, turning the chicken pieces over and stirring the mixture 4 or 5 times.

5 minutes before the end, add two good handfuls of peas 12p

Towards the end, add a good pinch of fresh chopped parsley 7p

Total cost £3.78, that’s £1.84 per person and the chicken price is for free-range. You can cut it to £1.07 if you use frozen thighs.

Delicious, satisfying and only one pan to clean.

Here’s a link to two recipes (pork stroganoff and pork in a mushroom cream sauce) and a note about low-cost weight loss.

Top Tip – Get Cooking –  it could save you a packet!

 

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Feed the Family – Spag Bol

As I say in my book Survival Guide for the Skint, children are expensive! This puts extra pressure on finances during school holidays so I’ve been doing a series of great value, fully costed meals on my Survival Guide for the Skint blog.  All of them cost less than £2 per person.  Here’s one for you now – a firm favourite across the country – Spaghetti Bolognaise.

I’ll publish the rest here soon or follow the links:

Pea and Chorizo Risotto with Sea Bass

One-Pot Chicken

Pasta with Salmon Sauce

This is my Italian grandmother’s recipe so you’re very privileged to see it. Well almost – she never bought mince but I doubt you’d want to spend time cutting best steak into tiny cubes. Kidney beans are an unconventional ingredient but she put them in and for me the sauce would be lacking without them.

Melt a big knob of butter 20p

and a good slug of olive oil in a very big pan 20p

Chop 2 x large onions and cook gently until transparent 40p

Add 3 crushed cloves of garlic 6p

Add 3lb mince and cook until no pink bits remain £11.50

Can add a few rashers of chopped bacon as well 25p

Add 3 x tins chopped tinned tomatoes £1.05

¾ tube tomato puree 35p

300g chopped mushrooms 85p

You may need a bit of water.

Season with salt and pepper

Desert spoon of dried oregano 10p

Desert spoon of dried parsley 10p

Simmer, stirring occasionally until it’s 3h since you started which allows the flavours to develop.

At the end, stir in 2 x drained and rinsed tins of kidney beans £1.10

Total £16.16 or 95p per portion (makes 17 portions.)

For 2 people, cook some pasta 25p

Top with grated parmesan cheese 25p

(For the best taste, buy a whole piece and grate it fresh. If any is left, freeze it to use straight from the freezer next time.)

Serve with salad and home-made dressing 52p

Total for the meal £1.46 per person.

You could also add some porcini, soaked in a bowl of boiled water before adding. That’s another £1 or 6p per serving. You can miss them out but they do add depth to the flavour – £1.52 per person with porcini.

 

Picnics

One of the joys of summer is eating al fresco. A picnic is an essential part of a summer outing.

Have you noticed that food tastes better when we eat it outside? Psychologists have found that our physical sensations and emotional responses are greatly improved by the power of our perception of our environment. Restaurants have applied this science to their décor, choosing colour, patterns and music to set the mood. The same food actually tastes different depending on the wallpaper!

We also connect enjoyment of food with family memories: a favourite outdoor spot, the smell of grass and wild flowers, the sound of trees rustling in the breeze, the feel of warm sand on bare feet. Taking Jack LaLanne’s idea from July’s quote of the month, we need to be nearer to nature to be happy.    And when our brains are stimulated, our taste buds step up a notch.

So, what food to take on your picnic? On TV you’ll see images of unhealthy fizzy drinks, crisps, cheese processed almost to the point of being plastic and all manner of factory-made nibbles. When you’re getting back to the great outdoors, nature and all things real I’m sure you’ll want better than fake food.

Sandwiches are common but often dry, dull and too heavy on bread to be a good choice for lunch. Instead try boiled eggs, cheeses, salami, lettuce, tomatoes, sticks of crunchy carrot and celery, cooling cucumber, creamy avocado, peppery radishes, spicy spring onions, ham rolled round cream cheese, small bread rolls with butter. My grandmother’s special was fried chicken in herby breadcrumbs – so tasty!

Fruit is nice and juicy although it can attract wasps and invite the biting midge to suck your sweet blood. Use it to make a refreshing infusion by adding a few slices of apple, lemon and strawberry to a big bottle of water. Chill it well before you set off.

June’s post had ideas for drinks.

Share the pleasure by eating all together sitting at a picnic table or on a rug. Here’s how they do it in France where people are still healthy and slim.

Top tip – enjoy a real food picnic.

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Special Offer – Get Ready for the Holidays

The schools break up soon so here’s a special offer to help you get ready for the beach, activities, fun and whatever else you have planned for your holidays.

Pic by rawpixel.com

From now until the 21st of July, I’m giving you a 10% discount on 1-to-1 consultations. That means they’ll be not £65 but £58. It’s first come, first served until I run out of the slots I have.

The sooner we talk, the longer you’ll have with your better eating habits before you go away.

I shared this with subscribers to my Eat Well News at the end of June so they booked this week. Sign up here to be the first to hear about future offers.

 

Happy Easter

There are lots of tempting Easter themed products in the shops now – well some appeared not long after Christmas! Most of them are designed to give a fun, spring-like mood with lots of flowers, chicks and bunnies. Easter eggs come in every size from teeny-tiny to humongous. I notice that the egg-sized ones now come by the half dozen in egg boxes – what a clever way to make you buy more. Most are hollow, some with other chocolates inside, some have creamy, sugary fillings and some of the smallest ones are solid with a sugar shell.

Whilst I find it sad that a joyous Christian festival has become an excuse to sell us heaps of sugary stuff, you can enjoy a healthier Easter without saying no to all Easter eggs or chocolate. Instead, aim for quality.

It’s certainly true that cheap, high-sugar, chemical-laden chocolate, consumed in large quantities, is going to damage your health. White chocolate isn’t actually chocolate at all. Dark chocolate (>70%) is best. It’s got a lower sugar content than milk chocolate and is good for you in moderation (check out my December article).

What about buying some chocolate egg moulds so you can have a go at making your own Easter eggs? Here are my efforts; I’m sure you could do better!

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Another fun activity with the kids is dying boiled, hens’ eggs. Use onion skins or dandelion flowers, put them round an egg, wrap in a piece of cloth, tie with string and boil for 10 minutes. You‘ll get beautiful effects and you can eat the highly nutritious egg.

Top tip: Go easy on the chocolate eggs. Happy Easter.

Mmm – Chocolate

As we approach Christmas, sweet treats are everywhere. The UK chocolate market is worth £4.1 billion and we eat a staggering 437 million kg every year. Most of it is bad for you so you might be glad that a bit of quality, dark chocolate does you good.

The health benefits of dark chocolate are all the rage right now, with some calling it a super food. I‘m not sure I’d go that far but its low sugar content and rich concentrations of beneficial antioxidants and poly-phenols make it a superior snack. It needs to be >70%; the milk and white varieties, although undeniably tasty, don’t cut it and have far too much sugar. And you’ll still need to apply some moderation – a few squares a day, not a few bars. So what’s in it?

  • resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant, good for blood pressure, heart health and your brain.
  • flavanols which are anti-inflammatory.

  • cocoa butter, containing approximately 33% oleic acid, the same healthy monounsaturate as olive oil.
  • minerals including potassium, phosphorus, copper, iron, zinc, and magnesium.

Companies are springing up making organic, raw chocolate in all sorts of amazing flavours from chilli to gin and tonic. If, like me, you were saddened that the government allowed the Americans to buy Cadbury’s and ruin a great British product, you may be interested to know that James Cadbury (great, great, great grandson of the original John Cadbury) has started a business under the brand Love Cocoa, making high quality, ethical chocolate. I’ve tested it for you (a hard job but someone had to do it).

It’s delicious on its own or use it in my favourite Chocolatey Nut Seed Snack, recipe in my resources section here – keep scrolling down past the soup which you might also enjoy during the current wintry weather!

Top tip: A little dark chocolate does you good

Merry Christmas!

Quote of the month

 

For World Diabetes Day – not a day to celebrate

 

Western medicine will one day admit what has been known in the Orient for years. Sugar is the greatest evil that modern industrial civilization has visited upon the countries of the Far East and Africa.

Nyoiti Sakurazawa

The taste of sweetness, whereof a little more than a little is by much too much.

Shakespeare

Henry IV, Part I

Don’t be S.A.D.

With National Chocolate Week in October, you might have been expecting a piece on the health benefits of chocolate. Fear not, I am writing one for you for Christmas but I noticed autumn arrive with shorted days and persistent rain so the immediate need is Vitamin D.

The sun is lower in the sky and the slanty light makes the views stunning across the hills early in the morning and the sea at sunset. The depth of the atmosphere are these angles means more absorption of shorter wavelengths including the beneficial UVB we need. Even leaving aside the fact that hardy Cumbrians can be seen out in shorts, T-shirts and sandals at any time of year, there simply isn’t enough UVB from October to March for our skin to make Vitamin D. The UV index has to be a minimum of 3. It’s only 1 as I write this with a forecast of 3 briefly over Wednesday lunchtime.

I’m keen where possible, on getting nutrients the way nature intended, from food. The best sources are fish liver oil, full fat dairy and eggs but you’re unlikely to get enough this way. This is where supplements can be helpful. Look for Vitamin D3; D2 is only half as effective. The strength might be labelled by weight in micrograms µg or by international units IU which relate to biological activity. For Vitamin D3, 1 µg is equivalent to 40 IU. So 25 µg capsules are equivalent to 1000 IU.

Vitamin D is fat soluble so it can build up and we each absorb it differently. The PHE recommend a dose of 10 µg / 400 IU which is modest. Some studies show that this is not enough and I take more. Your doctor can do a blood test to make sure you’re not overdosing. I asked for one in February and my level was fine so I’ll be supplement again each winter.

What about SAD (seasonal affective disorder)? A special lamp will compensate for the lack of light and has a beneficial effect but the wonderful Vitamin D even helps with SAD.

Top tip: Take Vitamin D supplements this winter.

Spend less; still eat well

The school holidays have started and while the kids rejoice, parents may worry how expensive the next six weeks might be. Food need not add to the pressure – you can eat well without spending a fortune.

A while ago, ITV ran a series Save Money Good Food. I’ve included a few of their tips here with some of mine.

Image result for food waste UK

The first way to save money is not to waste any of your food. A scandalous £12.5 billion of edible food is thrown away every year in the UK. Part of this is down to overbuying. Know what’s in your cupboard so you don’t repeat buy what you already have a home. We all love bargains and the BOGOF but when you buy a bargain and don’t eat it, you’re throwing your money straight into the bin. Do a bit of planning, shop with a list, cook in bulk, make good use of your freezer and learn to love leftovers (my favourite lunches).

When you pay for food, you don’t want added charges for labour. The super rich may employ private chefs but many ordinary people do too without realising. I’ve got a big downer on ready meals for lots of reasons and cost is just one. But even if you don’t go that far you might pop the odd packet of ready-chopped something in your trolley. Salad perhaps or some fruit for the kids. Ready chopped produce is 3 to 5 times more expensive. That’s 300 to 500% more. It takes less than a minute to chop an apple / carrot / onion / bit of lettuce. The more prep you do yourself, the lower the cost and the fresher the produce. By using it straight away you keep more precious nutrients and flavour. Plus you avoid eating something that’s been dipped in a chemical solution and packed in a modified atmosphere to stop it giving away its age by turning brown (see Swallow This by Joanna Blythman).

Fresh herbs soon wilt or dry up and die so why not plant them out to increase their yield 100 fold. See my Herb Garden post.

Cereal – a poor choice for breakfast

We only started eating cornflakes in 1922 so we clearly don’t need breakfast cereal from a biological viewpoint. Really it’s highly processed carbohydrate with good PR and marketing. It will put your blood sugar up, damage your health and cause weight gain. People think that the cereals with less added sugar are good for you. They aren’t as damaging as the high sugar types of course but the corn/rice/wheat itself will still be quickly broken down into sugar by your body’s enzymes. Ditch the box cereals and enjoy a good quality muesli or natural porridge oats (beware the sachets – see Oats so Expensive on Survival Guide for the Skint).

Better still go to work on an egg. Have it with own brand smoked salmon and you’ll feel satisfied right through to lunchtime and save more money and health damage by not needing to buy snacks.

Here are some other pieces I’ve written on breakfasts:

The Great English Breakfast

Eat a Good Breakfast

And what about the most nutritious food of all? It’s also one of the cheapest – liver. You can feed a family of four for £3.

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Sardines come second for nutrition. If you don’t like them on their own, here’s my recipe for sardine pate:

  • 1 tin of sardines in brine, drained
  • 2oz butter (that’s ¼ block or 50g)
  • 2oz full-fat cream cheese (¼ small tub or 55g)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Salt and pepper and some fresh parsley
  • Optional ½ teaspoon of French mustard)

Put it all in a bowl and mash with a fork until well mixed.  Serve with a crisp salad.

Enjoy the holidays and I hope you get better weather than the rain that poured as I wrote this!

Top tip – learn to spend less and still eat well.

Spring and Sparkle

Have you noticed the lambs in the fields? I love to see them jump and play in the sunshine, full of the joys of spring. We should feel like this too.

Wikimedia commons

Watch people walking down the street and notice how few of them have a spring in their step or sparkle in their eye. People in the Western world are used to struggling along with low energy, aches, pains, excess weight and minor ailments. They think that not being ill is as good as it gets. Real wellness is rare.

When we think about energy use, we think of exercise. Another big drain is digestion. Yes, we use up energy when we eat! Ever fallen asleep after a meal? When you eat unsuitable food, your body can’t cope and keep you awake, so it shuts down all non-essential systems and you nod off. Inside your body’s working flat out. The fashion for processed food is robbing us of energy. It’s called ‘fast food’ because you buy it instead of making it from ingredients. The preparation part is certainly quick – but once you’ve eaten it, fast food is really, really slow. Your body has to work very hard to digest it. The process takes a long time and uses up lots of vitamins, minerals and enzymes and huge amounts of energy.

Contrast this with fresh, natural food. It takes time to prepare but is quicker and easier for your body to use so more of the energy is available for you to feel great.

Dead, processed food may be convenient but it won’t allow you to live as vibrant, healthy a life as you could be enjoying.

Top tip – have more spring and sparkle with fresh, natural foods!