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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Ultimate Budget Meal 81p

You’ve nearly made it through the school holidays and so here is the ultimate in high-nutrition, budget food.

Some people don’t like liver but it’s worth persevering as it contains so many vitamins and minerals. I didn’t like it until a few years ago but occasionally I’d order it if it was on a pub menu – my body must have told my subconscious that I needed a boost. In France they get kids to eat almost anything by tasting repeatedly – they don’t have to eat the food but must taste it. After a few times, usually they like it.  Take a look at this article by the Sustainable Food Trust.

Liver and Onions to serve 2

Slice one medium onion 20p

Fry in a knob of butter for 3 mins 10p

Put the onion in a bowl

Add a teaspoon of coconut oil 5p

Fry 400g sliced liver until browned all over 80p

Turn down the heat and leave to cook slowly

Boil 500g potatoes for 15 mins 25p

(I don’t know why you need more when you’re going to mash them than just eating them boiled but you do!)

For the last 2 minutes, chop and steam a heap of kale 30p

or cabbage 10p

over your potatoes

Put the onions back in the pan with the liver

Drain the potatoes and mash with butter and milk 12p

Total for the most nutritious food on the planet £1.82.

That’s 91p per person with kale or 81p with cabbage.

NB If you take warfarin, you’ll need to choose a different dinner as liver and kale are both high in vitamin K.

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.