Getting ready to Live Below the Line 2014

I will be honest, I have never managed to live on a £1 a day whenever I have taken part in this challenge. That is mainly because I cannot bear the idea of value bread, value sausages, frozen vegetables and pasta sauce from a jar.

This year I thought I would do some forward planning, mainly because I start my new job next week, so juggling that with shopping and cooking will be a challenge to me, after not being in paid work for nearly three years. £5 book

I went back to this book, first published in 1987, revised in 1995. I was a bit surprised at the cost of some of the items on the shopping list.£5 shopping list 1a £5 shopping list 1bAnd then I typed some items from this list into the online shopping page of a well known store to compare prices of some, not all of that on the list. It also conveniently compares its prices with other stores including Aldi. I also know Aldi prices pretty well as that is where I do most of my shopping.

1 chicken. Average cost is £5 but there are 2 for £8 and 3 for £10 offers. Aldi have a free range chicken at £4.99

Whole meal flour (2) £1.49

Plain flour 75p

Red lentils 75p

tinned tomatoes 31p

Baked Beans 24p

12 eggs £1.95

Porridge 38p

Potatoes £2.00

Oranges (6) 76p

Given that the prices in the book are I am guessing 1995 prices, food prices do not seem to have increased very much in 19 years. Yet all most of us are spending more on our food. Why is this?

Maybe we all buy too much food which we don’t use? Are the BOGOF offers to blame for food waste and perhaps food poverty?

There is of course very little meat on the list. I know that at least a third of my food spending is on meat and we are not what I call big meat eaters. I am also surprised there is no pasta on the list. At 29p for 500g, it is a good staple, filling food.

A Girl Called Jack

A Girl Called Jack

Meat will have to come of the menu next week. I will bake my own bread as I can make it for about 45p a loaf, and that for me is better than having cheap supermarket bread. I will cook with lentils, vegetables, pasta and rice. I will also therefore be looking for inspiration from A Girl Called Jack.

Gathering the ingredients

Gathering the ingredients

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What I do know is that nearly 1 million people used foodbanks in the UK last year. My new job is with an organisation that runs a foodbank.  I am going to do my best to live on £1 a day next week, I am hoping my son and husband will join me. The difference to what I would usually spend on food and what I actually spend next week will be donated, in food, to Smethwick Foodbank.

If you can donate this is the shopping list of items they need on a regular basis. Contact The Trussell Trust to find where your nearest foodbank is.

You don’t think it could ever happen to you? Many of us are 3 payslips away from not being able to meet household bills, if redundancy or sickness strikes. I have been there, down to my last pound with 3 days till the next dole cheque arrived. I was lucky as I had a family that could and would help. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Will you Live Below the Line next week?

Can you donate to a local foodbank or become a volunteer?

 

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Cooking with Jack – Sausage and Lentil One Pot Dinner

I often make a sausage casserole loosely based on a recipe from this book.The Student Cookbook

I used to use fresh carrots and potatoes, turning my nose up at tinned veg, until I started to read A Girl Called Jack.

I wanted to make Jack’s recipe as I have a cupboard full of lentils that need to be used. I wasn’t sure that The Gamer would take to lentils so I made both versions. All left overs are used for lunches so, don’t worry, there was no waste.

All my ingredients are from Aldi although I get most of my fresh and dried herbs from a local grower, Urban Herbs. Ingredients gathered

The sausages I used are from the Aldi Specially Selected range and are high in pork content. I will not compromise and buy nasty cheap value range sausages. You may as well just mush up some bread, lard and salt. If I cannot afford good meat I would rather not eat meat.

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I am experimenting with a lot of recipes and noting prices of everything as I am planning for my week of living on a £1 a day for the Live Below the Line Challenge. It was while looking at the recipes suggested by the organisers that I started to write more about food. I was shocked to see how unhealthy some of them were (think of value white bread and sausages) so set out to come up with a healthier way to eat and drink on a pound a day. I wish Jack Monroe had been blogging then!

One of my very early posts was written for Blog Action Day 2011. Written at Heathrow Airport waiting to fly to San Francisco, those taking part had been given a theme to write about, in 2011 we were asked to focus on the many issues related to food, such as health, hunger, quality, culture, farming, access and waste to coincide with World Food Day.

So back to the sausages.

Sausages with baked beans

Student sausages with baked beans

My version uses baked beans instead of lentils and tinned tomatoes with a bit of mustard, tomatoes puree and Worcester Sauce to give it a bit of kick. A bit of flour was added to the sausages and onions before adding the other ingredients to thicken it up.

Sausage and Lentil One Pot Meal

Sausages with Lentils

The lentils in Jack’s recipe absorb the liquid from the stock, which as well as thickening the casserole, give it its texture.

As ever, I decided to tweak the recipe, and added some curry powder to the one with lentils, as I thought it would work. It did. I am sure Jack won’t mind.

The verdict, The Gamer still prefers the original as it is sweeter (that will be the baked beans) but he didn’t hate the lentil version. Vinyl Man loved the lentil version as did I. 2-1 to Jack. And I am at last using those lentils.

Night off tomorrow as The Gamer is cooking.

Cooking with A Girl Called Jack – Pork Kokkinsito

After last nights success with the Mango and Chickpea curry from this book,

A Girl Called Jack

A Girl Called Jack

I asked The Gamer to choose a meal tonight as curry and chickpeas are not his thing.

He chose this. DSCN0754

The only shopping I had to do was to pop to Aldi and choose the pork. I had the option of belly or loin. The cookery snob in me wanted the loin, yet at £5 something for 400g (I think) that seemed a tad expensive, so pork belly it was at £1.99 for 500g. Everything else, bar the wine, I had in the house. I have rosemary growing in the garden.  I don’t need an excuse to buy wine.

This is a doddle to cook, all in one pan, browned off the pork, added the onions to sweat and then chuck everything else in. I did add a bit of flour in to absorb the fat and to thicken the sauce, before adding the wine and tomatoes, but I always tweak recipes. That is what I do, control freak that I am. DSCN0755

It says it serves four, but with a generous portion of mashed potatoes it served three adults tonight and there is enough for two lunches tomorrow.  DSCN0756

Not only delicious, jolly good value too.

Thanks, Jack.

Cooking with A Girl Called Jack – Chickpea and Chorizo Burgers

Continuing to try out some more of the recipes from one of my food heroes, A Girl Called Jack. Today these burgers worried me as I am not a big fan of chickpeas.

The haul from Aldi

I tweaked the recipe and whizzed the chickpeas, breadcrumbs, egg and the sliced spicy meats I had in a food processor, and added them to the onion, garlic and carrot I had fried in a pan. I managed to make 8  burgers, the current lodger, The Tax Man, came in and remarked how good they looked, so let him have one.

Chickpea and Chorizo Burgers cooking nicely

My shopping bill today, Chick peas, 39p from Aldi,  as I had all of the other ingredients in. I did buy some chorizo but then discovered we had so left over spicy sliced meat from when we made pizza on Saturday, I had some breadcrumbs in the freezer I had made from the last bits of bread that was a bit stale, and already had eggs and vegetable and the spices I needed.

Verdict?

Another A Girl Called Jack recipe success

Absolutely nom.

I will make a veggie version for my daughter and pop them in the freezer.

And my chickpea aversion? Mushed up they are lovely. I wonder if this could solve my hatred of red kidney beans? Mmmm.

You can find the recipe here.

Cooking with A Girl Called Jack – Spinach and lentil daal

My son The Gamer is a ‘super taster’ which makes meal planning difficult. I am not complaining as he prefers my homemade lasagna to a more expensive one in Carluccio’s.

As I cook for The Gamer, the Mobile Library Man as well as for myself most nights, meals are based around pasta, tinned tomatoes and peppers. This week though, The Gamer is away climbing mountains and paddling canoes and generally getting cold and wet in The Countryside. He has to cook for the group on one night and not surprisingly has copied his favourite recipe for a spaghetti sauce (from this book)Favourite spag bol recipe comes from this book

into an app on his iPod. At least he can cook. He also washes his own clothes and knows how to use a vacuum cleaner. I have trained him well.

The upside of him being away is that I can cook new and different things.  Free from the shackles of pasta, pasta or pasta for four nights I want to eat what I like.

And I am going to cook only recipes from the A Girl Called Jack blog. I have shared her tweets and blogs for ages, shouted at the telly when Eggwina Currie was vile to her yet have only ever cooked one of her recipes, the Creamy Salmon Pasta. There it is, pasta again.

I have had lentils lurking in the store cupboard for far to long, spinach that needed using up and plenty of spices etc in my collection so all I had to buy today was some yoghurt at 45p and pita at 49p for dinner tonight. Both from Aldi (no surprise there).

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I forgot to rinse the lentils, and I bought low fat yoghurt which I won’t do again and added a little bit more water, and used sweet chilli sauce n place of fresh chillies as I like spicy but not hot food. And it was nom. The Mobile Library Man had seconds, and saved some for his lunch tomorrow. Jack says this serves two. So for two read four. And we like our food in this house.

Now what shall I cook tomorrow?

Suggestions please.

Not buying it – from the Big 4 supermarkets

Not a year without supermarkets, just not using the Big Four

I would love to think I could avoid supermarkets altogether like Team Pugh and I probably could if I was willing to drive to buy groceries. We have some good butchers on my local high street and recently the Halal butcher has increased his range of fruit and veg and everyone who has been there has said how lovely he is. The outside of the shop looks welcoming, which I hope translates into custom.DSCN0285

He also sells a good range of tinned items, dry goods, cooking oil and dairy.  Of course he has a niche market in the Halal offer and the customer service is excellent. I do shop there occasionally, but he is the other end of the high street, so to carry heavy items from there is an issue for me, and to take the car is also a problem as parking outside is limited. I suppose the solution is to get a shopping trolley!

I love Aldi

However the real reason, despite me wanting to support indies is that I like to shop at Aldi. It is good value, good quality and meets most of my shopping needs. I usually go on foot and buy what I need each day, and as by being limited to what I can carry this limits my spending too.

As it was dreadful weather so I chose to use the car for the 200 yard drive or so and stock up on things that are too heavy to carry. Total spend was £54.29 and that included non essentials such a bird food for £6.99, cleaning and personal hygiene items and some of their excellent New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc which at £5.79 a bottle is a steal. Potatoes were on offer at £2.36 for 5kgs. At less than 50p a kilo I would be hard pushed to get them that cheap at the markets.

Meal Planning

I am still planning meals on what I have in the house already: dinner Wednesday was pork chops, mashed potatoes, and various veg with a cheese sauce, as I had bits of cheese that need using up and chops in the freezer. Yesterday I made the pasta bake based on this Jamie Oliver recipe. I have also just found this brilliant meal planning resource from Butcher Baker.DSCN5623

Pasta at 29p for 500 g, why would anyone spend more?

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British and Local

What I really like about Aldi is that most of the fresh meat (if not all) is British as is much of the fresh vegetables. We really need to support our farmers. So while I am shopping at a supermarket, it is local to me. I usually walk there and use other local and independent shops and businesses. I am supporting British farmers. Not perfect, but it feels better to me than using Tesco or Asda. I am definitely spending less money and wasting less food by shopping at Aldi. I also visit local farmers markets, usually the one in Harborne, get fresh and dried herbs from Urban Herbs and most of my clothes come from the local charity shops.

My Girl called Jack week

Next week I have 4 days of only feeding 2 people and am thinking of this being my cook like A Girl Called Jack, to use up the lentils, rice and potatoes as the 2 mouths I am feeding will try anything new. The other mouth  The Gamer is off on an Outward Bound type week somewhere in the Welsh Borders with The Princes Trust. His team has to cook once and while he can’t remember where they are going, he has already planned what they are cooking and made a shopping list. And proper cooking, not noodles in pots or sauces from jars and beans on toast. Easy spaghetti bake from this Martin Lewis book.DSCN0435

I am doing something right then.

What are you cooking this week and what are you not buying?

Not Buying It – food I don’t need

We seem to live in a very unbalanced world. We have food poverty side by side with obesity, a whole industry based on making us feel guilty if we choose full fat of anything and while some spend money on food in order to be thinner, the numbers of families dependent on food banks rises. I struggle to make sense of it.

this is what gets thrown away

this is what gets thrown away

And I see food waste every where. Supermarkets are possibly the biggest culprit of food waste. They encourage customers to buy more than they need with various offers, yet apparently one third of the bread we buy is thrown away! Food retailers need to really need to work out how they can support charities more effectively by donating unsold food and not throwing it into skips. I am already on the case on one chain of bakers who throw bags of bread away each day, to see if they can support SIFA fireside to provide breakfast for homeless people in Birmingham. And I am hoping that the recent case where charges were dropped against the men who raided a skip outside Iceland prompts them to work on a policy of working with charities.

surely some of this ccould be used by food charities such as Foodcycle?

surely some of this could be used by food charities such as Foodcycle?

I like food. I like cooking it and love eating it more. Sometimes I think this blog is more about food than travel. Yet faced with food waste by supermarkets and in the home, I am Not Buying It.

Of course I need food, I need to eat, but how many of us have food that we bought and never use or throw away ? I do, which is why I am not going to buy food I do not need.

One of my very first posts was written at Heathrow Airport for Blog Action Day 2011. I was in the food court, reflecting on how much some of have while others starve. You can read it here.

Food poverty is something that makes me really angry, and the past year or so there have been certain politicians who seem to be in denial that his is happening in a first world country. Ian Duncan Smith can, he told us live on £53 a week ‘if he had to’. I tried to and failed, and again I wrote about it here. In fact I banged on about it quite a bit so feel free to explore my blog to read more.

Then there is the annual Live Below the Line challenge. Five days with only £5 for food. Yes, I had a go at this too.  I would not compromise on nasty value sausages and plastic bread, choosing lentils and other cheaper and healthier ingredients, and some rather good Aldi sausages instead. I was spending slightly over the £1 allowed, but eating very well.

My food hero is A Girl Called Jack. I think she has done so much in the last twelve months to highlight the fact that many of us could end up on benefits and experience food poverty. More than that, she is jolly inventive with cheap food to provide nutritious meals for her and her son. Tinned potatoes and carrots are regularly used in this house now as they are cheaper than fresh. Add a tin of beans, some good sausages and an onion and you have a tasty supper. And the Creamy Salmon Pasta at 27p per portion is lovely. 

Another blog I followed avidly in 2013 was A Year Without Supermarkets. No supermarkets at all for a whole year with a budget of £50 per week to feed two adults and one toddler. And they did it. Indeed the average food bill was less than their budget.

So as part of the whole not buying it in 2014, I decided to really trim my food shopping. I have planned meals around what I had in the freezer, fridge and store cupboards and while I would love to say I have avoided supermarkets, I haven’t. But I will not give the big three (Orange one, Green one and Blue one) my money. They suck you in with the BOGOF deals and you end up buying thing you don’t need.

This month I have hosted a 20 year old French student who is studying English. Like most 20 year old men, he has a big appetite. Annoyingly he seems to be able to eat twice as much as I do and still stay slim as does my 21 year old son. The French student loves pasta and bananas. (only 29p a bag) and I seem to be buying a kilo of bananas a day. Thank goodness for my saviour of cheap food, Aldi. I have visited the open air food market in Birmingham a couple of times, and while it is undeniably cheap, I find by sticking to the Aldi Super Six, is more cost effective for me, as is buying the biggest bag of potatoes. The bargain bananas are 68p a kilo. 

Gateway pie

Gateway pie

So what have we eaten? Despite having those lentils and rice that are destined to haunt me (I know I have to use them) I have been experimenting with new recipes. The Hit and Run Tray Bake has become one of my favourite dinners to make as there is absolutely no faffing. To use up the potatoes I made a student favourite layering slices of potato, onion and bacon bits with a cheese sauce. Back in the 70’s the Gateway supermarket in Clifton had a deli counter where they had all the off cuts of bacon and cheese at silly prices so this was how this recipe got invented, I think. Because I had some spinich lurking in the fridge, that got added too. And I also made the Sweet Pea Fish Pie, another recipe from Jamie Oliver. All of these came to less than £1 per portion and the Gateway pie, as I call it, nearer 50p per person. We have had a roast turkey dinner, using up the half price crown of turkey I bought on Christmas Eve. That £55 has of course been supplemented by food I already had in. I am lucky, I have storecupboard staples and a freezer so that when I do see a bargain I can store it for another day.

Sweet Pea Fish Pie

Sweet Pea Fish Pie

I suppose what I am saying is that yes it is relatively easy to eat well on a small budget, if you have some basic cooking skills and live near a place where you can access cheap, good quality food. Not everyone does, of course and and not everyone can afford to buy in bulk which is often cheaper. That said, I have two elderly neighbours who buy the Aldi Super Six and split the packet and the cost. They can’t get through a big bag of carrots alone yet still want to save money. Excellent planning!

Planning  is the key to saving money on food, I list what I have in the house and cook around it buying only additional ingredients when necessary. I avoid the Big Three. If I go to the Green one I always end up being tempted to buy something I do not need. And this is how all this Not Buying It began.

Not buying the cook book – step one of not buying it in 2014

Most of us, even those of us who don’t make resolutions at the beginning of the year are looking to find ways to cut back on spending at this time of year. For some of us it is because we spent a lot at Christmas,  for others it is because we are facing higher fuel bill and the last few winters have been very cold.

My cook book collection

I am cutting back for two reasons, I want to save up for more holidays and short breaks, and I want an uncluttered home. I am in the process of re reading Not Buying It and planning to incorporate some of the principles into my life. I am continuing my mission to clear the clutter in my house and mind. I have also been inspired by Team Pugh, the guys behind A Year Without Supermarkets, who plan that 2014 is their Year with Less and will be following their progress with interest. The first rule of decluttering, for me, is to stop bringing more stuff into the house. I am hoping that by not buying things I do not need will not only save me money but also reduce the amount of stuff crap we seem to have accumulated over 30 odd years.

I think I passed my first test of temptation earlier this week when I popped into a local supermarket. Those of you who read my posts will know that I am not a big fan of supermarkets, especially the ones who offer bogofs and other such marketing ploy that tempt you to buy things you really did not plan to buy or more than you need. And it is so easy to get sucked into the lair, with jolly background music, amazing offers at the end of every aisle and heavy discounts on my weakness, books. This week I had to visit the big green supermarket to return an unsuitable Christmas gift, and as I did not have a receipt  I was refunded via their store card. I decided there and then that this was going to be my only visit in 2014 so I would need to spend the £5 today. I was also very keen to avoid making another trip there in the car, hunting for a parking space and negotiating zombie like shoppers mindlessly filling up oversized trolleys with food and bargains and stuff. So I had a mindless wonder around the shelves (a rooky mistake, no list) and then I saw it. It was a cookery book that had been recommended, and it was reduced from £14.99 to £5. Bargain! And somehow it found its way into my basket and before I knew it I was heading to the tills, giddy with the notion that I had bagged myself a bargain.

Just in time I remembered where I was and realised that I had fallen under the retail spell. I then gave myself a good talking to reminding myself that I had reduced my hoard of books at home by about 50% in 2013. And I really did not need another cook book. And I put it back. I did manage to spend the £5 (on some rather good wine from New Zealand) and now I have no reason to shop there again. Later today I am going to the Birmingham Markets, to see if it is cheaper to shop there than the discount supermarket I usually buy most of my food from. The Super Six fruit and veg offers are good value but I am finding it a struggle to get through a kilo of carrots or sprouts (made soup, frozen the sprouts) especially now we don’t have the chickens who used to get a lot of the excess veg.

Join me on the Not Buying It journey and see how I get on.

And the food mountain is reduced

Since shocking myself at the amount of food there was in my kitchen, I am still planning meals around the Food List.

On Saturday night we had Greek Pie.

DSCF2643

This was made with the puff pastry loitering in the freezer, passata bought earlier in the week, onions and garlic from the food mountain, herbs,spices and the other half of 500g mince. It was ample for four portions, served with potatoes, baked beans and broccoli (one of the Aldi super six this week). Cost of pie based on ingredients purchased to make it, 53p per portion. I still have potatoes left from the £1.99 bag, so they will take me well into next week. I am guessing that each serving of spuds is about 10 p per person with milk and butter added to make mash. Baked beans are 25p and brocolli 49p.

I made a chicken dish on Sunday. Pollo impanato alle noci con mozzarella. Sounds a bit fancy, it’s not. Used up bread in breadcrumbs to coat chicken breasts, after I bashed them with a rolling pin. A tomato sauce and some mozzarella cheese and pasta. Of which I have plenty. It worked out at about £1.70 a portion, the most expensive meal I have cooked all week.

The last of the bacon hiding at the back of the fridge was used for Sunday breakfast. Lunch was carrot soup. There are still some leftovers from various meals that will feed us all for lunch the next couple of days. We are really loving our leftovers this week.

I plan to look at the food list and check off what I have used and tally up my food spending for the week at some point. I have definately spent less and it has been satisfying to know that I am limiting food waste.

World War I poster. "Waste not, want not....

World War I poster. “Waste not, want not. Prepare for winter. Save perishable foods by preserving now.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I plan to do now is to donate any unopened items that I don’t think I am going to use to the local food bank. I know that I am fortunate to have so much food and know that others are not so lucky. I cannot afford to waste food yet if I am not going to use it, that is wasteful and I would rather someone who will use it, have it.

This exercise has taught me is to only buy what I need and to plan more effectively. A good store cupboard is the basis to be able to eat well on a budget, but having more than you need is wasteful. Food you don’t use, filling up your kitchen cabinets, fridges and freezer is just the same as filling your living rooms with clutter you don’t need. Building a collection of spices and herbs is acceptable but three jars of pesto with mould growing on them (yup had to bin the pesto) is not. Buying something because it is on offer is fine if you know you need it and will use it, but if you don’t and won’t, that is wasteful and will only add to the kitchen cupboard clutter.

I have used up the pastry, most of the sausages, the cooking apples and vegetables from my list. Utilised the leftovers in the fridge to make budget meals. Leftovers that in the past may have gone off and then thrown away. Yet I have had to throw some food away. On closer inspection the cream and the pesto was past the sell by date and eat by state. I hope this is the last time I have to do this.

Those lentils are still there though. And that is the difference between someone like me who has to keep to a sensible food budget yet isn’t inclined to eat lentils and the person who has no choice as they have no money to buy anything else. And there, by the grace of our employer, the Job Centre, the bedroom tax, the redundancy notice and the mad men in Westminster, go all most of us.

Planning meals around the food hoard

Earlier this week I wrote a post about how shocked I was at the amount of food I had in the house that I wasn’t using. It was written following a discussion on how we would behave if there was a blackout.  I thought that I probably had enough food to survive a short while and decided to do a food audit to see if there was a blackout could I survive.

I was shocked at quite how much I actually had in the house. Here is the food list and my mission is to plan meals around this, limiting my food shopping to staples and ingredients needed to make a meal from what I already had. This week is all about using left overs, store cupboard ingredients and cooking on a budget. More Jack than Jamie.

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Tuesday

Lunch was leftover items from pizza night and ham and bread. No spending on lunch today.

I made carrot soup using up stock and most of the carrots and Apple and Sultana crumble with ingredients I already had.

Dinner

Pasta bake made with pasta I already had, left over passata in the fridge and onions and peppers. I only bought Steak Mince that day, used 250g of 500g. The rest will be used on Saturday.

Spending £3.69. Expensive mince, yet I think it is worth it as goes further as there is so little fat. It fed three adults today and will do so again on Saturday. Just over 60p each for a portion of meat.

Wednesday

Lunch, sandwiches with existing ingredients.

Dinner

Sausages from freezer (10 Black Farmer) with frozen peas and fresh carrots and courgettes from a neighbours allotment. I bought bread, potatoes and baked beans from Aldi.  The bread will last the week for sandwiches and the potatoes will last about a fortnight.

Spending £3.23

Thursday

Lunch was ham sandwiches for two of the family. I had some of the leftovers from last night sausages.

Dinner

I used up the curry kit, chicken breast and prawns, with rice. This meal was made with ingredients I already had, so no spend on meals for those of us eating the curry. I bought butter, milk, a pizza (as one of the diners doesn’t like curry and quite honestly I couldn’t be bothered to make two different meals) and tinned chopped tomatoes for the curry. I ended up using fresh tomatoes that were very ripe instead.This fed two of us and there is a leftovers for lunch on Saturday.

Spending £4.26

Today (Friday) is fish and chips night so no cooking and no shopping.

Lunch for me was left overs of the sausage meal. the others had sandwiches and soup.This fed three for dinner on Wednesday plus two smaller lunch portions for me so feeling very frugally smug.

I am getting to the end of the meat supply in the freezer so it may be a veggie week ahead. Lots of lentils and rice.

If anyone has any meal ideas based on my food list, please share.

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