Reducing waste and saving money

I have now tallied up my receipts for food shopping for the past 7 days. Just under £30 for three adults, eating three meals a day. That works out at under £1.50 per person a day, and we still have some leftovers to cover lunches for a couple more days.

carrots  £       0.49
broccoli  £       0.49
apples  £       0.89
Cauli  £       0.89
cereal  £       0.89
mozzarella x2  £       0.88
fresh herbs  £       1.80
chicken breasts  x3  £       3.95
soya milk  £       0.59
milk  8 pints  £       2.00
broccoli  £       0.49
baked beans x3  £       0.75
sugar  £       0.85
bread x2  £       2.00
FR eggs  £       1.00
tin tomatoes  £       0.31
mince  £       3.69
passata  £       0.29
potatoes  £       1.99
bread rolls  £       1.00
ham  £       4.00
 £    29.24

What we ate.

Breakfasts have been toast, cereal or banana smoothies. Lunches have been a mixture of sandwiches and left overs from the previous nights meal and homemade carrot soup.

For dinners this week we have had: pasta with left over sausages and passata; curry with ingredients from the freezer; greek pie using up the puff pastry and some vegetables; sausages and mash (twice); pasta using up some of the vegetables with mince; chicken coated in breadcrumbs with stale bread and baked potatoes and passata; take out fish and chips. And I made an apple and sultana crumble.

Most of the evening meals gave us at least one leftover lunch.

I find doing exercises like this useful to inform me where I could be saving money. A third of the spending is on meat. The three chicken breasts now seem to be an extravagance, and when they were bashed with rolling pin, one and a half would have been ample for three of us. The ham (on a buy two for £4 offer) made 6 lunches yet I could have got off cuts of ham much cheaper, which I plan to do going forward. As these packs are so big I tend not to buy them as I am worried I won’t use it all before the use by date. With a bit more planning I could just divide it into daily portions and freeze it.

I also need to think more about making double the amount and freezing meals so that when we don’t feel like cooking we have something to fall back on rather than order a take out.

And I need to explore some vegetarian options that we all will like. I really do want to use those lentils.

I am off to Malta next week and I am really looking forward to a week of no shopping or cooking.

Travelling Coral is off travelling again. Hooray. Expect lots of pictures of food.

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.


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.

The IDS challenge aka ‘I can live on £53 a week if I had to’

There has been a lot of chatter via social media about Ian Duncan Smith claiming he could live on £53 a week. The ‘if I had to’ throw away phrase was the sting in the tail of course and now many thousands have signed a petition requesting that IDS does indeed try and live on such a small amount. Like IDS I too have lived on benefits, in one case for a whole year my family of then two adults and two children lived on income support. There were times I had to choose between heat and eat and I recall breaking down in tears when the school refused to give my child a free school dinner as I had’t got the right letter from the DHSS. So yes, I have been there and got the tee shirt.

I also follow a lot of foodie blogs and love the ones where people are only buying British goods or are avoiding supermarkets and/or shopping locally, as that is what I endeavour to do. This is one of my favourites A Year Without Supermarkets but there are others just as good. The Pugh family have not only challenged themselves to not shop at supermarkets but have limited themselves to £50 a week to feed two adults and one toddler, and cleaning items and nappies are included in the budget. Which makes the IDS challenge seem doable. The Pugh family do seem to have a lot of lovely local shops and markets to buy good quality food from on a budget and I have the limited choice that Bearwood offers and no lovely market to visit to banter and barter. I guess I could bus it to the markets in Birmingham which would give me access to a wider range of affordable food but this would add £3.90 to my expenses, so it has to bought locally.

I truly believe if we are to save what is left of our local high street we have to stop getting in to our cars and driving to the big supermarkets and filling our trolleys with BOGOF deals. We had no intention of buying two pizzas when we planned our trip so probably didn’t need them. The supermarket encourages to super size our purchases and get two chickens for a fiver and buy more than we can eat (or afford) so we will then probably end up throwing food away as it goes past the sell by date.

If we use the power of two feet, buy local and only what we can carry we may keep our butcher open. It seems it is too late for the baker and the green grocer in my particular high street, but there are a couple of independent shops, opened by entrepreneurial migrants that do sell some veggies so I have started to use them more. One lovely man gave me a chilli for nothing as I only wanted one for the soup I was making. Now this may not be the way to get rich, but now I use him nearly every day as he sells items not found in the chains. I am still on a limited budget so will always go for the Aldi super 6, a weekly choice of good value fruit and veg. Aldi are superstars in my humble opinion because they are loss leading on healthy food unlike the big 5 who seem to always run offers on fizzy drinks, alcohol or pizza. I also have very little food waste. Veg goes on the compost or feeds my chooks. Never have meat waste as I only every buy what I need that day and cook it. Leftovers are tomorrows lunch.

So where is this meandering going? After reading about the Pugh family and their £50 budget I began to wonder what I actually spent on food and household goods. So for April I am noting down every penny I spend, will only buy from a store I can walk to, and that will include supermarkets. I am time rich, so can shop around and find the best deal, but cash poor so have to spend wisely. I am breaking down the cost of my meals so I can have an accurate record of the amount this family needs to live on. We do have a reasonable good store cupboard (including herbs from a local grower) and lots of passata as Aldi keeps running out (no surprise as it is 29p in Aldi and 69p in the Co Op) so I stocked up on it when they had it.I also have a freezer full of….well I don’t actually know exactly, but I am raiding this as part of the plan.

I am also interested in the Live Below the Line challenge which I blogged about last year.The IDS challenge will help me decide whether I will officially join the campaign this year. I have my misgivings, as I really struggle with the suggested menu of plastic bread and value sausages. It is meant to raise awareness of what it is like to live on a limited budget of equivalent of a pound per day per person, yet I think it misses a trick as it could be about how to live healthily on a pound a day by avoiding the supermarkets and buying fresh locally produced food.

Anyway down to the nitty gritty and the spending. The challenge started on April 2nd and this is what I have spent so far. All Aldi.

per unit Item 02/04/2013 03/04/2013
Chopped Tomatoes  £          0.31  £               –
0.155 Bananas  £          0.93
0.049 Carrotts  £          0.49
0.07 Onions  £          0.49
butter  £          0.98
pizza  £          0.99
cat food  £          2.39
 £          6.58

Dinner on Tuesday was left overs from Sunday lunch. I bought a small piece of beef from Dave Patrick which provided dinner for three on Sunday and leftovers for two on Tuesday. Left over veg, all Aldi, so I reckon with the beef at just over £4 and the veg costing about £1 (potatoes, cauli broccoli and leeks) a cheese sauce, home made gravy and yorkies made with eggs from my chooks,a guestimate is that for under £7 I got five meals. £1.40 per person. Well above the LBL £1 a day but still good value.

Dinner today is chicken I found lurking in the freezer, the veg I bought yesterday with some herbs and a tin of tomatoes. Again a guestimate as I can’t say what the chicken cost as it was bought from a halal butcher (as we host students from all over the world) but never got used. I will say £5 for the chicken, 2 onions and 4 carrots, 19p and 31p for the tomatoes. Herbs, all from Andrew’s Plants and a stock cube. In the slow cooker with a left over potato I found hiding in the fridge. I will probably add some pasta, say another 10p as it is 29p for 500g in Aldi. For a generous £6 for I hope for 6 meals. Again above the LBL budget but withing the IDS budget. It is all cooking in the slow cooker so I am saving on fuel too.

So what about other meals, as this is not just about having one meal a day.

So far this week lunch for the boy child has been left over lasagna made last Saturday. One huge one has made 6 meals so far (one portion left) and I guess it cost about £5 to make, so about 72p per generous portion.The OH has had homemade soup made with all the left over veggies from last week at about 30p per portion and bread from Ubuntu who had a stall of hand made bread at the MAC market on Sunday. I also bought  quite a few of his hot cross buns which has been my staple food all week, together with a gift of homemade cake. I have been ill for 2 weeks now, so comfort food it is all the way. Breakfast for the two men is cereal. Need to cost that up. For me it has been hot lemon and honey drinks. Did I say I have been ill?

I haven’t planned tomorrows food yet. I have a lot of store cupboard items such as lentils, rice and pasta, and lots of veg. I may have some mutton mince in the freezer so watch this space.

What are your favourite meals, that cost very little? I need inspiration so please share.

Beer and Bread

Regular readers will know that I endeavor to shop locally whenever I can. I think it is important to buy local, to support local traders and to protect the environment by not using a car when I can walk.

However today I made a 6 mile round trip to buy a loaf of bread. My new Aussie friend and I went to Stirchley, a suburb of Birmingham.

I had visited the Stirchley Community Market earlier in the week with two of my foodie friends but had got there too late to get some bread from Loaf Online. To overcome our disappointment we indulged in delicious burgers from The Meat Shack and bought some interesting beers from Stirchely Wines. This has to be the best off license in Birmingham,  run by a very customer focused man, who tweets when the bread is delivered.

Despite the cold torrential rain , yes this is summer in England, we practically had to beat a path to his door and form an orderly queue for the bread. One he has tweeted the customers come.

And this is what I bought.

While I admire Stirchley and its traders and community for fighting back against the big retailers and giving people the opportunity to buy local good on the high street, there’s a bit inside me that is sad. I am sad because I cant buy bread like this on my high street. who tweets to tell his customers what special beers have just come in and that this week the bread will be olive and sun dried tomato.

Mary Portas wants to support local high streets to revitalise and a lucky 12 have just been announced as Portas Pilots. Stirchley Happenings knows what it is doing and is a blue print for other local communities. Bearwood can learn a lot from them.

So, I and many other Bearwood residents will beat a path to Stirchley Community Market once a month. We will plot how we can do something similar for our community, because Bearwood deserves a high street that reflect its community, one that provides social space for local artists and artisans to sell what they make.

In the meantime, Stirchley, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ll be back!