Eating well on a budget

Good food is such a wonderful gift from the Lord!

I love that feasting is the image used by the Bible to point forward to God’s world recreated. Eden was filled with trees that were good for food. Moses and the leaders of Israel went up the mountain to meet with God, and they ended up having a meal. In Psalm 23 David says that the Lord prepared a table before him in the presence of his enemies. And so on, and so on.

Good food matters! I really learned this when I was unwell. Good regular meals are so important for my emotional well-being. So this post is about eating well on a budget!

Eating well on a budget

My menu for this two-week period is as follows (in no particular order) –

  • Brocolli quiche, mini jacket potatoes & salad (I ate this two times the week before too)
  • Salmon with soy sauce, lime juice and chilli flakes, broccoli & rice (x2)
  • Steak, homemade chips & vegetables
  • Chicken fajitas (x2, plus a portion for my housemate)
  • Sausages, roast potatoes & vegetables (x2)
  • Butternut squash risotto (x2)
  • Spicy tomato meatballs, couscous & broccoli (x2, plus probably a spare portion for a friend)
  • Chicken korma ready meal, with vegetables on the side

Breakfasts are a standard bowl of bran flakes.

Lunches include –

  • Nigella’s mexican scrambled eggs
  • Cheese on toast
  • Beans on toast
  • Tuna sandwiches with salad.

I’ll often have wholemeal pitta bread with cheese and salad, but I’ve had that a lot recently!

Other exciting things have been –

  • Dairy milk (Yay!)
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Pancakes!
  • Yoghurts
  • Bananas
  • Toast & Marmite
  • Toast & peanut butter
  • Pretzels

All for £16 a week, excluding milk, ketchup, coffee and squash which all come out of a joint housemate fund.

If you had told me I could eat that well for so little just a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you. I did what so many of us do – had no food budget, made whatever I fancied each evening, bought top-up shops throughout the week, always bought in person, got drawn into supermarket offers, and was generally utterly bored of my own food.

However, living for a good long while without an income, then on benefits, and now on a very tight income, means I had to change. My biggest lessons:

Make a flexible meal plan:  I now always plan evening meals for two weeks – generally each meal to be eaten twice. It’s amazing how much waste this avoids! I allow myself to be flexible within the meal plan – if I don’t fancy eating something, I just move things round. I’m careful to make sure that there is a variety of vegetarian vs. meat dishes, a range of carbs, and a range of meats / fish, that way I’m less likely to feel uninspired by what’s coming up. And I’m keeping a list of foods I really didn’t enjoy – so I don’t bother with curries made from a jar, or stir fries anymore.

Use up what’s left over from last time: This fortnight my meals have made use of left over risotto rice, new potatoes, quiche, frozen roast potatoes, frozen peas, and some peppers that I’d chopped up and frozen. I always start my menu planning from what I already have – and since those things are often frozen, a quick trip to the freezer is often helpful. Menu planning this way feels like extra money in the budget!

Have a budget and monitor spending: I have a strict £16 a week budget for food, and I keep a spreadsheet of all my spending, so I now always know where I am each week. For example, I know that for this two-week period, I am currently £3.42 overspent. So the next two-week period will probably feature a bit less meat!

Buy as much as possible online:  If I buy online then I can see precisely how much I am spending. I can swap products in and out. There are no shock surprises at the till. At this point the meal plan may have to change, but that’s fine. I really enjoy the challenge and the creativity required to make it work. It’s such a sense of achievement when I come in on budget. The fact that I don’t work Sunday – Wednesday means I can make the most of the £1 delivery in the middle of the day on a Tuesday.

Buy alternative products: It’s actually quite fun trying alternative products. For example, I now buy Tesco Everyday Value bran flakes, rice, flour, yoghurt, honey (for cooking), garlic, onions, peppers, amongst other things. Whereas, when it comes to cheese, I tend to avoid the horrors of Value cheddar, but go for the best value medium or mature by £ per 100g, which varies every time I shop. However, I’m still mourning the loss of Tesco Everyday Value rainbow trout. It was so good!

Keeping the store cupboard topped up: To make this whole system work I had to invest in some store cupboard essentials, many of which I had to give away when I moved away from Essex. But now that they are all there, the rule is never to buy anything until I have actually run out, or within one use of them being used up, if they are a very regular staple. That way I’m not drawn into offers on things that never get used!

Don’t throw food away: I try my utmost not to throw food away these days. I used to be terrible at it! Now, if it looks and smells fine, I am much more likely to ignore best before dates, and I’m still here to tell the tale! Also, if I have some of an ingredient left then I try to find creative ways to use it. Hence this week’s mexican scrambled eggs, and hopefully exciting cinnamon & sugar tortilla chip things this evening!

Bake! I haven’t done any baking this two weeks, although maybe pancakes kind of count. But I find that baking is a great way to liven up a cheap diet. Homemade bread, cheese scones, cakes, biscuits etc. Fun and tasty.

Invest in a few treats: Living on a budget is not about austerity! It’s about eating well in a sustainable way. So I try to make sure there are some things I’m really excited about eating. This fortnight that was the £3 sirloin steak, the risotto made from proper risotto rice and parmesan, and the dairy milk. I think I enjoy them all the more because they really are treats, rather than everyday indulgence.

Does anyone else have any good eating well on a budget tips? I’m always up for more!

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