Feed Your Family Well For Less

This is my mantra. There’s no need to spend a fortune on good, wholesome food for a family. So you’ll excuse me if I have a little rant today. I promise I did sleep on it first though!
Healthy, wholesome food is about being careful to eat more fruit and vegetables, eat in season, cook more from scratch, eat less meat protein, making the most of store cupboard staples, and planning ahead a bit.

Last night I watched a new series on BBC1 called “Eat Well For Less“. You can instantly see why I would be interested in such a series. The title promised a lot to me. There’s even a feature on the BBC “iWonder” page about how you could save money and eat well. I settled down in anticipation.

Did it live up to my expectations?

Well it certainly showed a family how to save money on their food budget. That much is true.

Did it show them how to “eat well for less”? If you call eating a lot of convenience food, high salt food, over-processed food and generally meals that appeared to be lacking in fresh fruit and vegetables eating well, then stick a big tick beside that question. The thing is that I don’t, I don’t believe that’s a way to eat well. I believe that’s a way to eat yourself into a myriad of health problems. I’m not the only one.

Some advice on the show last night bothered me:

  • Concentrated juice that tastes the same as whole juice will save you money. There was no mention of the nutritional difference between juices and fresh fruit. For the record, I think it’s always better to either juice yourself and drink immediately if you want to drink a juice OR eat a piece of fruit is always the better option from a nutritional point of view. I’m no expert but I know this is better.
  • Cheap sliced pan is just as good as expensive sliced pan. Neglecting to mention the difference between Chorleywood proved loaves and sourdough, no discussion of how cheap (or easy) it is to bake your own bread, even if if it is a quick soda bread or made in a breadmaker, it will always be better than a shop-bought sliced pan in my opinion. If you don’t believe me, ask the lovely people behind Real Bread Ireland.
  • Cheap sausages will ooze more fat when you cook them on a grill. No mention of how even expensive sausages probably contain pork that has eaten GMO feed, more than likely has had antibiotics in their diet at some point in their life cycle, or of salt content. All fats are not equal, nor are all sausages. My own free range sausages would fail that test hands down with no GMO feed, antibiotics and very little salt.

Overall what jumped out at me from the show last night?

A little bit of food skills education goes a long way. If the family featured knew how to cook more healthy, wholesome food from scratch they’d save far more money than swapping out branded items. It’s something that I harp on about regularly.

Yes you will save some money if you substitute out brand-name X for own-brand Y when it comes to things like convenience food. Particularly things like cereals, bread, pizza, sausages, burgers, chips, crisps, biscuits, tinned beans, and more. I don’t believe that you’re feeding your family well for less though. You’re simply replacing one type of convenience food for another. What about the levels of salt in the food you’re eating? What type of fats are you consuming? Are you eating enough fruit and vegetables to stay healthy?

I’m not talking about eating clean (side of washing up liquid with your meal madam?) or jumping on the latest health food bandwagon, nor am I talking about following a healthy eating diet that might cost you as much as €83 for dinners for 2 people over 1 week.

To give you an example of how this works, on average I budget about €70 for food per week for our family of 5, with a further €20 per week (more or less) for cleaning materials and cosmetics. I could spend more if I choose to. Things are not as they were when I first started squeezing the family food budget. I originally cut back on the amount we spent on food when we physically had less to spend. Nowadays we eat so well on this budget that it’s easier to continue to stick to it, and use the savings elsewhere.

Yesterday I went shopping for the first time in a fortnight. Himself managed to sneak some treats in the trolley; we also got a bag of seed potatoes for the allotment, some cut flowers for the kitchen, a balance cushion for my work chair that I had wanted to get, and I restocked the store cupboards. Not forgetting that I picked up cleaning materials too.

We still spent less than €135 on our shopping.

The fridge is full of dairy, fresh veg and fruit. The freezer has plenty of meat, homemade stocks and sauces, along with a couple of meals that I prepared on a batchcook day. The store cupboard is groaning with dried beans, rice, pasta, noodles, dried fruit, and baking ingredients.

Sticking to my tried and tested method of planning ahead, keeping a track of what we have in stock in the store cupboards, and knowing how to cook healthy meals from basic ingredients works. It just works. I believe in it so much I even wrote a book (including recipes) on the topic because I know that if I can do it, anybody can. It’s called Wholesome: Feed Your Family Well For Less.

I’m off to drink a pint of my relatively expensive tea. It’s probably the only item that I don’t compromise on when it comes to budgeting for groceries. It might get my blood pressure down a bit after writing that. Might!Feed your family well for less - Wholesome Ireland - Irish Food Blog

16 thoughts on “Feed Your Family Well For Less

  1. Settled down to watch this last night to with great interest, I couldn’t believe it however, particularly with a chef, a flippin chef presenting it who could show these people how to cook decent meals without relying on all the processed stuff. Why didn’t he show them how to make their own burgers, a big batch that could be frozen!
    And the bread…..soda bread is on the table in less than an hour start to finish, I was so annoyed at that part in particular, there really is no need to be relying on sliced pans, cheap or otherwise.
    No mention of reading labels and becoming more food aware. No advising that perhaps sausages should be seen as a treat and not a weekly meal.
    It was frustrating, I will watch the next two episodes though, I do find it fascinating to see how other people eat lol
    Now to throw a loaf of soda bread in the oven for lunch and grab a cuppa (for me it’s expensive, though stock up on special offers, coffee)

  2. Caveat: I haven’t actually watched the programme. Not sure I want to, either, having read this.

    As you say, ‘eating well’ leaves a lot of room for interpretation, but it probably shouldn’t involve ready-made pizzas, burgers or whatever on a regular basis. I’d like to add that, nutrition aside, cheap ready meals generally taste horrible. I’m not being a cook-from-scratch snob or purist here – I find pricier ready meals tolerable, even enjoyable as a sort of guilty pleasure sometimes.
    And similarly, I’m sorry, if I can’t have decent (coarse, 97% meat content or whatever) sausages then given the choice between, I don’t know, Sainsbury’s 20p-a-pack Basics bangers and having my mashed potato on its own, I’ll take the plain mash, ta very much.

    That said (and this isn’t necessarily a criticism of your post but a general point) a lot of these ‘frugal living’ TV shows and other media output get criticised for over-emphasising the ‘cook from scratch’ aspect. Which is important, no question, but I think the issue of people who lack the cooking skills or facilities, or who just don’t have the time/energy after working their two minimum-wage jobs, is often neglected. I haven’t read your blog enough to see whether you address this – I’m sure you do, as most of the grassroots food bloggers (e.g. Jack Monroe) do seem to address this point. So it would be nice to see a mainstream media outlet recognise that it’s not always realistic for people to make a slow-cooked dried bean cassoulet for a weekday dinner, and sometimes it’s just got to be oven chips, tinned beans and 20p sausages. Though it sounds very much like this programme has gone WAAAAY to far in that direction…
    (and of course, showing a truly balanced view of these food-poverty-related issues, such as people who work full-time+ not having time to cook, lack of cooking skills etc., would require admitting some very uncomfortable truths about society and politics. Far easier for the BBC just to either go “poor people! just cook from scratch after you 16-hour day at work!” or “poor people! just buy Tesco Value frozen pizza instead of ordering from Domino’s!”)

    1. A great point, well made. It’s actually an issue that has raised it’s head here over the past few days – I allude to it where I mention a diet plan that could cost as much as €83 for 2 adults to eat the dinners. I would love to see the public service broadcasters take more of an in depth look as the societal issues you mention above, and not gloss over it. These truths make uncomfortable watching but given the levels of obesity are on the rise in Ireland and the UK, I think that it’s one that we can’t afford to neglect. I hope you take some time to have a rummage around the blog and see that I do understand the intricacies of eating well on a budget with very little time. Thank you for you taking the time to compose such a great response.

  3. Well said, must admit I didn’t watch the programme the trailer was enough. So much easier and enjoyable to cook from scratch. Also a little bit of planning,organising goes a long way.About time they gave you a TV programme to show how it’s done.

  4. Preaching to the concerted here! Basic skills in the kitchen are not being passed down from generation to generation anymore. It sounds so old fashioned to say it but that is the crux of the matter. Good wholesome food isn’t a flavour many people know how to savour anymore. Good post and thanks for sharing.

  5. agree totally with what you just said think it was really just an excerise in swapping to own brand products but maybe thats a start for that family as feel it was as far as their culinary methods went!!! agree should have been some food education in it . and has much as i like greg wallace as a presenter , he could have done his green grocers roots a far better service , its a popular misconception he is a chef!!! will watch next week with interest , i hope you have sent your comments to the bbc as they should take them on board

  6. I watched with interest too, and I feel that family was not representative of a normal/regular family (if there is such a thing) in relation to their shopping habits they had €1000 worth of food in their kitchen BEFORE they went shopping! That’s not normal, so basic rotation of their food cupboard and actually shopping less was always going to help them save. Plus, it was very strange that the father was initially presented as a “foodie” yet Greg felt the need to coach him on making something as basic as meatballs, and how to chop an onion.

  7. Great post as usual on the button. I was quite shocked at how much they spend on their groceries and how little they saved considering! What about this concentrated juice or bread!! They saved money but certainly didn’t eat better!

  8. somewhat off point … but may I ask where you got your balance cushion and how much..

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