What is Frugal Food? According to the BBC Good Food Show on Monday evening, a meal of lamb belly with a mash was incredibly frugal, costing just under £2 per portion (€2.40 but effectively up to 40% more than this as grocery prices in Ireland are higher). The guidelines under the new Insolvency legislation in Ireland suggest that an adequate food budget for a healthy diet is €57 per week per adult.
You’re excused if you need to stop and rub your eyes for a second. You read that right, €57 per week for one person for food. It’s not that far shy of my food budget of €70 per week for the entire family. In our household, allowing for all our family members, if we were to be assessed under the ISI guidelines, that would give me a food budget of just under €146 per week. Over double what my budget is.
The ISI guidelines don’t refer to a frugal food budget, nor do they claim to. The guidelines have been well researched and I believe represent a fair price for a decent food budget in Ireland. A frugal food budget to me is a budget that requires you to skimp on this fair price even further.
Let’s return to the portion price of just under €2.40 for the meal detailed on the BBC Good Food show on Monday night. The meal that they described, more than once, as frugal. If I were to feed my family a “frugal” meal like this I would have to allow for the meal to cost €12. There are 7 days in the week and 3 meals a day (plus snacks) to budget for in every household. Eating “frugally” in this manner every night would cost €84 per week just for the main meal. It would put me over budget without even considering breakfasts, lunches and snacks.
To eat frugally I am faced with 2 options. I can either:
Buy cheap convenience food with a long list of ingredients, high fat content, high sugar content and which is unlikely to be fresh.
Buy fresh ingredients in the fruit and vegetable, meat and dairy sections of the supermarket. Then invest my time and skills to make healthier frugal food for my family.
I have the time because I’m based in the home with the toddler. I have the skills required to convert these raw ingredients to great food. Not everybody is as privileged as I am. I completely understand why people on a budget choose to buy convenience food. I have done so myself in a pinch and I am sure that I will do it again.
However, meals that are described as frugal on a premium cookery show give the impression that it’s easy to cook decent food on a budget. Those who live this lifestyle know it’s incredibly difficult. So the myth of eating well on a budget was perpetuated by yet another cookery/food based show. Except the budget doesn’t hold up.
It annoys me greatly that the debate surrounding eating well on a budget is filled with expert panelists such as chefs, professional cooks and dieticians. Commonly they have little personal experience of what it’s like to live this life, day in day out.
What’s your opinion on frugal food? Is under €2.40 per portion frugal food to you? I’d love to hear what other people think.