Food challenge: Looking back

Wow – from a culinary point of view it’s been an interesting month for me! Five weeks ago MSN set me the challenge of attempting to beat rising food prices by trying out different approaches to my weekly food shop. I began with a week of foraging for wild foods, followed by a week of World War Two recipes. Next my challenge was to spend seven days shopping solely at Aldi, while my final task last week was to eat only vegetarian food and see if avoiding meat could help me save on my shopping bill.

Each task had its strengths and weaknesses. The wild food week was fun – a highlight was foraging with Kris Miners and learning how to use the wild plants growing locally to me. But until that point I felt pretty cagey about picking plants I was uncertain about for fear of poisoning myself, so my diet got a trifle dull restricted to dandelion and plantain leaves, with the odd nettle.

World War Two week was the most challenging week. While it was fascinating talking to the Imperial War and Churchill Museums about how people ate – and coped – during wartime, the blandness of the food was a major turn-off. But I think we could learn a lot from WW2 about using up leftovers, not wasting food and growing our own on allotments.

Aldi week was a revelation. You all – quite rightly! – gave me a good ticking off about my supermarket snobbery and instinct to hide my Aldi bags from the neighbours when I got home– not to mention forgetting to take my own bags to the supermarket! But I was impressed by the prices and the quality of the food. Even fusspot DJ ate it.

Finally, going vegetarian wasn’t as difficult as I’d expected, although I did miss my weekly toad in the hole one night when it was cold and pouring with rain. I also got great moneysaving tips from the Vegetarian Society which anybody – meat eater or veggie – could make use of. And I tasted my first nut roast.

But which strategy saved me the most money? Here’s a rundown of my food shopping bill for each week

Control week/normal food shop – £27.47 (originally quoted as £30, I skipped the £1.24 noodles included in my original shopping list and made my own pizza for £1.40).

Wild food week – £22.83

WW2 week – £23.99

Aldi shop – £17.40

Vegetarian week – £26.82

So, the Aldi shopping experience came out on top and helped me save over 30 per cent on my control arm shopping bill. The wild food week came second at £22.83 thanks to two wood pigeon exchanged for some eggs from John the Poacher and foraging for free ingredients from the garden.

Hot on its heels was WW2 week at £23.99. But vegetarian week turned out to be more expensive than I expected. Looking at the receipts, though, I think it’s mainly down to the price of things like cashew nuts, aubergines and avocados. Although we weren’t buying meat, we were enticed by exotic vegetables. Plus DJ bought feta cheese and puff pastry to make a delicious tart, which added to the bill.

With less expensive veg and by buying lentils etc. in bulk the vegetarian diet would be cheaper. The wild food week was economical but the downside to this diet is that it’s highly seasonal, unless you were proactive enough to collect foraged foods and store them for use during the winter months.

What the experiment has taught me, though, is the importance of shopping around, which admittedly not everyone has the time to do, meal planning and not wasting anything, whether it’s leftovers in the fridge or nature’s bounty in your back garden.

How do you save on your shopping bill? What are your cunning shopping tips/strategies? Let me know by leaving a message.


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4 Responses to Food challenge: Looking back

  1. Christine says:

    You realise that foraging is only easy because you have a "poacher" with whom you can barter she says laughing. If that avenue wasn\’t open to you, maybe it would be a different matter. Being a vegetarian can be more expensive than you expect till you get the store cupboard built up and learn where to pick up supplies of things like nuts without paying through the nose for them. You can pick up a great variety of beans (red, kidney, haricot, butter) and chick peas (buy all of these in tins to save wasting the power cooking them if you must and also to save time after work) at no great expense from any supermarket worth its name. These are actually a staple of vegetarians above nuts and tofu. These give you the facility to hurl together soups, stir fries, risotto and stews with no great effort from whatever you have in the store cupboard. Might also be better to learn to make your own pastry she says laughing.  A little stash of ordinary baked beans allows you to do jacket spuds in the microwave, add beans and maybe cheese along with a salad type garnish of whatever veg come to hand. But it\’s a case of getting your stores right before you actually make a profit from being vegetarian. I do a mean meatless shepherd\’s pie using lentils for visitors. Oh – for a treat do get around the web to find some of the excellent vegan cake recipes – some of them are worth making and far better than a lot of stuff from the shops. You can be well surprised – not expensive either! I can make a mean Xmas pudding vegan style and you won\’t know the difference except the lack of alcohol.

  2. dogstail says:

    I must confess, I was not surprised to see the vegetarian week coming in at so expensive with the "exotic" veg and the buying of puff pastry – not exactly frugal!  I did find my food bill went up slightly when I went vegetarian a few years back, due to having to buy up packs of nuts, beans, etc.  Mind you, as they did last me a few weeks, it rather balanced everything out. 
    In all, the overview of the four alternative weeks has hopefully given the picture that we can all shop cheaper and by using a combination of vegetarian and wild food we can cut down on the amount of expensive meat and fish we eat without having to cut it out altogether (unless you want to go completely vegetarian or evan vegan).  Sometimes just resorting to eating simple home cooked food rather than relying on "convenience" meals will have the biggest impact on the weekly shopping bill.  If we can all learn to live by the maxim of "everything in moderation" and "waste not want not" maybe we will see the benefit where we most want it – in our purses (or wallets).
    My tips would be –
    1.  Ttry and shop locally – often the local shops, although they can\’t offer the range of a supermarket, they can offer just as good a quality and I find that if something isn\’t there to tempt me, I don\’t spend so much.
    2.  Don\’t shop for food when you\’re hungry – I think it\’s been proven that you buy more food when you\’re hungry (and I certainly find that this is the case).
    3.   Meal plan – if you can work out a rough plan of what you intend to eat for the next 7 days and shop accordingly, it does work out cheaper (you can always keep a few extras in the freezer or store cupboard to cover against emergencies or the nights when you just don\’t want to be bothered to cook what you\’ve planned for that night).
    4.  Bulk bake – if you\’ve planned your meals and it involves a few things that need to be cooked, if you have the time to cook things like pies, quiches, cakes, etc in one go and put the ones you need for the end of the week in the freezer, so that they can be defrosted and heated through quickly on the day they\’re wanted, rather than having to cook them from scratch on the day, this will not only save time but also fuel (if you\’re heating up an oven to do one thing, you might as well fill the oven up)
    5.  Cook extra – if you\’re making a stew or casserole that you are likely to eat again, why not make double the quantity and freeze half of it (the same applies to soups).
    Well, that\’s my tips.  Happy frugal living!

  3. Moira says:

    I was interested to see the savings produced by shopping at Aldi.  Although I shouldn\’t have been surprised.  I have shopped at Aldi regularly ever since they opened in our area.  I have always been very satisfied with the quality of their goods.  Our particular Aldi also has the benefit of being within 100 yards of a large Tesco, so we get the staples from Aldi and then trot over to Tesco for specific items.  Strangely enough whatever I buy in Tesco, unless I am very strict with myself, the bill generally comes to more than I have just paid in  Aldi for a complete shop!
    Another bonus of shopping in Aldi, of which many of you may not be aware, is that their own brand household cleaning products and toiletries are not tested on animals, which is a good thing.

  4. gail says:

    i can only access a few supermarkets cos i live in the sticks and money too tight to travel, carbon miles etc but i did decide to take a trip to aldi and saved a packet. i went for the odd few things aldi didnt stock into tesco across rd and it cost me virtually same amount for ten items that i had spent of 37 in aldi. with things costing more i suggest supermarket snobs give them a whirl as everyones purses get tighter. otherwise i walk to my local co-op who are good value for meat products and quality not bad either

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