Friday, 16 November 2012

Frugal Friday

Feeding a family - without it taking over your life and your bank balance.

In this weeks Frugal Friday post I am looking at how I keep the food budget from running away with me when cooking main meals for my family of 5. Our groceries were costing us more than anything else each month and so a while ago I decided to rein this in and try and cut what we were spending. I have big eaters in my family. There is no way around that. They eat just about anything. I do get a little annoyed when people say to me that I am lucky that they do. I'm not lucky, I persevered when they were fussy and battled on. I am pretty strict when it comes to meal times and I wont treat the kitchen like a cafe where they can pick and choose what they want. I worked hard to get them not to be fussy. All us parents know what it is like when a child won't eat. It can be soul destroying when you have spent ages cooking something you think they will like only to have them turn their noses up. You just want to feed them and for them to thrive, but I persevered and they came through it. They do know that if they don't want to eat what is on the menu they can go without. They never do! I don't intend cooking 2 or 3 different meals every night for fussy children. I may sometimes do pasta as well as rice or  offer custard as well as ice cream if we have a pudding, but that's as far as I go. Am I mean? I don't know, but it's what I can manage! I spend too long in the kitchen anyway! Now they tend to inhale their food they are so hungry, especially the boys.

I also resent spending hundreds of pounds at the supermarket every month on easy food when I know I can make a better version for less. I'd actually rather spend it on something else if truth be told. Food is not my passion! So, although it is more time consuming initially to cook everything from scratch, that's what I do. I feel happier that I know what is in everything and I can control what I am spending. I would say though, once you have a few meals in the freezer you can easily have one or two nights 'cooking free' a week so in the long run it actually releases time.

 Although getting things at a good price is a big consideration for me, it is not the only consideration, I do also look at what is in my ingredients and try and keep an eye on those too. I won't buy something just because it is the cheapest if it is full of rubbish. However, sometimes it seems the difference between many products is just the packaging . The contents are usually pretty much the same . They charge more for a pretty box!

I do my main shop at Lidls now as I can keep it at around £50 to £60 per week. The quality is really good and their meat is all British. I tend not to buy my mince or stewing steak here as I can get it cheaper elsewhere, but for chicken and Pork it is ideal. Of course they don't always have what you want or need at Lidls so a degree of flexibility is needed here. Fresh fruit is always of a high standard and priced so you can compare between products easily. I always follow these rules:

  • Have a menu plan for two weeks
  • Write a list
  • Don't deviate from the list unless something you would normally buy is on offer and you can stock up
  • Buy enough for two weeks ( apart from fruit)I try and go as long as I can between shops.
  • Don't shop when tired or hungry
  • Check for codes,coupons and vouchers before you shop
There are always some items I need that I can't get from Lidls and I will , about once a month pop to Tescos to bulk buy these items.I try not to let myself run out of everything at the same time, but keep items topped up to prevent having to do huge panic shops. I again spend about £50 here. We also have our milk delivered to support our local service more than anything. This cost is additional to my Lidls and Tescos costs. I have a veg box delivered every other week now from our local farm shop. This costs £18 and I make it last two weeks, just topping up the potatoes. So, In total my monthly spend for a family of five for groceries ( including all cleaning products, soap and loo roll) is around £350 - £400. I could cut this a lot more if I went totally down the frugal route by dropping to basic brands on absolutely everything, but there is a quality controller in my house who calls himself The Husband. He isn't so keen on the value brands. Food is his thing ! So I take the middle ground. Can't have an unhappy and hungry man around the house now can I ?

Here is my last two week menu plan. Meals marked with an * mean I batch bake and freeze one or two extra meals. Sometimes I allocate a whole day to cook various meals to freeze. I change this each two week block as I get bored easily as do the children so although some meals feature often e.g spag bol, stew, faggots , I add different meals in to keep things interesting.

Week 1
Week 2
Lunch - soup 
Dinner - Roast Chicken
Lunch - Soup 
Dinner - Roast Beef
Chicken Casoulet and Peas
Coq au Vin and mash
Dinner - Faggots* and Rice 
Spaghetti Bolognaise *
Sausage Casserole and mash
Stew and mash
Lasagne * and salad/ homemade rolls *
Lasagne and salad and homemade rolls
Pasta and bacon bits with cheese.
Steak and Kidney pie *
Lunch - soup * and rolls
Dinner - Chilli *
Lunch - Soup * and rolls
Dinner - Chilli

There are three things I could not do without in my weekly drive to provide good quality meals for less:

1. Freezer Meals/Batch baking.
2. Slow Cooker.
3. Breadmaker

1.By freezer meals I mean meals I have cooked myself and frozen. I do this by batch baking on certain days and freezing a few meals for the weeks ahead. This means I always have a selection of meals in the freezer ready to use. It means when I cook a meal I will either freeze any leftovers or I spend a day batch baking meals. My best freezer meals are Lasagne, Chilli, Steak pie, Faggots, Spag Bol, Veg burgers - I could go on. Recipes to follow in future posts. This is invaluable on busy days with the kids and also if I need a night off cooking. This minimises waste in that you have planned your meals, purchased exactly what you need and used it.

I buy my meat in larger quantities from a farm shop - the quality is better and it works out cheaper. I buy 10llb of mince as I get that for £16 . For mince it is £1.60 a Lb. Tescos is £2.84 for 500g at the moment ( just over 1lb) . I can make 5 family meals out of this and sometimes squeeze an extra individual meal to freeze out of it! That works out at £3.20 a family meal of 5 or 64p per person, for the mince per meal!! The faggots are made with pork mince and lambs liver and work out even cheaper. I spend about £35 in total. The veg burgers cheaper again. Why would I buy processed ready meals, full of sugar and preservatives that cost far more? My other ingredients are not expensive. For example my tomato passata is 29p a box,  my puree 30p a tube etc. 

2.The slow cooker is a must for anyone with children and a busy life. You can cook just about anything in one of these. They are not expensive to buy. Check them out here  on Price Runner from £15. I got mine at half price for £30 in Tesco's double up deals. I can pop a stew or a risotto in the slow cooker in the morning or at lunchtime and it is ready when we get home. Make sure your slow cooker has a stay warm function on it. I will be posting some of my favourite recipes in the weeks to come.

3.My breadmaker is a Panasonic and it has more than earned it's keep! We have used it for white bread, wholemeal bread, spelt bread, bread rolls, speciality breads, pizza dough. I know it is not the same as a homemade loaf, kneaded and proved and loved, but I don't have the time for this everyday! You can make a loaf of bread very cheaply indeed if you are happy to go down the value route ( as little as 27 - 30p a loaf) , but I tend to get better quality flour as it improves the taste. Our bread averages out at about 60p a loaf, more if we are using organic spelt flour as a treat! ( This is really lovely bread, but it doesn't last long in our house) .We make a large loaf each time. A large fresh loaf at Tescos would be £1.20 so it is about half I am saving. However if I were to be picky we don't get as many slices as we cut it thicker! So I think I probably save around 40p a loaf. It still adds up over the year with the amount of bread that gets consumed in our house! I also like that I know what I am choosing to put in the bread my children eat. We go through a loaf or two a day . The bread maker goes on at night and then again in the morning. Nothing beats that smell waking up in the morning. Ok maybe fresh coffee does.

1. Freezer Meals I have done this week. ( Didn't catch them all on camera before they got snaffled up!)

One hot meal, one freezer meal.

One hot meal, one freezer meal, one individual freezer meal

One hot meal , 2 meals for the freezer ( not shown)

One freezer meal, cooked at the same time as the chilli

One hot meal, one freezer meal. Rough and ready looking, but taste great!

2. Slow Cooker Meals This Week

24 sausages in this baby pre cooking!

Picture before going in the slow Cooker

3. Breadmaker Examples

Random tips:

1. Be on the constant look out for vouchers and coupons you could use. Online, newspapers and magazines. 

2. Beware of offers or coupons that give you extra points to purchase something you wouldn't usually buy. This is generally not a good use of money.

3. Check "Buy one get one free" and "3 for the price of 2" offers thoroughly. Often they are not quite as good as they seem. Check the aisles for other prices and deals.

4.If you have vouchers to spend stock up on items you would usually buy in bulk.

5. Don't feel you have to buy the knives or luggage your supermarket has given you vouchers for and told you that you can have for half the price....unless you really need them and you have researched the price!

If this is all too much in one go, try one thing. Drop a brand at your supermarket next time you shop. If you don't notice the difference in the product, then keep buying it, if you do, return to your usual brand! It's a start! 

What tips do you have for keeping your grocery budget down? 
Where do you shop?


  1. Wow - what an epic post Claire and absolutely brilliant. I don't adhere to enough of those rules but I do check the deals at the supermarket - it helps to be good at maths as they can catch you on the hop and I do things like check how much a wash tablet is compared to another. If I let the other half go and do the shop - he spends it totally different to me and is a lot more indulgent - he is a foodie as well. I go to an Aldi once a fortnight as it's in the same place as the boys swimming lessons otherwise it's out of the way and I would need to factor in the fuel costs. However, what I think I will do is get our Panasonic breadmaker out - I'm letting Ben have pack ups for school so it makes sense to have some nice bread for him and Grumps. The breadmaker is one of Grump's toys which has fallen out of favour .. along with ice cream maker and deep fat fryer when he just fancied some chips - now that's not being frugal! Anyway, really well thought out post - I can identify with most of it.

    1. I do the same - I shop when the boys are at tennis. It makes sense! The bread is lovely - not so good for the waistline though! My OH is the same - he would quite happily go to Waitrose and spend what I spend on a weeks shop on treats alone....hmmmm. I'd rather have the spare cash to spend on clothes!!

  2. Brilliant post claire ....some fabulous tips and photos here:) I usually do my main shop in Tesco and also a run to Lidl for other bits in between. I'm still trying to work out a better budget though because the food bills are huge every week.I have one very fussy son but feel I have to give in or he just won't eat enough. Have a great weekend:)
    ~Anne xx

    1. Thanks Anne! It is a tricky one with a big family - I never please everyone I hasten to add! Ive been there with the fussy children and it is hard, especially for us mums!! X

  3. It's fantastic! Saving money is always needed, especially in food shopping. Great tops :) x

    1. You're right - it is easy to over spend with food shopping!! X

  4. Great post Claire and some great ideas. I think I am going to put a bread maker top of my Christmas list! We have started meal planning since my husband has gone from working nights to days and we have saved a lot by planning in advance and taking a list shopping.
    I must also try Lidl or Aldi, but there is not one close to where I live, it makes it harder.

    1. i love the breadmaker and actually my husband makes most of it now!! He is better at it as he is careful with the measurements and it slightly annoys me that his bread is always so perfect! I only have a Lidl or a Tesco near me too! X

  5. My 5 consist of 4 adults and 1 12yr old who all eat for England so its not easy! My top tip would be to shop online where you can see what you are spending and make adjustments on non essential purchases immediately with no nasty shocks at the checkout! I don't drive so to get to the supermarket would cost me £4 in a bus to get there and £8 for a taxi home so a £4.95 delivery charge makes more sense anyway but I save on that by shopping fortnightly because delivery if free over £100.

    1. I have a 11 year old like that!! I would agree shopping online takes the temptation away !

  6. Great post! I must say I could have written it myself cause I do exactly the same as you do. I shop at Lidl and freeze meals and make my own bread with flour I buy at a mill by the kilos (it's much cheaper and more pure of preservatives and stuff). I buy my vegetables and fruits at a farmer's street market once a week and my meat from the butcher's. I use coupons and watch out for specials at the grocery stores. My family eats what I cook or they stay hungry. My house my rules! Am I mean? Oh! well, so be it!!!

    1. Sounds just like us! It works out easier in the long run and much cheaper I find.

  7. I'm the same as Sharron - I do my grocery shopping online. This actually works out cheaper as I am not distracted by the 'special offers' or 'ooh, that looks interesting, think I'll buy it'. Plus, I no longer have the hassle of dragging a trolley around the aisles, packing bags and loading the car. Major benefits! £50 per week for a family of 5 seems very very little - but maybe the cost of living is much higher here? Also, I've never heard of faggots before (at least not as a foodstuff!!). Are they a type of meatball?

    1. I think if Lidl did online I would as you are right it is an easier way to shop! It really is a cheap store . I only go over £50 - £60 now if I start adding treats or the more expensive lines back in . I know people who do it for even less, but they cut out biscuits and don't buy as much fresh stuff as I do I think. The biscuits cost me from 29p - 49p for a large packet. Basics like passata and chopped toms are 29p/30p. You can buy bread for 49p, but I don't like it or whats in it! A whole sausage of salami is £1.99 and lasts a week for sandwiches! I dont buy fancy extras, just make big hearty meals to fill them up! The faggots are a pork mince and liver meatball, but about the size of a tennis ball ( a tad smaller) in a rich gravy. They are so cheap to make, but absolutely a favourite with the kids! They fight over the last one always!! Sometimes I add apple too - they taste a bit like a pork and apple burger - yum. All our money we save is going to our extension next year so it's worth it!

  8. This is a wonderful post. I need to be more disciplined in meal planning and grocery shopping. Its not easy right now, since I'm working and back in school at nights and I'm not enjoying cooking as much as I once did. Your post is inspiring and I'm going to try implement many of your ideas. Thanks for a great post

    1. It is much harder when you are working out of the house - maybe a slow cooker would help? X

  9. This is an amazingly helpful post, Claire! I'm exactly the same way about eating what is served. Our house is not a restaurant! I do need to use the breadmaker more. It's intimidating to me. I love the crockpot, though. It has saved our family (Unfortunately, we're not all home at the same time). I'm jealous of your vegetable delivery service!

    1. I love the crock pot too - we also come in at different times on 3 nights a week so it is great for those nights! I have a cut off point in the evening too when the kitchen is 'closed' and no more food can be consumed!! ( They would just keep eating otherwise!) x

  10. Thank you for taking the time and tourble to produce such an interesting and welcome post. It has made me start my New Year resolution early.

    1. What a lovely thing to say! Thank you!

  11. Brilliant budget on the food shop - I fail miserably because I'm drawn in with the offers and alcohol always tops up the bill (my hubby likes a beer after a stressful day at work!). I've never tried Lidl but there is one not too far away so may have to give it a go. Wish I had more time for batch cooking and freezing (wish I also had a bigger freezer - ours isn't huge - presume you have a large one to hold all those lovely meals!) - I think if I didn't work I would follow much of the same route, home cooked food is so much tastier! xx

    1. Thanks Jenny! I do get drawn in by the alcohol at times, but we are going drink free at the mo because of the old waistline so that helps loads! Christmas will be another matter, but I have £100 supermarket voucher to spend that I won and some of that will go to wine for sure! I do have 2 freezers, but not big! One is a small 2 drawer and one a 3 drawer, but I'm angling for a big larder one in our extension next year - hence the budgeting now - the more we save , the more I get! Ha Ha! I agree work does hinder things - my work for hubby is all home based so I can get the crock pot on and do a couple of hours proof reading whilst it all cooks. Train up the kids that what I say - make them cook a few days and give us a night or two off! X

  12. Claire, I followed you on Pinterest! I would like to put a "follow me on Pinerest" gadget on my blog but can't figure out how!

    1. If you go to 'about' on your pinterest then scroll down to "pin it" and select that will take you to the page where you can grab a "pin it" button or a "follow me" button. Have followed you back as well! X