Friday 11 March 2016

Is Uber-Food-Planning the Only Way to Shop on a Budget?

Twenty eight cook books, twenty eight! I counted them. Then I wondered how useful they are and have been. Some are lovely books that were just worth reading for their own sake, others cover basics, and others are full blown diet-fad-plans. We've used them all but there are probably only two or three we regularly return to.

I was counting cook books because I was wondering whether slavishly following a recipe or a meal plan  is an economical way of cooking. It's amazing how often the quantities in a recipe (particularly if you are following a diet plan thing) are the exact same quantities that appear easily within reach, wrapped in plastic on the supermarket shelf. 

I had a look at this blog by the amazingly organised Thrifty Mrs. to be honest I found that level of organisation a little bit scary, but I know some of you - the sort that need numbered coathangers and stuff - will love this. Thrifty Mrs and I could  never live in the same house. 

For the busy family though, I guess she is speaking a language that appeals. The economy of planning and cooking on a budget comes from sticking to a list and only spending money on what you need. That bit I agree with, but it does tend to lead you down the supermarket aisle and nowhere else. 

I offer an alternative. We have a weekly veg box that costs £10. Each week we get a lovely surprise when it arrives and we see what good value seasonal veg and fruit are in it. We have a few staple meals that can be adapted to suit whatever delicious produce we discover (have you had Celeriac chips? - you should). Equally though, when thinking about what we are going to combine with our veg, it's nice to simply ask the lady on the fish stall on Shaw market, or one of our favourite butchers, what is good value or what they would recommend this week. 
Maisie with Yorkshire Rhubarb that she bought with confidence
from the honest Shaw Market traders

I can hear some of you squealing with anxiety at the possibility that the sneaky merchant might take advantage sell me something that would make them the most profit, and they could. But they don't. That anxiety is based on the experience of shopping where the reputations of supermarkets are earned by glossy superficiality. That gloss gives you the illusion of consistently fair pricing and consistently best quality. We know that often it really is not the case and what we are offered is a limited range of produce carefully priced and packaged to eke maximum profit for shareholders, rather than maximum value for consumers. The independent retailer has to forge a real relationship with a real person, they care about the food they sell you, and it matters to them personally that you are pleased with it. 

Sometimes we get to the end of the week with a few veg box items left, sometimes they accumulate over two weeks. This is where the fun starts. Nobody likes throwing food away (unless they don't care about it because it was bought as part of a BOGOF deal that sounded like value at the time), so here's where you forget the recipe books and turn to the worlds greatest food expert:

I mean, who knew that Carrot and Orange soup existed? And if you saw it in a recipe book, who'd even make it? It sounds vile - but is delicious.

Last week a recipe arrived with our veg box. The lovely people at Mossley Organic and Fine Food must have realised there is only so much roast beetroot you can eat, so we discovered the AMAZING Beetroot and Chocolate Cake.

The point is, that by being curious about food and refusing to waste it we can shop economically and creatively without being slaves to the supermarket shelves. 

I know that for many of you, supermarket shopping is based not on the knowledge that you are getting best value and quality but rather on ease and efficiency. I can remember what working and bringing up a young family is like. In coming weeks I'll be considering to what extent it is easy to shop enjoyably and economically without resorting too often to supermarkets. Stand by for the super-market.   

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