Store Cupboard Challenge

Monday, 24 September 2012

Mrs Thrifty Household and I are doing a 'spending less on food' challenge this week. I am not certain exactly what form her challenge is taking but we were both inspired by The Non Consumer Advocate's food stamp challenge. Food stamps are part of the US government's benefit scheme to help those on very low incomes. The monetary value of food stamps is $4 a day per person. This works out as $140 a week for my family of five. That's about £87.

I thought £87 wasn't too much of a challenge as once I deduct my non food purchases like washing powder, loo rolls, and alcohol, I'm not that far over £87. So, I thought I'd try something that would be a bit more of a challenge to me.

I don't think I've ever been in the position where I have had no food in the house. I have always kept a well-stocked cupboard and freezer. And yet, every week I buy more food. Some of it, milk for example, I regard as a necessity and I buy it week in week out. But a lot of what I buy is not necessary because there are alternatives already in my cupboards. So, this week is going to be a week where I buy the essentials only and use what I have in my cupboards and freezer to feed my family.

Making a list

First thing to do was to take an inventory of all the food I had in the house. As I suspected, there is plenty. I have colour coded my list (doesn't everyone?) . Red for sources of protein, green for fruit and veg, blue for dairy, brown for starchy carbs, and black for everything else. I'm not claiming scientific accuracy, it's just an aid to meal planning.

Freezer
10 chicken breasts
1 ham hock
1 bag of  pollack fillets (520g)
2 bags of chicken carcasses and trim (for soup)
Black beans
Chickpeas
Peas -half a 1.8 kg bag of petits pois and 1 unopened 1.8kg bag of garden peas (about 6lb in all)
Sweetcorn -1kg
Veg hash - 15 portions, enough for 15 meals
Raspberries - about 3lb, from the garden
White and redcurrants -about 2lb
Cranberries (bought last winter!)
Breadcrumbs
1 large loaf
2 packets of pitta bread
4 pints chicken stock
2  pints lamb stock
Yogurt starter 4 little tubs of yogurt in 2 tbsp amounts
Ginger
Gravy

Cupboard
1 can tuna
1 can sardines
1 can anchovies
4 x 400g tins baked beans
Dried chickpeas
Moong dahl
Red lentils
Puy lentils
Green lentils
Mung beans 
Soup mix
Barley
Brown rice
Basmati rice
Pudding rice
Popping corn
Fusilli
Spaghetti
Lasagne
4 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
2 x 500ml passata
8 jars Sunflower butter -I buy this in bulk as it is unavailable in shops
brazil nuts -I buy these in bulk and use them for granola
almonds - I buy these in bulk and use them for granola
Sunflower seeds -I buy these in bulk and use them for granola
Desiccated coconut -I buy this bulk and use it for granola
Sultanas
Dried apricots
Ryvitas, oatcakes and water biscuits
Oats
Gram flour (chickpea flour)
Chapatti flour
Plain flour self-raising flour
White bread flour
Wholemeal bread flour
Suet
Gelatine
Cocoa
Golden syrup
Caster, granulated, muscovado sugar
Cornflour
Dried milk
Tea and coffee
Rum, brandy, vermouth, sherry
Spices
Black olives
Sun-dried tomatoes
Creamed coconut
Marmite
Dijon mustard
Chutneys, jams, jellies, pickles 
Worcester sauce, soy sauce
Vinegars
Olive oil
Sunflower oil
Homemade granola
Homemade gingernuts

Fridge
Butter -about 250g
2 pints of milk
Cheddar -not much
5 Eggs
Lard -half a packet
Roast chicken leftovers -meat, small bowl of chicken fat, carcasses for stock
Leftover gravy
Leftover green beans
Bowl of apple purée
Leftover crumble
Whipped cream
Yogurt -not much
4 beetroot
Small white cabbage
1 courgette
Half a cucumber
Cherry tomatoes
2 little gem lettuces
2 lemons
Mayonnaise

Cooking apples
20 kg sack of spuds (£6.50)
Onions
Garlic

Doing the shopping

I have an Ocado delivery each week. I am well aware that this is not the cheapest option but I have a delivery pass for which I pay £6.99 each month. I don't want to waste that so I have had my delivery as usual this week. I went to the farmshop for eggs and apples and veg.

Here are my food purchases for this week (no more shopping until next Monday)


From Ocado; 16 pints of milk, 2 x 500g butter, 750g Cheddar, 1kg oats, 1kg demerara sugar, 1.5kg strong white flour and 1.5kg strong wholemeal flour (both for breadmaking).
Cost £20.38
From Tesco; 227g coffee
Cost £2.50
From the farm shop; a dozen free-range eggs (£1.90), 4lb Lord Lambourne apples, 4lb James Grieve apples, a small squash, 780g carrots, 865g vine tomatoes, a red pepper
Cost £10.37

Total cost - £33.25 - just think how much lower that figure would be if I'd shopped at a cheaper supermarket.

So, that's what the five of us have available to eat this week. By any standards it is plenty. I also have the advantages of being able to cook, having a well equipped kitchen and having lots of time to do it in. Not everyone who has to live on a very low income has these advantages.

Getting started

This morning I have made several pints of chicken stock from the bones of the two chickens I roasted for yesterday's lunch, I chucked the leftover green beans in there too. I have saved most of the meat for tomorrow's supper. Some of it I chopped and mixed with mayonnaise and mango chutney to make a sandwich filling for the packed lunches.

I have also started off a new batch of yogurt. I mixed the leftover apple purée with the remains of the whipped cream and the last bit of the old batch of yogurt to make a rather delicious apple fool.

This evening we will have big baked potatoes (the ones in my sack are enormous) stuffed with cheese and sweetcorn, served with coleslaw, and salad. We don't usually have weekday puddings but today there is apple fool.

I will be back during the week to let you know how we are managing. Very comfortably I suspect.

It would be fantastic if others would like to join Mrs Thrifty Household and I in our challenge. Why not see how little you need to buy this week and still feed your household?

59 comments:

  1. Bon appetit!
    Really looking forward to see what you eat, Ax

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  2. I am very interested in this post and looking forward to the rest of the week.

    Growing up, my mother could stretch a food budget any way necessary. So when, in my married life, it was needed I also could draw on this talent.

    So many times I am in the checkout line at the market and see the poor choices being made by Food Stamp recipients...Soda pop, chips, cold cereal, frozen pizzas, on and on it goes.

    The Food Stamp program was never intended to cover the 'entire' food budget for a family but just to help out and make sure no one starves.

    Your experiment looks like it is starting out very fair and will have a successful outcome. Thank you for bringing this to your readers attention.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Sherri, I am looking forward to the challenge. Being able to stretch a food budget is such a useful skill isn't it? We are lucky to have the knowledge and the examples of our mothers to help us. But what if your mother didn't ever learn to cook or how to budget, what if your cooking facilities are so limited that you only have a microwave and a toaster? You have no choice then but to buy the frozen pizza and cold cereal.

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  3. How fascinating, a bit like turning up in your kitchen and rifling through your cupboards!!

    I actually need to reduce our food bill, the problem is that the still resident son has a nasty combination of food sensitivities/allergies (he's a lifelong eczema sufferer) and down-right pickiness (I find there is little you can do about a picky 21 year old!) and I mostly end up planning separate meals for him which does make things more complicated. I must give this some thought!

    I shall watch your progress with interest Sue :)

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  4. In the 1980's my husband went back to University and our income was so small that we had to take a calculator to the shops to make sure we didn't get to the till and find we couldn't pay! We lived on £15 per week (two adults and a small child) - that would be about £40 today according to online comparison tables, which actually sounds more generous than it was. We mainly ate chicken, offal, mince, tinned fish, pasta, tinned tomatoes and fruit and veg bought cheap at the market or reduced at the end of the day. That also had to cover household cleaning, washing powder and loo rolls.
    Today, we could easily live for some time on the contents of the cupboards, freezer and fridge here (I haven't got over being snowed in two years ago, so I keep stocked up!), but I've started have veg, fruit, bread and milk delivered and using local shops for meat and fish. Delivery is 99p and minimum order £10 and more importantly it keeps me out of supermarkets and possible temptations. With three adults at home all day every day, one of whom is a picky eater who won't eat the same thing two days running, we're never going to reduce our bills to 1980s levels, but it certainly makes for inventive cooking. My mother was brought up in a huge family who lived in real poverty in the 1920's: my father suffered a bad accident when I was 3yrs old and was not granted sickpay and it's thanks to my mother's skill of using every cheap cut of meat and meal stretching device imaginable that we survived then - however, I have often seen people with a shopping cart full of 'junk food' pay considerably less at the checkout than me, and as you say not everyone has the skills or the equipment needed to cook fresh food. Look forward to seeing what you come up with.

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    Replies
    1. Well exactly, it costs less for a gallon of soda (US$1.79 at my market) than a gallon of milk (S$4.00) less for chips than for real potatoes that then have to be cooked, less for fruit snacks than for real fruit (*raspberries, 4 oz. $4.00, fruit snacks, 0.99) If we changed the price structure so real food cost less than fake, people would eat real food. Useless to blame the poor - by the time they get food stamps, their store cupboards, if they ever had one, is a bare as Old Mother Hubbard's was.

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  5. It's a strange coincidence that you're doing this because just yesterday, as I went to the market to buy just a few things, I thought to myself that it seems ridiculous that I shop in between "Big Shops" at all because I have loads of food in the house, just not necessarily what Some of Us want at the time. My children often complain that "We don't have any food--we only have INGREDIENTS."

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  6. I love this Sue, it appeals to me on so many levels. This past month has been one of big expences so we have had to be very careful and I have managed to feed the family well on between 80 & 90 pounds a week (Waitrose too - not the cheapest but I like a lot of their policies on food and the general philosophy behind the treatment of their staff). Not bad considering that there are six of us. Mind you the stock cupboards are beginning to look a little bare so there will have to be some stocking up this next weekend, thank goodness for payday and this is just one month - different when it is month after month.

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  7. Looking forward to seeing how you manage.
    Like Jee above, we were on a VERY restricted food budget in the early 80's I had £5 a week for food for two of us plus baby - if someone gave me a lift to Sainsburys I could manage it - but if I had to walk to the nearby Safeways, it was up to 10% more.

    I have had no supply teaching work since the end of June, so we are being Incredibly Frugal this month too.

    but we won't starve, the Lord always provides!

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  8. great challenge Sue, we'd need to buy cheese, milk and fruit for a start but I'm tempted to join in x

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  9. Anonymous4:40 pm BST

    I go shopping on Mondays. I make a list. I never stick to my list. I come home and wonder where i'm going to put all the food I've bourght. My cuboards,freezer and fridge are full to bursting.My husband said "do we eat all this"!!!!! I will not go shopping next week and possibly not the week after either. Thanks for the wake up call Sue .ME

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    Replies
    1. You are supposed to be setting an example Mother! I'm already thinking about carrying on next week too. There's so much food in the house.

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  10. This is an interesting one. I am ashamed at how much food I buy, and subsequently 'store'. I am also horrified about how much money I am spending on food. I also feel real annoyance with myself about how wasteful I have been about using what I grow, I get paid on Thursday and had already resolved to do a food audit and keep all the food receipts for the next month so I can see exactly how wasteful I have become.....

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  11. I have done this before and it is amazing what I can make when I think there is 'nothing for dinner'. It makes me more inventive and the meals get a bit more exciting - sometimes they are a but weird too. On a more permanent basis I try to shift my shopping day forward by one day every week - so am effectively buying for seven days and eeking it out to 8 or sometimes more.

    Necessity is the mother of invention :-)

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  12. Hello Sue, I'm in awe of your food list (where did you find the energy?!) I'm very excited about the food challenge & have added the extra challenge of not yet telling Mr TH about it-I'm waiting to see how long it takes him to realise that nothing new has been bought... I've planned lots of new recipes to aid in his confusion. I'm going to try to cost each meal/day out but realise that this could be very difficult & not that useful because it'll be based on a bulk price rather than a standard packet price & will also require the electricity needed in the cooking.

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  13. Caroline6:47 pm BST

    Sue, I am always so inspired by the recipes/menus I see on your blog. I teach full time which means I leave early, come home late (feeling grumpy) with the prospect of more school work to do at home and usually end up opening a box and putting a pizza or such like in the oven. I use being tired/having no time as an excuse for being a rubbish cook and feeding my family absolute toot. Some days, like today, I wonder if I would be better off chucking in the teaching and learning to live cheaply on one (smallish) salary.

    Anyway, rant over, I was actually only going to ask you if you also have a secret cupboard for your children containing crisps, jaffa cakes etc for lunchboxes or are you really a true domestic goddess and lunchbox angel?!

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    Replies
    1. I'm afraid I don't have a secret cupboard Caroline. My kids rely on flapjacks for their lunchboxes. Sometimes it's muffins or cake but mostly it's flapjacks -nothing fancy. They don't seem to be particularly susceptible to peer pressure.

      As a former teacher who didn't think we could manage on one salary I can tell you that 17 years later we find ourselves still managing. I admit we have had some good luck but it was easier than we thought.

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  14. Oh Sue what a great initiative. Last year I too was taking a calculator to town and shopping for a family of four (including washing powder, loo rolls, cat food and a couple of tasty treats for the weekend) on £70ish. It was stressful but actually I loved it! I had more time last year when my working hours were cut in half and used it productively to plan meals, shop at the market and with the independent producers in town, make stock, etc.

    Since I started my new job we don't have to be quite so careful but Woody now has taken on all the weekday cooking and although I miss my housekeeping duties he's brilliant and can make a meal out of anything, (tonight smoked fish, mash and pan fried onions, mushrooms & toms as we'd run out of greens until the veg order comes) Now I look back and can see how much good the lessons we learnt last year have done use and we're more or less sticking to it (our sunday roast of a beef topside joint that's been inteh freezer for a few weeks was fab) and we feel better for it. Looking forward to watching. learning more and copying your delicious recipes!

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  15. Oops, so sorry for the chronic typing!

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  16. We are also doing something similar although we are going to do it throughout the next month and possibly up to December. Our reasons for doing this are that we have been spending heavily for the last month and we have far too much food in the house for 2 people and we need to eat it rather than buy more of what we like. We have decided that we will only buy essentials like milk, cheese, eggs and get our regular veg box and use up what we have in the house rather than just buying food we fancy. We will see how long we last!

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  17. Thanks to this post I have just tidied out my cupboard, it goes back a long way despite being small and there were a lot of things I had forgotten about in there...
    I also teach full time and though I always cook a meal in the evening, I find that it is packed lunches which cost the most- with all the extras (snack bars, crisps etc) Can highly recommend shopping in a market. Bought a huge cauliflower on Saturday: cauliflower pasta/ pesto tonight with half of it and other half will make a curry later in week.

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  18. Even though we are trying to pare back what we spend on food I am very reluctant to ditch Waitrose; we do however when possible visit our local Lidl's first - what we refer to as the Lidl's/Waitrose combo. Lidl's has great fruit and veg and I guess this is where we make the biggest savings - also cold meat and cheese and toilet and kitchen rolls......then off to Waitrose for meat as I won't compromise on provenance and other basics that Lidl's just doesn't have.
    When I am able to cook from scratch it slashes our food bill. Sadly I can't do this so much now.
    But you are very right in pointing out that many for the want of the right term, poor families don't always have the skills, the equipment or the money to pay for having the oven on. Or be able to store food properly.
    A few years ago we acquired some mice and I had to throw all my store cupboard food out so since then I try and keep it as lean as possible. The mice to my knowledge have moved out...

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  19. I do this now and again and record my ups and downs on my blog.

    Unfortunately, this is not the week to join you as I am spending the week cooking up a storm for my 40th birthday party at the weekend, and I am catering for 60 at afternoon tea. I am baking [and freezing some] cakes now (ginger cake, fruit cake and a banana/chocolate/walnut loaf. I will be making a couple of trips to the shops over the week, especially next Friday when I will be doing the savouries.

    I have also recommended the Australian Simple Savings website's concept of a $21 challenge, in which families supplement their store cupboards with only $21 for a week, encouraging them to really think about what they already have and how to make the most of it.

    I'll do it next week!

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    Replies
    1. Probably not the best week to do something like this! Enjoy your preparations and the celebration. Thanks for the Simple Savings link, will check it out.

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    2. Here is the link. $21 Aussie dollars is just over £13 - not sure I could manage that.

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    3. No, but the idea with that is to completely live from the stores and only buy the bare minimum to make it through the week. I admit that when I do this. I usually allow us £20 for the week, which usually goes on fresh fruit and veg, and oddments that we need. It is challenging, I agree! Food in Oz seems more expensive, so I don't think we can compare it too closely.

      It is enough for some people to be asked to think about their shopping habits, to be brought out from the mindless regularity of buying the same old stuff week in and week out, and to be required to see what else they could do with what they have in the cupboards.

      I will be following your challenge closely, as I love your recipes and sharing of ideas xx

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    4. I had a quick look inside the accompanying book on Amazon.com. They do not intend you to do it for more than a week, but as a valuable emergency tool. I think it would be possible to do it once a month, or perhaps every 6 weeks. I may well establish it as a regular thing. How many people do you cater for on your £20?

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  20. Great challenge. I've experimented with varieties of this as neccessity has demanded and I have managed to stick to £400/month for all household groceries including cleaning/washing/toiletries/loo roll etc for 5 (2 adults, 2 teenagers and 1 child) for most of 2012. August was a poor month but now we are back to our routine your challenge is just the ticket to spur me back into action. Looking forward to seeing how you get on.
    Mel

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  21. As an aside, my James Grieve tree managed 2 large apples last year and 6 small this year. I think it will be a while before it could supply your son's apple requirements.

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    Replies
    1. No apple tree could ever supply Tom's apple requirements!

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  22. Baring your cupboard contents (assuming absolute truth) must feel a bit like baring your soul. I admire you.
    Reading your blog makes me want to cook.
    Thank you

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  23. Wow Sue I am so inspired by your post I have done my own. I have linked back to you if that's okay.

    I know you cook from scratch but do you ever buy crisps. Hubby is worried about no Crisps in the house. If not do you know of any alternatives?

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  24. A great challenge - having to be inventive often leads to some great meals we find!!

    A year ago we joined a local food group who bulk buy staples once a month (pasta/flour/loo rolls etc) and then we just top up with veg/milk etc on the high street - not visiting the supermarkets has saved us loads even though the food group is largely organic/fairtrade products, because we are never tempted by weird and wonderful foods/deals and the cupboards have always got the basics for a meal, cakes, bread etc. We have got time to cook, but pasta only takes 20 mins to be on the table if you are in a rush and we are lucky to have a high street with a great veg shop etc too....

    Looking forward to reading the rest of your challenge.

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  25. I admire you for doing this, it makes so much sense. It is awful the way we leave things at the back of cupboards until they are ready for the bin. I know there are some things lurking in our pantry that could easily be used up if I put my mind to it.

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  26. I do love a challenge, so I'm up for it, and got off to a good start with tonight's dinner constructed almost entirely from leftovers from our church's Harvest Supper on Saturday. Cold chicken reheated and served with patatas bravas made from boiled new potatoes. I worked until 4 pm today so didn't have time to shop. My other half popped in to Waitrose on the way home for milk and chocolate biscuits for my daughter's lunchbox. Our freezer's stuffed and our shelves are laden. It should be easy. Or will it?

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  27. It would make ever such an interesting post, Sue (not that yours are ever uninteresting), if sometime you were to list what foods you habitually buy that you could make yourself if you chose, and why. It seems to me that you make almost everything, so the exceptions would stand out.

    (I always buy tinned lentils because I overcook the dried ones despite my best efforts).

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  28. I too have a freezer and storage room stocked to the gills. I'm sure people on food stamps would love to have that to supplement what they buy with the food stamps.
    I've found that now that I'm retired I'm spending much less on groceries because I have the time, and sometimes the energy and inclination to 'shop' in my own house and use what we already have. It's amazing what you can do with a little more time.
    Like you, I have a zillion cookbooks and I am finally having more time to look through them and I am actually making some of the recipes instead of just drooling over the pictures!
    Love, Love, Love your blog and seeing your wonderful pictures.

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  29. Thank you for this! I really appreciate your strategies and wisdom! However, I have to say that I'm always struck by how CHEAP food is in the UK. And, ironically I know this quite well as we lived in the southeast from 1999 until 2005. When we moved over food was still more expensive, but nowadays it's striking how much cheaper things like dairy products are than back here in Canada. (In fact there's been a recent scandal about Italian restaurants smuggling cheap American cheese into the country!) But, still things from chicken to fruit is cheaper. Mind you, of course, petrol and heating oil are cheaper here ... but I really wish I could do a weekly shop for under $100 (approx. £70)!

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  30. I'm really interested in this but I agree - £87 seems a lot. I need to cut down an awful lot lower than that, especially in the coming months.

    I shall be watching you...

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    Replies
    1. That is £87($140) for five -the amount for a family of four would be £69 ($112).

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  31. Speaking from somebody from the perspective of too much month at the end of the money, this month has been horrendous, both children back to university, son for the first time, lots of money we don't have spent. So I shall be following your progress with great interest. I always enjoy your posts Sue, nutritious family style cooking, with plenty of common sense. You sound like you are 'in charge' of your kitchen, as women used to be in the past, with our present economy the way it is this is a skill worth learning. This week has put the cat among the pigeons in that I have to cook for guests too, a far too regular occurrence in our house, it makes it difficult to follow a budget. But truthfully I haven't budgeted properly for years, nor have a I kept proper stock control. Your timely post has been a wake up call.

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    Replies
    1. 'In charge' is exactly what I am Susan! Yes, a very good description and of course that makes a big difference to stock control.

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  32. A very interesting post!
    Since my children left home I have discovered that a couple can live well on £30 a week through a cobination of Lidl and the M&S Reduced sticker items! I zip round M&S on a Saturday morning looking for the special yellow stickers: ten pitta bread for 10p! Six scones for 50p! Premium sausages for £1.50! Steak mince for £2.50! I build my week's menu around whatever was reduced that day, topped up with Lidl basics to fill the gaps. I still have a huge backlog of frozen food to work through, but there's only so often we can face yet another pheasant or venison gifted to us by the local gamekeeper!

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  33. Lots of food for thought in this post. We've always been overstocked here and I'm ashamed to admit to being one of those people who has thrown far too much food away. I put some of it down to growing up in a shop - everything was to hand, we just helped ourselves to whatever we fancied and that became the way I shopped - but it's also about not planning meals before doing the trolley dash. Time for change, I think.

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  34. The supermarkets could help us out. How many times have I bought something for a recipe to find that it is about ten times what I need. And then the instruction to keep in the fridge for just 28 days and then throw it out. I try to find other recipes to use things up. But when there are only two of us the cost benefit of cooking from scratch can get eroded by the amount of food I end up wasting.

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