Economising during the credit crunch

Long-time Foods Matter subscriber Catherine Chisnall knows how expensive it can be buying ‘special diet’ foods. She has some suggestions for making the weekly food budget go further.

In these worrying financial times, everyone is economising, even with food. For those of us needing special diet foods the cost can be an additional worry. Being gluten and dairy-intolerant myself, I have come up with some tried and tested strategies which I hope will help others.

Note: if you suffer from life- threatening allergies, please read and apply my list of tips with caution. I do not want to give you the wrong advice.

1. Always buy the supermarket’s own gluten/dairy-free brand. It is cheaper and the quality is good enough to keep you going in the present economic climate. Most big supermarket chains have their own ‘free-from’ ranges and sell pitta, naan, baguettes, ciabatta, rolls, and loaves; bread, pastry and cake mixes; cakes, cereal, cereal bars, biscuits, milk and dairy-free speads.

2. When you buy the supermarket’s own-brand bread, freeze what you don’t need immediately. Occasionally, if the pack has a hairline crack, the bread will go mouldy after a day in the bread bin. It will defrost in half an hour when needed.

3. Supermarkets' own-brand, non-free-from products are often gluten and dairy free and almost always cheaper than other brands. We all read labels automatically, so head for the supermarket’s own brand first. For example, pasta sauces and vegetables, which can be cooked in stews for instant flavour.

4. If you prefer to eat organic food, as I do, try and order an organic box of vegetables/fruit (my box only costs me seven pounds a week) but buy organic meat from the supermarket. This works out cheaper than buying all organics from the supermarket or all from an organic farm. Also, the meat from the supermarket is ready prepared with the fat removed, and so saves time and waste.

5. Whatever type of meat you can afford, choose mince (for shepherd’s pie or pasta bakes) or cubed meat (for stews or pies): both are cheaper and more versatile than chops or joints.

6. If you do get an organic box (I cannot recommend this highly enough for health and economy reasons), purée the vegetables you do not especially like. I am not fond of root vegetables and used to give or throw them away. But now I purée pumpkin, turnip, swede, fennel or celeriac, freeze the purées, and then later cook them in other dishes. Shepherd’s pie with pureed pumpkin is particularly delicious, and any of these purees go well in beef stew.

7. However, if you cannot afford all organic food, don’t worry. Try and buy only organic meat, vegetables and fruit, because these are the most important foods. If you cannot afford those, stick to British grown, seasonal types, because these should be cheaper and more nutritious (having travelled less).

8. When you make a stew, shepherd’s pie or pasta bake save the leftovers and freeze or chill them in the plastic boxes from takeaway meals – the perfect containers for leftovers. You can defrost and reheat them while still in the box, saving washing up and time. This is particularly useful if you have young children, because any small leftovers can make a perfect meal for them and you can add soya cheese or whatever to make them more appealing.

9. When you have a roast, save the cold meat for sandwiches the next day. You can also boil the chicken carcass up with some vegetables to make a base for soup, or to add to stew. It only takes a couple of hours and as long as you ventilate the kitchen well, your house should not smell too ‘chicken-y’.

10. Buy ready salted or plain crisps for snacks. They are least likely to contain wheat flour or milk powder, and if you buy the supermarket’s cheapest own-brand range, they will only cost a few pence. Crisps are junk food anyway so why spend lots of money on quality brands?

I hope these tips are helpful in the current ‘credit crunch’. I have found that even small alterations to my buying and eating habits have made significant differences to my finances. Good luck!

First published in 2009

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