Credit-crunch cookery: how to eat better and spend less

New food show wages war on waste and saves a packet by planning ahead
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Want to halve your food bill? The BBC reckons it knows how and will reveal all to millions of TV viewers in a prime-time show, knocked up in a jiffy.

Starting on Wednesday, Economy Gastronomy instructs families in credit-crunch cookery, teaching them simple dishes using good-quality, affordable ingredients. The secret to eating cheaply and healthily, apparently, is not to load up on two-for-one offers or supermarket own-brands – but organisation. Michelin-starred chef Paul Merrett and food writer Allegra McEvedy present the hour-long shows.

In the first episode, they visit the home of the England family in Alvaston, Derbyshire, who spend £220 a week on food, including ready meals and takeaways. The chefs reckon they can slash the family of five's food bill from £11,400 to £6,700 a year. Lorry driver Chris and his wife Julie, a classroom assistant, are taught how to make dishes such as macaroni cheese with artichokes and lamb navarin with vegetables. Food is frozen to be reheated, and leftovers are turned into new dishes. "Waste nothing" is the mantra.

Economy Gastronomy preaches careful planning. At the start of each week, householders should draw up a list of meals for the next seven days and shop accordingly. Dishes should involve staple "bedrocks" such as mince to make dishes known as "tumbledowns" throughout the week.

"The credit crunch is having a massive impact on what and how we eat," says the BBC. "The average family's food bill went up by £1,000 last year, with a staggering one third of all food we buy destined straight for the kitchen bin. McEvedy says, "Everyone thinks that saving money has to mean dull meals and no treats, but it doesn't. Economy gastronomy is about buying quality ingredients but about making them go much further. I'm going to re-ignite your passion for food."

Paul Merrett lived off produce from his allotment to write a book, Using the Plot, last year. He has halved his own food bill after investing in his new gastropub in west London.

Recipe ideas from Michelin-starred chef and presenter Paul Merrett

How I feed my family of four for £60 a week...

My wife, MJ, is a teacher. Ellie is at high school and Rich is in his last year of junior school. We have always eaten meals together at a table as much as possible, though my job means that, for me, most mealtimes are spent in my restaurant kitchen. On work days, I will prep a family meal in the morning and leave it ready for later. I usually do the shop and normally it involves a trip to Tesco. I wish I more had time to trawl farmers' markets, fishmongers and butchers. When I have time, I do.

Breakfast

MJ leaves the house at about 7am: she will have a bowl of Bran Flakes most mornings or a piece of fruit. Ellie and Richie usually have cereal. If I buy Golden Nuggets they are gone in two days. On the other hand, any "brown" cereal (Bran Flakes, muesli, etc) is rejected in favour of more expensive yoghurts and crumpets. So I tend to buy a box of Corn Flakes or Rice Crispies which they like, but not too much. A big box lasts about eight days. I eat a bowl of Bran Flakes.

Lunch

During the week we are all out for lunch. MJ takes a packet of instant soup to work. Ellie has a lunch card for school dinners which costs about £2 per day. Richie takes a packed lunch which consists of a sandwich – typically ham, lettuce and pesto – a piece of fruit and a biscuit.

Evening meals

Monday

Shepherd's pie made from Sunday's leftover roast lamb. The leftover beans and carrots also went in, so this cost only the price of four big potatoes.

Tuesday

Toad-in-the-hole with new potatoes, mushroom and bacon served with frozen peas and onion gravy. This is one of my son's favourite meals. I budget on two sausages each. I often customise toad-in-the-hole with leftover bits, as above. I always have peas in the freezer.

Wednesday

Thai-style chicken, mushroom and coconut curry with rice. This is not authentic Thai, but my "quick to assemble" version. I use chicken thighs at home for this (two per person) and button mushrooms (from a value pack). Recently I have started cooking brown basmati rice with this, which I like a lot. All the spices are from my store cupboard, as was the coconut milk. Basil grows in a pot on my decking.

Thursday

Chorizo frittata with sour cream and spring onions served with coleslaw and baguette. Another family fave. Eggs are cheap and full of protein so they make a perfect supper.

Friday

Mushroom risotto with rocket, parmesan and roasted chicken. I bought a larger pack of thighs for the Thai curry on Wednesday and had four left which I used here. I would often serve this without the chicken. The stock for this is one I made with a roast chicken carcass a fortnight ago.

Saturday

Spicy meatball curry with basmati rice, cucumber raita and poppadoms. We tend to eat a lot of spicy food. If we go out to eat as a family, our local Indian would be high up the list of options. If staying in, Saturday night's meal will involve more effort and a beer or two. The poppadoms were in the store cupboard. Never buy cooked ones – they cost three times as much. Rice was in the store cupboard.

Sunday

Roast chicken, roast potatoes and vegetables. I always buy a large chicken with the hope we can eke out three meals. My carnivorous family usually scupper that plan but we always get two servings; cost-wise, this chicken is Monday's supper too.

Treats

We wouldn't get through a week without treats! The trouble is they cost a lot. Recently my wife bought the kids some ice lolly moulds and taught them to make water ice with orange squash. I then showed them how to make triple-coloured ice lollies. They love them and they are cheap.

The week in question saw us buy Tesco's own chocolate digestives and MJ made a sponge cake with strawberries given to us after our neighbour's pick-your-own mission. We also got through a bottle of orange squash and two bottles of wine.

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