Food: in search of the right price

Veteran cost-cutting graduate Lucy Tobin seeks out the ultimate bargains to help you reduce your food bills

As a fresher, I arrived at university squashed in the car alongside three saucepans, one colander, two oven-proof dishes and most of the contents of my parents’ fridge. I had great food intentions. I would prepare fresh meals every evening, budget my meals every week and freeze food ahead of time. Looking back, I think I even intended to do the washing up as soon as I’d eaten.

But, as freshers’ week kicked off, the lofty aspirations fell by the wayside. I spent the first weeks of university eating in the communal canteen, where the stodgy food was improved by the buzzy atmosphere of people making friends. And then life gradually settled down into a routine, and food became an important topic again. When my first student bills started coming in, money concerns were growing at the same rate as my waistline.

So, with an empty rucksack on my back, I cycled down to Sainsbury’s for my first solo supermarket shop. Clueless about what to buy, I opted for the same things we had at home, and ended up staggering up the stairs to my room with bulging bags and an empty wallet.

Needless to say, most of the food went off before I could get through it. The next week, I took a list. And the week after that, I ventured beyond the supermarket, discovering both local, independent alternatives and big “cash and carries” that saved me money.

Budget supermarkets

At the start of every term, do a huge food shop to stock up on useful basics like tinned tomatoes, pasta, rice and sauces. Even if you plan on being the ultimate domestic god(dess), there will be days when you don’t have time to cook up a storm, and a nice pot of Ragu will do.

But instead of heading to your local supermarket, go to your nearest bargain store such as Lidl or Netto for big bulk. The last time I checked, you could buy 80 tea bags for 31p, cans of tomato soup for 18p, and one-litre cartons of orange juice for 58p.

It’s a good idea to do this big shop with your parents if you can get them on side they might pay the bill at the checkout, and it’ll probably be a lot easier to transport.

Lidl, with 280UKstores, including many near uni campuses (checkwww.lidl.co.uk to find your nearest) can also be good for everyday staples: cheese and tomato pizzas for 48p, korma currysauce costing 69p and a loaf of sliced wholemeal for 59p. Likewise Netto, which has 182 UK stores, had 20 packs of French Fries crisps for £1.66, and two packs of sausages and bacon for £2.29.

For these kinds of quantities, and to capitalise on buy-one get-one-free offers, it can be a good idea to shop with a friend and split the difference. Also, remember to take your own bags, as you have to pay for them in store.



Buying local

I always avoided the fresh produce at budget supermarkets. The choice is limited, and I found better bargains at the local market. Ask at a post office or tourist information point whether there’s a regular fruit and veg market in your town. It’s best to visit without a shopping list, so you can adapt your meals to whatever is in season for cheapest prices.

In Oxford, where I studied, there was a market every Wednesday, and every week they’d sell 10 of a particular fruit or vegetable for £1. So in summer it would be peaches, in winter, parsnips and carrots. I used to look up recipes online if I didn’t have any inspiration about what to do with, say, 10 courgettes, so I avoided eating the same meals over and over again. I’d also whiz up healthy smoothies with leftover fruit.

While you’re in the centre of town at the market, look around for local butchers, grocers and bakers. On some meat cuts, they can be cheaper – my local butcher sells 10 chicken fillets for £12(£5.29/kg), where Sainsbury’s Basics Chicken Fillets are £7.49/kg. Even if there are no instant savings, if you’re a regular customer (and wear your most ripped and holey jeans), you might be able to wangle a discount.

They’ll also be able to prepare cheaper cuts of meat that you might not see in the supermarket, and often provide useful recipe ideas.

Mainstream supermarkets

You’ll probably still use the supermarket as your main shop, but, if your uni is in a big town, that should still leave you with a choice of stores. To save money, don’t be faithful to one supermarket – shop around. Buy your average goods at, say, Tesco one week and Asda the next, and compare your till receipt. Avoid the small “local”, “central” or “metro” mini supermarkets, which can have higher prices.

It can be a good idea to schedule your visit near to closing time, as that’s when supermarkets discount food. A friend of mine used to visit Sainsbury’s five minutes before it closed to pick up cheap sandwiches for her next day’s lunch. If you’re in a student house, it may be worthwhile ordering from an online supermarket – but remember to share with friends to split the delivery charge, and visit a price-comparison site like www.mysupermarket.co.uk to find the cheapest retailer.



Delis

Another source of different foods can be found at speciality delis, where you can also discover more about your local community.

Friends studying in London recommend Polish delis – one even fed herself through uni on £4 Polish sausages.The owner was so friendly that she would give my friend free cake on her way to lectures. In Oxford, I visited a delicatessen that stocked a local farm’s produce – the free testers on the counter were a good enticement.



Campus shops

All of the above will usually offer better value than campus shops. These are good for convenience when you really, really want that fix of chocolate or ice cream at midnight (or a sneaky bit of alcohol), but usually make you pay for the privilege. So plan ahead – even for emergency cravings – and stash a secret supply of goodies for those late-night essay crises and the early mornings when you return from a club and, despite all the good intentions, nothing but a Mars bar will do.



Two budget recipes



Cheap and cheerful bolognese sauce

Can be added to pasta or rice. Fry one onion until it is soft. Add 1lb of beef mince meat and fry until it is brown. Add a pinch of salt, a twist of pepper, three grated carrots, three finely chopped mushrooms, a dash of Worcester sauce and a generous squirt of tomato ketchup and cook on a medium heat for 20 minutes.

Onion soup (vegetarian)

Make up a big pot of this and eat it over a few days, or freeze any leftovers. Thinly chop five onions and fry them in a large saucepan with a generous blob of butter. Fry until they turn dark brown (after about 15 minutes), stirring them throughout.Make up two pints of vegetable stock – I use Marigold Vegetable Bouillon, where you add four teaspoons and four pints of boiling water. Pour the stock into the saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for another 10 minutes. To serve, pour the soup into a large bowl. Float a piece of French bread on top, then place cheese (gruyere or cheddar work well) on top. Melt the cheese by ladling another spoonful of soup on top.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate / Trainee Sales Executive

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate/Trainee Sales Executive is re...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer - Peterborough - £18,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer - Cambridgeshire - £23,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Front-End Develo...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003