Families can cook smarter to save cash in face of high food prices
5:00pm Sunday 3rd November 2013 in Latest News
I wasn’t surprised to read recently that Which? believes consumers are buying less food and instead cooking with leftovers, making smaller portions and freezing food to cut their shopping bills and reduce waste.
It seems we’re all feeling the pinch when it comes to our shopping bills – some far more than others. Perhaps we should see some of these thrifty outcomes as a good thing.
For some though, the continued squeeze on household budgets is far from good.
This month the Wiltshire-based Trussell Trust, which runs food banks all over the UK, issued an angry statement about the continued rise in families seeking emergency help.
It says more than 350,000 people received three days’ emergency food between April and September 2013, triple the numbers helped in the same period last year. It’s calling for an inquiry into the causes of UK food poverty and the surge in food bank use.
Chris Mould, executive chairman, said: “We said in April the increasing numbers of people turning to food banks should be a wake-up call to the nation, but there has been no policy response and the situation is getting worse.
“The level of food poverty in the UK is not acceptable. It’s scandalous and it is causing deep distress to thousands of people.”
Small shifts in prices, it says, can have a major impact. Food prices have risen by 12.6 per cent above inflation over the past six years (figures that are also supported separately by Which?) and rising energy prices this winter are likely to see more people forced to choose between eating and heating.
In the last two weeks alone several energy companies have announced big price rises and even former Prime Minister Sir John Major is calling for action to be taken.
People at food banks have apparently also started giving back food items that need cooking because they say can’t afford to turn on the electricity.
Welfare reforms are being reported as a reason for more people getting support from food banks. Sometimes the ‘sanction’ – when benefits are stopped suddenly – can cause a crisis for families.
Mr Mould said: “Problems with welfare are not new, they have existed for years, but the reality is that when welfare provision breaks down, people go hungry.
“We’re talking about mums not eating for days because they’ve been sanctioned for seemingly illogical reasons, or people leaving hospital after a major operation to find that their benefits have been stopped or delayed.
“It’s not right that so many more people are now being referred to foodbanks due to problems with welfare, especially as much of this is preventable.”
The claims by the Trussell Trust are also backed up by the experience of the smaller Chippenham Food Bank run by the Salvation Army.
Since January this year it’s seen an increase in users averaging out at about 43 each month – the biggest spike was in July when 61 people, including children, were helped.
Spokesperson Margaret Boyd told me: “We have seen an increase in the numbers of people coming in for food. “They are referred to us by agencies helping them to deal with the reason for the food crisis, such as money management.
“The public is very good at supporting food banks but perhaps we should address the issue of why food banks are needed in the first place? Perhaps low wages and rising prices could be a factor?”
For those of us who are fortunate enough not to have to use food banks, we’re taking other measures to deal with rising prices.
In the past 12 months, nearly half of shoppers surveyed by Which? said they freeze food (47 per cent) or cook with leftovers (47 [per cent) to avoid waste. The survey also found that two in five (39 per cent) are cooking smaller portions.
Many people are changing their shopping habits by buying less food, doing more frequent top-up shops and avoiding a ‘big’ shop each week or month. (I seem to be doing things the other way around!).
Four in ten (43 per cent) have started to check the ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ dates more frequently and a third (35 per cent) admit ignoring those dates altogether. Changing my shopping habits has certainly helped me cut down on bills by about £20 to £30 a week – though all of this saving has now been absorbed by rising energy bills.
I now shop at a ‘lower end’ supermarket for staple products and top up with branded goods elsewhere. I’ve found often I don’t bother with the top-up especially at the end of the month and we don’t miss it that much.
Another thing is, I’ve found by ordering shopping online for branded goods, I buy less as I don’t tend to buy items which just ‘catch my eye’.
What’s surprised me most in the last year or so is that non-branded and cheaper products can be just as good. However, I’ve not found that to be true of baked beans… Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, has launched a new book called Save With Jamie offering tips to help households cut down on food waste.
It’s available from all of the usual places on and offline. A few suggestions are on the right.
There are also some tips which are much closer to home. I recommend visiting www.everydaylifeonashoestring.com which charts a shy Wiltshire family’s attempts to be greener as well as spend less – I’m trying to persuade them to let me write an article as they live in the North Wiltshire area.
Another interesting site is http://mymakedoandmendyear.
wordpress.com run by a mum from Warminster called Jen Gale.
It’s a site which needs little explaining and has some great ideas.
I’d be really interested to hear from anyone who’s got handy tips for being thrifty with food or the cost of living – fionastuff@ gmail.com
- Make a shopping list – to pinpoint exactly what you need.
- Consider frozen vegetables which can suit many types of cooking.
- Freeze fruit before it goes off – especially with fruit in your garden.
- Buying a whole chicken only costs a little more than two or three chicken breasts and can last for two meals.
- If you have lots of herbs, you can make and freeze herb butters, or freeze ice cube trays of herb oils. Alternatively you can dry them somewhere warm like an airing cupboard and use as needed.
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