Friday, 21 September 2012

Frugal Friday...

You often hear it said that eating healthily can't be done on a budget, that it is cheaper to eat rubbish. Honestly, I have to say that I think this is mostly used as an excuse for people who want to eat crap, but feel the need to justify it to others. There are exceptions of course, Approved Food for example often sell utter junk food at rock-bottom prices - examples currently are 15 mixed muffins for £1.99, assorted tins of that nasty pale pink reformed ham for under £1, and packets of instant mashed potato, which everyone used to eat in the 1970's but no-one who actually enjoys their food does now - largely because it tastes awful! Oh, and a whole case of the Japanese equivalent of Pot Noodles for £2.79 - it could be a tenth of that cost and I still wouldn't want to eat it on a regular basis!

For most of us now the big supermarkets are a way of life - indeed where I live sadly there are precious few independant shops left. We have a few local butchers, but the majority have got lazy and cut corners in order to compete - not entirely their fault, I agree, but I still want to have some idea of where my meat comes from, and a blank look and "errrr...." doesn't quite cut the mustard when the question was "where does this come from please?" If they can't answer a simple question like that, then I'm afraid they don't get my business.

Breakfast Muffins : 90ml Sunflower  Oil
For the most part, buying local, seasonal fresh produce is the best way of eating frugally, and as an added bonus you get to feel better about the way you're living your life too. A campsite we use regularly during the summer months sells their own potatoes - the vegetable equivalent of "rare breed" at 5kg for £3, and the "value" potatoes in the supermarkets usually come from the local area and can be got for about 99p for a 2.5kg bag. Not exactly a bank breaker, that! That same campsite sells eggs - £1.20 for half a dozen from their own free-range flock. This is about the going rate for most farm-gate egg sales. Sure, they cost a little more than the el-cheapo battery eggs in the supermarket - but they taste so much better and can be eaten without a side-dose of jangling conscience. We have a superb local bakers (I've blogged about them before - Mayfield Farm)  who bake artisan bread, cakes etc. Their prices aren't the cheapest, no, but this is  a handmade, premium product. Every now and again, at a weekend, I make a loaf of their bread a basis for meals and that way it can be justified - often that works well - build the meal around a single, more premium ingredient and make every last scrap of it work for you. The same applies to free range chickens - a bit higher in price than the poor, sad, force fed creatures the Supermarkets sell at a bargain price, but the flavour makes that extra spend every bit worth it. Plus, guess what, because of that extra flavour, you can eat less at a sitting, meaning that the bird goes further! For us, a chicken usually makes a Sunday lunch, a second main meal, then the meat stripped off makes another 3 or 4 double-portions of curry for freezing, and finally the carcass will make stock.
Dry ingredients ready for mixing
Remember those "Bargain" muffins earlier on? At the price they are currently available for, they will work out to 13p each. For that 13p you will get a product containing all manner of ingredients that you have possibly never heard of, baked goodness known when, and still edible due to the assorted chemical additive included in the mix. Yum! Just the sort of thing you want to be eating with your afternoon coffee, or starting the day on for breakfast? No, perhaps not. The thing is, muffins are easy to make from scratch - a piece of cake, in fact, and, better than that, they're cheap, too!  I make them regularly as Ben does start his day with one - all joking aside they make a great portable breakfast and work out far cheaper than buying cereal bars or similar:

Breakfast Muffins:
100g porridge oats
180g flour
1tbsp Baking Powder
pinch of salt
115g caster sugar 
Half a bag of chopped dried apricots (Mine were bought from B&M bargains for 39p a bag)
250 ml milk 
6 tbsp sunflower oil
2 x FR eggs 

You want simple? Here goes - throw all the dry ingredients into a bowl and mix well being sure to get rid of any lumps of flour or sugar. throw all the wet ingredients into a job and beat together. Add wet to dry and fold together working swiftly but thoroughly. Spoon into ten muffin cases and bake in the oven at around gas mark 5 - 6 for about 20 minutes or until they're cooked, basically. I reckon that including cooking cost they work out at around 12p each, and you know exactly what has gone into them. Those we mentioned earlier don't seem like such a bargain now, eh?! (I added flaked almonds to mine but haven't included them in the costing as they were a spur of the moment extra.)

Yes, they tasted good, too!
Come on then - what's your favourite trick to eating frugally but well? Do you agree that we owe it to ourselves to eat mindfully and with a sense of conscience about where that food has come from, or do you think that so long as it's cheap, that's all that counts?



gillibob said...

I try to eat seasonally- also i am fortunate to drive around areas which have a lot of farm shops. Sacks of home grown local potatoes, home grown veg and plenty of free range eggs. Once a month i shop at a butchers farm shop-i spend quite a bit there, but the produce is very good and goes a long way. In between i find Aldi do a nice range of free range chooks and other food. I will try value range food and have tried approved food-but mostly for tinned produce such as tomatoes and for some spices and other goods of that ilk. I am picky but can live on a budget of good food of decent quality. I grow my own as well-beans, potatoes, tomatoes. I want to grow more and will do so gradually. Self sufficiency is a dream of mine.
I also cook from scratch, make my own bread a lot of the time( source decent flour as well at the shops) and am gradually increasing the amount of things i can make-may even try my own soap next year when i have got through my stash.
Next on the list is recycling and reusing-finding a use for things is good and i hope thriftiness eventually saves me lots of dosh. All in all, I have done lots of challenges and set myself targets to spend on food and groceries. I am hoping to get a really good system going this winter to have a good food cupboard of dried pulses to make hearty soups, stash of home made jams from hedgerow fruit etc. We can only keep trying and learning and enjoying the journey :-)

Robyn said...

I do wish we had an Aldi! we've got a Lidl, but they do almost nothing in the way of higher welfare meat & poultry, and unquestionably the way an animal has been cared for has an effect on its flavour. I tend to avoid buying meat at Tesco, but do occasionally use the butchery counter at sainsbugs and also will fairly happily buy at Morrisons as at least theirs is mostly British. Jams, Jellies etc mostly come from Mum-in-Law who has a large garden and is a keen preserver - in return we make marmalade and swap with her.

gillibob said...

I found it an interesting debate on chickens when HFW did a blind tasting of birds-from free range to value. The value birds came out the highest taste wise. I will buy free range only when reduced-its what i can afford, so try and buy less meat.
I am not a fussy eater meat wise except for liver(although i do like pate at Christmas)
I think it is all about balance these days-budget versus need. Tesco don't do too bad a range in my area, they have a lot of competition though and have to label where their food comes from.
I can cut back on costs in some areas.
Find it interesting about energy used in consumption of cooking. I need to look into this more and monitor my use when cooking joints. I use my slow cooker, but fear the oven gets used too much by offspring for things like fish fingers-i despair at them sometimes! I made them pay more towards energy bills last time. Big notices going up :-)

Robyn said...

Having not long ago bought the new super-duper combination microwave/oven/grill, I'm trying to remember to use that so far as possible, rather than the main oven. I guess it will take me a few months to work out whether that's making an appreciable difference to energy use though....and suspect it won't be - as we only pay £5 for gas each month anyway - we only use it for cooking!