Saturday, April 30, 2011


I have never spent this much time thinking about what I was going to buy to eat for a week. At my best I sit down and plan out menus for the week then write a shopping list, which I take to Waitrose and stick to, pretty much. At my worst I shop when I’m hungry and pile anything that takes my fancy into the trolley. I usually end up with too much stuff, most of which I do eat but after it is past its best, some of which I throw away when I find it mouldering gently in a corner at the back of the fridge. This week, with so little money I have spent quite some time online comparing prices.

The first thing to think about is that I must buy what is available. That is, I can’t buy in bulk and then split the food into smaller lots. If 500g is the smallest size of an ingredient that is sold, that is what I must buy. This, of course, presents the first difficulty of shopping when you are poor. The less you can buy at a time, the more it costs per unit. The economies of scale are just not available. It used to be that there were lots of bin-shops where you could find large numbers of open bins containing dry foods. You scooped out as much as you wanted. What an excellent idea. Unfortunately this fashion seems to have disappeared around here and there are no such shops in walking distance. And that’s the other thing I decided. If I am eating on £1 a day it is cheating to drive half way across Yorkshire to find food that is 20p cheaper per item. Everything must be purchased within walking distance of where I live. That leaves me Tesco, Waitrose, the Co-op a couple of health food shops and a greengrocers. There is a market in Sheffield that would probably be cheaper for fresh vegetables but it is a bus ride away (£2.60 there and back) or an hour and a half walk.
My usual supermarket of choice is Waitrose but I haven’t been able to use them this week because they tended to be up to 10p more expensive than Tescos. The Co-op is my nearest supermarket but is also more expensive for most things and has a very limited dried food section. My eggs and onions come from the Co-op, my cheese from Waitrose and all the rest from Tescos.

Shopping for one person is very difficult. I went for the following:
250ml Tesco extra virgin olive oil, 98p
500g dried chick peas, 78p
4 onions, 60p
4 carrots, 28p
500g pearl barley, 39p
300g quinoa, £1.69
10 Tesco value stock cubes, 10p

As you can see, a week of very boring meals for me! Having cooking oil seems very important to me, the flavour is in the oil, and a lot of the calories. Chick peas are my main protein with either barley (extremely cheap) or quinoa (my most expensive choice but a complete protein source). There are only two vegetables, onions and carrots. Onions are cheap, provide a decent amount of bulk and give a lot of taste. I’ve chosen carrots for the vitamin content and, again, the taste. I can’t afford any spices so the stock cubes are to add some additional taste to the grains. Luckily there’s a bay tree and a little thyme bush in the garden, which I am considering to be free because I haven’t spent anything on them for three years.

Having grumbled to Sally she suggested I reconsider and feed her too. Mm, good idea. That immediately made everything easier. With another five pounds to spend I was able to add the following:
500g Tesco porridge oats, 62p
1pt full fat milk, 48p
6 Co-op free range eggs, mixed size, £1.20
120g Wookey Hole Cheddar cheese, £1.06 (from the cheese counter at Waitrose)
4 new potatoes, 60p
1 tin Tesco value plum tomatoes, 31p

I’ve chosen full fat milk because it is the same cost as skimmed or semi and has more calories and nutrition for the money. The value eggs were much cheaper but I’d rather do without than use eggs from battery hens. The cheese is more a condiment than a major ingredient and was only affordable because at the cheese counter you can get whatever amount you want. The plum tomatoes are 2p cheaper than chopped and, when every penny counts, I can chop my own tinned tomatoes.

What I am doing without is tea, coffee and alcohol because it’s just not affordable on a tight budget. I’ve also decided not to buy any fruit. It’s relatively expensive and it doesn’t give enough calories for my cash. In a few months time I’d be able to eat blackcurrants out of the garden and forage for early blackberries. At the moment all I can forage is leafy vegetables.  There’re nettles, dandelions, and ransomes. I’ve also got the remains of some going to seed kale and chard and I may use the green shoots of one of the garlic plants. This is the equivalent to eating you seed corn as there won’t be a bulb from that plant at the end of the year. What this demonstrates is that anyone with access to land can live much better than those reliant on shops.

I’ve currently got 91p left to play with and I may go looking in the reduced bins. Now I’ve got to plan how to make these ingredients stretch for fifteen meals.

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