Tom Kirk and wife Emma managed to chop their weekly spend on food by more than half with a little savvy planning to make their ingredients go further.
From an average bill of £157, the couple from New Cross in south London, spent only £72 while still eating a healthy balanced diet and eating plenty of fruit and vegetables.
They were taking part in the NHS Choices Eat4Cheap challenge, which aims to show that eating healthily doesn’t have to cost more – in fact you can save money.
The key to eating well for less for Tom and Emma was to buy frozen vegetables, make the most of every ingredient, cooking from scratch and eating leftovers for lunch.
And they still managed to plan a weekend treat with some gourmet venison burgers, chips and green beans at a fraction of the cost of eating out.
“When we set ourselves the target of cutting our bill by 50% it seemed like a tall order,” says Tom. “The fact that we’ve exceeded our target shows how easy it is to save money and still eat well.”
Tom and Emma started their Eat4Cheap week with a Sunday roast chicken. The leftovers were used to make sandwiches for lunch the next day and a chicken and vegetable curry during the week.
And in an act of the-gourmet-meets-money-saving-expert, Tom used the chicken carcass to prepare a stock for a vegetable soup.
“Making your own stock is easy,” says Tom. “You simply boil the bones with some roughly cut vegetables and just use the liquid. It’s cheaper than buying stock and much tastier.”
In another example of making food go further, Tom used 500g of minced beef (£4.50) to make spaghetti bolognese and a chilli with chick peas and flageolet beans – which made a total of six individual portions.
“Using pulses to bulk up the chilli is a cheap and healthy way to get some extra portions from your ingredients,” he says. “You still get the texture and the taste of the beef but with less fat per portion.”
The couple planned their meals two days at a time, taking into account ingredients in their store cupboard and freezer.
“We didn’t plan more than couple of days in advance because we wanted to make sure we used up all our ingredients before shopping again,” says Tom.
“We shopped around a little for the cheapest deals but we didn’t go out of our way. We also stuck to our favourite brands on some key items.”
Tom and Emma also kept a running list of food that needed using up on a blackboard in the kitchen.
“Having a list was really useful,” says Tom. “It meant we could see at a glance what food we had in, which helped to reduce waste.”
The pair always made sure they had packed lunch, either in the form of homemade sandwiches or leftovers from the previous evening’s dinner.
“Our biggest saving came from not spending money on eating out for lunch,” says Tom. “It’s easy to spend £5 a day on lunch and snacks. That’s £50 a week between the two of us.”
To make sure they were getting their recommended 5 A DAY of fruit and vegetables, they snacked on fruit, usually apples and bananas.
“We bought mostly frozen vegetables, such as spinach and peppers, which are a lot cheaper than buying them fresh and they count towards your 5 A DAY,” says Tom.
He says the couple averaged three portions of fruit and veg a day on five days and managed five portions on two days.
Their meals were based around starchy foods such as brown rice and potatoes, as well as pulses such as lentils, as recommended by the eatwell plate.
“I made a spinach and lentil curry one evening – that’s two of your 5 A DAY,” says Tom.
A week of saving money and eating healthily did not leave the couple feeling they had made drastic changes to their diet and routine.
“One way we stayed motivated was by planning a Friday night treat – in our case, venison burgers,” says Tom.
“That way you don’t feel you’re denying yourself too much. Eating out can be expensive. You can just as easily enjoy a treat at home without spending over the odds.”
The couple are still using some of the tips they used during the challenge, such as an up-to-date list of store cupboard ingredients, eating leftovers for lunch and making ingredients go further.
“It was interesting to find out by how much we could reduce our bill,” says Tom. “Being able to cut our weekly spend by 50% gave us a great sense of achievement.”
Dietitian Azmina Govindji says:
“It’s nice to see that Tom and Emma were still able to have gourmet weekend meals on their Eat4Cheap challenge. Using up leftovers really seems to have made a difference, as does cooking from scratch – it’s amazing how much you can save and how much further your ingredients go when you opt for home cooked meals over ready meals and eating out.
“Choosing frozen veg over fresh helped them to enjoy vegetables at a lower price, without compromising on nutritional value. And it’s good that they discovered the beauty of pulses as a way to eat healthier meals on a budget.”