A seven-day meal plan and eating leftovers for lunch helped Tori Hunt and husband Ron cut their weekly shopping bill by 40% while still managing to eat more fruit and vegetables.
The couple, from south London, reduced their spending on food from an average of £115 a week to £70, meaning that each meal came to about £1.66 per person.
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 even save money.
The savings were achieved mainly by sticking to a weekly meal plan, opting for value products, eating leftovers for lunch and buying fresh fruit and veg at a street market.
There was still plenty of scope for treats and Tori got creative by making a “cookies and cream”-style dessert with home-baked choc chip cookies and an 89p, 2 litre tub of vanilla ice-cream.
“It’s all in the planning,” says Tori. “We realised that buying food from convenience stores and going out for lunch was the biggest drain on our food budget.”
For their Eat4Cheap week, Tori and Ron drew up a list of meals to cover lunch and dinner for seven days and wrote down a shopping list of ingredients.
“We did our main weekly shop at a big supermarket and I bought fresh fruit and vegetables during the week at a street market near my office, which was a lot cheaper,” says Tori.
“Having a shopping list makes it easier to stick to your budget. Every item we bought got used, which is cost effective and reduces waste.
“Typically, we used to do a big supermarket shop once a month and buy a lot of food. Not all of it got used. We’d forget about what we had in and we’d end up wasting food.”
The couple would also top up their monthly shop with trips to a mini-supermarket, which tend to be more expensive than the larger supermarkets.
“We found that doing a weekly shop made it easier for us to keep control of costs and reduce the amount of waste,” says Tori.
During their Eat4Cheap week, they cooked larger portions for dinner, which would leave them enough to have for lunch at work the next day.
“Buying lunch at my work canteen would typically come to about £5, whereas by eating leftovers for lunch, we had effectively reduced the cost of each meal to £1.66,” says Tori.
Breakfast in Eat4Cheap week generally comprised of a fruit smoothie and some whole fruit, which helped them to meet their 5 A DAY target every day of the week.
“We increased our portions of fruit and veg from an average of three portions a day to five, which was very satisfying,” says Tori.
“Before doing the challenge, we thought we were getting our 5 A DAY but we were well short. That was an eye-opener. Getting your 5 A DAY isn’t hard but it does require a little planning.”
By sticking to the advice of the eatwell plate, which shows how to get the correct balance between different food groups to achieve a healthy diet, Tori says they cut down on fat.
“Our dinner plate had much more vegetables on it than usual and red meat was no longer the main feature,” she says.
The couple chose value items almost exclusively, such as tinned tomatoes, rice, baked beans and minced beef, and said they “didn’t notice any difference in taste”.
“We made a chilli from two 500g packs of value minced beef, which cost only £2.92, and that provided us with three meals during the week,” says Tori.
The couple also applied some money-saving savvy to their customary end of week takeaway treat from their local curry house and saved £10.
“We would easily spend £30 on a takeaway,” says Tori. “We always ordered too much and any leftovers would be munched on the next day as a snack instead of a main meal.
“We found that by being sensible and not over-ordering, cutting out extras such as poppadoms and naan bread, and making rice at home, we could easily save money while still enjoying a treat.”
The couple’s aim during the Eat4Cheap challenge was to try to save 25% on their weekly food spend. After doing their sums at the end of the week, they had more than exceeded their target.
“We set out to save 25% but we actually saved 40%,” says Tori. “It just goes to show how much you can save with a bit of planning.
“We didn’t feel like we were making sacrifices or cutting down on taste. We were eating homemade and healthier food while still enjoying the occasional treat.
“It had been a shock to realise we were spending £500 a month on food, and that’s not counting special occasions like birthday meals or Christmas.
“Despite the extra challenge of making sure we ate a balanced diet and 5 A DAY, we could still save £200 a month on food if we stuck to the eat4cheap principles.”
Dietitian Azmina Govindji says:
“We often don’t realise how much we spend on buying lunch, as it’s usually just a habit that we don’t question. Tori discovered that her home-prepared lunch made from leftovers cost her about a third of her standard bought lunch – that can amount to big savings over a month.
“Cutting out the extra accompaniments from her weekly takeaway is a sensible tip, especially since those side dishes can often be high in fat and calories.
“The Eat4Cheap challenge seems to have helped Tori to eat more fruit and veg, proving it needn’t be more expensive to eat healthily; it just requires more careful planning.”