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A week’s worth of shopping….

Some key groceries for a weekly shop

First of all: thank you! Thank you to everyone who emailed, commented, Tweeted, followed, pinned and got in touch after the Observer Food Monthly piece. We were overwhelmed by the amount of debate, discussion and support it received. We’ve found some amazing new blogs, talked to some great people and had a wonderful time. Even the notorious Comment is Free was positive!

So to say thanks properly I thought I’d give you a sneak peek to the bits of the original article that didn’t make the final cut at Food Monthly. Not content with taking over the entire magazine, I did in fact write more than you saw and while I’m thrilled to have had so much published, a little bit did get lost in the edit. A few people asked if I was using organic for my recipes because it didn’t seem right that they came to £20 per head for that many dishes, but in fact there was a lot more food in my basket and I’m going to give you a cut-out and keep guide to see where I bought food for this week and began building a storecupboard for future ones.

I costed out my basket using Sainsbury’s online as I wanted to use a baseline that the largest number of people across the UK could have and an online ‘big four’ supermarket was the best for that. Not everyone can reach an Aldi, Lidl or a proper market, and online shopping removed regional variations. Using a discount retailer, local greengrocer, market or getting reduced products at a supermarket can help you cut the budget. Remember it’s a guideline, not a diktat.

I allowed for a bare minimum of storecupboard items: salt, pepper, one chilli product (powder, hot sauce, Tabasco, your choice), smoked paprika, one dried green herb of your choice, Worcestershire sauce and mustard powder. The fresh herbs and ground ginger mentioned were optional as was the parmesan and olive oil. I didn’t include butter in the basket as it’s an essential to me, nor  did I include milk as the amount you buy depends on your tea and coffee consumption.

We’ve listed everything you need to buy to do the 7 day menu I wrote for OFM, and in the future I’ll be giving you some more ideas for using the store cupboard items you’ve built up from here.

P.S. At the bottom of the post is a version you can print out if you’d like – it’s just the ingredients list in black and white, with space for your own notes. It prints two copies of the list per sheet of A4 paper, so one printout can be used over a couple of weeks.

Fruit and veg

Bananas – Basics Fairtrade  x8 £1.15

Potatoes – white 2.5kg              £1.95

Leeks 1kg                                      £2.59

Beetroot – Vacuum pack            £0.70

Celery – untrimmed                    £0.90

Carrots – loose 1kg                     £0.90

Onions – 1kg bag                         £1.10

Apples – Basics bag                    £0.82

Parsnips – loose x2                    £0.48

Savoy Cabbage                            £0.80

Swede (turnip)                            £0.90

Garlic (2x bulbs)                        £0.46

Mushrooms – sliced 1kg           £2.50

 

Frozen

Garden Peas  – frozen bag 910g      £1.60

White fish fillets – Basics 520g      £2.00
Tinned and dried goods

Butterbeans – 400g tin                         £0.69

Kidney beans – Basics 400g tin         £0.27

Chopped tomatoes – 400g Basics       £0.35

Condensed milk 379g                           £0.99

Lemon juice 250ml                               £0.59

Creamed coconut 200g                       £0.99

Semolina 500g                                     £0.89

Pearl Barley 500g                               £0.55

Porridge Oats 1kg                               £1.29

Popping corn 500g                            £1.09

Rice – Long grain rice 1kg               £1.39

Plain flour – Basics 1.5kg                £0.65

Ryvita 250g                                        £0.99

 

Meat, fish and dairy

Chicken – whole approx. 1.75kg              £5.00

Low fat Natural yoghurt – Basics              £0.65

Eggs – 12 free-range                                     £2.65

Double Cream 600ml                                  £1.68

Total:                                                            £39.95

If you wanted to buy the store cupboard essentials from Sainsbury’s I’ve included what they would cost below:

Store cupboard essentials

Worcestershire sauce 150ml    £1.19

Mustard powder 57g                  £1.35

Olive oil 500ml                           £2.00 (offer price)

Smoked paprika 50g                  £1.19

Ground ginger 32g                     £0.59

Bay leaves 10g                          £0.60

Fresh tarragon 20g                    £0.80

Tabasco sauce 57g                   £1.69

Sea Salt 350g                             £0.55

Black peppercorns 100g           £1.78

Butter – own brand 250g            £1.50

Total:                                                               £12.16

It shocked me when I costed this out. For me, these are the absolute bare basics of a herb, spice and condiments cupboard and with the exception of the fresh tarragon, they’d all last for ages, but they add another 30% onto the cost of your shop just to get some flavour into those fresh foods you’ve bought. You could save some serious cash here by shopping around if you can. Asian grocers or ‘ethnic’ supermarkets will usually have bags of peppercorns, bayleaves and ginger at twice the size and half the price. Bottles of hot sauce will be cheaper than big brand name Tabasco but everyone likes a different heat so it’s hard to advise what to buy. Olive oil often crops up in pound shops or on offer. Smoked paprika is often cheaper in delis in the cute little tins when you look at price by gram. But if you can only get to a supermarket, products like this really add cost to your shopping.

You’ll use nearly all the fresh vegetables in the course of the week, but should have some of the frozen ones left. Other items like the flour, porridge oats, pearl barley, coconut, rice and popping corn will last for ages and form the basis of following weeks’ meals and snacks. I’ll be talking you through the ways the meals came together and how with a bit of planning you don’t have to be tied to a cooker all week but still enjoy your food and your spare time on a budget. In the meantime, what are your number one herbs, spices or flavourings? Could you give up cumin? Is soy sauce essential? Go without garlic?

Click here to get a PDF version of the shopping list

grocery list

Food for thought

Close-up of lentils in the pan

As sure as day follows night, if the subject of food is mentioned at all, it will inevitably touch on the debate between processed and cooked from fresh food in the UK today. And unless you know everyone in the discussion well and get side tracked into swapping recipes or discussing one’s favourite deli, someone will take the chance to opine on how poor people just need to try harder, be less lazy, just read the labels and realise you can buy a week’s veg for two quid if you’re a good enough member of society. These people are at best out of touch and at worst, running our country.

They are also idiots and liars. What you eat may have an impact on your dietary fibre, but it has bugger all to do with your moral fibre. It’s patronising and reductive to suggest otherwise and to focus on the actions of an individual, rather than those of the food industry, helps no one and hinders many, while causing massive divisions in society. But what would I know? I’m a nice middle class food blogger who grew up on homemade yoghurt and makes their own bacon. Surely I’m part of the problem?

I’m also poor. Not in a pretend can’t afford to split the bill including cocktails for a friend’s birthday or using Orange Wednesday vouchers for Pizza Express way. I’m properly poor. Due to ill health that stretches back to my early teens, I’m currently unable to work and live on benefits. Thanks to the welfare state (for which I could not be more grateful) I have the basic amount of money to live on each week and do just that. I can afford to live and eat well enough to write about it once a week simply due to careful budgeting, being a good and resourceful cook, having time and the generosity of friends and family who shout me lunch and bring wine to dinner. If you buy one Starbucks medium latte a day, picking up a muffin even once, you spend the same in a week as my entire food budget for 7 days.  I think this qualifies me to talk about cooking and eating on a long term low income rather than a summer between uni where you have to make money stretch.

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