A week’s worth of shopping….

Some key groceries for weekly shopping

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 store cupboard 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 shopping 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


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

21 replies
  1. The Lone Gourmet
    The Lone Gourmet says:

    Another great post, Miss South! Around 5 years ago, I moved into a new home on my own, through circumstances, and had to build a larder from scratch. It cost me over £100 just to stock it with oils and vinegar, herbs, spices, tinned goods, sauces like soya/ketchup/Worcestershire, flour and sugar, etc… And that was being frugal and buying only the essentials plus a little extra, plus not necessarily going for the cheap brands – I figured I could build on it as needed. I work and have a reasonable income but even so, I was shocked at how much a trolley full of larder basics costs. I confess I did that a supermarket purely for the convenience – mostly I shop at my market and Asian store for basics these days. I shudder to think how difficult it must be for anyone leaving home for the first time or finding themselves in circumstances like mine where they suddenly have to create a new home from the ground up, particularly if they are on a tight budget or benefits.

  2. Amee
    Amee says:

    I really enjoyed your piece in the OFM and it was lovely to see one of my blogging/twitter mates in print. I have put it away carefully even though it’s on-line. Well done again. I shall be printing this out also.

  3. Kate Powell
    Kate Powell says:

    Buying decent herbs and spices is well worth the money when you are a frugal cook, as you can elevate simple ingredients to a fabulous meal with some good

    I’d highly recommend buying your sweet paprika in the little tins from a deli, as it’s nothing like the stuff the supermarkets sell. If there is one thing I’d struggle to give up it would be that!

    We don’t have any ethnic stores locally (they used to be great in London) but our local health food shop sells loose herbs and spices by weight that they decant from old fashioned sweetie jars, much much cheaper than most of the main stream supermarkets (but Aldi and Lidl are good for some very basic stuff!)

  4. rachael
    rachael says:

    This is an excellent guide. I’m struggling with budgeting on my state maternity pay (for which I’m very grateful). Having two house cats is really giving my weekly outgoings a kicking but I chose to have them. They are hilarious and totally worth the money. These frugal times hopefully won’t last forever! I’m also lucky to have Brixton market on my doorstep. You may see me wandering there with your shopping list soon. Thank you!

  5. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    The Lone Gourmet: I was really quite shocked when I costed up the storecupboard stuff. I thought it would probably be about a fiver because I’ve usually only bought them as needed, item by item and not really in one go. All those things like baking powder, bicarb, yeast for baking really rack the costs up and go off quite quickly comparatively. I’ve got hazy memories now I think about it of stocking up when I left home and being astounded by the price. And annoyingly some stuff I thought was essential, I turned out to barely use in the end…

  6. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Amee: thank you! It’s been lovely how excited other people were for us and it’s made me so grateful for the community feel of blogging. Such a nice environment!

  7. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Kate: I agree about the tins of paprika from delis. It lasts better in those and my deli does replacement bags for about a pound. It’s my number one spice and I can’t do without it as you’re right in that it lifts things instantly. I love adding flavour to simple food but damn, it can be pricey when you need more than one item a week in the shopping basket.

    Love the idea of your sweetie jars of spices and herbs. In fact I’m madly envious. Much more exciting than packets of Rajah spices!

  8. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Rachael: congrats on the new addition to the family! Your example of changing circumstances due to life events is exactly what I had in mind when I started writing these pieces. You will of course learn as you go but that doesn’t help when you need something more immediate than trial, error and time.

    But glad to hear you’re using Brixton market because it’s brilliant at anytime! Little sneak preview for you: there’s going to be a new Twitter account coming soon for people to share Brixton bargains and local shopping tips so if you don’t see it mentioned on our Twitter feed, email me or comment and I’ll tell you (I’m not doing it, but know the person who is!)

  9. Katie
    Katie says:

    I came across your blog after reading your article in OFM and it is exactly what I was looking for. I was finding my shopping bill was rapidly increasing as I planned something different for every night and what I needed was some guidance on how to get more than one meal from my ingredients and your advice is great! For me, I couldn’t be without garlic or onions. They go in nearly everything I make and softened in oil or butter, they seem to make a great foundation on which to add any number of herbs and spices. I agree though that store cupboard ingredients are not cheap and will be searching out a little deli like you suggest in the future 🙂

  10. simba
    simba says:

    Soy sauce, ginger (in jars), basil and/or sage, turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom pods and cloves are my basic flavorings which I use in everything.
    Cumin, chilli, coriander, salt, white pepper etc are very much appreciated but not ‘needed’ as much. I often use whole spices and pull them out and rinse them for something else- can’t believe I’m saying this, but there you go.

    Herbs are ridiculously expensive in most supermarkets, especially fresh. I tend to rob them out of my friends’ gardens and either dry them in the oven after I’ve cooked something, or stick them in the freezer wrapped in plastic. I also buy the dying herbs from the sales bin and water the bejaysus out of them and hope for the best.

  11. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Simba: I have been known to fish things out and give them a quick wash too or sometimes use a small piece of muslin or a tea strainer to make it easier to infuse and re-use. We did this with cloves at Christmas as we’d almost run out.

    Herbs are eye poppingly expensive. I only buy them as a treat. Tarragon is my favourite or dill. Must try freezing things to make them last longer. Pity you can’t do that with basil…

  12. OldGreyBeard
    OldGreyBeard says:

    It’s not just ingredients, its equipment. I remember making a chocolate tort (to impress!) and just read the ingredient list rather than the whole receipe. A slight problem when I hit the instruction “in another bowl” i.e.mixing bowl. What did they mean, you had to have TWO mixing bowls….

    As for herbs, its useful to have a bay bush, rosemary bush and mint if you have even a tiny garden. A great and easy herb to grow is flat leaf parsley. It even has edible roots. You can freeze it and I am experimenting with making different types of pesto and herbs preserved in salt with any excess.

  13. Aliya
    Aliya says:

    I loved your article- I think the bit which resonated the most was the part about if you buy a multi pack of crisps you are seen to be not trying hard enough, but better produce means you have too much money. I am a real observer of other people’s baskets in the supermarket- it’s hard not to judge sometimes when you see the crap that some people buy in the name of ‘value’. It also really annoys me when people say you can eat well and cheaply- it’s so easy. It’s not, but i think it tests you in a positive way as a cook and foodie. I recently was made redundant and so I’m counting the pennies more than ever but you can get by we’ll on about £45 a week if you plan ahead and try to be creative. Thanks for showing that it can be done so well!

  14. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Old Grey Beard: that made me laugh. When I first started out I remember improvising like mad because I didn’t have a baking tray or a wok or whatever. In fact I had lived til I tried to make Angel Delight with a fork instead of a whisk.

    Great tip on the parsley. I’m a herb killer. My rosemary is plagued with rosemary leaf beetles and I’ve killed mint before. It’s mortifying…

  15. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Aliya: thanks! I have to admit I do love a good look into people’s baskets or trolleys when I’m shopping because I’m basically incredibly nosey. (I also love eavesdropping on buses…)I try not to judge though, but I like to try and imagine what people are going to do with 6 cans of mushy peas and an aubergine.

    Good luck with the jobhunting. A friend who was made redundant a while back said all those applications were easier to deal with when you ate as well as you could afford to and treated yourself even if it was just a nice piece of fruit or the odd bit of cheese!

  16. Stuart gardner
    Stuart gardner says:

    Oh just bought a piece of topside beef for a fiver at the market for sunday lunch- got a friend coming round and also got 2 pounds of new potatoes and a cabbage for 1.20. Have just sliced some thin slivers of beef off the meat and falttened them. A sprinkle of lemon juice albeit from a bottle, salt and pepper and a little garlic and hey presto….. beef carpaccio for supper….. divine. i know I am on the dole and should not be eating beef carpaccio but hey ho….. don’t tell the government…lol…. it is amazing what you can do when you need to… as ever hope you are well… Stuart

  17. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Hi Stuart,

    What a gorgeous simple recipe! I am hugely envious and stealing the idea as a reason to treat myself to a beef joint soon. There’s safety in numbers if we all do a spot of beef carpaccio while eyerolling at the DWP!

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