With the cost-of-living crisis affecting most of us, food prices are going through the roof – but if you’re careful, you can actually shave hundreds if not thousands off your annual shopping list if you shop smart. Having run restaurants where any food waste is simply throwing profits away, chef Jason is an absolute expert at this so here are his top tips for saving money on shopping in the cost-of-living crisis.
A lot of thought goes into the layout of a supermarket in an effort to make us spend more: impulse buys like treats are placed by the check out, the most profitable products are the ones placed at eye level, and stickers implying value are rife when they may not truly offer that (one of our recent favourite spots was a ‘value’ pack of gum that only had nine pieces instead of ten in it). It pays then to be as smart as the shops are when it comes to how you shop – and by doing so, you can easily knock 10% or 20% off your shopping bill each week.
Plan ahead …
Going into the supermarket with no idea of what you want is a sure-fire way to up your shopping bill and even just creating a list of things to buy with no real idea of what you are going to make can be problematic. Nutritionist and lifestyle coach James has written articles on how to time block and how to time block for meal planning in the past. Use these to help find the time to plan, then plan your meals for the week and put your list together. We’ve created a meal planner here for you to print out and use to help with this. Get the kids involved for some extra bonus points, involving kids in meal planning can make it more likely they’ll eat any dishes on the menu that week. When planning, be exact as you can, if you know you or your partner or the kids are out late one evening, don’t factor them into the meal plan for that timeslot (unless you are batch cooking something to be eaten over several days).
… but be flexible
When you get to the supermarket or your local shops, retain the right to swap-out items on the shopping list if you find a cheaper alternative. Meat prices can vary wildly depending on whether suppliers have what is known as a ‘carcass imbalance’ – this is when more animals are slaughtered than needed and the price goes down accordingly. If you have minced beef on your list and you get to the supermarket and minced lamb is on offer and cheaper, make the change. It won’t make too much difference to the recipe itself if you also enjoy lamb. Cuts of meat that are price reduced often have a yellow label put on them, so look out for those.
Shop later in the day …
We all love the idea of getting the shopping done early so we can enjoy the rest of our day but it can often be a false economy. I love doing a ‘supermarket’ sweep late in the evenings when items supposedly going ‘out of date’ can be knocked down to ridiculously low prices. Dried packaged products will last for a long time beyond their sell-by date, fruit and veg often have weeks left in them, meat can always be frozen for later use. The same tip also works when buying fruit and veg from a market stall – head there just before the market closes and see what you can pick up at a knock down price.
Bulk buy bargains
Consider buying a bargain in bulk if you can – if prime beef is on offer, I’ll buy a job lot, take it home, mince it down to form burgers and freeze those. The result is so much tastier than buying the ready ground meat from the supermarket – and it also means I can save time when I do need to pull something out of the bag at the last minute, say if one of the kids’ friends come around. Way back when Elevated first started we did a video on grinding your own beef and making your own burgers. You can see that here if you’re one of our members.
Look out for loyalty offers
We all have our favourite places to shop – they become familiar like an old friend and it’s hard for us to change them. But make sure your friend is not taking advantage. One UK supermarket James and I used a lot has recently downgraded its loyalty scheme making offers few and far between. It made sense for us to start shopping elsewhere. Use the associated apps wisely. If you see an offer is on in the store, make your shopping plan around them. Say chickens are half price one week and you had a roast beef dinner planned, swap it to a chicken dinner. Look out too for the ‘first time online shopper’ vouchers. Even if you don’t use the supermarket again, why say no to a massive discount?
Look at ‘price per’ labels
Many supermarkets now have price per XX on their price tags. This allows you to compare like for like costs. A prime example James saw this week was an offer on two smaller boxes of breakfast cereal when bought together. The price tag was literally screaming ‘buy me’ – but the price per label showed the adjacent family-sized box was, pound for pounds, a better deal.
Try the Downshift Challenge
We can’t claim this as our own, it’s a tip from Money Saving Expert but we love the concept. In supermarkets you tend to get three or sometimes four levels of goods: Premium, Branded, Home brand and Value are the kind of things we are thinking about. Is there a big difference between them, aside from the price? The easiest way is to try and find out. When you are next shopping for a staple, downshift to the level below the one you would normally get. If you’re happy with the quality, stick with it moving forward. If not, go back to your regular brand. A tip here: don’t tell the kids you’ve changed brands unless they specifically ask.
You (rightly) shop around for the best deal on your mobile, your car, your electric and your gas… why not do it with your weekly shopping. The comparison site Trolley allows you to compare prices for your favourite goods and even set price alerts so you can be notified by the site’s app right on your mobile.
Be a more efficient cook
Not necessarily a shopping save, but being more efficient at home is essential. Energy costs are soaring and that means we have to think about bigger batch cooking and portioning more frequently. For example, the concept of cooking just enough pasta for one meal tonight each night is crazy, so cook three portions at once. The economies of scale mean you use less water and energy (gas/electric) in doing so, per individual portion.
Use whole foods in more ways than one
Our philosophy around ‘use the whole’ is amplified when the cost of your supermarket shop rises threefold in just six months. Carrots with skins on just washed, not only are beneficial for nutrients but also you are not discarding physical mass of good eating carrot. You can follow this philosophy with most vegetables. Likewise, we try and use all of a chicken carcass when in our Brilliant Base Bone Marrow Broth – here we are trying to extract every last piece of value from a food source, treating it with ultimate respect.
Keep an eye on portion sizes
Let’s be honest, most of us over-serve food, so keep an eye on portion control focussing on what you actually need on your plate to be nourished rather than what you eat through habit. This can be both cost saving and potentially health saving with weight management.
The freezer is your friend
Sir Malcom Walker, founder of Iceland Superstores, quotes that freezing is nature’s original method of preservation. It could also be argued that drying is also nature’s way of preserving certain foods. We humans and some animal species have devised other ways of preserving foods, for times when they are scarce or simply not around at all. Confit of duck / goose legs, jamming fruits and pickling vegetables are just some examples. Many of these processes can be applied to food items that are beyond their best. Make a piccalilli from cauliflower that’s going soft, Jam blackberries that have started to burst and dry out stale bread rather than throwing out to the birds (which, by the way, is harmful to them) and make croutons or dry bread crumbs for frying.
In the restaurant world I come from, profit margin is key to success. The higher the value and the higher the perishability of a food item, the greater necessity there is turn it into a plate of food and get it sold. A two-litre bottle of organic double cream going out of date in a professional kitchen will not be thrown away. It would be turned into a panna cotta dessert: A to prevent waste and loss of cash and B to extend the life of the cream which when cooked gets an extra three days shelf life. A fresh side of salmon nearing its use-by date, would be made into a confit then a rillette would be made incorporating herbs and seasonings again to create a ‘special’ and extend the salmon’s shelf life in the kitchen. Perfectly safe cooking, perfectly acceptable business and highly appropriate for reducing food waste. We’ve brought that same school of thought to two our request recipes this month: bubble & squeak soufflé with smoked salmon and poached egg, and egg-fried rice. Try them out!