Gemma Koster, 40, a dental nurse, lives in north London with her husband Phillip, 41, a financial advisor, and their children Ellie, eight, Rafi, seven, and Tali, three. Each week they spend up to £100 on food and £60 on eating out or takeaways – but they’d like to spend less!
‘I do a big shop once a week,’ says Gemma, ‘but most days Phil pops to a supermarket near his office as well, to top up on milk, bread, fruit and veg.
‘I’m a spontaneous shopper – I don’t plan meals or even make a list. Phil likes to think he’s more organised, but he also buys “off list”, so he spends more than he plans to.
‘I didn’t think we were slaves to big brands, but when I checked, I was surprised to find two-thirds of the things we buy are branded products – it shows how little we
notice what we pick up.
‘We don’t eat ready meals as a family, but we do rely on pre-prepped sauces for pasta and
stock for soups.‘I’d love to see our food bill come down without compromising on taste. It would be great if Miguel could help!’
So how easy is it to shop better and still eat well? ‘It’s all about forward-planning, trying new things and cooking from scratch,’ says Miguel. He sat down with the Kosters to show them how small tweaks to their way of life can have a big impact…
‘Work out your meals for the week, take a list to the shops – and make sure you stick to it. You’re less likely to buy too much, which may get wasted, or end up not getting enough so you end up spending on takeaways.’
‘Rather than cooking with leftovers, I prefer to “overlap” ingredients. If you buy a whole chicken, remove the legs and thighs before cooking. This gives you a crown to roast for Sunday lunch, then pan-fry the legs and thighs on Monday to have with green beans and dauphinoise potatoes. It’s a positive way of making what you buy go further.’
Buy own brand
When you’re shopping for store cupboard staples such as rice and pasta, choose supermarket own brand. You won’t notice the difference – but the savings you can make are huge.’
Avoid unconscious spending
‘No, it’s not spending in your sleep! Buying little extras that you barely notice at the time – like a takeaway coffee and croissant – soon mount up. Make a batch of granola for the week, and invest in a vacuum mug to carry a hot drink prepared at home.’
Do your prep
‘Pre-chopped and grated products are ideal when you’re in a rush, but you do pay a bit extra for the convenience. Peel and slice veg and grate your own cheese to save money.’
‘Having at least one meat-free meal a week can help make savings. How about Wednesday Night Curry Club for the family, with homemade veg curry, lentil dhal and rice. Or swap mince for lentils to make a tasty but cheaper bolognese.’
Eat the seasons
‘Produce is more expensive when it’s out of season, so look for fresh ingredients that are in season – which is usually when they are at their best, as well.’
Cook from scratch
‘It’s tempting to buy pre-made sauces, but making your own homemade tomato pasta sauce using tinned tomatoes and herbs can be cheaper – and tastier.’
Make a fakeaway
‘Create your favourite takeaway dishes at home for a fraction of the cost. Stock up on spices, soy sauce and sesame oil, and master a curry or chow mein in your own kitchen. Plus, you’ll have these ingredients to hand for future meals.’
Take it slow
‘Invest in a slow cooker and try cheaper cuts of meat, such as chicken thighs. These work well being cooked “low and slow” to make delicious, economical meals – your slow cooker will soon pay for itself!’
Gemma says: ‘By following Miguel’s tips for just a week, we saved an amazing £95: £35 on our food shop, plus £60 by switching our usual takeaway for a homemade version. It meant we had extra cash to take the kids out at the weekend! Actually planning what we’re going to buy in advance and writing a list has helped us save money and waste less food, too.
'Switching to own-brand products has been much easier than we thought, as well. The kids have barely noticed and they really enjoy getting involved
with making pasta sauces. It’s great!’