Cutting food costs

I wasn't sure if it was just in my head, but I thought my weekly shopping bill was going up. We used to spend around 60€ a week, but now our weekly spend has doubled. At first I put it down to us drinking more at home, rather than at the pub with friends, and eating all our meals at home. Before we'd eat at the work canteen a few times a week, and maybe dinner out once or twice. I've also been craving more meat. So of course it's understandable that our food bill is going up.

But then I spoke to other people and looked at the prices of things I bought every week. Fruit, vegetables and eggs are definitely more expensive than they used to be. I saw someone on Facebook paid 7€ for a cauliflower! Whereas I used to spend less than 2€ on one, it's now more than 3€ at my local supermarket.

I realise rising food costs are coming at a really bad time. Some of my friends have had their salaries cut. Some have no salary at all, and no idea when they'll get an income. So I thought it would be useful to share some of the ways I've been cutting food costs without feeling deprived. I used to eat very little meat, which meant my shop was already cheaper, but now I've been craving more of it, so I'm trying to fit it in without spending a fortune.

Choose meat carefully

Cheaper cuts of meat are an obvious way to cut costs. I used chicken thighs or legs. Chicken thighs have much more flavour and it's easy to skin and bone them for use in stir fries or curries. Or roast a whole chicken, and use the meat for salads, sandwiches, pies and stir fries. Use the bones for stock too. When it comes to red meat, try pork belly, beef short ribs or stewing beef. I managed to find a big pork belly this week which I divided up into pieces: ribs, two boneless chunks, and the off cuts for mince. That will serve us 10 or so meals for 12€.

Use strong flavours

Cheap basics like lentils, rice and pasta can be easily livened up with dried herbs and spices, or even meat like bacon and chorizo. When it comes to spices, ethic supermarkets are often much cheaper than French supermarkets, and have a huge variety. Try lentils with bacon, a spiced biryani or pasta with chorizo. These meals are comforting, but made up of cheap ingredients.

Try frozen

We're really spoilt with the variety of frozen vegetables in France. It's not just peas and spinach. There's also a huge range of Mediterranean mixes, stir fry veg and even purees. These are much cheaper than fresh, and still taste great. I always have peas and spinach in the freezer, but after cauliflower-gate, also have some cauli-rice stashed in there. The frozen section is great for meat and fish too. I often see individually packaged salmon fillets, and white fish is very cheap. The Chinese supermarket makes another appearance here when it comes to prawns. There's always a big selection of raw, cooked, peeled and unpeeled prawns which are cheaper than the French supermarkets.

Make your own

Of course if you're still working full time and dealing with childcare, this could be a challenge but if you have the time, you can save money on things like bagged salad, pastry and marinades. My local Carrefour has a huge selection of lettuces which are much cheaper than bagged salad. I can mix it up with different leaves, as well as add whichever vegetables I like. For marinades, try yogurt and curry powder for an Indian flavour, or cumin and oregano for Cajun flavours. It obviously won't be authentic, but it'll still taste good.

Be flexible

While I know every cost-cutting article I've ever read says I should shop with a list. And this is true up to a certain point. But if a particular vegetable is very cheap at the supermarket, or there are lots of options in the reduced section, go for it. Use it instead of something else in your recipe, or look up a way to use it. There are so many videos on YouTube that will teach you how to cook something if it's unfamiliar.

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