Who isn't feeling the squeeze at the moment? We certainly are. I remember easily being able to keep our weekly food bill below £50 a week, which, even before my son was here and the associated nappies, did used to include a lot more wine than we have nowadays. Now it's hard to keep it below £80 and takes some real thinking to keep it below £70.
If you think about it, food shopping accounts for a huge amount of household budgets. Say most people are in this £70 a week bracket increasing from £50 a few years ago, that's over £1000 a year extra than people used to pay. It's a lot of money. Even managing to cut £5 from that bill is a significant amount. If you could save over £250 a year on your electricity bill, you would.
So, here are some tips to help the money go further. Not all of them are original, some I've picked up from other places.
A challenge I really like from Money Saving Expert is to try downshifting. So if you usually buy finest or branded, why not try own brand? If you normally buy own brand, why not try the value brand? The idea is that in some things, you'll try it and think "nope, not as good as the other..." and that might be a big difference or just a small difference you could put up with, or, you might find that you detect no difference at all. Money saved on my last shopping trip - £1.40 on breakfast cereals, 80p on cling film, £1 on ketchup, £1.50 on mayonnaise.
Bulk out foods. Dishes like bolognaise, curries, chillis, meatballs, my sausage plait. They don't have to be 80% meat. Why not bulk out the mince or meat with small pieces of vegetables (courgettes and butternut squash are good for this) or pulses? Not only does this make expensive meat go further but it's better for the environment (vegetables take fewer resources to produce) and will also help contribute to your five a day (without your family noticing). Win, win, win! Why not even try to have one meat free night a week? Vegetables are cheaper than meat and there are some great vegetarian recipes to try like spinach and goats cheese bites.
What about lentils? Apart from being great at bulking out foods, they are great in their own right either as a base for soups like in my lentil and bacon soup or lentil and chorizo soup, with sausages or in curries. Fantastically cheap but also great to have in the cupboard for those times when the month lasts longer than the money.
Which gets onto my next point, especially with this lousy summer, soup can be a meal. People forget this and soup can be a filling and cheap meal and a great way of using up things which wouldn't be used otherwise like bones from a roast. Why not try my stick to your ribs chicken soup?
Use your freezer! As long as your fridge is at the right temperature (and by 'right' I mean somewhere between 2 and 5 degrees) and the food is still fresh and not been previously frozen there is no reason not to freeze foods on their last day of life, even if the packaging tells you to freeze it as soon as you get home. Trust me, I'm a food scientist. Also rather than buying ready meals, why not make once, eat twice? I.e. make a big batch of bolognaise and put half in the freezer? Perhaps making lasagne with the leftovers?
Use your leftovers. It's astonishing how much food waste there is in this country and lunchtimes are a great time to use up what you have left from the evening meal. Take a moment. If you buy a sandwich, drink, cake and maybe a coffee every day, I'm sure you are spending £5. Add that up over a working week, that's £25. Over a year even with four weeks holiday, that's over £1000. So why not use that bit of pasta you have left over for a salad? Why not keep that extra sausage and lentils to have later? Reheat that bit of pasta bake?
Make the most of a joint. Use bones for stock, leftovers can go in sandwiches or become a meal in themselves like my cottage pie made from pot roast beef. Irrespective of whether you buy free range, organic or bog standard, if you use every part of it all, that is more respectful of meat as far as I'm concerned than buying an organic, free range whole chicken and only eating the breast meat.
Label in the fridge and freezer. I've said this before but it is probably the one thing which has really cut my food waste. Loads of items have a "once opened use within..." statement on them. Some of these I do have to admit I ignore because I have worked in the industry and know the risks but most, especially with a young child I do adhere to. This means when I come back to a pack of pate, I'd often wonder, "how long has this been open?" or "when did I make that pot of bolognaise?" So when you make a big batch of something, write on the plastic pot in permanent pen what it is and when it was made. Write on the pot of cream when it was opened before you put it back in the fridge. Result! Permanent pen also washes off most plastic tubs if you use a scourer and if it doesn't come off, it normally fades enough to write over (labels can fall off, especially in the freezer.)
My last idea is to check your cupboards. I had a sudden big bill for a new wheel a few months back and despite feeling like the cupboards were bare, when I looked in the cupboard and freezer, I found I easily had enough for three meals. Don't assume that there are no options for food just because you're low on the things you normally have in your fridge. As part of this, at least loosely plan out the week of food before you do your shop. You're then more likely to shop sensibly and get what you need and not forget a vital ingredient.