My New Year’s resolution…


I’ve noticed my food bill going up weekly it seems over the past few months. The budget I allow used to cover it with a little over that I saved in a pot that was used for ‘extras’. You know, the sort of thing t-shirts for the school play, someone needs new pants etc. But I’ve noticed that there has been a lot less going in the pot and now virtually nothing so I have a decision to make; allow more money for food or be smarter with the money I have…

When I look at the contents of the fridge I do see lots of fruit and veg but there is also quite a lot of processed food. Meals half made that just need potatoes and veg, ready-made sauces in jars in the cupboard and packets of ‘stuff’ that aren’t really necessary. When I think about what I buy each week I know we aren’t unhealthy but I think there are better ways of feeding the family. I stopped the big weekly shop in an attempt to reduce the budget and this worked. I have a certain amount of money that I allow for food and I take that out each week in cash. This I have in a pot in the house and I take some of it each day when I shop. Shopping every/every other day allows me to think about what we need for that day and using cash allows me to really think about the physicality of actually handing money over and it’s also great to show the children just what real money looks like. I shop just after the school run on the way home but I know this just isn’t possible for a lot of households.

I wrote a meal planner and this helped too. It helps with being specific when I shop and reduced the scatter gun approach to ‘Oh, I like that!!’ when I don’t really need that. It focuses the mind and the shop and really helps with the budget. I have thought of online shopping especially for those ordinary essentials –toilet roll, baked beans etc. – and this would be another way to blinker the eyes and just buy what I need.

Ah, there’s another point ‘buying what I need…’ we are really concentrating in our house on want versus need. Yes I want to stuff myself silly on chocolate each night but I don’t need to and shouldn’t I know. I want to have the softest toilet roll but what difference does it make really in the long run so the cheapest will do. I’m working out what we really do want and then compromising on everything else. I like the kids shampoo and will continue to buy it but as our cereals are decanted into a plastic tub the children never see the boxes so these I now buy the supermarkets ‘essential’ range and save myself over £1 per box per week and I buy at least 3. I don’t do buy one get one free unless I’m buying whatever it is that’s on offer that week anyway. I don’t think it’s actually an offer if I buy something that’s going to sit in my cupboard for weeks before I actually use it –that’s money sitting on the side that should be in my bank but I’ve given it to a supermarket under the guise of it being ‘on offer’.

Buying what I need also means not buying a bag of 20 carrots when I only need 3 for a recipe, not taking the buy one get one free extra bag of clementine’s as we’ll be eating nothing but clementine’s for the week –why can’t they just reduce the price rather than give us more fruit to eat? Is it not the same thing? It means not being tempted to buy that pretty candle that I really don’t want and will probably never use. I am a woman of 36 and I can get a grip of my shopping.

So. I have tried shopping daily, making a meal planner, sticking to a cash budget and only buying what we need and this has helped but I think there is the final step I need to take. I need to cook more. I’m not talking the ‘get it out the freezer (I have a small one now) and bung it in the oven’ type of warming up cooking. No. I mean the ‘make it from real ingredients using a recipe book’ kind of cooking. I can freeze in leftovers, cut down the spending and know exactly what is going into my children mouths which is all, as far as I can see, nothing but good.

I’ve started looking in the recipe books but they only tell you how to cook, they don’t tell you how to fit in with school runs, after school clubs, work, cubs, a Hubbie who comes in later. No, this I can’t find in a recipe book so I’m going to try to learn how to do this myself and then I’m going to share what I’ve learned (and if anyone wants to pass any tips onto me then all would be gratefully received!) there will be a new page on the blog called ‘The Kitchen’ where I will talk about meals I have planned for the week and how I go about making them happen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going all totally gung ho as it’s not a do or die scenario. I aim to cook from scratch 3 days a week for a start and once I’ve achieved that then I’ll up it, hopefully at the beginning of February. The rules are very simple to my self-imposed challenge if it’s an ingredient in a recipe book then it’s still cooking as far as I can see. I will not be making my own tomato sauce, mayonnaise or attempting to become self-sufficient by the end of the year. I want to learn how to feed my family by cooking for them and I need to be realistic in my expectations of myself!

This is my New Year’s resolution. I’m only making the one. I don’t want to get fit/lose weight/start karate or anything that I know I can’t keep up. I want a goal that is achievable and has a point that I will feel good about working towards. I will know I have succeeded if by the middle of the summer I am cooking 3, 4 nights a week and I am keeping under my budget and there is a little left over at the end of the week like there used to be.

My new page will have a meal planner each week that I will post on a regular day. I’ll use this to shop and talk about smarter shopping –that doesn’t just mean the cheapest as far as I can see as I would like quality and to be a bit more conscious about where I’m buying from. I’ll share the recipes that worked (and those that didn’t!) just in case anyone else would like to join me. I’m open to any ideas that I can share so if you have any tips then please email emma@littlewhitecottage.co.uk and I’ll make sure you are credited with whatever I use.

I’m not buying any special equipment, just using what I have already until I am confident that I need something else and would actually use it –I would love a bread maker for example but I really need to prove to myself that I will cook before I buy a gadget that may sit in a cupboard and never be used!

I’m looking forward to the New Year, I think it’s going to be a bit of an adventure…

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About littlewhitecottage

Tales from a contemporay cottage.
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23 Responses to My New Year’s resolution…

  1. Lou says:

    Emma, one time saver and money saver is using a slow cooker. We can buy cheaper cuts of meat and turn them into a delicious dinner in hours with minimal effort. As long as you have a well stocked pantry you won’t need to buy much for each meal.

    • I’ve wanted to explore slow cooking as I hear such good things about it/them! I have a tagine but have only used it once so I’ll get it out again and investigate. Can you recommend some great recipes? xx

  2. Rebecca Claxton says:

    Hi Emma
    Similar to your plan to try to cook from scratch 3 days a week, this is realistic for me as a couple of days I’m at work and my girls have their tea at nursery/after school club.
    I recently bought a slow cooker from Tesco for £9 and a slow cooker recipe book for 99p from one of those The Works book shops. The first recipe I tried was a mushroom & pearl barley ‘risotto’ and it was lovely 🙂
    Here’s the recipe (serves 4):
    In a non-stick pan sauté 1 onion finely chopped in a tea spoon of olive oil for a few minutes, add 250g button mushrooms and 3 large portobello mushrooms (I used about 7 chestnut mushrooms instead!) and sauté until golden for about 10 mins.
    Add to the pan 2 crushed garlic cloves, 4 table spoons chopped fresh parsley, 1 tea spoon thyme, 250g pearl barley, stir through then transfer to slow cooker.
    Add 4 cups of vegetable stock and set to cook on medium for 3 hours. Stir in 1 table spoon of tomato paste and season with salt & black pepper. Cook for a further 1 hour until pearl barley becomes tender, stir in 4 table spoons of grated parmasan cheese then serve.
    enjoy! 🙂

    I think I might try using your idea of taking cash out – I think using my bank card is all too easy and I never really consider the cost of things as I never see the money. I’m sure i’d spend less if I actually had to hand over my hard earned cash to someone.

    Rebecca x

    • Fantastic, this will be my 1st recipe to try! The cash idea has been by far the best thing for us. It’s a huge idicator of how much we really spend. XXX used to last us a week and now its not so it clearly showed us things had to change :o)

  3. The idea of taking out the cash each week – rather than the ‘free’ money on a card! – really appeals to me. Am going to make that my first step. Will be so interesting to see how we all get on in the New Year, won’t it?
    Pam x

    • Absolutely! I’m loving the idea that we’ll all be swapping tips and recipes. We’ve taken cash out for some time and it does make you stop and think when you hand it over -debit cards are to easy to forget about the cots of what we buy :o)

  4. Charlie Dew says:

    I am a new convert to the Slow Cooker! They have revolutionised my cooking and knowing my family dinner is being cooked while I’m at work makes me feel like housewife extroadinare!! I just used cheap cuts of meat, loads of veg, carrots, courgettes, shallots, potatoes, mushrooms and a tin of tomatoes, and stock and then herbs to turn it into what you want!!!!! xx

  5. Hannah says:

    Hi, This all sounds great and i’ll definitely be checking out how you get on and trying some of your ideas. My husband does most of the cooking here 1 because he enjoys it and 2 because he doesn’t like my cooking (he is a fussy eater though ) but I would love to make more meals from scratch but struggle with timings of juggling everything, so quite often go for the easy quick option from the freezer. My kids are 2 and 4 and I seem to spend half the time I should be cooking stopping arguments, taking the little one to the toilet or cleaning up mess if we don’t get to the toilet in time. So I’m afraid some days the easy option is the one that keeps me sane ! When my hubby cooks he likes the kitchen to himself and I have the kids, but I only cook when he’s not in or back late from work so of course I had the added child factor to deal with too !
    I loved the idea of the menus Sainsburys did a while back of feed your family for £50 for a week. Even I have tried a couple of those recipes the Spaghetti Carbonara (it’s even works with soya milk and soya cream as we are dairy intolerant) It is definitely my favourite and very quick and easy to do and both kids just wolf it down too, hubby is yet to try it as he’s working away at the moment so it’s just me and the kids.
    Are you going to have bit where people can put in there favourite recipes ?
    Looking forward to seeing how you get on
    Hannah xx

  6. Hannah kirkpatrick says:

    Cooking from scratch is most definately cheeper. I used to do a big supermarket shop every 2 weeks. But found I was spending a LOT of money on rubbish that we didn’t need. Money is particularly tight these days so I now make the time once a week to go to the butchers for my meat(better to support local businesses anyway and the meat is actually roughly the same price) I buy enough meat for 4 or 5 meals ( stew, stir-fry, shepherds pie, chops etc) we have fish twice a week or we’ll have frozen steak pies for those nights where I just don’t have the time to cook. I love cooking fresh for my family every night. As you say you know exactly what you are eating. My only problem is that I am stuck in a rut. We tend to have exactly the same meals. I struggle with what else goes on the plate. Its usually either baked or mashed potatoes and 2 veg. It would be lovely to hear some recipe ideas. I also swear by my slow cooker but I also need recipes for that other than stew or mince.

  7. Hannah kirkpatrick says:

    Cooking from scratch is most definately cheaper. I used to do a big supermarket shop every 2 weeks. But found I was spending a LOT of money on rubbish that we didn’t need. Money is particularly tight these days so I now make the time once a week to go to the butchers for my meat(better to support local businesses anyway and the meat is actually roughly the same price) I buy enough meat for 4 or 5 meals ( stew, stir-fry, shepherds pie, chops etc) we have fish twice a week or we’ll have frozen steak pies for those nights where I just don’t have the time to cook. I love cooking fresh for my family every night. As you say you know exactly what you are eating. My only problem is that I am stuck in a rut. We tend to have exactly the same meals. I struggle with what else goes on the plate. Its usually either baked or mashed potatoes and 2 veg. It would be lovely to hear some recipe ideas. I also swear by my slow cooker but I also need recipes for that other than stew or mince.

  8. margot says:

    I too love my ‘2’ slow cookers, had them both on the go last weekend, plus made shepherds by and one similiar but using turkey mince, called turkey thatch and then froze everything. Like you have my kids going to clubs etc after school, so by having the meals already frozen, I just got them out in the morning and were ready to cook in the evening. My Husband takes leftovers to work the following day. One great tip I was given was to fill in your calender for 1 month each day with what you had to eat that day (whether you made it, bought it or had takeaway) and then at the end of the month you have around 2 – 4 weeks worth of meals planned (depending on how many times you repeat meals). I only try t add in 1 new meal a week/fortnight, so not putting too much pressure on myself. Also, if I do buy the bargain bag of spuds, I roast the whole bag then open freeze what we didn’t need that meal, bagging them once their frozen – they only take 20 mins in your oven from frozen to have lovely roasted spuds mid week or whenever you want.
    Last year I too took my money out each week/month for food and kept on budget. This year I felt I knew what I was doing so went back to my loyalty credit card – I have done nothing but overspend this year, so I think your New Years Resolution is wonderful and will certainly be going back to cash too.
    Thanks for the lovely blog, inspirational once again.
    Margot

  9. Kate says:

    I have no credit cards and have taken out a small amount of cash to shop every day for the past two years. It has stopped me from being frivolous with money and made me plan and really think about what we need/want. I still manage to get treats in, but just not all the time, so they really do become treats once more. I have found that going back to good old fashioned recipes works well to keep the budget down e.g. my 2 kids love rice pudding with a dollop of jam or bananas and custard, bubble and squeak with an egg on top, corned beef hash and baked beans, all very cheap but tasty.

    I use my slow cooker a lot and have several easy recipes which I could share with you if you like. I find it very useful on the days when we have after school clubs and are rushing around, because as long as the meal is in and turned on by 12, it is ready to eat by 5.30 p.m.

    Another tip that works well to stretch the budget is when you do a roast on a Sunday, add 2 extra meat portions and loads of extra veg, put whatever isn’t eaten into a bowl and put it in the fridge. Monday curry night, get the bowl out, chop everything in to roughly 1 inch size pieces, heat through in a large frying pan with a tiny bit of oil, just so it doesn’t stick, add Patak’s Balti Paste and a couple of tins of chopped tomatoes – absolutely yummy, quick and much better than a take away. If you add enough veg I often find that we don’t need rice with it.

  10. Jen says:

    http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/beef-recipes/jools-s-favourite-beef-stew

    Try this. Easy and totally lush. Takes a while to cook but you have it in very low oven so could conceivably pop out and pick up the boys whiskt cooking, or cook earlier and reheat. Seriously delicious with rice or potatoes. I add sweet potato but you could use any root veg left in the fridge at the end of the week. Red wine makes everythig better, especially in stew 😉

  11. Jo Winstanley says:

    Hi
    I use a slow cooker quite often for making stews, mexican style chicken dishes, chilli con carne etc. Like someone said above, you need to prep everything before lunch time and have it switched on then its ready to eat by 5.30. For a stew/casserole dish, you just chop up your meat and a load of root veg, some herbs and seasonings eg worcestershire sauce/bay leaf, some tomato puree about half a tube, a stock cube or fresh stock if you have any, hot water from the kettle, red wine again if you have any although not essential…thats it your done! I tend to make mash potato seperately but you could use new potatoes and put these in the slow cooker as well. I also make stirfries, omelettes, which are quick to make and gammon/bacon chops with bubble and squeak made from leftover veg. Have a look on Abel and Cole website for loads of seasonal recipes. Its true that buying from markets for your fruit n veg n meat sometimes works out cheaper. I prefer buying here than at a faceless big supermarket anyday! We’re having a new Tesco Extra built in our town right now and its absolutely monstrous!

  12. Christine Harvey says:

    I can’t believe it. as this is pretty much what we’ve just decided to do as I can’t believe how expensive food is getting!

    We already make a lot of our own food from our own produce, but the busy life of 3 kids with after school commitments and both of us working, means it is hard during the week! We are loving soup at the moment. I make a huge cauldron of it on Friday night or Saturday morning and freeze it in portions. We eat it with homemade bread (from breadmaker!) which also freezes well. Our favourite at the moment is what my girls call “potato” soup, but has the following ingredients: celery, carrots, parsnips, onion, yellow pepper, courgettes, leeks, potatoes, butter beans, chickpeas, bay leaves, cloves, ground coriander and veg stock. Whizzed up with butter and milk it is yummy, VERY healthy and CHEAP x

    Followed by homegrown homemade apple and pear crumble. Bliss x

  13. Wendy Bilton says:

    I promise that you wont be disappointed if you buy a bread maker. Not only can you make bread on there, but cakes, risottos, jams and preserves to name but a few. The pizza bases that you make in the breadmaker is like no other base you can buy. Much cheaper way of having pizza, and recently, I let Ellie have some of her friends round to make their own……….such good fun.
    I agree with the slow cooker comments too. I wouldnt be without mine, especially in this freezing weather. Nothing nicer than to come home from a freezing outside and have homemade cream of tomato soup with fresh bread.
    Im looking forward to your new ideas……..good luck
    Oh, and by the way, Happy Christmas to you and your family if I dont get chance to come on here before.XX

  14. Becca Patterson says:

    First of all, Thank you for your posts I love reading them 🙂
    I used to shop every week, but decided to change to every two weeks as my husband works different shifts so it was easier. We just buy fresh stuff when we need to. Until about two years ago I used to buy easy convenience foods. I decided to make the change and cook from scratch for my sons sake. I now spend around £150, sometimes less depending on what I’m buying every two weeks! Thats a massive saving compared to the £100-150 I used to be spending every week!
    I searched the internet for recipes and have some lovely recipes I now use all the time. I too would like to invest in a slow cooker so I think I may have to try this out in the new year.
    I do find cooking from scratch takes up a lot of time, I sometimes spend two hours in the kitchen! So if anyone has any recipes that take up less time I would love to see them.
    Hope you all have a lovely Christmas xx

  15. Silvia says:

    Due to the Diet I am on I cook fresh from scratch only. I shop ones a week. Often we have left over from the night before, if there were any. I am from a generation where this was a common occurrence. Monday’s is always leftover day. You know…You had a huge Sunday roast but never quiet finished that joint or have some potatoes left and so on. It simply makes sense.

  16. Donna Bennett says:

    I have had a slow cooker for years, I used it regularly when I worked full time, sling the ingredients in in the morning, go to work, pick kids up at the end of the day, go home to a cooked meal. I would thoroughly recommend one of those. I also had a bread maker and while it made the most delicious loaves I found they were so nice that I was making a full sized loaf a day because we were eating the lot! not great for the carb intake, lol. I also have Jamie Olivers 30 minute cook book, real food in 1/2 an hour, and am a huge fan of River Cottage cook books too simply because they use good basic ingredients to cook nutritious meals. They have also been invaluable in my job, I’m a nursery school cook so am responsible for other peoples little ones tummys. One very simple, quick and value for money recipe I use is cheesy lentil pasta bake. Its 300g pasta, 2 tins of tomato soup, 1 handful of orange lentils all mixed up in a casserole dish and topped with grated cheddar. Bake on 200 degrees for 20-25 mins and serve with salad. The children love it and I never ever have any leftovers. Looking forward to your blog every week and good luck. x

  17. Dawn Ayling says:

    If you write a shopping list planned around meals for the week but don’t trust yourself not to add extra to the shopping basket – order on-line – you can take things out of your basket to keep within your budget. Choose a day when the delivery cost is low and you’ll find your spend is completely controllable. I tend to do a big shop on-line once a month for the store cupboard essentials, the meat offers and the big and heavy items, then shop at either Aldi or Lidl for fresh fruit and veg, bread and dairy. It works, I’ve cut my monthly spend and we don’t throw much away.

  18. soapsnobs says:

    How fab! Good luck with your endeavour xxx

  19. Jo Farmer says:

    Brilliant post. Wishing you lots of luck and fun. Not only will you all benefit financially but will feel better too because of all the lovely home cooking. Try to get your kids involved too.

    Jo xx

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