08 December 2013

Economy Gastronomy

A couple of weeks ago I found, quite by accident, an English TV show called Economy Gastronomy and I'm hooked (it screens on Sunday afternoons on 7two here in Melbourne so I set the black box to record it for viewing when I have time). I can't not watch it - it's like a train wreck happening in slow motion before my very eyes.

Last week the family of 7 (Mum, Dad and 5 kids) were spending £408 (around $733AUD - a weeks wage) on food. To make matters worse they had a garbage disposal in the kitchen and used it - tossing £7,000 (or $12,578.95AUD) down it every year!

I'm gobsmacked! We don't even spend that much a year on food, let alone waste it! It makes my $4,160 a year grocery budget look really poor, and yet we eat well, never go hungry, enjoy good quality fresh food (including organic fruit and veg, dairy, meat and poultry when possible) and still have plenty to share with visitors.

So what were the money wasters that stood out?

1.  No meal plan.

We all know that's a big mistake. Without even a simple meal plan it's just too easy to decide cooking is hard and order take-away or resort to convenience meals. Writing up a basic meal plan won't take more than 5 minutes. Just choose seven dinners and jot them down. Breakfasts and lunches are usually the same thing in most households - cereal and toast for breakfast, sandwiches or rolls for lunches.

2.  No shopping list - the mother thought she was buying bargains, but most of it was junk food.

Again, we all know this is a food budget disaster just waiting to happen. Without a list you just won't know what to buy so you can stick to your meal plan. It takes just a few minutes to jot down what food to buy, and how much of it. And it saves you a fortune. When you have a list you can get in, buy what you need and get out. No tempting wandering up and down the aisles trying to remember what you need. And if it's not on the list - don't buy it.

3.  No pantry/fridge/freezer inventory done before going shopping - there were 7 jars of English mustard in the fridge, all opened and part-used.

What a waste, of food and of money. Always, always, always have a quick look at what food you have on hand and think about how it can be used in your meal plan. You'll avoid waste, save money and not end up with seven jars of English mustard in the fridge.

To speed up your inventory try to keep your pantry and fridge tidy. That just means always putting things back where they came from and re-stocking in the same place. When the pantry is tidy you can see at a glance that you have three tins of tomatoes but only one of chickpeas. It's a simple thing but it saves you a lot of time.

4.  No meal portions - food was just served up, and the children scraped most of it into the garbage disposal (it wasn't even composted or fed to the dog).

When a recipe states "serves 6" then make it serve six. And when you are feeding young children remember their appetites and capacity for eating are much, much smaller than an adults and dish up accordingly.

I'm not saying don't let them eat the same meals you do - just give them appropriate sized portions.

5.  Everyone ate at different times.

This would send me nuts. Two lots of cooking, two lots of cleaning up. And no family time. Eating is a communal activity. Turn off the television. Set the table. Sit down and take half an hour to eat together. Discuss the meal. Talk about the day. Slow down and enjoy what you are eating and who you are eating with.

6.  Three different meals were cooked every night (one daughter is vegetarian, children ate "child friendly" food  and Mum and Dad ate something different again).

Picky eaters are made, not born. You're not running a restaurant, so don't take orders. Unless there is a real health reason not to, even very young children can eat what you eat. From the day they went on to solids our kids all ate exactly what we did. When our kids were younger "I don't like it" didn't work until they had tried it. The rule was one spoonful. They had to try it and eat the spoonful, and then if they really didn't like it I left it off their plate or changed the way it was served. For example Tom hates mashed potato, he just loathes the texture, so I just take his potato out of the pot before I mash the rest. Easy. Hannah doesn't like red meat so she gets a small portion and extra vegetables. AJ doesn't like fresh tomato, so I leave it off his plate and add a little extra of another vegetable. Wayne eats anything :)

The family was challenged to eat for a week on a budget of £260 and I think they managed it - It was interesting to see them shop, cook and eat together for the first time.

Would you believe I missed the end of the show, the recording stopped about 10 minutes early. But there are lessons to be learned from this show.

1.Shop with a list and if it's not on the list don't buy it.
2.Cook from scratch.
3.Cook once.
4.Eat the meal that has been prepared together, as a family - if this means Mum and Dad have to eat early so the kids can get to bed at a decent time then so be it. Family comes first and must stick together and the best way to ingrain this is around the dinner table.
5.Leftovers aren't scraps - they are the ingredients for tomorrow's dinner.

It's almost time for this week's show - I'm off out into the garden, it's much too nice a day to be watching TV, but I have set it to record so I can watch it later. Like I said, it's hard not to watch, I can only hope the lessons learned stick with them!

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