1. Make a meal plan and stick to it
“When I started looking at the facts and figures, I realised that nowadays people are spending a comparatively similar amount on their shopping as they are on their mortgage,” says Gregg Wallace. “But when we pick a mortgage or a holiday, or any other big financial item, we don’t play pin the tail on the donkey; we think it through and plan it out. And you should do the same with your shopping. Plan, plan, and plan again. It’s no good going round the supermarket on a whim, thinking, ‘That looks nice’. You’ve got to have a plan.
2. If it’s expensive it doesn’t mean it’s better for you
“With many things in life you do get what you pay for, but I’m not sure that’s true of orange juice,” says Gregg. “Because orange juice from concentrate is a good product, and it’s value for money. There’s a huge difference in price [compared to freshly squeezed], but there is no difference to what’s in it.”
“There is absolutely no evidence at all to suggest that expensive freshly squeezed orange juice has any more health benefits than the cheaper stuff,” says dietician Lucy Jones. “You may think the freshly squeezed juice tastes better, but they are basically the same product. The only difference is that the cheaper juices have been dried and rehydrated, and some have extra flavour added.
“In the same way, all bread is made of basically the same five ingredients. Lots of people go for expensive artisan bread, at something like £3 a loaf, but nutritionally speaking there is little difference between that and a 50p loaf. I would advise a healthy supermarket 99p seeded loaf, packed with fibre from the grains, and minerals and protein from the seeds.”
3. Shop around
“Don’t just assume that where you usually go is giving you the best deals,” says greengrocer and Gregg’s fellow presenter Chris Bavin. “You’ve got the internet now – shop around. We spend so much money on food shopping, you wouldn’t spend that much on anything else without checking the market. You wouldn’t go with the first utility provider you saw, or the first quote for your car insurance.
“But we seem to have a mental block when it comes to our food. Try markets, try independent stores, try places that you wouldn’t assume give you the best value. Give the little independents a go. They can offer great value and what’s more, you can buy smaller amounts. If you want one onion, you can have one. Often at the supermarkets you have to buy multipacks.”
4. Take stock
“Before you go out there and buy more stuff, you need to know what’s in your cupboards, so you’re not just automatically reaching for stuff you don’t need,” says Gregg. “Anyone who’s ever run a restaurant or a bar will tell you how important stocktaking is, and you should do it too. Otherwise, we tend to get stuck in habits. “We follow the same routes around the supermarket, and we don’t even really read the names of the items, we just recognise the boxes by their colour and shape, and chuck them in the trolley.”
5. Crack an egg, or open a tin
“The most expensive part of your meal is usually the protein – the meat or fish. But you can get a high-quality, cheap source of protein by picking up six free-range eggs for about £1,” says Lucy. “Similarly, canned oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, and salmon tend to be much cheaper than buying the fresh equivalents. On top of this, you can make meals go further by adding tinned pulses, such as lentils or beans. “They provide multiple health benefits: you end up eating less red meat, they increase the amount of fibre in your diet, and they reduce your cholesterol. “Best of all, it makes the dish much cheaper. I usually add them to every meal. You can get tins of beans and pulses for as little as 30p – go for as many different types as you can.”
6. Keep an eye on use-by dates
“We end up throwing away far too much of what we buy,” says Chris. “Be aware of use-by dates, and plan accordingly. But use common sense too. For fruit and vegetables, if a swede, for example, is past its date but you look at it and it’s rock hard and looks fine, eat it. But you do have to be a bit more careful with certain products, like meat, fish and chicken.”
7. Be savvie on deals
“We tend to know how much our total food shop is going to be each week, but we don’t know how much each item is going to be,” says Gregg. “So, before you pick up the product in the two-for-one deal, check the rest of the shelf, as it might not be the smartest deal. If you want cheese and you go straight to the special offers at the end of the aisle, you can’t compare the prices. Round the corner there might be a 6kg pack of cheddar for 20p. Buying things you don’t need just because they’re on special offer is not saving money, it’s still spending money.” “Just because something’s on a deal doesn’t mean it is cheaper,” Chris adds. “Check the small print. Don’t get sucked into buying multiples; it’s only cheaper if you’re going to use it. If you end up throwing away that extra lettuce you’re wasting money.
8. Buy what’s in season
“When fruit and vegetables are in season they are much more plentiful, and so they’re cheaper too,” says Chris. “Read up on what’s in season, and plan your meals accordingly.
9. Don’t go into autopilot
“We seem to see food shopping as a bit of a drag, and we want to get it done as quickly as possible, so we tend to go into autopilot,” says Chris. “We get stuck in a rut, but in other countries people see shopping as a fun experience, picking out the best cheeses or the best fruits. So don’t see your weekly shopping as a chore, enjoy it!”
10. Sharpen up your cookery skills
“Processed food is getting better, but it is still more expensive than cooking your own meals,” says Gregg. “If you brush up on your cookery skills, you won’t have to buy as much. I’m not a snob; it just tends to be more expensive. If you need some tips, get yourself a copy of Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater, or even better, get an Italian to move in with you, like I did. They’re beautiful, and they don’t cook too badly either!”
Eat Well for Less? is on tonight at 8pm on BBC1