With the demands of running a family of five, finding ways to save money on food was not high on Rachel Mostyn’s to-do list.
Between feeding three hungry little mouths, the school run, household chores and her freelance work, Rachel had enough on her plate.
From an average weekly food and drink spend of $200, which included some eating out, Rachel managed to cut spending by $100 while still eating a healthy balanced diet and plenty of fruit and veg.
It was a family effort, with the kids – Amelia, six, Leila, five and Joseph, three – all getting stuck in to bake homemade treats that would normally have been bought.
"I got the children on board by making it fun for them," says Rachel, from Bristol. "They love baking, so we made brownies together one day and pizzas on another."
She saved money by:
-cutting down on meat and fish
-eating leftovers for lunch
-cooking in bulk
-making treats at home
-kicking her daily coffee shop latte habit
Rachel says: "I know we spend a lot of money on food and I felt there were areas where we could make obvious savings."
"Amelia and Leila have hot meals at school," says Rachel. "But I tend to prepare another elaborate meal for their dinner.
"I really went back to basics in the evening with things like scrambled eggs, homemade soups and sandwiches with leftover chicken.
For lunch, her youngest, Joseph, would have the leftovers from Rachel and husband Toby’s dinner on the previous evening.
Gone were the usual after-school snacks such as cereal bars, mini cheddars and yoghurt raisins, replaced by fruit, carrot sticks and crackers.
"We always have a large fruit bowl in the kitchen full of fruit so the kids are used to eating it."
Less popular among the brood was the lentil and spinach dhal. "They didn’t like it at all," says Rachel. "The girls were like: 'Where’s our normal food gone?'"
The homemade pizzas, however, were a hit. "I bought some freshly prepared pizza dough from the bakery and the kids spread on the toppings, such as olives, sweetcorn and peppers.
"Cooking with the kids is fun and teaches them a valuable skill. Making homemade pizzas instead of buying them saved us around a fiver."
'No big changes'
Rachel didn’t make any big changes to her shopping habits. "I tend to do a big supermarket shop once a month and buy fresh ingredients from the high street during the week.
"However, I was more stringent about buying value brands and selecting cheaper alternatives, such as canned tuna chunks instead of tuna steak."
Feeding a family of five on a budget requires military-style planning. "I normally sit down on Sunday to plan our meals for the week," says Rachel.
"I did an inventory of food we already had in and realised we had quite a lot in the freezer and store cupboard, so I made sure I included as much of it as I could in our meal plan," she says.
Instead of eating out at the weekend, Rachel prepared a carrot and coriander soup, which the family had for lunch with some fresh bread on Saturday and Sunday.
"I also stopped having my daily coffee shop latte," Rachel says. "You get into buying habits that can end up being quite a drain on your expenses, which you can really do without."
With meat and fish being among the most expensive items on their shopping bill, Rachel opted to base more of her meals on vegetables and starchy carbohydrates, as recommended for a healthy balanced diet, shown by the Eatwell Guide.
Instead of the customary minced beef lasagne, Rachel made a veggie version, which was much cheaper, lower in fat and got the thumbs up from the kids.
Other cheap eats Rachel prepared were:
-cauliflower and potato bake
-spinach and lentil dhal
-fish and potato wedges
-tuna pasta bake with peppers
-cheese and mushroom omelettes
"I try as much as possible to cook in bulk, so if I’m cooking a bolognese sauce, I’ll make enough so that I can freeze a portion or two."
Dietitian Azmina Govindji says:
"Rachel has demonstrated that you can save money and eat healthily, even if you have a busy life. Teaching children to cook at a young age can help them engage with family meals, and hopefully they will eat better, as they’re more likely to want to taste their culinary creation.
"Buying value brands can allow you to eat the same basic foods at a lower price. And purchasing that daily coffee can really mount up to a hefty bill, so Rachel was smart to cut down on her shop-bought lattes. Cooking in bulk and freezing for another day makes good sense all round."