UK inflation has hit a 40-year high and nowhere is it more acutely felt than on our grocery shop. Food inflation is pretty staggering and whilst there’s nothing we can do about rising prices, we can shop a bit smarter to keep costs lower.
Ways to counteract food inflation
By changing habits a little, being a bit more adaptable/flexible and knowing some of the pitfalls there are a number of simple ways to regularly save money. So here, in no particular order are 12 tips.
Don’t pay for convenience
Carrot batons, celery sticks, pre-grated cheese, prepared fruit, ready diced meat… they’re all more convenient, but this comes at a hefty price.
For example, 350g of pre-cut celery sticks are £1.10 compared with 70p for 470g (over 350g when cleaned); loose carrots at Sainsbury’s are 80p per kg versus its carrot batons, which are a whopping £2.50 per kg (and they’re pretty flavourless)!
Aldi’s Ashfields British Chicken Breast Fillets 1kg are £5.99 per kilo, the exact same brand’s diced version is £7.48 per kilo.
Ready-meals are a lot more expensive than making the dish yourself. I spotted an M&S Carbonara (for one), which was a staggering £4.75! That’s more than it costs me to make a Carbonara for five of us. Recipe here.
Shop around (literally)
Loyalty doesn’t always pay so mix up your shops. Chopping and changing where you do your supermarket shop often results in the ‘neglected’ supermarket sending you money off vouchers to entice you back.
If you’re trying to save, it’s tempting to only visit the budget supermarkets. However, if you shop at a variety you can access lots more deals, receive far more money off coupons and can also gauge which ones have the best prices on particular products. Also, many of the traditionally more expensive supermarkets now price match the likes of Aldi.
Check your marketing emails
The more supermarkets you’re signed up with, the more marketing emails tailored to your buying habits you’ll receive. I also get inbox notifications each week from Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencers about my new vouchers, which are linked to my loyalty card.
I recently received a promotional code straight into my inbox for £10 off my first three shops on Amazon’s same day delivery service of Morrisons groceries. The minimum spend is just £40. You can receive the same by visiting here.
If you see a good multi-buy or just a good deal for something that can be frozen, stock up whilst it’s on offer. Yellow stickered items can be so cheap, but that’s often because they have to be eaten that day. If however, they’re freezable you’re onto a winner.
Fill up on frozen veg. It’s a common misconception that frozen veg is far inferior to fresh. In the case of something like peas, they are frozen within a couple of hours of being picked so very few nutrients are lost. The frozen varieties of things like sweetcorn, broccoli and peas are not only cheaper but also save on waste.
Switching brands and making substitutions
Chopped tomatoes is a classic example of where a brand substitution makes a huge difference; just look at the price per 1kg variations above! There’ll probably be differences in quality, but for making a basic tomato sauce/base of a casserole you don’t need the finest. The same applies to tinned beans and lentils.
My kids go bonkers with cheese on their pasta so I often substitute Parmesan for Grana Padana; the former is £15.50 per kg and the latter £10.23 per kg at Tesco. They’re both Italian hard cheeses made from unpasteurised cow’s milk and for the purposes of grating they can’t tell the difference.
Similarly, I was making a quiche that called for Gruyere cheese. It was an eye-watering £26.30 a kg so I opted for Swiss Fior Delle Alpi instead for £21.77 a kg. Again no one noticed.
Also, check out Tesco’s Perfectly Imperfect range, which tackles both food inflation and food waste.
Head to the baking and world food aisles
For nuts and dried fruit such as raisins, sultanas and berries, head to the baking aisle instead of the ‘snacking’ aisle. Often in bigger pack sizes and minus the recognisable branding, they are usually a lot cheaper.
Likewise hit the ‘world foods’ aisle to pick up your herbs, spices, sauces, rice and more on the cheap.
Swap to less popular/cheaper cuts of meat
I now use turkey thigh mince as opposed to breast mince to make turkey burgers. It’s much cheaper and actually more flavoursome. Check out the recipe here.
The same goes for beef/lamb mince that has more fat (5% versus 10/15%). It takes seconds to drain excess fat when you’re cooking and the saving is significant.
Pork shoulder steaks are really cheap. They require a lot of cooking time to become tender, but its completely worth it. I use them for a pork, cannellini and chorizo stew.
Obviously, you can’t do this for everything, but buying fruit and veg that’s in season is a major way to fight food inflation. Products also taste so much better if they’re in season and haven’t had to be picked early so they can be flown 1000s of miles; you’ll also be reducing your carbon footprint.
Of course you can always visit a pick your own farm too.
Different supermarkets reduce the price of items (aka yellow stickers) at different points in the day. Find out what that time is and then go grab yourself some bargains. I follow a great Facebook group called Feed Your Family on a Budget – much kudos to member Tori Drinkwater who bagged everything in the picture above for an amazing £10.90.
Buy in bigger sizes
For your non-perishables, buy in bigger sizes/larger numbers as it works out substantially cheaper. For example, we buy three litres of olive oil and then decant into a Kilner bottle.
Check the deal is as good as it sounds
Watch out on 3-for-2 offers or buy two for x amount deals. Whilst some are great, others are simply a way for supermarkets to get rid of surplus stock. Check how the unit price or price per 100g/100ml compares to similar items and evaluate how good the deal actually is.
Then sometimes you just need to step away from the offer. There was a two for £3 on lemons, which I was about to take up. Did I really need 12 lemons? The answer was no. An offer is only good if you actually need the product!
Visit supermarket websites for ideas to tackle food inflation
Sainsbury’s has brought back its Feed Your Family for a Fiver . They provide the recipes; the prices for the ingredients required are valid for three weeks.
Aldi also has meal suggestions in its Feed the Family for £5 section: https://www.aldi.co.uk/c/recipes/feed-the-family-for-a-fiver-recipes
Costs of running cooking appliances
Another thing to bear in mind is how you’re cooking your food as some methods are more expensive than others. Hometree has done some great number crunching to reveal the costs of running your cooking appliances.
Here are the findings:
Slow cookers are one of the most energy-efficient ways to cook. Even left on all day it will use about the same amount of energy as a lightbulb. They have low wattage, so even cooking something for 8 hours will use less energy than an oven or hob.
On average, slow cookers usually use about 1.2kW over the course of eight hours. This works out at just 5 pence per hour.
Microwaves aren’t as versatile as conventional ovens. However, they’re very useful for reheating, defrosting, melting/softening etc. They’re also great for cutting the cooking time of baked potatoes! As microwaves can cook or heat food more quickly, they use up to 80 per cent less energy than conventional ovens.
An average 700w microwave will use about 0.058kWh of energy. Five minutes of usage will cost around 1.98p.
Air fryers are all the rage and much more energy-efficient than most convection ovens because they cook food much faster (though they do use electricity, which is typically more expensive than gas). Research shows that cooking in an air fryer costs about half the price of cooking in an oven.
Using one of average wattage (1kW) for around 10 minutes would cost an average of 5p.
An induction hob uses energy more efficiently than a gas or electric ceramic hob because no energy is wasted heating the space around the pan.
Electric hobs are the next best bet in terms of efficiency because when you’re cooking with gas, a significant amount of heat is lost. However, electricity is more expensive than gas, so a gas hob may save you a few pounds a year.
An average electric hob (2kW) run for 15 minutes will cost 17p.
The same applies to ovens and hobs: gas is cheaper than electricity, but electricity is more efficient. In either case, if you’re reheating food, the Energy Saving Trust recommends using a microwave.
If you have to use an oven, there are ways to maximise your energy efficiency. For example, refrain from storing baking trays inside the oven when cooking, as they block the airflow. Also, cleaning your oven regularly helps maintain more effective heat distribution.
The average oven (c.3kW) run for around 20 minutes costs approximately 34p.