Thanks to a cost of living increase, energy crisis, Brexit and shipping difficulties, getting our weekly food shop is getting more expensive. It can be really difficult for families who find themselves working harder to stretch their finances and many are turning to food banks.
Activist and chef, Jack Monroe has kept a digital record of recipes over the years that document just how bad the increases have been. Jack has created an online, free, archive of recipes that details each individual ingredient and also where they were bought.
Living on lower incomes means careful planning and strong budgeting skills. Every single penny is planned in advance of creating a meal but even at that, it can be exhausting just to mentally prepare to brave the supermarket. As for online shopping? Forget about it at a minimum spend of £40 with delivery costs.
Just how much are the increases? I chose three recipes at random and prepared to plan a meal to see the changes in budget.
Recipe one: Creamy beans and aubergine
When it comes to cooking things for less, being vegetarian is really helpful as it eliminates expensive meat purchases. Also some of the plant-based substitutes can be really filling. I decided to start my meal planning with a recipe for creamy beans and aubergine from 2018 on as it looked like a great option for a quick yet tasty lunch.
Jack estimated that the meal costs just 66 pence and should make three servings at this price. They also listed the cost of each ingredient and mention that this is based on Asda prices.
When it comes to cooking things for less, being vegetarian is really helpful as there are plenty of opinions for filling plant-based meals. I opted for a Jack Monroe recipe for creamy beans and aubergine from 2018 as it looks like a great option for a quick yet tasty lunch.
The price of the meal is estimated by how many servings you get from each item so if there are two servings in a 500ml can of tomato sauce for 70p then that makes it 35p per meal.
Immediately I notice that there are increases but a lot of the ingredients aren’t too bad considering this recipe is three years old. The only way to create meals like this that are healthy and on a budget is to batch cook. In order to do this, you need an initial investment amount which comes to roughly £5.73 for the meal Jack made in 2018 but has risen to £6.45 in 2022.
Some of this was difficult to work out as the black pepper option was sold out so I had to find a cheap alternative but I got less product as a result. The oil was also difficult to calculate in the same respect. Another problem that arises from this is that you are relying on all the ingredients to be in stock at that price, if even one item is out of stock then it can take a lot of panics and searching to find an alternative.
Recipe two: Carrot, cumin and kidney bean burgers
This is another Jack Monroe recipe and one where they have already noted the price increases over the past few years. The recipe was originally published in 2012 when it costs just 9 pence per burger then that rose to 17p by 2018.
This really was hard to calculate because a lot of the individual items were out of stock or forced me to buy in bulk. When it came to buying just one carrot at 7p in 2018, this was impossible for me to do today because I could only find more expensive multipacks. This increased my initial spending and also meant I would have to use carrots in all my dishes for the next few days.
So much of this style of shopping relies on luck, planning and hitting the shops at the right time. As I work, I only have after work to grab my basics to get cooking with which means things can be sold out by the time I get there. I am also restricted to shopping in city center supermarkets because I don’t drive so I am forced to pay the higher prices.
I still can’t find any individual carrots so I am forced to spend 70p for a bag rather than the 7p I need for one. This might sound like better savings in the long run but it does mean I am now forced to make something that uses all the carrots rather than just what I need. This recipe also includes flour which was 45p in 2018 but the cheapest I could find was 70p – thankfully, I don’t have to consider expensive gluten-free options which would be impossible.
It’s also worth pointing out that I feel as if I need a good solid drink after doing all this maths and it’s only midday. I haven’t even attempted to actually cook anything yet and I’m already tired of it.
Recipe three: Red mushroom curry
You can’t go wrong with a good curry especially when you need to batch cook. I chose a red mushroom curry with this in mind hoping to make something I could keep for lunches during the week. The recipe I used was estimated to make two to four servings at 40 pence a meal.
I estimated my initial cost to create the meal at £6.57 instead of the £4.40 it would have cost back in 2018 when the recipe was created. Oddly, ginger was the most expensive increase as I appeared to be paying 50p more for the same amount compared to Jack’s 2018 estimate.
The planning that goes into meal preparation like this on a severe budget is exhausting. Not only that but it takes a huge amount of time that I just don’t have. I’m feeling burnt out by the math as well so have to take a break from working out the costs.
When you put the comparisons next to each other, it doesn’t seem like much to see an ingredient increase by 5p over three years. However, every ingredient had increased which adds up over time making each meal a lot more expensive to produce. While this cost can be kept down by developing a cupboard full of basics, it takes time to do this – time and also money.