Saturday, 4 July 2020

Book Review: Feed Your Family for £20 A Week by Lorna Cooper

Not my usual type of post but since this book based on the popular Facebook group came up for under a pound in my recommendations from Amazon UK I bought the Kindle version out of curiosity.   Before I get into what may seem like a rant I first want to say that overall the book is very good and has plenty of good ideas and recipes and was well worth the 99p I paid for it.  Even full price it is still worth the money simply for the mindset it shows you if you are having trouble with your food budget. The book also came out of a Facebook group of the same name which I will be heading for next.
However, what is not apparent from the description on the website is that the £20 a week is the average cost of an eight week meal plan and shopping list.  All the old advise is there - use oats for breakfast and eggs are a good source of protein etc but the cost is so low mainly because of the use of value packs (presumably) which are then less money per 100g.  I personally do not know how you get the fresh ingredients like fruit and vegetables listed in the shopping list to last 8 weeks either so I would end up having to top these up which would cost more I guess, and of course seasonality comes into play in the case of the cost of fruit and veg (unless you rely on frozen).
The other bug bear that I have is that the author does not give where she bought these things.  Certainly where I live it would be impossible to get some of the items for the prices that the author has (eggs spring to mind).  One little known fact is that the cost of food throughout the UK will vary even if you use the same supermarket chain.  If you are short of money then the cost of actually getting to the cheapest source can be prohibitive and you could be faced with the more expensive (local) convenience store. Lidl or Aldi may be a great way to save up to one third of your shopping (from personal experience of Lidl at least) but if it has to include £10 for a taxi to get there then it may not be worth it.
The book also includes a list of items expected in your storecupboard.  Although these are not included in the shopping list they are in the recipes so if you want to follow the meal plan allow extra money for these if you do not have them already.  You only need to have to throw in a couple of jars of herbs and spices and a litre of vegetable oil and suddenly the overall total has jumped by a fiver even though the nutritional value of your shopping has not increased by much.
The authors assumption is also that you have the large lump sum of £160 to begin with - personal circumstances may mean that you get your income monthly or weekly or even in dribs and drabs rather than a regular amount and do not have a large sum to fall back on, making one giant shop impossible; this can impact on the size of packs of food that you can buy and will drive up the average cost per week if you still wanted to follow the meal plan as is (just shopping more often).  The only other way to drastically drive down the cost in those circumstances would be to minimise the variation in meals within each week so that some of the ingredients were bought week one but some waited until the next week and so on.  Not having done the exercise I am not sure if this is possible.  This is the classic way of extreme food budgeting and means that the variety of meals (which are overall good within the book itself) gets lost.
It now sounds like I am slamming the book and the author but I am not.  It is a very good start, has a lot of good ideas for meals and does not rely solely on coupons, multibuys and other money off offers which are often recommended but in effect mean that you would be eating pre processed food all the time. Cooking from scratch and even growing your own herbs are recommended.  But, and it is a big but,  do not expect it to be a blueprint that you can follow wherever you live and you automatically will only spend £20 a week for four people.  When you are at the sharp end of food budgeting personal circumstances make it impossible to do a one-size-fits-all solution so the author is completely forgiven!  There are 100 recipes to follow which can used as a starting point, and often suggestions for variations are included in the recipes itself which again is good.  Some of these will be dirt cheap, some more expensive in terms of ingredients so the meal plan is a clever way of suggesting that you get a range of these.  The book should be used as beginning of the journey and is excellent for those who have never had to worry about this kind of thing before - but perhaps a better title would be "Feed YOUR family FROM £20 a week" or "How I feed MY family for £20 a week" instead...

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