Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Can I afford to eat well?

It has been a very interesting week or so reading some of the discussions which have arisen around the issue of cheap, intensively reared chicken. A major issue which some people don't seem to want to let go of is that they can't afford to buy free-range or organic. I've come more and more around to the point of view over the last year or so that (a) you need to have your priorities right about where you spend your money and food should be a big part of your budget and (b) that might mean that you don't get to eat meat every day and there's nothing wrong with that. A lot of people have been saying things like "tell me how I can afford it when I only have £50 to feed a family of four a week". I decided to write down what I'm eating for lunch and dinner this week, including the cost of the meat.

Obviously I'm only feeding myself (and occasionally my brother or a friend) but I'm not on a very lavish and have been getting back into micromanaging my money a bit more again as I was getting a bit lax about the whole thing and need to get it under control again. Not least because I've just had to go to the dentist and need to get about €1,000 worth of work done (crown) in the next month or two and have just had to get a new car battery, not to mention paying the car tax and knowing I need to get the timing belt looked at soon. My budget for January after paying for rent and bills is €10 per day. That's quite a lot but is not just for food, it's to cover bus (2.80 per weekday), petrol (about 30 for the month I hope am trying not to use the car so much) and any going out I might do. I'm aiming for going to the Saturday market to buy veg every second week (also buy butter, buttermilk, eggs, chutney from farmer) and the Sunday market for meat every other week (farmer sells his own lamb, pork and beef products and poultry from a neighbouring farm) and not spending more than €20. I'm also using up whatever I have in my cupboard i.e. pasta, rice, barley, tinned tomatoes, nuts/seeds, flour etc. - I stocked up on a bit of this stuff (mostly organic and fair trade) as my winter present to myself in December. And finally I've started baking my own bread - alternating between brown soda bread and a multi-seed loaf, one per week is more than enough. Another €10 per week should be more than enough to cover milk, yohgurt and any other bits I need.

This week I went to the market on Sunday to buy meat. I also stopped at the vegetable stall and bought a few lemons and a small head of broccoli - cost just under €5. From the farmer I bought a small piece of shoulder of lamb (about half a kilo), some lamb mince (250g approx.) and a piece of corned beef (435g, €16/killo = €7.44) plus 6 eggs (free range but not organic as he had already sold out the day before) - total cost was just over €19. The eggs were €1.70 so the meat came in at €17.60 or so (I've lost the receipt). I felt like I had bought a huge amount of meat but it's going to take me a while to get to know how much is enough for two weeks.

It's entirely possible that I could have bought the same meat for far less in the supermarket (although lamb tends to be horrendously expensive in the supermarket I think) but I don't really think like that. I just think "this is how much it costs" rather than "wonder if I could have gotten it cheaper" as I've never been disappointed buying from Coolanowle (the quality is excellent) and am prepared to pay to support an independent farm.

The shoulder of lamb and mince went into the freezer as my brother cancelled on my for dinner - I'll take it out next weekend when he can come over. I expect to feed both of us and have enough leftovers for at least two or three meals. I'll use the mince to make shepherds pie which will do for a couple of dinners and lunches next week or into the freezer as back up for future weeks.

I cooked the corned beef on Sunday evening and ate probably a little over a quarter of it with some mashed potatoes and broccoli as well as some tomato ketchup from the cupboard which I made during the summer (on a side note I'm very pleased that my canning effort seems to have worked so well - I really expected a film of mould and a foul smell when I opened the jar!). For dessert I had some stewed apple, again which I had processed a month or so ago and had in the cupboard. I was absolutely stuffed and had to wait a while before I could eat my dessert.

I also made a lemony cake on Sunday and some soda bread, which I had had for lunch, just plain bread and butter and a slice of cake. A basic meal but oh so satisfying when it's all hot out of the oven.

Yesterday I had some vegetable soup (homemade and leftover from last week) for lunch with a couple of slices of bread. I had stewed apple and yoghurt with me for an afternoon snack but had a hectic afternoon ending in a dentist appointment so didn't eat that during the day. When I went home I was really hungry (and since the dentist had been working on the tooth which had a root canal done a couple of years ago it hadn't needed to be numbed) but needed to go to the library. I grabbed a big slice of cake and ate that while walking to the library to keep me going. I then ate half the stewed apple while preparing my dinner. I get heartburn/indigestion if I go too long without eating something and find apple is a good filler-in that calms my stomach (so long as it's a sweet rather than sour apple) so it was perfect as an appetiser.

Dinner was potato cakes made with the leftover mash from the day before mixed with a small amount of corned beef, half a large red onion, two eggs and a small amount of gouda cheese all chopped up small and mixed together. I fried circles of the potato cakes until golden brown, flipped to the other side and did the same. And this time I managed to be patient enough to actually allow them to brown rather than having them fall apart because I try to take them out too soon. It was, if I do say so myself, absolutely delicious and there were four left which I've had for lunch today. I finished the rest of the stewed apple with some yoghurt for dessert.

I still have enough corned beef for at least two meals and have the broccoli to finish as well - either pasta or an omelette or quiche for this evening maybe.

My aim for this month is to get back into the habit of cooking and eating properly. I'm not going to obsess too much about whether I've had my 5-a-day fruit and veg or not or worry about whether I'm using too much butter or oil. If I can get back on track with cooking proper meals (I had a very, very bad November in this respect and was sick for much of December and not much better then) this month then next month I will start to pay more attention again to the healthiness of my food.


Anonymous said...

Part of the problem with the whole cheap meat and cheap eating thing is people are obsessed with meat and think that they will suffer from malnutrition if they don't eat meat every day!

Meat every second day is one way for sure to reduce your food bill! Why do people never think about every second day only?

becca said...

I agree with the other comment - it has become "the norm" to eat meat everyday and even twice if you include meat for sandwiches! I feed a family of 4 on £50 a week - this includes free-range and organic meat and eggs from the butcher - we eat meat 2-3 times a week. Lunches vary - sometimes we have leftover meat for sandwiches, sometimes we have leftovers or I make soup. It CAN be done!

Irish Sallygardens said...

All makes perfect sense. We eat organic free range, as you know most of it we raise ourselves, but we only eat meat maybe 3 nights a week. The rest we eat a lot of beans/pulses and vegetarian food which is very cheap compared to meat, even the org versions ... since buying Madhjar Jaffries 'World Vegetarian' cookbook veggie meals are now guzzled with glee in this house! Some weeks we even forget to eat meat. The book was our best investment of 2007.