Cooking on a tight budget is something I've been wanting to write about for a while, ever since I received an email from a reader who was struggling to eat a gluten free diet and feed her children. It's been on my mind, and now that celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver have waded into the debate, I've decided it's time to broach the topic, too.
|Falafel (about 89p per person)|
In the past, I lived on a very tight budget. I was working, but the cost of rent, bills and travel expenses meant that I was left with under £5 a week for food. I was lucky, my church stepped in to help me out, and I found a second job to pay the bills a bit more easily. I didn't have any hungry mouths to feed, apart from mine. At that stage, I wasn't Coeliac, so could buy cheap bread and pasta to fill me up. Eventually, I moved into cheaper accommodation and things worked themselves out, but it was tough to eat (full stop, let alone eat well) for such a small amount of money.
|Squash Stuffed Turkey (about £1.50 per person)|
We all know that gluten free food is expensive, so buying bread, pasta and flour isn't cheap when you're Coeliac. Jamie Oliver might know a Sicilian street cleaner who can but mussels, tomatoes and pasta for 60p, but a pack of gluten free spaghetti is closer to £2 before you even add the molluscs and veggies! Mockney Mr Oliver thinks we should use stale bread to give our cheap meat "great texture". It's something that processed food manufacturers do to bulk out products, and as a consequence make them a no-go for us Coeliac folk. On a budget, it makes sense to avoid it (unless you can get it on prescription) and focus instead on naturally gluten free foods like potatoes and rice. If you've got time to shop and cook, you can eat well for not-very-much, but when you're working two jobs it's not so easy.
|Eggs in Tomato Sauce (about £1.10 per person)|
In my experience, a well stocked store cupboard is the difference between eating the same sad meal every day for a week and eating a varied diet. It has made me a bit of a hoarder as a result, I feel like I'm saving up in case I find myself struggling for money again. Jacket potatoes with cheese and beans, spicy lentil daal, eggs in tomato sauce, or poached chicken (if a whole chicken is too costly, try chicken wings - they make a delicious stock, although it takes more effort to strip the meat off the bones later) with rice cooked in the resulting stock, are all possible, if you have a ready supply of spices, dried lentils and rice. None of the dishes pictured in this post were designed to be 'budget' meals, but they give you an idea of how naturally gluten free food can be inexpensive.
No, this doesn't really help if you have a tight budget right now and your cupboards are bare, and I don't have a solution if that's you. It's one of the reasons why this is such a contentious issue, no-one actually has the right answer to the problem of food poverty. If you're in the happy situation of knowing exactly where your next meal is coming from, why not get in touch with The Trussell Trust and donate to your nearest food bank? I've been in contact with my local food bank so that, if someone with gluten intolerance comes to them, I can supply them with GF pasta, cereal and tinned goods when they need it.
|Chicken Rice (about £1.30 per person)|
Save with Jamie: Shop Smart, Cook Clever, Waste Less has an RRP of £26, just over two months of my old food budget, and I think that's why the man himself has come under so much criticism for his comments. (Although, let's not be so naive to forget that this publicity will do Jamie's book sales and TV ratings a real favour.) It's hard to take budgeting advice from a man whose name itself is a franchise. I'd rather read A Girl Called Jack's blog, or invest in a copy of her book, due out next year. I also rate the advice given by Allegra McEvedy and Paul Merrit in Economy Gastronomy, and was an avid follower of their 2009 TV series. (I wonder if the BBC would bring it back?) Whilst not really written for people in dire straits, the principles behind River Cottage Every Day will help you make the most of every scrap of food in your kitchen and avoid waste.
So, sorry Jamie. I know you mean well, and I'm sure your new TV series and accompanying book will be full of useful hints and tips for eating on a budget, but until you get your foot out of your mouth we can't hear any wisdom that might be in there.