Eat well without having to stomach a big bill

Food prices have risen by 12pc over the past five years but you can save money and eat well with these tips.

The weekly supermarket shop is becoming an ordeal, with recent figures showing that many of us are struggling to pay our grocery bills. Food prices have risen in real terms by 12pc over the past five years and that weekly rising total on your till receipt is evidence of this growing problem.

The trend is sent to continue, thanks to poor harvests and growing populations. But that doesn't mean you can't fight back. You can save money and eat well, with a little preparation. These tips should help.

Know your price rises

Official figures show that most categories of food have risen in price, but the percentage rises are startlingly different. The total cost of meat has increased by 32pc over five years, while fish has risen by only 17pc in the same period. Swap more expensive meat, such as lamb, for cheaper meats such as pork, or choose a vegetarian meal to bring down costs. Even though eggs, for example, have risen in price, it would still be cheaper to have an egg-based dish once a week and cut down on the meat.

Make a plan

According to Defra, we throw away 15pc of our food, at a cost of £480 a year for the average household. No one wants to eat food when it's off, but reducing waste can save money. Planning what you eat each week and then shopping accordingly prevents tipping slimy but expensive salad leaves straight into the compost, or putting fillet steak out for the cat.

Website Lovefoodhatewaste.com will provide you with portion sizes that will help you prevent overbuying, while there are a variety of meal planners on the internet if you are stuck for ideas. If you are cooking for a family, parenting forums Mumsnet and Netmums both have sample meal plans on their sites that you can modify to suit your family. Netmums also has a section on cooking on a budget with recipes, while Mumsnet has tips from its readers on eating on the cheap.

Most of the food we throw away is actually still perfectly good, and more people than ever are saving money by buying out-of-date food. Approved Food ( approvedfood.co.uk) , which helps people buy food that is out of date but not yet inedible, has been popular since the start of the credit crisis.

According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), it is not safe to consume milk, or foods such as smoked fish which go off quickly, if they have passed their "use-by" date. However, a "best-before" date is usually for foods that last longer, such as frozen, dried or canned goods.

According to the FSA, food will be safe after this date, if no longer at its best. Never eat eggs after the "best-before" date, however, because salmonella bacteria could start to multiply.

Get supermarket savvy

For many of us, the supermarket offers too many temptations. It can be better not to visit at all, although if you shop online the delivery charge may cancel out any savings made.

If you visit the supermarket, be aware of the steps that shops take to persuade you to spend more money. Supermarkets will place their most expensive products at eye level so you are tempted to buy them. If you look higher up or lower down, you will often find similar items at a lower price.

It also pays to look carefully at deals and discounts. These may seem attractive, but will often be an attempt to make you buy more food than you meant to. Don't assume that bigger packs are always cheaper, either.

If you always visit the same supermarket, you may learn when it applies heavy reductions to products that are about to go out of date. Many of these are freezable, so you can stock up, and discounts can be hefty. Competition for items can be heavy too, so you need to make sure you are there at the right time most supermarkets discount at the same time each day.

If you shop online and have a choice of many supermarkets that deliver in your area, mysupermarket.co.uk is a handy tool. It will compare the cost of your weekly shop with Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Ocado (the online shopping company that delivers for Waitrose in many areas). Once you've decided which supermarket to use, it can send your shopping list directly, so you don't have to type it in again. It also has voucher codes that you can use for each company to help you get more money off.

Eat seasonally

Plan your meals around local and seasonal produce and your bills should fall. This might sound dull and worthy, but there are websites to help. Try eattheseasons.co.uk for lists of seasonal food and recipe ideas. Scallops may be a luxury food, but they should be cheaper now than in the summer, while butternut squash, celeriac, apples and pears are all at their best.