I've always liked to cook. I love food shopping, but I've had to seriously cut down on bills. As I'm doing all I can on petrol and household bills, food is really the only other cut-back option there is, and to be honest, I hate it, because I love to eat well.
But, needs must, and we've developed a pretty good routine of quick, simple and cheap dinners that have cut the food bill but still given us delicious suppers.
You can't have a fussy family if you want to save money on food. Everyone has to be adventurous and willing to try new things. We've never really been a 'microwave' or 'ready meal' family. Even when they're on special offer, ready meals at £1.50 a time cost £4.50 minimum for an evening meal for everyone. I'd have to add veg and a pudding to that and it makes one family meal a lot more than it needs to be.
I do think variety is important. I have one diabetic child and one vegetarian, so you could say I have my work cut out. But I guess you get used to what you have to.
I now use the cheaper supermarkets, make the most of local fruit 'n' veg shops, as well as our local stores, where parking is free and there's zero petrol costs involved.
For breakfast, we dine on various things, usually from Aldi where the cereals and breads are delicious but so much cheaper than the main supermarkets.
We love oatcakes that cost only 85p for 8 and you can fill with leftover cheese, bacon or mushrooms to make a nutritious and filling meal. We get those from Morrisons or Tesco.
Half a dozen free range eggs from Aldi are only 99p and so 2 served with toast soldiers is not only an excellent start to the day but only 70p a person at breakfast. I make fruit smoothies from frozen raspberries, fresh pineapple and a splash of orange juice. It works out at about 30p a glass.
School lunches are cheaper and more nutritious to make - so I do home baked baguettes in the monring - Aldi do 2 big ones for 39p. I'm not a home geek - they come part baked and it takes 10 minutes to finish them in the oven while I'm having coffee.
The kids fill them with salad, cheese, egg, ham, or tuna, etc. Each filled baguette always works out at way less than 70p and they take cheap crisps and some fruit too, with a bottle of good old tap water or cordial.
Evening meals? Oh where do I begin? To be honest, it's been great to rediscover some simple but very delicious old favourites.
Some evenings we'll have 'reduced sugar' baked beans on wholemeal toast sprinkled with cheese, which means some evenings we can afford a supermarket takeaway. It's so much cheaper than the actual takeaway and a lot cheaper.
Favourite but cheap meals include baked potatoes with various fillings along with coleslaw and salad. The best spuds for this are M&S' Marfona potatoes. They are sweet and delicious. We also love a good old Corned Beef Hash. This is such an easy and tasty dinner. (Veggie son goes for a sweet pepper and broccoli version).
Pasta is a family favourite and cheapie, with tagliatelle and tomato and basil sauce with some garlic bread. There are always special promotions in Tesco and Morrisons for pasta and sauce so we buy when it's really cheap, with a bag of pasta at 99p and a bottle of sauce for 99p, and some value garlic bread at less than 50p. We'll even splash out on some fresh basil and parmesan and still eat for less than 99p a person.
I've re-discovered good old fish finger sandwiches. Remember those? With 2 slices of nice bread and a bit of salad cream? Yummy with a side salad.
If I cook, I always make too much and put a few extra meals in the freezer. Roasted butternut squash (about 90p from Aldi) makes a delicious curry with red thai curry paste, coconut milk, mange tout or other special offer green veg, and rice. Filling, delicious, and cheap. You can feed 4 people for less than £1.10 each
I haven't had quiche for years - but this weekend I made one from leftovers. I had a piece of leftover cheddar, some reduced asparagus and cream (on their sell by dates) from the Tesco's 'Oops' section, some Aldi eggs and frozen pastry. I made a huge quiche that has fed us all for 2 meals with salad. It cost less than £4 for 3 people for 2 meals.
I like to cook but confess that Tesco's 24p Everyday ready cake mix is just ridiculously cheap even when you add the egg. For less than 35p I can have a tasty Victoria sponge for 4 served for tea.
It's a long time since we've had a roast beef dinner or sword fish steaks like we used to, but we haven't really noticed.
Not only have I been cutting back, but in a lot of cases we've been re-discovering old favourites that are not only delicious, but easy on the purse too.
I haven't even had to forego my glass of evening wine. I've discovered a great £2.99 bottle of dry white that I daren't tell you about as many others have discovered it too and the shelves for it are often empty already on a Friday night.
That one will have to be my secret.