As you know, we recently did several weeks’ of ThriftyLesley meal plans in a self-imposed ‘how to cut your grocery bill in half’ challenge. We found the majority of the meals were tasty, and they saved us an IMMENSE amount of money – in fact our grocery bill for an entire month was just under £52 (this does not include the non-dairy milk and a few foods I have to my for Baby TV #1). Overall, we enjoyed the experience, and would recommend anyone wanting to save money on their groceries to check out Lesley’s site and incorporate some of her ideas into your own cooking and shopping.
However, all is not rosy. There were some significant downsides to following the meal plans (almost) exclusively, which is what I wanted to share with you today. The downsides are not Lesley’s doing though, so please don’t be discouraged about trying out her recipes, because we found most of them to be great.
Time Management and Food Preparation
One of the main things that was difficult about following these meal plans was being organised enough in committing to the time needed to shop, prepare, cook, and store the food. I already cook pretty much everything from scratch at home, largely due to various allergies in our family, as well as wanting to know what goes into our food. The other benefits of this are having nice, freshly prepared meals and saving a lot of money vs. buying prepared or packaged goods, so I’m prepared to devote significant time to it… plus I do generally love cooking. However, when following the meal plans, it seemed like I was cooking non-stop. Some of the recipes take quite a lot of prep (anything with the flatbreads!), and if you’re busy or disorganised, you just won’t have time to do them. It’s only because I work part-time and skipped/changed a few of Lesley’s exact plans that I was able to get everything done that was needed. Ideally, you’d need to be at home a LOT e.g. you may work from home, be a stay-at-home mum, be retired, etc.
If you’re a very organised person, you might not have a problem with this, but if we did this experiment in our house again, I’d probably just make larger batches of our favourite recipes and freeze them. The plans do incorporate making extra on a regular basis, but only to use later in the week, rather than to store for longer periods. Of course, part of the point of the plans is that they represent eating on around £1 per adult, per day so there is no room for buying twenty packets of flour for example, when you should only be spending up to about £15 for two people. Thankfully, we are not in the situation where we only have £15 to spend on food every week, so we did actually buy in bulk at the beginning of the experiment. This bulk-buying had saved us quite a lot by week 4, as we could see that after a month we’d only spent just under £52 as opposed to ~£60 if we’d have bought the exact amounts of food required every week.
Eating Healthily on an Extreme Budget
The major downfall of following these plans was the nutritional qualities we consumed during the experiment. Whilst the meals did have plenty of fruit and especially plenty of veg, there was way too much reliance on white carbs, as someone asked me about on Twitter during the challenge. Clearly, if you’re living on such a low amount of money, you will be restricted in what you can afford. However, if it were me in such a situation, I’d probably spend a bit more and buy some brown rice or better yet, some quality fats, and cut back the money off the fruit or something. There was also a large amount of sugar to be purchased on the meal plans, something which is neither healthy nor particularly desirable as a source of cheap calories.
It’s pretty difficult to imagine how the plans could be changed to incorporate a healthier diet on such a restricted amount of money. I am so utterly thankful that we don’t live on the poverty line, or anywhere near it, because this kind of diet would not be good for you even in the short-term, let alone the long-term. We suffered with a worsening of eczema and my skin in general got a LOT worse after just 2 weeks on these meal plans. I had spots, itchiness, and lumpy reddening which was in addition to the worsening of the eczema. These plans might not affect the next person at all, but I certainly noticed the difference. I was also more sluggish and tired – probably down to the sheer amount of white carbs.
Frugal, Yet Healthy Budget Hacks
One way of doing the plans which would make them healthier, and yet still save money is to buy the majority of the food in one go, in bulk – obviously only if you can afford to do so. Perhaps you are on a very low salary and get paid monthly – that would be perfect, because you could afford to buy larger packets and tins of food.
You could also then use some of the savings in this way to swap the white carbs for their healthier brown cousins. On this note, Sainsbury’s are now selling a type of pasta which is very similar to normal, white pasta but it is made with wheat and oats. This boosts the fibre content as well as having other better nutritional qualities. We tried this for the last few weeks and it tastes almost the same as regular pasta. But brown pasta sucks, so I just couldn’t bring myself to buy it! I think it’s also more expensive than the wheat-oat Sainsbury’s pasta.
Fats – you should also buy better quality fats. ‘Spread’ is not a healthy fat, and neither is vegetable oil, although it’s not as bad as the nebulous ‘spread’ found in the plans. If you can afford to buy in bulk, then you may as well order some organic coconut oil from Amazon, which is one of the best fats you can consume. We found this one* you can buy in bulk, the more you buy, the more you save.
You could also incorporate more fish into the diet – a great source of protein, easy to digest, and if you buy the right ones then also full of good fats like Omega 3. You can get pretty cheap tinned mackerel in olive oil or even tinned salmon at Aldi, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco. The Aldi tinned mackerel is actually a brand name, pretty decent quality one.
When I was a student, I was living on less than £15 per week for food (I usually spent much less) and the best way I found to save money was to buy discounted meats/fish and then freeze them. If there were three loaves of bread going for 20p each, I’d buy them all. I’d especially buy the quality meats and fish (e.g. organic, free-range, and grass-fed) when they were in the ‘to clear’ section (yellow stickers). Check out this page for money-saving tips on grocery shopping – scroll down to tip #22 to see what times the supermarket slash their prices.
Use the savings from buying in bulk to buy some high quality booster items e.g. ground flaxseed, others nuts and seeds (macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, etc.) or some high quality supplements e.g. these. Our western diet is pretty bad sometimes, and the environmental pollution and other sources of toxins can wreak havoc on our bodies. Eating high quality fats and nutritionally dense foods e.g. kale, quality meats, and various other veggies in combination with good fats is really important. These are way more important than grains which often cause more harm than good. Grains are more difficult for your body to process and the white carbs in particular are the worst offenders. They spike your blood sugar and do not provide much nutrition.
Give these plans a go, but if you can afford it, swap what you can for healthier versions. Take note of the time commitment needed to make all 3 of your meals PLUS snacks every day, even if you cook in larger quantities and freeze it down.
Mostly, be crafty about your shopping habits (don’t go when you’re hungry, shop when the discounts are happening) and buy the highest quality items you can afford i.e nutritionally dense – they will serve you well in the long run, and if we’re shooting for financial independence/early retirement then we want to be fit and healthy enough to enjoy it!
Let me know your thoughts – do you have any favourite shopping hacks, frugal recipes, or nutritional supplements that are great? Let me know, leave a comment below.