This is a topic I often think about and it can really wind me up. I will probably revisit it a few times with random rants so apologies in advance! My latest grievance with it was brought about by this BBC News article and the comments that people made on it.
It’s a regular topic these days. We’re too fat, we’re unhealthy, we eat too much *insert latest hated food group/nutrient group here*. Stop eating x to lose weight. Eat more y to lose weight. One week something is bad for you, the next it’s going to stop you dying of 3 different types of cancer before you’re 23.
I’m not going to go into everything else that I could on this topic as it covers a lot of things but what really gets me is when people use excuses for it. Now before I go any further let me please just say I know my eating habits are far from satisfactory. I am technically overweight (I tend to hover between 25 and 26 on the BMI scale so not massively but even so, it’s there) but I know and accept that it is my fault.
The thing that winds me up is when people go “Oh but it’s cheaper to eat junk food”. Or “I don’t have time to make home cooked meals.” I’m sorry but that is rubbish for 99% of people. I’m sure there are some out there who work so much that they really don’t have the time and in that case they probably have far more important issues than to worry if they’re eating a little too much salt or sugar in their ready meal each night.
I cook most of our meals from scratch. No processed junk. They usually take between 20 – 30 minutes to do and a lot of the time 10 or 15 minutes of that are me not actually doing anything but simply waiting on it to cook. You can get the washing up done in this time or throw in a load of washing or simply sit back and wait. So there’s that argument out the window. If you’re that obsessed with working you can even check and reply to some emails!
“It’s cheaper!” No, it really isn’t. I fell into this trap for years when I was living on £600 a month and most of that went on rent and bills. I would buy ready meals at 3 for £6. Assuming I have those every day as my main meal that’s £60 for the month. I would skip breakfast but then end up hungry and snack at work (usually on crisps and/or chocolate from the pound shop). Lunch at work would be a sandwich from the local bakery or a jacket potato from the cart on the street – probably about £2 and this would be 4 or 5 times a week so there’s another £40. We’re up to £100 already which was (and still is) my budget for one person to eat for a month. I’d still have to eat something the other lunch times I wasn’t working and that would probably either be some overpriced ready meal or a sandwich from the local supermarket. Then add to that the snacks I’d buy because they were on offer and the processed food wasn’t filling me up, I was probably spending at least £150 a month.
Now I probably still spend that but that’s because I’m a sucker for deals on rubbish like chocolate, ice cream and crisps. But my eating habits are far healthier now. I will have breakfast (usually toast or cereal), I’ll have salad or a sandwich that I’ve made at home most lunchtimes and then a homecooked meal most evenings.
The article is about ready meals so lets concentrate on your main meal of the day. So we already established that a 30 day month on ready meals for one person will cost you about £60. 3 for £6. That’s 3 days of meals. 30/3 = 10 so 10 x £6 = £60. Agreed?
My home cooked meals are usually some combination of meat, rice or pasta and then a bunch of veg. If I’m doing a pasta bake or spaghetti bolognese I throw in a tin of chopped tomatoes as well. I buy meat in the 3 for £10 range. Let’s go with a spaghetti bolognese as this is probably the most expensive meal I make simply because I put all my veg in it plus the chopped tomatoes, mince and cheese. My ingredients per person are:
75g beef mince (approx 1/6th of a pack in the 3 for £10 range) = £0.55
1 portion of spaghetti (no clue how much in the measure but I use own brand so will just list the price of the entire bag, certainly don’t use it all!) = £0.37
1 pepper (bag of 3 for £0.60) = £0.20
1/2 onion (bag of around 6 for £0.80) = £0.10
1/2 leek (bag of 3 – 5 for £0.57) = £0.10
50g chestnut mushrooms (box of 200g for £1.00) = £0.50
1/2 tin chopped tomatoes (own brand for £0.30) = £0.15
50g Cheese (I buy varying sized blocks that are quite expensive, probably around 200g for £2.50) = £0.70
Total cost = £2.67
Do that for every main meal and it’s £80.10 for the month instead of the £60 for the ready meals – a difference of £20.10.
So slightly more expensive than a single ready meal but I know what has gone into it, it’s fresh, no added salt or sugar and it hasn’t taken much longer to prepare either (this takes me 20 minutes, most ready meals will take at least 6 minutes) and it’s a larger portion size. If you left off the cheese on top it would actually come to £59.10 for the month so actually be cheaper. And if I do something else such as a stir fry or pasta bake it’s cheaper as I won’t use all the same veg or the stir fry will have no cheese in it. Yes some meals will be more expensive such as when we have a roast dinner but that’s only due to the cut of meat.
I think a large problem is that people can’t bulk buy fresh stuff. You can freeze meat but you can’t very easily freeze most vegetables or people don’t know how to. Ready meals can be thrown in the freezer, sauces can sit in the cupboard for months and everything is there at hand with no waste of throwing them out because they’ve gone furry. A lot of people also don’t know how to cook (I was going to go into this but I will end up with a huge article so will save that for another post) and that puts them off. Learning to cook seems scary but there are some very simple things that can be done; the trouble is most programmes these days on cooking probably put people off even trying to learn when the cooks are throwing around saffron and venison and sauteing everything in sight. Get beyond boiling and a bit of lamb and your average Joe will just be confused.
Anyway that’s enough on that one, I’ll save more ranting for another day! Let me know what you think too, I’d love to know why you agree or disagree or see if you have any recipes that I can try.