This is the fifth week that I’ve been tracking key grocery items in a sample shopping basket for the Irish Examiner. Each week I survey the five main supermarkets to review what is the best value for us all. It’s not about telling readers to eat cheap food; far from it, I write this column to help people feed their families on a budget.
Often the difference between having a fridge full of vegetables is what’s on special offer and whether your family will eat them. Everybody has a choice when it comes to filling up their shopping basket but your budget dictates how much of a choice you have.
Before I look at the best value shopping basket this week I’ve reviewed the supermarket prices for the past five weeks and it’s not good news if I’m very honest. I realise this may be upsetting for many families on a budget and I know, I understand that feeling. Please know that you are not on your own.
Five weeks ago half a pound of butter was just under 11% cheaper than it is today. Gradually all of the supermarkets have increased this price and likewise, the cost of cheese is on the move upwards too. In some cases, the cost of cheese has increased by over 20% in the same amount of time. Eggs have increased in price in two main supermarkets. Other items such as digestive biscuits and pasta have grown by over 16% in some cases, again this pattern will be repeated.
While every shop surveyed is maintaining the cost of their basic sliced pan and one litre of milk for now, it’s important to say that special offers and loyalty vouchers can bring down the cost of your shopping basket from week to week.
Beef mince is a reliably cheap protein but as prices increase you can expect the quality to decrease. So while cost of your mince may remain the same, or get slightly cheaper, the fat content gets higher.
No matter the fat content, mince is always going to be better value per kg than most other meat proteins and meatballs are one of my go-to family meals. I always make extra for sub-rolls the following day or for the freezer for a day off cooking when I’m pressed for time.
If you haven't noticed already, the Irish Examiner shopping basket is based upon own-brand purchases. If you take anything from this exercise, take a look at the own-brand items in your chosen supermarket this week; they will save you money straight away without having to compromise on your shopping list.
As the weather gets warmer and the kids play outside the ice cream van is visiting more frequently. If I was to hand out money every time the van visited I'd be bankrupt. Instead I buy boxes of ice creams and ice lollies to keep in the freezer for this very instance. There's nothing wrong with getting a 99 every now and again if you can afford it but at least this way you have a more affordable alternative on standby. Icebergers and Loop The Loops are on special this week in Tesco with 2 boxes for €5, that's 12 ice creams for just under 42c each.
Vegetarian cottage pie
This recipe makes the most of tinned beans or lentils and frozen peas for a filling meal that’s accidentally vegan but also very budget friendly
Preparation Time 10 mins
Cooking Time 2 hours 0 mins
Total Time 2 hours 10 mins
1kg of potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 medium turnip, peeled and chopped
1 red onion, peeled & chopped
2 tbsp plain flour
4 medium carrots, peeled & chopped
1 vegetable stock cube
300ml of hot water
1 tin of mixed beans or lentils
150g frozen peas
Boil the potatoes and turnip together until cooked. Drain, mash well, season to taste, and put to one side.
Take a large saucepan and heat the oil on medium. Add the chopped onions and cook until tender before adding the carrots and cooking for a further 4 minutes until they soften a little. Dissolve the stock cube in the hot water to make stock.
Sprinkle the flour on top of the carrots and onions and stir until it absorbs the oil. Add one third of the stock and stir well, making sure you get rid of the lumps. Once you have a thick paste, add the next third of the hot stock and stir again. Repeat with the remainder of the hot stock until you have a thick sauce.
Add the drained beans or lentils and frozen peas to your sauce and stir until they are coated well. Place the mixture in the bottom of a large ovenproof dish then top with the mash.
Bake in the oven at 160℃ for 90 minutes before serving.
Slow cooker meatballs marinara
This is enough to feed your family for two meals, if you can stop them from eating the meatballs when your back is turned!
Preparation Time 10 mins
Cooking Time 4 hours 0 mins
Total Time 4 hours 10 mins
1 clove of garlic, crushed
½ tsp salt and pepper
½ tsp oregano
300g beef or turkey mince
Sunflower oil for frying
1 onion, peeled
2 carrots, peeled
1 pepper, core removed
Combine the breadcrumbs and milk in a large bowl. Let the breadcrumbs soak up the milk (it’ll take about 5 minutes). Once the crumbs have soaked up the milk add the garlic, salt and pepper, dried oregano, and turkey mince to the bowl. Mix all these ingredients together with your hands or a fork. Once mixed thoroughly portion the mixture into ping-pong ball sized meatballs. Use the sunflower oil to fry the meatballs in a non-stick pan until golden brown on the outside.
Once the meatballs are golden brown pop them into a slow cooker set to high, leave the frying pan on low. Close the lid.
Take a food processor and pulse the onion, carrots, and pepper using the general blade until everything is puree style. Cook the puree off in the still-hot frying pan. This will take about 10 minutes to reduce the astringency of the onion. Pour the puree into the slow cooker and add the passata. Stir well.
Cook the meatballs in the slow cooker on high for 4 hours, until you have an unctuous sauce. Season to taste before serving. I like to add torn leaves of fresh basil on top of the meatballs mixture and serve them with penne pasta.