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Eating well for less is high on my mind at present. My inventory of spending for 2020 told a story of food bills that can be lower.

Ten years ago our overspending on food was from waste; today this is not the case. Our compost contains proper waste.

So, I started looking (again) for ways to reduce our food bill without compromising quality – food is our fuel, and messing about with its quality in a time of health pandemic is not the thing.

I started with the following:

  • It is winter.
  • We need nutrition.
  • We need healthy food.

Oh, yes. It must be soup. Especially now that we take all our meals at home, soup is healthy and handy – it warms you up and freezes well. One cooking batch can last for weeks.

Off to the supermarket, we went, armed with a shopping list for what we intend to cook and with a calculator.

We bought red lentils, carrots, celery, potatoes, tomatoes (cheaper ones for cooking), tins of chopped tomatoes, and tomato passata all of which cost nearly £7 (£6.68 to be precise). We made 46 servings of healthy soups, boxed and resting in the freezer.

We cooked three large pots of soup – a pot of lentil soup, a pot of tomato soup, and a pot of vegetable soup.

To make these meals (soups) you will need other products but these are optional and you will probably have them in your house anyway. You may also need large pots if you don’t already have them, and a hand blender. You may already have the necessary kitchen appliances that will help you eat well for less.

Here are the soup recipes.

Eat well for less: red lentil soup

This is the favourite of at least three members of the family; the other two love is as well. To make it you need:

  • Red lentils: 600 grams (60 pence);
  • Carrots: 4 large ones (14 pence);
  • Celery: four sticks (15 pence)
  • Onion: 1 (4 pence)
  • Passata: 1 pack, 310 grams (29 pence)
  • Chicken stock: 2 cubes (5 pence)

To make the soup, chop the onion and chop the carrots and celery in small pieces. Place them in a bit of olive oil (use a large pot or reduce the amounts) and sweat them for several minutes (sweating vegetables means that you, salt them, lower the heat and put the lid of the pot on).

Add the lentils and tomato sauce (passata); break in a couple of cubes of chicken stock and add water. Watch the water – it is better to put less than is needed and then add some. There are few things that are less palatable than watery soup!

Boil until the carrots are soft. Turn the heat off and…your soup is ready. We like it smooth but chunky is very nice as well!

Note: if you like cumin you can put some in this soup – lentils go with cumin.

The total cost of this soup is £1.28/$1.86 (I’ve allowed 1 pence for gas but this may be conservative).

This makes 16 servings of soup working out at roughly 8p per serving. I’m sure you can eat for less but not convinced you can eat better.

Eat well for less: tomato soup

On this one our family is divided – two of us really love it and three eat it but they’d rather have lentil soup.

To make it you need:

  • Tins of chopped tomato: 4 tins (4×45 pence= £1.80)
  • Tomatoes (fresh): five tomatoes (£1.09)
  • Tomato puree: 1 tube (35 pence)
  • Passata: 4 boxes, 310 grams each (4×29 pence = £1.16)

Put everything in a large(ish) pot; add water and boil until the fresh tomato is soft (about 20 minutes). Smooth it and the soup is ready.

Serve with fresh, chopped basil and/or a splash of balsamic vinegar.

All this costs £4.40 to make and is about twenty servings – which makes a serving about 22 pence.

Completely delicious (you can probably guess who loves this one).

It is, however, slightly acidic so people who tend to suffer from heartburn should watch how much they have and when they have it (as much as I love this soup I won’t have it in the evening).

Eat well for less: vegetable soup

Yes, I know that ‘vegetable soup’ is not very specific. So I toyed with the idea of calling it ‘Soup of the Summer Lost’ but you will all agree this is very pretentious.

It is vegetable soup; we picked the recipe in a Portuguese restaurant in the Algarve some year back. Our son ordered soup as a starter and the pleasure that spread over his face after the first spoonful was such that I asked the waiter what is in it.

It was made of potato, carrots and something that nobody knew the English name for so we had to check in a book. It was be celery. Another delicious opportunity to eat for less.

What you need for this soup (let’s say we’ll call it Vegetable Soup from Portugal) is:

  • 4 large potatoes (45 pence)
  • 7-8 carrots (25 pence) [we used all carrots left in the packet from cooking the lentil soup]
  • 5-6 celery sticks (24 pence) [we used all celery sticks left after the ones used for the lentil soup]
  • 1 onion (4 pence)

To make this soup, you start by frying the onion, then add the rest of the chopped vegetables. Sweat the vegetables for five minutes. Add water (again, careful with the water) and boil until the vegetables are soft. Season to taste (you know, this is about adding salt and pepper and stuff) and smooth with a hand blander.

These ingredients make approximately 10 portions of soup (£1) or it works out at approximately 10 pence a portion.

Final words

We spent probably three-four hours during the weekend cooking soup to ensure that we can eat well for less.

We now have a freezer full of healthy meals which we could defrost for lunch or, during the week, dinner.

That means that for £7 we stocked up the freezer with 46 healthy and nutritious meals. Hard to beat that! (And I will let you know how this affected our monthly spending on food.)

Please share some cheap and healthy meal recipes with us.

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