An Experiment In Convenience

As we were away last weekend I decided to delay my grocery shop until we returned.

I stretched what we had in the cupboards to feed us all yesterday (just!), and a grocery trip was planned for this morning.

We took a guest along last weekend, did I mention him?

Cuddles The Cat.

I’d a few photos to get printed of him having a fabulous time at the beach (for my 4-year-olds homework! – I’ve not totally lost the plot…yet…). My previous supermarket has a photo shop, so on the way to Aldi I decided to pop in.

Then inspiration hit. I only have 3 days remaining this week to feed the family, this would be a perfect opportunity to try out a little experiment.

What convenient foods can I buy with £50?

The above haul cost a total of £55.03.

I’m not going to be doing a lot of cooking this week am I?

I’m also not sure I’m actually going to be able to stretch this lot to keep us fed for 3 days.

So what did I discover from my convenient experiment this morning?

1. £50 doesn’t go very far when buying ready-made or ‘added value’ products. In fact £50 on this type of product may just feed us for 3 days. Buying basic ingredients on a budget of £50 a week will feed us for 6 days.

2. Packaging doesn’t seem to reduce at the more ‘premium’ supermarkets.

3. There is a definite price difference between the supermarkets. Own brand bran flakes cost me £1.79 this morning as opposed to 88p from where I now shop. Over twice as much.

4. It’s just so easy to snack when there is variety (see fun-size treat bag) and they are all individually wrapped for convenience. I ate 2 (make that 3) mini chocolate bars within 30 minutes of leaving the supermarket. Bad girl!

4. A convenient, and relatively low-cost lunch, of a tin of tomato soup in reality costs way over double that of home-made. But more alarmingly, a tin contains 2.4g of salt. Adults are recommended to consume no more than 6g a day, and a child just 4g. I still ate it this lunch-time, it tasted pretty good – all that salt you see 😉

5. Convenient foods can fool you with their clever marketing. My salt-heavy tin of soup was emblazoned with “1 of your 5 a day” on the front. One of my catchphrases is “It’s all marketing baby!”

Every once in a while it’s good to mix things up. It’s a great way to see whether what you are doing is right for you. I can wholeheartedly confirm that buying basic ingredients and whipping up dishes at home is right for us. Now where did I put that huge bag of treats? There’s at least 4 other bars I haven’t tried yet!

What do you reckon? Bad selection of products, could I have bought better and maximised my budget? Or are you, like me, finding that home-made is keeping your costs down?

ps – as I am having such an easy week prepping food, I have an experiment planned for next that’s been on the cards a while. It’s certainly not going to be convenient!

Don’t forget I’m now updating most days on Facebook

{ 42 comments… add one }
  • Lauren June 26, 2012, 2:25 pm

    Interesting experiment, that doesn’t look like a Wright table at all!

    At first glance, it looks like a lot of food for three days but once you start studying it you can see it’s mostly packaging. I’m amazed that lot added up to over £50 to be honest, but it’s been a long time since I looked in any of those convenient ailses. But I think you did fine, it’s not overly junky

    • Lauren June 26, 2012, 2:26 pm

      Argh, my spacebar somehow entered! Continued…

      But I agree on the fun sizes. I had to stop buying them because it became 1 of each little bar instead of just 1 normal size bar. They’re evil! 😉

      Now curious as to what the inconvenient experiment is…

      • simplybeingmum June 26, 2012, 2:33 pm

        It’s proven (somewhere) that variety makes us consume more. It certainly does with me. When kids are around it’s too easy to keep dipping in the treat box!!! Evil 😉
        The next experiment I am going to try and cook everything (well almost everything – not the pasta) from basics…

    • simplybeingmum June 26, 2012, 2:31 pm

      It’s not scientifically calculated to 3-days. We aren’t going to eat all the oven-chips (an item I no longer buy but make my own healthy baked ones) for example. But overall I am going to just scrape together 3 days worth of food from it for us 4. I’m not anticipating any waste on Friday! There’s also not a lot of variety there in terms of type of meal. I purchased 2 garlic breads as it was the best deal, but that means 2 meals with it.
      I too haven’t shopped like this for many years (if ever really). When we were a couple many many moons ago I very occasionally had a ‘ready-meal’ week where the Hubby got processed foods as he was working really late (and I was out the house all hours also) and I didn’t have a slow-cooker. But those days are long gone.
      The biggest shock was the bag of treats – over £6. Again they won’t get eaten in 3 days, but even so, that seemed rather expensive to me!

      • WilliamB July 18, 2012, 4:13 am

        I don’t see anything wrong with garlic bread at two meals in close succession. Bread, butter, garlic – where’s the downside?

  • Lauren June 26, 2012, 2:25 pm

    Interesting experiment, that doesn’t look like a Wright table at all!

    At first glance, it looks like a lot of food for three days but once you start studying it you can see it’s mostly packaging. I’m amazed that lot added up to over £50 to be honest, but it’s been a long time since I looked in any of those convenient ailses. But I think you did fine, it’s not overly junky

    • Lauren June 26, 2012, 2:26 pm

      Argh, my spacebar somehow entered! Continued…

      But I agree on the fun sizes. I had to stop buying them because it became 1 of each little bar instead of just 1 normal size bar. They’re evil! 😉

      Now curious as to what the inconvenient experiment is…

      • simplybeingmum June 26, 2012, 2:33 pm

        It’s proven (somewhere) that variety makes us consume more. It certainly does with me. When kids are around it’s too easy to keep dipping in the treat box!!! Evil 😉
        The next experiment I am going to try and cook everything (well almost everything – not the pasta) from basics…

    • simplybeingmum June 26, 2012, 2:31 pm

      It’s not scientifically calculated to 3-days. We aren’t going to eat all the oven-chips (an item I no longer buy but make my own healthy baked ones) for example. But overall I am going to just scrape together 3 days worth of food from it for us 4. I’m not anticipating any waste on Friday! There’s also not a lot of variety there in terms of type of meal. I purchased 2 garlic breads as it was the best deal, but that means 2 meals with it.
      I too haven’t shopped like this for many years (if ever really). When we were a couple many many moons ago I very occasionally had a ‘ready-meal’ week where the Hubby got processed foods as he was working really late (and I was out the house all hours also) and I didn’t have a slow-cooker. But those days are long gone.
      The biggest shock was the bag of treats – over £6. Again they won’t get eaten in 3 days, but even so, that seemed rather expensive to me!

      • WilliamB July 18, 2012, 4:13 am

        I don’t see anything wrong with garlic bread at two meals in close succession. Bread, butter, garlic – where’s the downside?

  • Lili@creativesavv June 26, 2012, 2:39 pm

    Wow! That bag of candy treats is enormous! 45 treats in the bag, it says. Now how many in your family? Math? 45 divided by 3 days equals 15 treats per day for the family! Wow! Someone’s going to be hyped up on sugar. (kidding you).

    So, I’m curious, how is the supply of food lasting? Packaging is so misleading. It can look like there’s a lot of food. But once you begin opening packages, it never seems to go as far. What I’d like to see, side by side is photos of the same amount (by money spent) of “real” food.

    The other thing I’ve found with convenience foods, is with a lot of the stuff, the nutritional content is not as great as scratch prepared foods. You pointed out the tomato soup was much saltier than what you’d make at home. Well, it also has fillers, starch and water, to stretch the tomato portion. Your homemade would have more tomato paste/tomatoes and therefore more lycopene, Vits. A and C.

    Also, convenience products are “fluffed” up, shaped in ways that they don’t fit compactly in their packaging. Like cold cereal. If you were to take the same amount of grains and other ingredients, and just measure them by weight, equal to what’s in the box of bran flakes you bought, your ingredients would take up a fraction of the space of your boxed cereal. Manufacturers know this. They use this to their advantage. By selling a “fluffed” up product, they can justify, in your mind, the high price for very inexpensive ingredients. An alternative to a manufactured cold cereal is something like homemade granola. It does take a little time to prepare (I can get a batch of granola into the oven in about 5-8 minutes of hands-on time). But it costs about 1/3 to 1/2 the price of the cheapest boxed cereal.

    But you already know all this!

    • simplybeingmum June 26, 2012, 4:10 pm

      Hi Lili – The way I’m going I’ll have consumed all 45 treats by Friday on my own ;-). Yeah it’s a huge bag. In fact this was another point I was going to make but post was getting quite long. It’s easy to buy the wrong thing. There is such an abundance of options and ticketing – too much choice. I was staggered at the cost when I got to the checkout of the bag £6.45 just over 14p per treat (which isn’t so bad when you go down to cost per item – but still!). But I know from experience that they will be consumed quicker than if I’d bought less.
      I’m going back to basics next week so there will be some comparison. It’ll be interesting to see how it compares.
      Nutritionally I know we are going to take a hit over the next few days, but as it’s short-term that’s okay.
      I really need to get with cereal alternatives, your granola sounds fab!

      • Lili@creativesavv June 26, 2012, 4:45 pm

        We’re actually eating a bit out of the norm for us this week, as well. My father-in-law is staying with us for the week, and I couldn’t exactly subject his digestive system to the amount of beans and grains that we’re accustomed to. But already I feel sluggish and out of sorts.
        When we go on vacation, and eat convenience foods or in restaurants, it all tastes great at first. But by the end of the week, we can’t wait to get back home and have real food again. Are there any foods that you find you are missing/wishing you had this week?

        • simplybeingmum June 26, 2012, 6:41 pm

          Changing your eating habits does have an adverse effect. I’ve eaten this evening, and must say really enjoyed my processed lasagne and oven chips. But already feel a little out of sorts – sluggish as you say. I also think I’ve had a larger portion that usual.
          Hope you are back on track soon!
          As for missing foods, we tend to have a couple of weeks in France each Summer (not this year though!) and although I adore their fresh foods and really look forward to indulging in them…by the time I get home I can’t face any more bread or cheese. The first thing I’ll consume is an Indian Takeaway usually! We Brits love our Balti’s…

  • Lili@creativesavv June 26, 2012, 2:39 pm

    Wow! That bag of candy treats is enormous! 45 treats in the bag, it says. Now how many in your family? Math? 45 divided by 3 days equals 15 treats per day for the family! Wow! Someone’s going to be hyped up on sugar. (kidding you).

    So, I’m curious, how is the supply of food lasting? Packaging is so misleading. It can look like there’s a lot of food. But once you begin opening packages, it never seems to go as far. What I’d like to see, side by side is photos of the same amount (by money spent) of “real” food.

    The other thing I’ve found with convenience foods, is with a lot of the stuff, the nutritional content is not as great as scratch prepared foods. You pointed out the tomato soup was much saltier than what you’d make at home. Well, it also has fillers, starch and water, to stretch the tomato portion. Your homemade would have more tomato paste/tomatoes and therefore more lycopene, Vits. A and C.

    Also, convenience products are “fluffed” up, shaped in ways that they don’t fit compactly in their packaging. Like cold cereal. If you were to take the same amount of grains and other ingredients, and just measure them by weight, equal to what’s in the box of bran flakes you bought, your ingredients would take up a fraction of the space of your boxed cereal. Manufacturers know this. They use this to their advantage. By selling a “fluffed” up product, they can justify, in your mind, the high price for very inexpensive ingredients. An alternative to a manufactured cold cereal is something like homemade granola. It does take a little time to prepare (I can get a batch of granola into the oven in about 5-8 minutes of hands-on time). But it costs about 1/3 to 1/2 the price of the cheapest boxed cereal.

    But you already know all this!

    • simplybeingmum June 26, 2012, 4:10 pm

      Hi Lili – The way I’m going I’ll have consumed all 45 treats by Friday on my own ;-). Yeah it’s a huge bag. In fact this was another point I was going to make but post was getting quite long. It’s easy to buy the wrong thing. There is such an abundance of options and ticketing – too much choice. I was staggered at the cost when I got to the checkout of the bag £6.45 just over 14p per treat (which isn’t so bad when you go down to cost per item – but still!). But I know from experience that they will be consumed quicker than if I’d bought less.
      I’m going back to basics next week so there will be some comparison. It’ll be interesting to see how it compares.
      Nutritionally I know we are going to take a hit over the next few days, but as it’s short-term that’s okay.
      I really need to get with cereal alternatives, your granola sounds fab!

      • Lili@creativesavv June 26, 2012, 4:45 pm

        We’re actually eating a bit out of the norm for us this week, as well. My father-in-law is staying with us for the week, and I couldn’t exactly subject his digestive system to the amount of beans and grains that we’re accustomed to. But already I feel sluggish and out of sorts.
        When we go on vacation, and eat convenience foods or in restaurants, it all tastes great at first. But by the end of the week, we can’t wait to get back home and have real food again. Are there any foods that you find you are missing/wishing you had this week?

        • simplybeingmum June 26, 2012, 6:41 pm

          Changing your eating habits does have an adverse effect. I’ve eaten this evening, and must say really enjoyed my processed lasagne and oven chips. But already feel a little out of sorts – sluggish as you say. I also think I’ve had a larger portion that usual.
          Hope you are back on track soon!
          As for missing foods, we tend to have a couple of weeks in France each Summer (not this year though!) and although I adore their fresh foods and really look forward to indulging in them…by the time I get home I can’t face any more bread or cheese. The first thing I’ll consume is an Indian Takeaway usually! We Brits love our Balti’s…

  • Sue June 26, 2012, 3:23 pm

    I’ll bet those ready meals will dissappoint now your’re used to the real thing!

    • simplybeingmum June 26, 2012, 4:13 pm

      We’ll see eh? I’ve got to be honest, some weeks I long to eat something I haven’t made myself. As the only cook in the house, it’d be nice not to know how something is going to taste! I’m sure the novelty will soon wear off though by Friday…it generally does when I eat out, I’m frequently disappointed with quality of food, choice and also value. It amazes me how little effort some restaurants make with their product!

  • Sue June 26, 2012, 3:23 pm

    I’ll bet those ready meals will dissappoint now your’re used to the real thing!

    • simplybeingmum June 26, 2012, 4:13 pm

      We’ll see eh? I’ve got to be honest, some weeks I long to eat something I haven’t made myself. As the only cook in the house, it’d be nice not to know how something is going to taste! I’m sure the novelty will soon wear off though by Friday…it generally does when I eat out, I’m frequently disappointed with quality of food, choice and also value. It amazes me how little effort some restaurants make with their product!

  • Sharron June 26, 2012, 6:27 pm

    Wow, what a fab experiement!! I have to be honest and say i have a mix of convnience/home made. I spend beetween £80-£100 (there is 6 of us 2 cats, 2 dogs) and approx £20 is convnience, snacky type things. I know that if had to take my budget to the bare bones i could shave £20 off it. But for me it’s about balance between time and money.

    Can’t wait for the update!! (p.s i tried Lidl-not impressed)
    Sharron x

    • simplybeingmum June 26, 2012, 6:44 pm

      Hey Sharron! I agree regarding balance it has to work for you. I love being in the kitchen, and would choose to do much of what someone else may consider a chore, over doing something else.
      I tried Lidl also – well went in there with my Mom to be exact – she likes their egg custards/creme brulee. Didn’t buy anything.

  • Sharron June 26, 2012, 6:27 pm

    Wow, what a fab experiement!! I have to be honest and say i have a mix of convnience/home made. I spend beetween £80-£100 (there is 6 of us 2 cats, 2 dogs) and approx £20 is convnience, snacky type things. I know that if had to take my budget to the bare bones i could shave £20 off it. But for me it’s about balance between time and money.

    Can’t wait for the update!! (p.s i tried Lidl-not impressed)
    Sharron x

    • simplybeingmum June 26, 2012, 6:44 pm

      Hey Sharron! I agree regarding balance it has to work for you. I love being in the kitchen, and would choose to do much of what someone else may consider a chore, over doing something else.
      I tried Lidl also – well went in there with my Mom to be exact – she likes their egg custards/creme brulee. Didn’t buy anything.

  • Danielle June 26, 2012, 6:54 pm

    Hey Jo – I’m with you on the treat sized chocolates, those don’t last long in our house! Bran flakes for 88p? Here they sell for $4.00 (£2.50) on sale! I always thought food in the U.K. was more expensive (although i do remember being surprised by the price of a tin of peas when I was visiting there, so random since I don’t buy tinned peas normally). Perhaps it is the cost of eating out there that makes the difference?

    • simplybeingmum June 27, 2012, 9:09 pm

      Hi Danielle – Those treats have diminished greatly already – we’ve had Kids to play etc so I’d be surprised if there are any left by Friday! The Bran Flakes are particularly good value. A branded packet is 750g at around £2.79. The own-branded are 1kg. Food here is expensive, but you find that the own-branded supermarket stuff can be very reasonable as they are all competing to get you in store for those add on extra sales that generate the cash!

  • Danielle June 26, 2012, 6:54 pm

    Hey Jo – I’m with you on the treat sized chocolates, those don’t last long in our house! Bran flakes for 88p? Here they sell for $4.00 (£2.50) on sale! I always thought food in the U.K. was more expensive (although i do remember being surprised by the price of a tin of peas when I was visiting there, so random since I don’t buy tinned peas normally). Perhaps it is the cost of eating out there that makes the difference?

    • simplybeingmum June 27, 2012, 9:09 pm

      Hi Danielle – Those treats have diminished greatly already – we’ve had Kids to play etc so I’d be surprised if there are any left by Friday! The Bran Flakes are particularly good value. A branded packet is 750g at around £2.79. The own-branded are 1kg. Food here is expensive, but you find that the own-branded supermarket stuff can be very reasonable as they are all competing to get you in store for those add on extra sales that generate the cash!

  • Apple June 27, 2012, 1:02 pm

    What a brilliant experiment! Seeing all the convenience food in a pile makes me feel nauseous. Though it’s easy to forget how bad and wasteful they are when quickly popping one into the shopping basket on the way home.

    • simplybeingmum June 27, 2012, 3:48 pm

      Thanks Laura – though had it been not quite so ‘seat of my pants’ it may have been a little more scientific.

  • Apple June 27, 2012, 1:02 pm

    What a brilliant experiment! Seeing all the convenience food in a pile makes me feel nauseous. Though it’s easy to forget how bad and wasteful they are when quickly popping one into the shopping basket on the way home.

    • simplybeingmum June 27, 2012, 3:48 pm

      Thanks Laura – though had it been not quite so ‘seat of my pants’ it may have been a little more scientific.

  • anexactinglife June 27, 2012, 5:05 pm

    Since our kid left home last Fall, we haven’t been buying any packaged foods except cereal, crackers and pasta,and whole-ingredient foods like rice. But we had a stockpile of stuff that Link could make on short notice, like oven fries, frozen chicken strips, and boxed macaroni and cheese. We chipped away at it slowly from September to June and finally have none left 🙂

    • simplybeingmum June 27, 2012, 9:09 pm

      Great going… I love to hear of a stockpile reduced, and in your case eliminated!

  • anexactinglife June 27, 2012, 5:05 pm

    Since our kid left home last Fall, we haven’t been buying any packaged foods except cereal, crackers and pasta,and whole-ingredient foods like rice. But we had a stockpile of stuff that Link could make on short notice, like oven fries, frozen chicken strips, and boxed macaroni and cheese. We chipped away at it slowly from September to June and finally have none left 🙂

    • simplybeingmum June 27, 2012, 9:09 pm

      Great going… I love to hear of a stockpile reduced, and in your case eliminated!

Leave a Comment