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Creamy pesto & kale pasta in a bowl

How we cope with the cost of living crisis

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In this new series, our readers share their best tips and tricks for making the weekly shop go further, without compromising on taste or nutrition.

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The Full-Time carer

Shelagh Thompson, 55, cares for her sons David, 28, and Karl, 26, and lives with her husband Peter, 57, who is a nurse, in Liverpool.
Food budget of £110 per week

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Thompson day out

Both of our sons have profound and multiple learning disabilities, autism and David is non-verbal. We have a lot of extra living costs to help take care of our sons and also keep them fed as they are both fussy with food. Everything from colour, texture and composition of meals can cause them to be physically ill, or refuse to eat if different bits of the meal are touching on the plate. I’m a vegetarian, too, so it's a juggling act cooking and serving something everybody likes.

There isn't more money to put towards our food shops, so I've been buying less meat - which the boys all really loved - and disguising meat alternatives to covertly give the boys veggie meals. I’ve been finding ways to make vegetarian dishes more appealing to Karl and David, like adding baked beans and mushrooms, or blending pasta sauces. I’ve switched supermarkets, and while I’ve always bought organic produce, the price is becoming more prohibitive every week. I used to go to farm shops, but now I’m mostly shopping in a budget supermarket instead.

The boys are both on gluten-free diets, but the cost of gluten-free food has soared. I make gluten-free bread myself now, but it takes a long time, and I’m already working boys all really loved – and 90 hours a week. I prepare cold pastas for lunches to give myself a break. I will treat the boys to red meat or a whole chicken occasionally, and avocados for me.

Shelagh's top tips

  • Plan two weeks of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks and treats. It’ll help you stay on budget, and you can plan in a little of what you fancy.
  • Check if your bank does any ‘roll ups’ to round your debit card spends to the nearest pound and put away the excess. I do this, and every few months I have enough saved for a few days away or treats for the family.
  • Oven roast the vegetables in veggie meals like lentil lasagne for full, rich flavour that will please the meat lovers in your house.
  • Buy less meat, but buy the best you can afford and use other produce to bulk out your meals.

Shelagh's favourite BBC Good Food budget recipe

Creamy pesto & kale pasta

creamy pesto kale pasta

This creamy pesto and kale pasta was a real hit for the family and worked out at just 90p per portion. My sons loved all the ingredients. I made it with extra virgin olive oil instead of rapeseed, and used gluten-free pasta, vegan pesto and soft cheese.

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The Young family

The Young family

Freelance PR consultant Francesca De Franco, 43, lives in Banstead, Surrey, with her husband Matthew, 45, and daughters Sofia, 13, and twins Maria and Gabriella, 11.
Food budget of £100-150 per week

I don’t have any loyalty to any supermarket or brand, and sign up to points cards for all of them, as well as their email lists. If I neglect one for a couple of weeks, they’ll email me money-off vouchers to entice me back. I do packed lunches for the twins every day and I repurpose a lot of our leftovers by adding raisins to couscous and chopping up chicken Milanese, which the girls enjoy cold. They’ll also have sandwiches with cold cuts I’ve bought on offer, and carrot batons that I have peeled and chopped myself. I won’t pay for pre-prepared veg any more. When shopping, I’ll pick up snacks like raisins and cupboard staples like rice and dried beans in the world food aisles. They’re cheaper and just as good, if not better, for being authentic to the region. I bulk out meals by swapping meat for cannellini beans and adding lentils to make my fresh produce work harder and keep our large family fed. The kids love grating oodles of parmesan cheese on the many pasta dishes we have, but it’s expensive. I’ve swapped it for another Italian hard cheese for half the price. I plan only three evening meals a week, leaving time and space to use up our leftovers or take up special offers when I see them. It’s reduced our waste and forced us to double- check sell-by dates and be flexible in our cooking.

francesca and family dinner alfresco

Francesca's top tips

  • Bulk-buy cheap chopped tomatoes, lentils, chickpeas and cannellini beans. I buy 12 tins of each from a local deli as there’s a real economy of scale.
  • Use less-popular cuts of meat like pork shoulder and cook gently for longer. It’s full of flavour and exceptionally cheap. We also buy rabbit from the butchers. It’s common in Italy, not so much here, but it makes a great ragu to use for pappardelle.
  • Shop for seasonal fruit and veg. The girls love strawberries, but we only buy them in season as they’re fresher and cheaper for not having been shipped thousands of miles. I also always have peas, sweetcorn, and broccoli in the freezer, too.

Francesca's favourite BBC Good Food budget recipe

Spiced chicken kebabs with chopped salad & flatbreads

spiced chicken kebabs with chopped salad flatbreads

My family love the flavours in this dish, and you can be flexible with the spices in case you don’t have one of them. Swap cumin for taco spice or ground coriander, and substitute cinnamon for nutmeg or allspice. I dice whole chicken thighs because it’s cheaper, and pick up the flatbreads in the supermarket’s world foods aisle.

Our CookSmart promise is to support you with the challenge of rising food and energy prices, we’re bringing together knowledge and ideas to help you eat well whatever your budget. You can find even more resources and advice on low-cost cooking at Cook Smart with BBC Good Food. We’d also love to hear from you with any tips you have to share using the hashtag #gfcooksmart.


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