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The thrifty cooking challenge from Eat Not Spend blogger Jane Ashley

by Sarah Maber
The thrifty cooking challenge from Eat Not Spend blogger Jane Ashley
Image: Matt Monfredi

When graphic designer Jane Ashley, 47, decided to slash her food shopping budget, she expected it to be tough going. But two years later, her Eat Not Spend blog has inspired families across the UK to take part in her £40 per week shopping challenge.

Have you always been a thrifty cook?

I’ve volunteered for night shelters where I cooked nutritious, low-cost meals – lasagne, chicken pie, that kind of thing. At home, I’ve always planned menus and tried not to waste food, but I could still spend upwards of £130 a week on our supermarket shop. With a bit of planning, I knew that it wasn’t difficult to make big savings, and I decided to start a blog on thrifty cooking. To kick it off, 
I asked my family if they would take part in a strict £1 per person, per day, food challenge.

How did that go down?

I started off persuading them to try it for just one week. At the time, there were four of us in the house – my sister Ruth, husband Phil, daughter Emily, now 19, and myself. I worked out the whole menu, based on £4 per day. It was a challenge for everyone, mainly because food had to be strictly rationed and they couldn’t come home and ‘pick’. They also complained that there weren’t enough treats,so the next week I put biscuits and cakes on the menu, too. I got my husband Phil, who’s
 a photographer, to shoot the recipes then taught myself how to set up a blog.

Have you faced financial challenges?

Phil’s a freelancer, so money is up and down. We’ve always tried to be careful. The world’s changing and everyone’s finding it difficult. You never know what’s round the corner.

Image: Matt Monfredi
Image: Matt Monfredi

How did the blog start catching on?

Right from the start, the people that were clicking through to the blog from my Twitter feed loved it. I had requests for a vegetarian version, for a two- person weekly menu, for a gluten-free week, and a vegan week. The amazing thing is that, whatever the dietary request, you can generally bring it in at about £10 per person per week, or less.

What are your top tips for saving money in the supermarket?

Have a shopping list and meal plan. Know who’s in and who’s out, so you’re not buying meals you don’t need. Don’t go to the supermarket
 if you’re hungry or hungover, and don’t go back after you’ve done your big weekly shop, or you’ll go in for 
a pint of milk and end up spending £30 on other bits and pieces.

What are the common pitfalls faced when trying to stick to a tight budget?

People think they need more ingredients than they do, or they think they need the most expensive ingredients when own-brand will do. The most important thing is to cut out takeaways and ready meals, and always cook from scratch.


Image: Matt Monfredi
Image: Matt Monfredi

A lot of people will say they don’t have time to cook after work.

I work full time, I have a family and we always cook from scratch. We use dried pasta and it doesn’t take long to make a sauce; I make curry pastes at the weekend. Cooking from scratch is fun – we do it together and it’s sociable.

What recipes are fantastic for feeding a family cheaply?

Risotto, paella, somethingy ou can dish up at the table. We don’t have much red meat because it’s expensive, but we have cheaper cuts of chicken – thighs are tastier than breast meat anyway. I’ll slow cook a shoulder of pork, which is very cheap, and we buy fish frozen.

Your blog has led to a book deal – what’s the secret of its success?

It’s nice food that’s healthy too. It’s not meant to be purgatory, after all – it’s a fun, money-saving challenge.

Don't miss Jane's brilliant recipes:

Thai salmon fishcakes

Chicken fajitas 

Cajun cripsy chicken

Veggie burgers

Chilli tomato pasta

Garlic dough balls

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