Eat Well for Less

I watched ‘Eat well for less’ last night. Leaving aside the grammar issue, and the fact that I don’t usually watch ‘reality TV’ because the directors always portray the people as thick as planks and thus hateful or snobby know-alls and thus hateful, here are my thoughts.

Pizzettas, ham and peach, made by DD from scratch (including base)
The Scott family was (of course) shown as lazy and stupid in turns, the mother shopping and buying not only almost every meal ‘ready made and oven-cookable’ but worse, she bought food ready sliced, diced and grated. When shown a cheese grater she either had never used one or pretended she hadn’t. (useful advice, buy a modern cheese grater like this one, and cut the cheese into manageable chunks before grating)  She saw slicing a potato as a challenge worth celebration and placing a slice of (pre cut) fruit loaf into a toaster as ‘preparation’.

But I think much of that was rubbish. She microwaved ready made pancakes (!) but didn’t moan that that was preparation for example. I think her ‘lazy stupidity’ was enhanced for the camera and mightily played up by the director. If you haven’t watched it you can probably catch it here.

I don’t believe the mum in this episode was really lazy either. Her children and her house were spotless and the children well behaved and polite, that doesn’t happen by chance, and both parents worked too. I think she didn’t know how to cook, and laughed it off as she was embarrassed.They were a really nice family, and despite the initial desire to slap Kate I did warm to her, her husband and their three children.

I was more interested in what Gregg Wallace didn’t say or show the family. The meals they were shown how to cook were all variations on what they were eating already so not especially healthy, mainly just cheaper and nicer. That makes sense though as you need to change eating habits gradually, there is no point in saying ‘bin the chips, eat quinoa’ that just won’t work. But I do wish he’d talked more about nutritional balance, vegetables, starches, fats etc and which foods contained which things.

There was also much talk of saving money on the food bill, but no discussion as to the fuel bill. Would 45 minutes for cheap potato chips in the oven impact more than the original plan of oven chips that take 15 minutes for example? The same for the pizzas shown later. I don’t know the answer, maybe it would make little impact but I would have liked it to have been considered.

Biscuits made at home
Gregg did briefly mention using a butcher but only to buy the ham, there was no discussion of independent butchers – ours is often cheaper than the supermarket, the meat comes with little packaging and best of all – no sell by dates! – something the mum on the show was shown as being terrified of. (see my take on that here) Not only can local butchers be cheaper, but even if the meat is slightly more expensive it can be better value, the chops we buy there shrink much less in cooking than the ones we buy at the supermarket and taste better too.

Oddly there seemed to be no discussion of buying fruit or veg at a greengrocer’s (very odd as Chris Bavin is a greengrocer). We use a local one when we can, all the food is, again, packaging free, and has no use by dates, it’s a lesson in what fruit and veg should look like. Also fruit and veg bought in season can still be cheaper than trying to stick to the same fruit and vegetables all year round, a local farm shop can be cheaper for the vegetables that are in season if you are lucky enough to have a farm nearby.

Some ideas for recipes in using things that are about to go out of date would have been good too – the old stand-by of banana cake for example for those suddenly black bananas, the idea that you can cook and freeze a meal or blanche and freeze vegetables.

The oven where the magic happens
Gregg briefly mentioned freezing sandwiches, though didn’t discuss the best fillings for freezing, and the suggestion seemed to just be laughed off) for reference, ham, cheese and tuna mayonnaise all freeze well (Though DD says to remind you that on a cold day they may not thaw by lunchtime if taken out of the freezer at breakfast time – I think I’ve lost mummy points!) Adding salad to a sandwich though makes it a soggy mess, so leave the lettuce, tomato and cucumber to add separately to the lunch box!

One thing the mum, Kate, said at the end was that she planned cooking on Sunday and freezing meals for the week. Good on her! And I admired their proposal for meal planning. I think she could also save money, have fun and improve her kitchen skills by baking biscuits with the children, perfect for lunch boxes and a great winter afternoon pastime.

I won’t be watching the programme again, I don’t feel I learned any thing, the presenters took a long time to really say nothing much as the advice on butter vs margarine wasn’t even particularly current. (new research which looked at 50 studies involving more than one million people found there was no evidence that saturated fat was bad for health. ) But for anyone that is out there thinking the a Findus Crispy Pancake is the height of sophistication and that a poached egg on toast is a ‘meal that need a lot of cooking’ then I think this show could help them to branch out a little.

My favourite cook book
I would suggest that ‘looking for cheaper versions of what you normally buy and trying them’ is a good idea, maybe one item a week from a supermarkets cheap basic range? After all, it might be OK and if not you can go back to your usual. We like basic pasta and rice for example but I prefer branded bagels and cream cheese. ‘Blind’ taste tests can be fun too, as the programme showed when they tasted the unmarked coffee…

And the simplest option of all? Buy a simple cookery book.

Did you watch the show? What did you think? And will it make you change your eating or shopping habits?

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