Shop, cook and eat like your grandma. Or how to reduce food waste and save money on food at the same time

Here in Britain, people throw away 8.3 million tonnes of food per annum – that’s approximately 7.5 tonnes per person per year! Anyone from my grandparents’ generation, reading this 50 or 60 years ago, would have been utterly shocked by this statistic. Just how did we become so wasteful? If you want to answer this question in a single sentence, it would probably be “We became wasteful because we stopped shopping and eating like our grandparents.” So here, in this article, is my summary of how grandma shopped, cooked and ate, and why it was so much less wasteful than today’s shopping, cooking and eating habits. And by reverting to your grandmother’s methods, you may find that you too waste a lot less food and hence save money. Not only that, but your diet will probably become healthier too!

It’s chicken fat. It won’t kill you

Grandma shopped at small local specialist stores rather than big supermarkets
I’m not saying abandon supermarkets altogether – for most of us, that just isn’t practical. But the trouble with supermarkets is those clever little tricks they have for getting you to put stuff in your trolley. Like displaying all the essentials – milk, bread, eggs – right at the very back of the store, diagonally across from the front entrance. In your journey to find them, you end up putting all sorts of other tempting stuff in your trolley, which you totally hadn’t envisaged buying. And then there are those special offers, which really aren’t that special when you do the maths.
In my local supermarket the other day, there was a BOGOF (buy one, get one free) on 300 gram packs of mature Cheddar, each costing £4.00. So because of the BOGOF, you got 600 grams of Cheddar for £4.00, which worked out to around £6.70 per kilo. But my local butcher sells mature cheddar for £6.25 per kilo, in whatever quantity you like (within reason). Because specialist shops are smaller and less gimmicky, you’re less likely to end up buying stuff you don’t need. And the people serving you often have a lot more product knowledge, so they can make helpful suggestions about how to cook things.
How to calculate whether BOGOFs are good value

Work out the cost per kilo, and compare it with the price per kilo of non BOGOF items on sale. A good way to do it is to work out the cost per 100 grams, and multiply by 10 to get the cost per kilo. A lot of stuff like cheese is sold in blocks of 300 or 400 g. So in that example of the 300 g block of cheese with a BOGOF offer of £4.00, you get 600 g for £4.00. 100 g costs £4.00 divided by 6, which is 67 pence to the nearest penny. Multiply by ten and you get £6.70 per kilo.

If you do need to shop at a supermarket, the old advice about never shopping on an empty stomach really does work – always make sure you have at least a snack before you set off! Some people also advocate making a shopping list and sticking to it, but I find that lists don’t really work for me (see the next section for something that does help me – maybe it will help other non-list-makers out there).
Grandma planned ahead
OK, so she didn’t plan that far ahead, because she didn’t have a freezer. But she did work things out a few days in advance. One example of this that I use in my own menu planning is that if I’m making home-made custard to go with an apple crumble one night, I know I’ll use the yolk of one egg and still have the white of the egg left over. If covered, the egg white will keep in the fridge for a couple of days, so on one of those days, I’ll make something that uses it up – like an omelette or scrambled egg (an omelette made with two whole eggs plus one white is just as good as one made with three whole eggs). I mentioned earlier that I’m not that great at writing lists – for some reason, I always seem to miss crucial items off them. So instead of writing lists, I plan meals out visually in my head a few days in advance, and make a running (soundless!) commentary as I go around the shops. So as I trundle the aisles in my local supermarket, part of my internal dialogue might go something like this: “Well, I’m making chilli con carne tomorrow and I’ve already bought the mince and bacon at the butcher’s. Is there anything else I need that I don’t already have? Oh yes, kidney beans. They’ve got a “value” range of kidney beans for 19p a tin. That’s a real saving on what kidney beans cost elsewhere. But I’ll go to my local convenience store for the tinned tomatoes, because they’re more or less the same price and I won’t have to lug them uphill.”
Grandma used the whole bird. Including the fat
Several times, I’ve listened in horror when I heard someone saying they cooked a turkey for Christmas Day, and then threw the leftover meat and bones away. Huh?? To those who aren’t that keen on turkey in the first place, my solution is “avoid turkey, and buy something you actually do like eating”. To those who simply don’t know what to do with the leftovers from any bird they’ve roasted (whether it’s turkey, chicken, goose or pheasant), just do an internet search for the thousands of recipes out there. Our household favourite is curry, made from leftover roast chicken.
I use chopped onion, curry paste (Patak’s Rogan Josh for preference), the leftover gravy from the roast chicken, a bit of stock (or even just hot water), sultanas and an apple or two. The apple can be any eating apple, peeled, cored and chopped. (This is a great way to use up eating apples which are going a bit wrinkly but are still otherwise edible.)
The bones can be boiled up to make stock, which can be used in soups and stews. Freeze the stock in plastic containers or ice cube trays. Make use of your freezer, if you’re not already doing so – it’s one appliance that grandma wouldn’t have had at her disposal but would probably have been very grateful for!
Speaking of home-made gravy, you might notice that if you’ve ever made gravy yourself, you have to spoon off a lot of fat from the juices of your roast meat. Don’t throw the fat away! Stick it in a container, allow it to cool and store it (covered) in the fridge. It will happily keep for about a week, and can be used whenever you want to fry anything, e.g. sausages, onions, bacon or eggs. You’ll also save money on cooking oil that way.
Available on

The Thrifty Cookbook: 476 Ways to Eat Well with Leftovers

If you’re throwing your hands up in horror at the mere mention of animal fat, don’t. In moderation, it really isn’t that bad. If you’ve gone over to grandma-style home cooking using fresh meat and veg (rather than living off convenience food and takeaways), then your overall diet will be a lot healthier because you’re not eating nearly so much salt, sugar and additives, and a little bit of animal fat isn’t going to do you any harm.
© Empress Felicity February 2011