Could you cook a meal for two on a £3 budget?

There was a time when I was privileged and blinkered enough to not even know that foodbanks existed. Now they’re the topic of everyday conversation, sadly enough, and even my tiny daughter has been on a trip to the local one to make a donation with her nursery class.

At the same time, food blogs are heaving with low-cost recipe ideas; leading the charge is the marvellous Jack Monroe, with her now-infamous kale pesto. Now Buyagift, a retailer that lists lots of luxury foodie experiences, is aiming to bring out food bloggers’ creativity, shed a spotlight on the issues involved and raise funds for a fast-growing foodbank charity. The task is to create at least one course for at least two people, on a strict budget of £3 (discounting for part-used ingredients is allowed, and butter, oil, herbs and spices aren’t included, so that actually gives quite a lot of scope).

Usually I’m a bit wary of awareness-raising and charity competitions, but I have to admit this one really appealed to me. There are some lovely prizes, but my competitive element isn’t really sparked – challenge me to a game of Monopoly if you want to feel like a loser – as no matter who takes the crown The Trussell Trust wins £600. For me it’s an opportunity to be both creative and thoughtful at the same time – because I’m still privileged and blinkered enough not to have to be all the time. I’m not even going to pretend that my budget is this low, but I’m certainly familiar with a stretched budget, and I have blogged before about how I want to be more conscious of the food my family is eating. I really want to learn something from this and be less wasteful and I hope that others do it and learn something too; that, for me, is a bigger win than any competition prize.

The competition is open from the 15th of November to the 15th of December, so there’s plenty of time to plan out a recipe sticking to your budget if you want to take part. You can find out more about it here.

New Year’s Food Resolutions

Looking back, it feels like most of what I’ve written about in the last year has been food. There are many reasons for that: for one, now that I write a monthly piece for Bea, as well as occasional pieces for BitchBuzz and The F Word, I feel like I get all my parent-blogging done elsewhere (and yes, I really should link back more often). And frankly, even that is being overtaken by food! For another, I have my own kitchen again and have really enjoyed experimenting; plus I got to blog for Great British Chefs and I’m a horrendous food TV addict.

A family friend recently sent me a link to Will Self’s radio item and article, The British Vomitorium, which enthusiastically lays into everything that I’ve become when it comes to food. While he makes some horrifyingly good observations towards the end about a state where some people in this country – this rich, developed country – are struggling to find any food to eat at all, I find the whole a little over-egged. (Sorry). In any case, I think the answer is not to stop appreciating or playing with food, but actually to pay more attention – and better – to all our food: to access to it, to the freshness of it, to the manipulation of ingredients that confuse and abuse our senses. Sure, roll your eyes at molecular gastronomy by all means – something of the ‘modern art’ of cooking, anyway, bound to enthrall, confuse and repulse in equal measure – and revolt at ludicrously indulgent and embarrassingly expensive, exclusive creations. But, at the risk of sounding like an apostle of the church of St. Jamie, a little bit of attention in the right place is far from being a distraction from social issues; in fact, it shines a spotlight on them.

That said, I have some food resolutions for the New Year. I’ve decided to avoid the nebulous, and try and give myself some small, specific goals. I feel like I owe the food I eat a little bit more respect, somehow, and these aim to remind me of this as well as increasing the household’s general health and keeping us within budget.

1. Meat-Free Days (or Weeks?)

The meat-free Monday is nothing new, and I do want to try and make our staple food vegetarian for at least one day a week – preferably a few days. There are several reasons, including budget (I think I’m finally at the point where I’d rather splurge on one really nice piece of something I don’t get to eat very often at all, like venison, than spend loads on endless bleedin’ chickens) and digestion (ever noticed how long it takes to get over a roast?). This might mean plumping for a bigger veg box, but I think that would still be cheaper than getting lots of meat. Anyway, I still have quite a bit in the freezer to use up.

2. Something Fishy

I’m actually not a fish bore by nature; frankly, I think cod is entirely underwhelming, though I am really fond of salmon and mackerel. Plus I’m obsessed with seafood. But for our non-veggie days, I’d really like to explore some less common types. I’d love to say it’s because I’m a Hugh Footely-Pootely fish warrior, or whatever, but – while waste makes me cross and I’m obviously not against sustainability – my main motivation is just keeping things interesting.

3. Gardener’s World

I have a back garden now. It has a vegetable patch already in place. It would be silly not to get it sorted and grow some of our own staples so we don’t have to buy them. Top of my list are rosemary, coriander and garlic, and I’d like to have a go at courgettes and maybe potatoes as well. Ooh, and have a stab at strawberries. I am no gardener, so I’m going to have to do a lot of research here, and try not to screw things up – idiot-proof resource recommendations welcome.

And that’s it. There are many, many more I could add, but I’d like to keep to those three so that I have a hope in hell of sticking to them. Hell, I might even blog about doing so, if you’re really lucky.

Finally, I want to mention some food-related charities for those interested in spreading the food goodwill beyond their own kitchens; I’ve focussed on the UK here for simplicity’s sake, but, sadly, I’m sure you can search and find many for any country in the world.

The first, Magic Breakfast, is a personal favourite. The team works in partnership with the food industry to ensure that children in schools where 50% or more of the pupils are eligible for free school meals get access to a fresh, filling breakfast every day. Something as simple as a bagel and orange juice can make all the difference between a hungry, distracted and tired child, and one that is ready to learn.

FareShare works in the UK to tackle and relieve food poverty and reduce food waste.

The Trussell Trust is a Christian charity which splits it focus between projects in Bulgaria and setting up UK food banks. Demand for their assistance has doubled in this country in the last year, and continues to rise.

FoodCycle takes surplus food and adds volunteers and free kitchen space to create nutritious meals for people in food poverty.