Saturday, March 14, 2020

Weeking Cooking: Eat Well for Less

Recently we have been watching a British TV series called Eat Well for Less. The hosts are TV foodie celebrity Greg Wallace, who hosts the British version of Masterchef, and Chris Balvin who is a greengrocer by trade. The idea is that the hosts watch a family do their grocery shopping and then work out how they can help the family to spend less, eat better, and bust a few food myths along the way. They also talk to dieticians about all sorts of things for example how much sugar is in so called healthy foods, and do taste tests to compare big brands against shops own brands

That might not sound like the most thrilling premise but it is very entertaining. There are plenty of families who are slaves to brands and convenience foods, some families who just don't want to cook, and others that just have some really bad food habits

They look at different ways to save money, most of which are just common sense. It is amusing to watch a family realise that if they cook their own rice rather than microwaving rice sachets it a) isn't difficult and b) is very, very inexpensive.  There was an episode we watched recently where the family would save £7 in each meal just by cooking their own rice.

Another way they encourage families to save money by showing them that there are times when you don't have to always buy the big brands. They do this by putting all the food in the house into plain packaging and then swapping brands for shops own products. Most of the families insist that there is no way that they would not be able to tell when one of their favourites have been swapped, and that they wouldn't like any substitute. It is inevitable that the more that they insist on these things that the more likely that they won't be able to tell or that once they find out they are happy to swap for cheaper choices. Sometimes they won't swap, but a lot of times they will. The other thing that happens is that they don't swap the product and then the family says they don't like their normal favourite brand when they can't tell if it is that one or not.

Along the way the hosts help the families to learn new recipes, most of which are likely to be healthier and more inexpensive than their normal choices.

What watching this show has done has to get me thinking about whether or not there are shopping and eating habits that we have that we could change. Do we buy big name brands unnecessarily? Do we use too much in the way of prepackaged convenience food? I asked my husband these questions. He was initially a bit offended I think because he does all the food shopping in our house but once we got past that it was an interesting conversation. He tells me that we aren't brand slaves, not on everything anyway. Maybe he's not, but I was a bit shocked when he bought home the wrong brand of toothpaste a couple of weeks ago.

A month or so ago I would have been absolutely convinced that you couldn't swap my Coke Zero for another cola, but we have cut back a lot of that since the new year. I had some Coke Zero the other day and I didn't really enjoy it as much as I expected. Perhaps I wouldn't be able to tell the differences? And what about other things. For example, I tend towards brands for things like frozen vegetables, for jam, for margarine on the odd occasion we buy it, definitely for yoghurt. Would we be able to differentiate between the expensive brands of cereals that we buy? We have tried a couple of different brands but should be braver and try a few more brands instead of always just buying the same ones, especially those brands that my son gets through boxes of on a regular basis.

They do some quite interesting recipes. We are thinking about trying recipes like Moroccan Vegetable Stew, cheesy pastry sticks (to replace bread sticks) or Canned Salmon with Couscous and Boiled Eggs.

One of the recipes is for a one pan Roast Chicken that looks really doable and delicious.

Roast Chicken Dinner

300g potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks, about 3–4cm
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into small batons, about 5 x 2cm
2 tsp vegetable oil
2 boneless chicken breasts (skin on)
½ reduced-salt chicken stock cube
80g broccoli, cut into florets
80g cauliflower, cut into florets
20g chicken gravy granules
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/Gas 6.

2 Put the potatoes and parsnips into a large roasting tray, drizzle with 1 teaspoon of the vegetable oil and season with salt and black pepper.

3 Take a piece of foil about 40cm square and place the chicken breasts, skin-side up, into the centre of it, then pull the foil up around the chicken to create a mini tray.

4 Crumble the stock cube over the chicken, pressing it into the flesh, then pour 200ml of cold water into the bottom of the foil, taking care not to pour it over the chicken and wash off all the stock cube. Scrunch the foil up over the chicken to create a sealed parcel and place on the roasting tray (pushing the veg aside a little to make room for the parcel).

5 Roast in the oven for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven, add the broccoli and cauliflower florets to the tray (on top of the other veg), drizzle with the remaining oil and toss all the veg together. Carefully open up the top of the foil parcel to allow the chicken to colour.

6 Return to the oven and roast for another 15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender.

7 Remove from the oven, put the gravy granules into a heatproof jug, then carefully pour in the hot juices from the chicken parcel and whisk well until smooth and dissolved.

8 Transfer the roasted chicken breasts to serving plates and serve with the roasted veg alongside and the gravy poured over.

Whilst a lot of the recipes are on the basic side, what watching this series has done is get us to ask ourselves questions about how we shop and eat. And that can't be a bad thing really?

When's the last time you asked yourself questions about how you shop and eat?

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.


  1. That show probably wouldn't be very popular in the US as the brands are mainly different. However, the principles are the same. Beginning in the 1930s, the magazine Consumer Reports (run by an independent agency) has been doing comparisons of various brands including generics. Sometimes the generics are better. Sometimes not so much.

    best... mae at

    1. The brands and the supermarket names are different Mae, but the principles are the same for the most part.

  2. Some good ideas about saving money on food. I love when people do blind tasting tests and the store brand wins!

    1. Me too Judee. Or when they don't like the normal brand! It does tell us about the power of marketing and branding though doesn't it.

  3. Sounds like a great show with very sane advice. I have found that if you give store brands a chance they are usually just as good or better. I wonder if we can get the show here.

    1. I think it comes down to the product Beth. Some things I am happy enough with store brands. Other things...not so much.

  4. That sounds like a fun and interesting show to me. I have gotten over my not buying name brands of most things. The store brands lately are pretty equal anymore.

  5. I know I am a bit of a brand buyer! Love the look of that recipe, think I'll mark it for a try.

    1. It looks like a quick and easy way to do a whole chicken dinner.

  6. I think most people have no idea how much money they could save if they cooked their own food instead of buying processed food. (And it would be healthier too.)
    However, I am a brand slave when it comes to baked beans. Those house brands are just not as nice.

    1. Baked beans would be one thing I would insist on a brand, but having said that I haven't tried a non brand named version for at least 15 years so it could we be that there are some other options out there now that are okay.

  7. I haven't seen the show but it sounds right up my alley. I don't know if I can watch it here but I'm going to look it up. I saw there was a book as well by the same name - have you read it?

    1. Athira, We borrowed the book from the library and it was okay. There's a few things in there to try but a lot of the recipes were pretty basic which works in the context of the TV show as you know why they are showing such basic recipes to a family but doesn't work as well in the book.

  8. That roast chicken does look good. Since shopping in a natural foods store means the brands are all different anyway, and to me "name brands" has more of a connotation of commercial, mass produced, and with additives.

    1. Name brands to me tends to imply that it will taste better than the no name brands but I think it is pretty clear that isn't necessarily true

  9. Nothing beats a good roast chicken dinner.



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