Monday, 19 November 2012

Thanks Mum

There is a story in one of the papers today, stating that the UK is in the grips of a “nutritional recession”. The Guardian suggest that because people are so skint, they are relying on packaged, convenience foods rather than fresh meat and vegetables and as a result consumption of saturated fats and sugars has soared since 2010. I’m not saying the research is wrong, but I think the reasoning behind these statistics is perhaps a little out (probably because it was written by people who have money to burn on M&S ready meals).

I make no secret of the fact I am completely broke right now. And although this can be challenging and traumatic at times, it actually has some benefits, and one of those is that the kids and I eat far healthier than we ever did when we had more money in the bank.

When I was growing up my mum had an absolutely incredible talent which I really didn’t appreciate at the time. My dad was in a job that wasn’t particularly highly paid, but my mum was adamant that she wanted to stay at home to be there for us kids, and be a perfect housewife to my dad (a sacrifice I am so very grateful to her for making). But in order to make this arrangement work financially she had to be incredibly creative with cash. And she was very good at it. Somehow, despite not having a lot of money, we grew up in a lovely home, with absolutely amazing dinners every night (it is thanks to my mum that I had no knowledge of the existence of Crispy Pancakes until I had moved out of home and didn’t taste a Pot Noodle until the ripe old age of 21) and at least one good holiday a year. We may not have had the latest trainers and I didn’t get to go on the school ski trip (probably a good thing in hindsight, what puts me off is the ski lift, given my total lack of coordination I really can’t see myself having any success with something like that whatsoever), but other than that we wanted for nothing, all of the important stuff was there, and we also had our mum whenever we needed her. By today’s standards, it was idyllic.

I now have a paltry £17 a week food budget and a very hectic work schedule, but thanks to my mum’s successful penny pinching and the lessons I learned from her, I am managing that perfectly well. We have no control over the rising costs of gas and electricity, or that extra money is constantly being squeezed from everywhere you turn, but there are ways of buffering all of that, and one of them is in keeping our food costs down.

There was a long running joke in our house that my mum could make a three course dinner out of four left over chips and a tin of tuna. And I never really appreciated this sort of thing. Until now.

The Dad and I have had many conversations recently about having very little money. He was finding that he was over spending at the supermarket. I have stopped panicking about money now, as living in a constant state of terror is not much fun, and having lived for a good few months on my low budget I am still here, happier and probably healthier than ever. But The Dad does not have the benefit of all my mums chip recycling knowledge, so I have been trying to pass on some of the lessons she taught me.

When you are forced to be a little more creative with cash you come up with some amazing results. My kids love ice cream. And despite my tiny budget, I don’t like the thought of them going without anything so I made some of my own, using only four ingredients and found that it was incredibly quick to make, but more importantly cost only about 15% of the price of a tub of the “ice cream” they sell in shops (which mostly don’t even list cream as one of their ingredients, instead thousands of other ingredients which most of us have never even heard of, don’t get me started).

I am not a food nazi. And I allow my kids to have convenience foods as a treat when I can afford it, they get the occasional dinner of fish fingers, and I don’t buy posh sausages, but we eat well and keep it simple. And this is why I object to any research that seems to allude to the fact that poor people are forced to have poor diets. I am, in the financial sense of the word, poor, but we do not tuck into convenience foods on a daily basis, because that is an expensive way of living. And the reason I know that is because of my mum and her shielding me from Crispy Pancakes. Thanks Mum J

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