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Trying to cook 2018 Jack Monroe recipes made me pay way more than I’d hoped

Trying to cook 2018 Jack Monroe recipes made me pay way more than I'd hoped

Thanks to a rise in the cost of living, the energy crisis, Brexit and problems with shipping it is becoming more and more expensive to get our weekly grocery. It can be very difficult for families who have to work harder to get their finances in order and many turn to food banks.

Activist and chef Jack Monroe has kept a digital registry over the years of recipes showing how bad the rises were. Jack has created an online, free archive of recipes describing each individual ingredient and also where they were purchased.

Living on a lower income means careful planning and strong budgeting skills. Every cent is planned before a meal is prepared, but even then it can be exhausting to mentally prepare to brave the grocery store. As for online shopping? Forget it with a minimum spend of £40 with delivery charges.

How high are the raises? I randomly chose three recipes and prepared a meal to see the changes in the budget.

Meal planning can be very difficult due to the cost of living crisis

Recipe One: Creamy Beans and Eggplant

When it comes to cooking things for less, being vegetarian is really helpful as it eliminates expensive meat purchases. Also, some of the plant-based substitutes can be really filling. I decided to start my meal planning with a creamy bean and eggplant recipe from 2018 because it seemed like a great option for a quick but tasty lunch.

Jack estimated that the meal costs just 66 pence and should make three servings at this price. They also listed the cost of each ingredient and state that it is based on Asda prices.

When it comes to cooking things for less, being vegetarian comes in handy as there are plenty of opinions about filling plant-based meals. I chose a 2018 Jack Monroe Creamy Bean and Eggplant recipe because it seems like a great option for a quick but tasty lunch.

The price of the meal is estimated based on the number of servings you get of each item, so if there are two servings in a 500ml can of tomato sauce for 70 pence, that’s 35 pence per meal.

I immediately notice that there are increases, but many ingredients are not that bad since this recipe is already three years old. The only way to make meals like this that are healthy and on a budget is to cook in batches. To do this, you’ll need an initial investment of around £5.73 for the meal Jack made in 2018, but has increased to £6.45 by 2022.

Some of this was hard to work out because the black pepper option sold out so I had to find a cheap alternative but got less product as a result. Oil was also difficult to calculate in that respect. Another problem that arises from this is that you rely on having all the ingredients in stock for that price. If even one item is out of stock, it can take a lot of panic and searching to find an alternative.

Recipe Two: Carrot, Cumin and Kidney Bean Burgers

This is another Jack Monroe recipe and one where they’ve already noticed the price increases over the past few years. The recipe was originally published in 2012 when it cost just 9p per burger, and that rose to 17p in 2018.

This was really hard to calculate as many of the individual items were out of stock or forced me to buy in bulk. When it came to buying just one carrot for 7 pence in 2018, it was impossible for me today as I could only find more expensive multipacks. This increased my initial expenses and also meant that I would have to use carrots in all my dishes for the next few days.

So much of this style of shopping relies on luck, planning and getting to the stores at the right time. While I work, all I have to do is grab my basics after work for cooking, which means things can be sold out by the time I get there. I’m also limited to shopping in city center supermarkets as I don’t drive so I’m forced to pay the higher prices.

I still can’t find individual carrots so I’m forced to spend 70 pence for a bag instead of the 7 pence I need for a bag. This may sound like better long-term savings, but it does mean I’m now forced to make something that uses all the roots rather than just what I need. This recipe also includes flour that cost 45 pence in 2018, but the cheapest I could find was 70 pence – luckily I don’t have to consider expensive gluten-free options, which would be impossible.

It’s also worth pointing out that I feel like I need a good solid drink after doing all this math and it’s only noon. I haven’t even tried to actually cook anything and I’m tired of it already.

Recipe Three: Red Mushroom Curry

You can’t go wrong with a good curry, especially if you have to cook in batches. With this in mind, I opted for a red mushroom curry in hopes of making something I could save for lunch during the week. The recipe I used was estimated to be two to four servings for 40 pence per meal.

I estimated my initial cost to make the meal at £6.57 instead of the £4.40 it would have cost in 2018 when the recipe was made. Oddly enough, ginger was the most expensive raise as I seemed to pay 50 cents more for the same amount compared to Jack’s 2018 estimate.

The planning involved in preparing meals on a tight budget in this way is exhausting. Not only that, but it takes a huge amount of time that I just don’t have. I’m also feeling burned out on the math so I need to take a break from working out the cost.

When you put the comparisons side by side, it doesn’t seem like much to see an ingredient increase by 5p in three years. However, each ingredient had increased, which adds up over time, making each meal a lot more expensive to produce. While these costs can be kept low by developing a closet full of basics, it takes time to do this – time and money too.

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