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  • Writer's pictureYimin Xu

The UK food bill rose by £574 - how can we really save money?

The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that the prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages rose by 16.4% year on year in October. Given that the average UK household spent £3588 in 2021 on food, this increase is equivalent to £574, or a return ticket from London to Phuket (for my best friend's wedding).


We will walk through why this is happening, what it means to those on a plant-based diet, and a simple plant-based recipe idea for tonight!


War in Ukraine and the weak Pound

The War in Ukraine not only has disrupted the energy supply in Europe, but also food. According to Our World In Data, Ukraine and Russia contribute towards nearly 60% of the global sunflower oil supply (Ukraine 30%), while accounting for 20% of the world's exports in wheat, barley, and maize (corn). Even with the establishment of a safe corridor for shipping in the Black Sea in July, exports have not returned to the pre-war levels as many companies refuse to send their cargo ships into the corridor.


In the past year, the pound also significantly weakened against the US Dollar (at one point by nearly 30% in September), which has further eroded the British consumer's purchasing power of imported products and ingredients.


How are people responding?

What are people doing in response to the cost of living crisis? The latest poll from NimbleFins shows that people are cutting down on their consumption of junk food, followed by meat and alcohol consumption. Consumer behaviour is also changing. People start to order fewer takeaways, shop at the more "budget" grocery chains, and buy more white-label substitutes for branded products such as Coca-Cola.


Does eating plant-based cost more than the standard Western diet?

From our direct surveys, most people voice concerns about the cost and inaccessibility of plant-based substitutes in their local supermarkets. Vegan labels are perceived to offer poor value for money given they are pricier than real meat and dairy but often do not taste as good. As a result, a plant-based lifestyle seems to be for the "rich and fancy" people.


The good news is that contrary to popular belief, eating healthier plant-based actually costs less than the standard Western diet.


Marco Springmann from the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food (University of Oxford) estimates that a flexitarian diet costs 14% less than the Western diet, while vegan and vegetarian diets can save over 30%. Now, remember that holiday in Phuket? Add a few nights at a 5-star hotel. (Okay, okay, yes we are acutely aware that long-haul flights produce high carbon emissions, so this is just an example of what you could potentially save. You could alternatively spend an amazing week in the Cotswolds at an Airbnb.)


So, what's the catch? The most important thing to note in Springmann's estimates is the inclusion of whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and the exclusion of ready-made meals, or highly processed foods (e.g. fake meats). Essentially, what's healthier for you is actually also cheaper, achieving the best of both worlds. We have written a summary of what's included in a healthy plant-based diet here.


Okay, give me an example


Our Plantwise recipes follow whole-food plant-based principles to create dishes that not only taste delicious but are nutritious and affordable. The natural ingredients we choose are also much cheaper and more accessible in our local supermarkets than processed meat alternatives.


We think this roasted cabbage with lentils is the perfect example to share with you. It carries 20 grams of protein and 21 grams of fibre while costing £1.45 to make at home. Lentils are also high in iron, zinc and magnesium.

Ingredients:

150g Red Lentils

120g Chopped Tomatoes (from a can)

120g Sweetheart Cabbage

110g Vegetable Stock

100g Celery, finely chopped

80g Red Onion, finely diced

1tbsp Red Wine Vinegar

1tbsp Tomato Paste

10g Fresh Parsley, finely chopped

1/2tbsp Olive Oil

1 clove of Garlic, finely chopped


For the lentils:

  • Dry lentils yield about 2.5 times cooked lentils in terms of weight.

  • Rinse the lentils and add 1 part lentil to 3 parts water in a pot. This is a lower ratio than often suggested by the packaging because I prefer a more al-dente texture. However, you could add more water according to the package instruction.

  • For red and green lentils, bring the pot to a boil and let it simmer on low heat for 10-12 minutes with a lid, until just tender. Puy, brown, or black lentils will take 5-10 min extra.

Instruction:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.

  2. Mix the cabbage with a dash of oil and the garlic. Roast for 20 minutes.

  3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan on medium. Add the onion and celery to cook for 10 minutes, until softened.

  4. You could prepare the dry lentils separately (according to the preparation step), or simply add them to the pot in the next step.

  5. Add the chopped tomatoes, vegetable stock, tomato paste, and vinegar. Bring the pan to a boil and reduce it to a simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cooked lentils for a further 2 minutes.

  6. Serve the cabbage on top of the lentils with fresh parsley.


Bon appetite!


PS. You can check out our full range of high-protein and affordable recipes in our app - we are on Apple App Store today. For peace of mind, our meal planner helps you track your personal nutrition goals such as protein and iron, so you no longer need to wing them. We even have a food budgeting feature, where we help you track the cost of every meal using prices from the UK's biggest supermarkets.



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