Economy in Food; How to Meet the Rise in Prices

  • May 5, 2017

The woman who would feed her family well and yet reduce expenses must first of all learn to cook, so that she may be able to instruct her cook in the best and cheapest methods of preparing food

It was customary before the war, in what may be called the average Times household, to eat much bacon, to use eggs, butter, and milk lavishly, to order only the best joints, and to consume a great deal of meat. Owing to the customs of English tradesmen and their employees the householder did not always receive the full amount of bread, milk, and other foods for which he paid, and owing to the lack of knowledge and of control exercised by the mistress the average cook was sometimes dishonest (though it must be admitted that she herself did not consider her methods dishonest), generally wasteful, and frequently ignorant.

Now, about six years ago, and then only with careful management, 10s per head per week sufficed to buy the food, tea, coffee, cocoa, and cleaning materials for a family who did not ask for luxury, but for fairly good living. Six months before war broke out it certainly cost 11s 6d per head, and now it costs 14s 6d a head to cater in the same fashion. For a family of seven it costs about 3s 6d per head more than it cost 18 months ago, which amounts to 24s 6d a week, which is a £64 14s a year increase on this one item of the family budget. But is there any reason that we should continue to live in the way in which we lived six years ago, when food was considerably cheaper? Not the least reason, for we can be fed sufficiently and appetisingly at a lower cost even with food at its present price, if we will shake ourselves free of the idea that we need three meat meals a day to keep us in health, a fallacy which the study of any good work upon food values will disprove.

In no Continental country with which I am acquainted do the well-to-do classes eat such expensive fare three times a day, while in England the working man and his family thrive on a very different diet. Now I have often noticed that when asking for advice my correspondent will remark: “We cannot make any, change in the meals, because my husband likes freshly cooked meat at each meal. He will not eat made-up dishes,” &c. I had better say at once that such a style of living cannot be cheap, and the man of moderate income has no more right to demand it than his wife has to order her dresses in Hanover Square.


After a careful study of wartime catering I consider that the woman who would feed her family well and yet reduce expenses must first of all learn to cook, so that she may be able to instruct her cook in the best and cheapest methods of preparing food. She must then learn to buy, watching the variations of the market and taking advantage of them, and she must, having bought, make sure that she receives what she pays for and utilize every atom of material to the best advantage. Therefore weigh and measure bread, meat, fruit, milk, &c. Write all orders in a duplicate book and sign them. Do not allow the butcher to send 5lb 8oz of beef when you have ordered 5lb. Insist that every piece of left-over food is put away in the larder on a clean plate for your inspection next day.

It is by using up pieces to good advantage that you can lessen the total of the house bills. If you live in a town, deal with a firm which sends out the milk in sealed bottles. Have any milk, however little, left in jugs poured into a clean basin. Keep all pieces of bread, toast cuttings, &c, in a clean, covered crock. Use them for bread crumbs, pulled bread, and puddings. As far as possible do not cut a new loaf until the last is finished. Order wholemeal bread and do without expensive fancy bread, Watch the use of milk eggs, and butter carefully. Margarine is a cheap and admirable substitute for cooking butter, and egg or custard powder serves in some cases in place of egg. Cease to buy expensive garnishes and savouries, such as olives, anchovies, almonds, &c., but do not cease to have all food neatly and attractively dished. Do not scorn pieces: you have a rasher of bacon, the drumstick of a fowl, a mutton cutlet.

You also possess a mincing machine, salt, pepper, and other flavourings, some sauce and cold potato, or the rice loft from a curry. Mince the meat, seeing that it is free from skin and bone and gristle, season, mix with the sauce and potato or rice, and make a dish of small rissoles, savoury potato cakes, or a savoury toast.

Cultivate a taste for soup. From material that in many houses is thrown away a nourishing soup might be prepared each day. The soup costs next to nothing and lessens the consumption of more expensive foodstuffs. A dinner consisting of soup, meat, and vegetables and a sweet or savoury contents most people, but shorn of the soup it would be a meagre repast. Many cooks will tell you that soup cannot be made without meat. It can. Delicious clear vegetable soup may be, as its name implies, made from vegetables only, while numbers of thick soups may be concocted from stock extracted from bones of joints and poultry, enriched with vegetables and in some cases milk.

Do not throw away the outside leaves and trimmings of vegetables; cleanse them and use them for flavouring stock. Note that nine times out of ten a savoury may be achieved from left-over pieces. Indeed, I would guarantee in a household of six or seven people to provide a savoury at least four nights of the week out of material only too often thrown away.

Use your brains when making out the menus and see how often you may use a cheaper material to eke out the more expensive kinds. For example, mix savoury rice with scrambled eggs, and thus make three eggs do the work of five or six. Servo saute potato or potato cakes with bacon. Add braised onion and sliced potato to a steak pie. Serve plenty of vegetables and maccaroni with a stewed steak. Use an ample quantity of pearl barley with Irish stew or hotpot of mutton. Mix rice or potato with rissoles of moat or fish. It is only by “managing,” as the poor people term it, that you can cater well for your family at present prices.