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Shop for less but feed the family more

By Features Reporter

Cookbook author Lorna Cooper.Picture: Seven Dials/Andrew Hayes-Watkins/PA
Cookbook author Lorna Cooper.Picture: Seven Dials/Andrew Hayes-Watkins/PA

Five years ago, Paisley-born Lorna Cooper set up a Facebook page (facebook.com/fyf20quid) to help people get dinner on the table more easily, healthily and – most importantly – cheaply.

She recalls how at the start, “we had people commenting and messaging us saying, ‘We’ve got £3.75 to last us until Thursday, what can we do?’”.

Half a decade on, she says, “that’s been consistent”.

Food poverty is being increasingly (and quite rightly) talked about more than ever before, and in terms of how many people are affected, Cooper says, “one person is way too many, isn’t it?”

Cooper, 43, started the FYF community after a back injury left her off work sick for almost a year. As a mum of three and stepmother of two, her family’s £100-a-week food bill had become pretty much untenable.

“I started to look at the budget to see where I could cut costs,” she remembers, and began scrapping expensive jarred sauces, cooking from scratch rather than just heating stuff up, and soon found herself sharing tips online with other people in a similar position.

FYF now has more than half a million followers – and a new cookbook to match, Feed Your Family For £20 A Week.

But it’s not just about handing someone a £20 note and pushing them into a supermarket, saying: ‘Here you go’.

Instead, Cooper is pragmatic, providing an eight-week, £160 meal-plan (to feed four people), and employing batch-cooking, buying in bulk and using up leftovers in ways that turn basic actions into tools of total ingenuity.

The ethos behind the food – which she says is “not fancy; it’s healthy, it’s filling” – takes you back to “what your granny or your great-granny would’ve cooked, from scratch.

“They wouldn’t have thrown out leftovers, they would’ve gone in the next meal.”

She says these are skills a lot of people just haven’t had the opportunity to learn. “I didn’t get taught it. I lost my mum when I was only 11 and I didn’t know how to cook. I hadn’t been taught budgeting.” So how can you stretch £20 into a full week of meals? Well to start with, for Cooper, doing a big shop involves more than one supermarket. “There’s a lot of shopping about,” she says, “to see where’s got the best bargains.”

And when you get home, it’s about being savvy with your time and your freezer (“What I mean when I say ‘batch-cooking’ is it doesn’t take any more time to make two lasagnes than it does to make one”).

Her approach to organic and free-range produce is just as pragmatic. “If you can afford to, if you want to, you can use more organic and free-range things, but the core of the book at the moment, it’s to keep the costs as low as possible.”

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