When I arrived at my flat on that memorable January morning, I was taken aback by the fridge/freezer setup. In the kitchen stood a lumbering freezer and stowed safely away in each of our rooms squatted petite, cubic mini fridges. In retrospect, the amount of freezer:fridge room wasn’t that different than at home, but the location and size did make an impact. I wondered how I would shelter the cornucopia of veggies I bought each week in the small space. How would I optimize the comparatively vast freezer space?
For better or worse, I’ve adapted to a lifestyle with few shelf-stable products and mostly perishables. It makes me feel good but gosh does it take extra time. I’m happy to spend time instead of calories, but luckily cooking is a release for me, or else it’d feel like a chore.
So, a major difference in London living is that people here don’t usually go food shopping on one day. They go a couple days a week, just purchasing the items they need to get by for a few meals. This happens because (1) many don’t have cars to fill with grocery bags and (2) veggies perish rather quickly so it’s best to buy what you can use soon (maybe more reasons too.) At first I did the US thing of spending a pretty penny on one day and waiting a week for more food, but gradually eased into the other method. It’s nicer.
If you’d like to read more about this stark difference between the US and Europe, here’s a brief article from the LA Times. It’s amazing because it’s such a logical idea yet so many of us Americans don’t really realize it.
Ok, now for how to spend about $20/week on food that’s not pasta or lentils! This is one of my best tips for studying abroad or just anywhere you have access to this secret.
Here it goes!
Highly discounted trials from grocery delivery companies.
I’ve signed up for three different programs from companies who offer steep discounts for first-time customers. And each delivered to my door! The trick is to make a note of when to cancel so as not to be charged an extra week or whatever when all you want is that first, extremely satisfyingly cheap offer week. And when you’re finished, go back and edit your phone number out of your account so customer service won’t call you 3x/day (looking at you, Abel & Cole.) A brief explanation of each:
1. Abel & Cole
This was an awesome deal, but not for the faint of cooking heart. It was a steep learning curve but I grew so much from it. Basically, I was part of a slightly corporate CSA for a month and received a whopping box of veggies that lasted me seven days. It cost about $12/week and let me start my London experience very healthily. However, being showered with so many perishables was a challenge- I usually cooked it all up in 1,2, or 3 days into different meals and froze most of it, reheating after long days of work. Sometimes it was a struggle to prevent things from rotting. And cooking all this up on one day for 4 hours might not be ideal for everyone. But you can space it out. And if you know anyone who belongs to a CSA, they’ll light up when telling you all the benefits of fresh, organic veggies that support local farmers. When I have a real place to live, a CSA is on my list.
I found this deal on LivingSocial. Bonativo is a high-end food delivery service and I picked exactly which items I wanted. I paid something like 18 pounds for 45 pounds’ worth of products (in dollars, about $30 for $78). It felt like a little pampering because I bought some fancy almonds, Cumberland sausages, a veg box, and oh-so-luxe salmon (among other things)! Def recommend this company, even for just one delivery. Oh, that’s the catch- you have to spend a certain amount to get free delivery (vs 7 pounds or something.) But overall, a good good deal.
This company’s clientele includes people who are busy, lacking in cooking skills or confidence, or just want a few recipes’ ingredients directly delivered to them. It was my least favorite of the 3 programs because the dishes weren’t as packed with taste and nutrition as I like. While I followed the first recipe to a T, by the third I just used the ingredients for a different (made up on the spot) recipe altogether. However, for someone wishing to learn more about cooking, this structured service is helpful. And since you’re theoretically using 100% of your products, there’s minimal waste. Each recipe supposedly takes around 30 minutes (a bit of an underestimate, I found.) This cost for six meals was 15 pounds versus the typical 39 pounds ($23 vs $59).
And lastly, my true-blue (inexpensive) pantry staples: BEANZ and homemade bread!
Again, these are definitely a time investment but if you are waiting for your laundry or just doing work in the kitchen, boiling beans for 90 minutes or waiting for your bread to rise and bake aren’t so laborious. Beans are super nutritious (although don’t eat a whole can of them in one day, like I once did…) And with the bread, I made sure it was packed with flax, bee pollen, whole wheat flour, seeds, or something else to help counterbalance the cons of the carbs.
I’m sure you can tell I could talk about food all day but actually I’m off to make some bread! One last word of advice- check out those coupon sites like Groupon and LivingSocial, as well as the impressive Amazon Local. All of these sites contain some money-saving gems for services or products that are all over the map.