Save like Nana did. Food economy.

We are all facing food prices that are going up in leaps and bounds.    It's a good time to take a look at how Nan managed her modest grocery budget and how she put wholesome meals on the table everyday! 

Nana's meals were nutritious and delicious.  Never once did I hear Nana ask anyone "what did they FEEL like for dinner?"   No,  she had it worked out around what she had that needed using up, what she had from the garden and specials from the store.   So if a little bit of rice was left over we were probably having a baked rice custard for desert.  If there were veggies to use up we were probably having soup.     It never once occurred to me to be unhappy with that.   I don't think I ever asked my girls what they felt like either... except for on birthdays where sometimes they got a special request.   

Nan did not plan what to make then buy the ingredients,  rather she bought ingredients and the best deals then decided what to make.   Some planning would have been there ie to have a roast on Sunday but the roast would be determined by the best buy.   I remember Nan and Pa studying the catalogues and taking them with them and visiting multiple stores to get the best deals.   The meat in meals would go a really long way due to the number of veggies Nan would serve.  There were always lot of delicious roasted vegetables and bakes.   I didn't realise it back then but now I see she was feeding a lot of people and made that roast feed us all! 

Nana never had purchased snacks.  I am not sure they were even a thing then.   She almost always had a tin of biscuits (cookies)  or a cake made.   So did my Mum and on Sundays Mum made a stack of pancakes or pikelets for my brother and me and if there were any left over they were buttered and went into our lunchboxes the next day.    On special occasions Nana made sponge cakes, cream kisses, sponge rolls and all kinds of dreamy things!  

Most weekends involved a roast at either my Nana's house or at home.   The cold meat that was left over went into our sandwiches.  Buying deli meat was not a thing either.   Roast meat is so much nicer anyway.  (If you look at the price per kilo/pound deli meats are incredibly expensive. )  Once all the meat was used up the bone became the base for the next pot of soup.   I still remember Nans lamb and vegetable soup.... she told me how to make it but it does not turn out like hers!   I know that we had very good nutrition as kids and I only remember food being yummy.   

Whenever we went away on holidays my Nan would make up giant jars of biscuits for us to take with us.  They were pretty shapes and glued together with pale pink icing.   I absolutely loved them.    Mum would make a boiled fruit cake.  These would also be kept in a tin and come with us on picnics.   

Nan and Pa's house had a big old orchard.  It was just beautiful with a creek down below it.  Pa grew quite a few vegetables as well.   There was a huge prolific lemon tree and if there were lemons or any other fruit then they were used up and worked into the menu and added to the shelves. 

Jars were saved for fruit season.   Mum was often making jam or relish/chutney.   If you had a sweet craving jam on toast did the trick!

Nana's shopping list was for ingredients.  Milk, butter, eggs, meat, vegetables,  flour, tea, sugar...   things that gave her a huge amount of possibilities.   If visitors arrived she was usually ready with something in the cake tin but otherwise she could make up some scones very quickly.  

Packed lunches for school were a foregone conclusion.   I allowed my girls to have a purchased lunch order at school if they were really keen and this was about three times a year.   

Baby food was pureed pear, apples or pumpkins then later a meat marrow bone would be cooked up with veggies then blended.   As the baby got bigger and grew teeth the blending became less and less until baby was eating what everyone else was.    When Harper was little I began making baby food for her.  I figured out how much my slow cooker contained and what it equalled in terms of how many baby food jars I could fill.  At that time it worked out to be a savings of $60 over supermarket baby food.   $60 each time!   And I knew what was in it.  

We still don't buy food or snacks in packets.   The individual sized yoghurts and fruits etc are all a lot more expensive than buying one bigger container.   It is not so hard to serve it out!  There are lots of ways to save by going back to a simpler way.    It is ok to go back to a simpler way too.   Less packaging and less artificial ingredients as well!    

I have tried to absorb lessons from Nan and from Mum and not waste food,  plan around what I have,  keep the fridge organised so things are not forgotten about and grow legs... haha    Just now I have two big zucchinis,  loads of tomatoes,  plenty of basil and today we picked apples and pears.   I also have five dozen eggs and more to collect tomorrow!   This all means I don't need too much from the store and  I can add to my food storage too.   This will help the food economy (and security) down the line. 

Old cook books are absolutely beautiful as they are full of simple ingredients.   They are like a trip down memory lane and full of goodness.   

Finally now I am beginning to understand why Nana folded and re used her alfoil,  hung plastic bags up to dry and always had something cooking.   She did it with such a happy spirit.   I want to be like that. xxx


  1. Beautiful. I wash plastic bags and foil and reuse them until they fall apart - baking paper too, it works until it crumbles. In our home growing up Sunday was roast day, or corned beef, depending on what Mum had. Monday we knew we would have cold meat and pickle sandwiches for our lunch and if it was a lamb roast, sweet lamb curry with apples and sultanas over boiled rice for tea. If it was corned beef, then Monday night was Mum's corned beef pie (I make this now and it is a family favourite). Bones became soup. Monday and Friday were Mum's baking days and she would make enough biscuits, cakes and scones to last 3 - 4 days. We always had homemade cake in our lunchboxes with our sandwich. Servings were small, well smaller than what people expect these days. If we were still hungry we could have seconds, but we had to eat everything on our plate, especially if we had seconds. Mum practiced portion control without even knowing such a thing existed I think. Our plates and bowls were smaller than what we have today. I swapped all our big plates for smaller ones when we did the kitchen reno in 2021, and it made a big difference to meal sizes and food waste. We would often have unexpected visitors for meals, but there was always enough. More veggies, lots of bread and jam, and always a dessert and then fruit to fill everyone up. My goal is to be as good as my mother at stretching what we have without it looking stretched or mean, and that no one leaves our table hungry. It's a work in progress :)

  2. Oh Annabel, our growing up years were the best when it came to simple foods, full bellies, and seasonal menus. I don't ever remember being asked what I wanted for a meal...Nana cooked from what was available, and it was always delicious. She served bread on the table with every meal, and like you you said, rice custard (and bread & butter custard, and plain baked custard, or banana custard) was a staple dessert because the main ingredients were eggs, milk and sugar - all of which were cheap and plentiful.
    I have a CWA cookbook from 1959 and it overflows with 'ordinary' recipes, and I also love the Commonsense Cookery Book we learned to cook from in school. Simpler ways, simpler days, simpler meals...they will never steer you wrong. Bless you heaps!

  3. Dear Annabel,
    Your stories from today post are exactly like my home, back when I was a kid and my Mom and Granny were the best super women of my world. They did all of the above and I, surprisingly, do almost all the things you describe here. It is common sense for me to cook with what I have, to not waste food, to have on hands what we like best and to create familiar meals that everybody around the table likes. It takes a bit of organisation and thinking ahead but isn*t that the best game?

    Maybe here I can write about the roots of this shopping, organizing, cooking game. Around 10 years old I was almost crashed to a baker*s counter by the people behind me pushing - fresh bread had arrived after 3 hours of waiting in the sun. I remember screaming I have no air and after that I woke up on the lawn in front of the shop with some people with fresh water. Not funny!
    Before December 1989, when Ceausescu was killed, products such as bread, oil and sugar were bought by the portion, on the card. For a bottle of milk, our parents would get up from 5 am to leave their empty milk bottle in line. Yes, in the old days, for a common product like milk, you stood in line from 5 in the morning.
    There were no meat products in the shops but we had chicken claws and lots of prawns from Vietnam, which were similar to today's chips. But there was fish, the Romanians had little and they were becoming the dolphins of Europe. (I like fish!)
    Before 1989 most consumer goods were bought "on hand". For example, the head butcher or the grocer was the most respected character in the neighborhood. It depended on them whether we would have chicken claws or a piece of pork on the table. I said piece, not kilogram or kilograms.
    Before 1989 it was illegal to butcher your own cattle, sheep or pigs so when somebody was brave or desperate enough to do that, for example he would contact the workers from the factory where my mom worked, everybody was on a list with how much and what part of meat they wanted, everything happened in the dark night hours and morning come, the whole yard was swept and cleaned - nothing happened there.
    I do not take food for granted, even now when the supermarkets are full. I don*t understand how so much food is thrown away in the garbage, I don*t understand how (or why) people follow fashion trends in eating and cooking when a good healthy food cooked at home is so much more delicious.
    Now you got me hungry, I must go in the kitchen. Best wishes to everyone and thank you, Annabel, for bringing up cherished memories and remind me of doing some things. Lots of love, Laura_s_world from Romania

    1. Wow you paint a grim picture of food availability in the hard years! I can see why you are well sharpened to use everything to its best potential. Thanks for telling us how tight things were. We may yet see such things but I know the Bluebirds will be canny and deal with whatever comes. Much love,

  4. You are like that and encouraging new generations who may not be blessed with such parents and grandparents. This post was a real trip down memory lane. Nice to remember 'real' food before convenient and packaged food became the norm.
    I envy you those lemon trees. We have apple trees and do use up every bit of them, making desserts, apple butter, apple juice and dried slices for snacks. It is surprising how many people will not use their fruit and consider the trees a nuisance which requires cleaning up the dropped fruit. Sadly, many mature and bearing fruit trees are cut down because of that attitude.
    Baby food... many just do not understand that they can make their own with a blender; it's just another step in putting food on the table for everybody. Manufacturers would have us believe that their product is more healthful and 'safe' than home made. Not unlike the argument that formula is better than breast milk. Fortunes have been made on such misinformation.

  5. Such a great blog post. I saved my aluminum foil from making scalloped potatoes for dinner last night and lunch today. 😊

  6. This is a lovely post Annabel! And so full of common sense!!

    Last year I read an article about whether it was cheaper to bake at home or buy store bought. They tested three items, chocolate chip cookies, banana bread, and cheese scones. For all three the conclusion was it was cheaper to buy them at the supermarket. They did acknowledge that it wasn’t perfect science, due to different recipes etc but I found it so frustrating to read! There was no mention of the fact that the cookies that are baked at home are bigger, and not flat like cardboard as the ones from the supermarket were. Or that baking bananas can be picked up cheaply from the supermarket, and the banana bread from the supermarket is tiny!

    I also cringe at the packaging. I’ve seen lunchboxes filled with packaged food, but no sandwich to fill kids up and only fruit covered in jelly. Lunchboxes are pretty good these days, with lots of compartments. So it’s easy to pack a varied lunch without needing to wrap everything up.

    I could go on, but that’s enough of a rant!! For what it’s worth, I absolutely think you’re just like your Nana’s the way you prepare food for your whole family.

    Jen (NZ)

  7. I love reading this. My grandmother's were the same way. I also do not meal plan and then shop. I buy ingredients on sale or clearance and stock up and grow a big garden and make meals. Nothing gets wasted. I have what I call tid bit day where I check the fridge, pantry and freezer to see what needs used up and make meals from it. I had to giggle because I loved my grandma's soup and I get close but hers was the best! So many tasty meals can be made from just a few ingredients or a little of this and that.

  8. I love this, Annabel. So much common sense, good tasting and REAL food, and no fuss...just getting on with things (as in, this is just LIFE). This is such important info, and bears repeating over and over, as this kind of eating has really disappeared for so many, and yet was so common not all that long ago! Fast food is scrambled eggs and toast! Like you say, a sweet craving, jam on toast or bread! We used to take leftover pancakes and make peanut butter and jelly "sandwiches" out of them, and loved that as a special treat for a school lunch. As we were older, us kids were responsible for taking turns making everyone's packed lunches the night before (this was usually for 4 people), and each weekend we spent a morning making 2 types of cookies to put in cookie jars for that week's lunches. Mom made 8 loaves of bread at a time (she must have had a bigger oven than me, as I can only fit in 4 at a time!), as we went thru it pretty quickly for that many sandwiches a week! Fruit was, banana, or orange. And if fresh fruit wasn't available (or affordable), we had homemade fruit leather or canned fruit that we took in Tupperware containers (which always leaked...groan). Mom always cooked from scratch, and I always thought she was the best cook ever! One year, when I was in high school (about Grade 9 or 10), she went back to work and wasn't home in time to cook supper, so it was my job when I got home from school. I know I wasn't the only kid in my class at school that had to do the same thing, and it gave me a lot of practice at cooking full meals! (I had a hard time learning to cook for only 1 person after I left home, instead of 6!!).

    It is a real help to learn to cook without following a recipe exactly, as this allows for using up ingredients that are available. That took me a long time, as I always thought I had to follow a recipe exactly and didn't know how to "ad lib"...I never liked to color out of the lines with coloring books, either! Ha, ha. We started our girls out early with cooking, making them responsible for one meal a week each, and enduring plenty of times where supper was really late while they got the hang of getting all the dishes finished at the same time, but they are fabulous cooks, now. The true test of how their cooking stands up to a tight budget will certainly be when they move out, but they already know how to plan around what is already here at the house, so I'm happy about that!

    Tonight is pancakes for Shrove Tuesday, and then Lent begins, and our grocery bill will be much smaller for the next 6 weeks. It is good discipline to be able to pare back dramatically a couple of times a year for an extended period of time (Lent, Advent)...good for the soul, good for the body, good for the budget, and good for others, as we take our savings and pass it along to those in need.

    Thanks for reminding us that each meal doesn't have to be "gourmet" with expensive ingredients in order to be tasty, healthy, and even interesting! (And sometimes NOT interesting, but fills bellies. :))

    Love, Jen in NS

    1. That’s wonderful that you wind the menu down in Lent. I will do this too. Love, Lily

  9. I love this, Annabelle. What a beautiful post. I don't remember a grandma who cooked much, but my mama did. I miss her so and wish I had paid more attention. I am 75 and she passed 3 years ago.

  10. I think many people are going to have a huge wake up call concerning what they eat. Picky eaters will need to try new items or starve.
    We have several situations in our family where allergies are a serious issue. We have planned ahead for those situations and stock substitutes. Preferences might have to go by the wayside, but allergies are a different animal.
    We have a vegan family member that is vegan, mostly, by choice. However, due to their stomach issues the vegan diet has helped them a lot. Vegetarian eating is much easier to cook for than vegans. This family member might have to compromise a bit and see how they feel.
    I have done a vegan notebook full of recipes and a gluten free notebook full of recipes. We make sure to stock most items.
    Our grandmothers would create recipes without eggs or oil, but it seems that has become a rather lost art. 1/4 cup of applesauce, pumpkin, banana or yogurt will substitute for an egg in baking. Our ancestors made due with what they had. They had no choice but to do that.
    We might enter a similar time soon and your posts, Annabel, are very important for us to glean from and a great source of encouragement. Thank you.
    Love and hugs,

    1. I completely agree. I think that time is coming soon too. Love, Lily

  11. Our grandparents and parents for that matter knew how to stretch food. I learned from my Mom....

    My boys always took a packed lunch to school. Oldest tried a meal at the high school and hated it, youngest would ask about once a month or two if he could purchase something.

    God bless.

  12. I can hear Cath from here "Ingredients give you options" ha ha
    But in all seriousness she is right, and our grandparents were right. I'm trying to put this into practice more and more, my biggest downfall is still having two teenage boys at home, I would literally have to bake every single day to keep them fed, and I don't always have the luxury of that time, and so snack foods creep in, especially the savoury snack foods like Jatz and chips!

    From Cheryl

    1. Hi Cheryl. I had twin boys and the teenage years kept me on my toes as they would have 1st afternoon tea, second afternoon tea, dinner then supper! I made scones and scone scrolls but also had on hand the Mei Goreng noodles, frozen dim sims to steam etc.Fruit was also a boon. I understand the having snacks available. There were times I gave them some chewing gum as their mouths just needed to be occupied.

  13. This is a wonderful post, Annabel, and so helpful and timely, thank you.

    My mom cooked a few things well, but was busy and does not really enjoy cooking, so I learned from my grandmother and books and online friends. My grandmothers did the same things you mention, and I am thankful to have their recipe books/boxes - lots of amazing options and good use of foods/every little bit, but also family favorites like pfefferneusse cookies for Christmas. It is amazing to see the recipe cards that were written out and shared from friends, too.

    I hope everyone has a good week.

  14. I loved this post, Annabel. It reminded me of my grandmother’s too and of my mum. Growing up Sunday was one of my favourite days. I loved having the roast dinner and a cake was always made. I have lately been thinking that back in the old days families were lucky to have three meals on the table so snacks just weren’t around. I’m trying to cut back on this. I think the world has gone a little crazy with food. Nowadays, you can just run to the shop to get a special type of mushroom. This would not have happened in the past. Also The pressure on parents about the children’s lunchboxes. I feel that as long as the lunchbox is full and home-made then it’s good. I think a time is coming when we will be very lucky just to have food in front of us. Thank you for your encouragement and enthusiasm. I’m off to make fried rice now and some biscuits. Lots of love, Lily

  15. My Mother was not, and still isnt, a very good cook. She says she eats to live not lives to eat. We always had enough food to eat. If we were still hungry there was weetbix in the cupboard to fill up on. There was no such thing as leftovers in our house. When I visit my folks and stay, the kitchen and its contents is handed over to me and I am in charge of meals.
    Bluey grew up with a Mother who was a magnificent cook. She taught him how to cook and he in turn taught me and then both our children. I taught myself how to bake and how to preserve. Like you said those old cookbooks have a wealth of information in them.
    Bluey is our meals cook and our shopper. He will often ask me what I feel like for dinner and then proceed to make it that night or the following one. He says it gives him ideas when he runs out of them. I also ask him what he would like in the cake tin for snacks this week.
    When Spencer visits he will come to the kitchen bench and point at the cake tin and say 'Cake?' If he is told yes he can have cake he runs out to his chair on the veranda and climbs up to sit at the table. You have to sit at the table if you want to eat. This is a 'Granny' rule. These are the sorts of memories I want for the Grandies.

  16. My mom and grandmother didn't cook this way so I'm learning good things! Both mom and grandmother were busy and had little time to cook for us. Thankfully, I've spent time learning how to cook from scratch without convenience foods. Now I'm learning how to manage the nutrition of the family as well. Thank you for this post! I'm excited to learn more about feeding us well!

  17. I enjoyed this post, Annabel! I never knew my grandparents but I was born in 1946 and remember that my mom never wasted a morsel. When she died in 1995 and I opened her refrigerator, I found that she had all of her leftovers labeled and dated so that she wouldn't miss a thing! I was surprised only because she didn't need reminders when I was a kid...using up food was just something she automatically did. (My sister used to help by making bean sandwiches with leftovers. Not something that I was ever tempted to do, LOL).
    --Maxine, aka mikemax

  18. I come from a line of very hardworking Grandmas. Unfortunately I was not privy to their knowledge because one passed away when I was young and the other had strokes that left her unwell. As a young married girl I relied on a good friend and learned cooking basics. As my interest in baking grew and I became stay at home mama to 1 then now 5 I have adopted these practices! I buy in bulk, we garden, I go to a massive Amish discount store and buy things I can't afford otherwise. I do buy things like pretzels and crackers but most snacks are made. I cook in rhythms. Since my husband and 12 year old son are type 1 diabetics we need protein heavy meals so I rotate meats so no one is bored. We cook beans and I have taught my kids to like bean and rice meals for lean times. Basically I'm doing my best to keep the old ways. We also eat soup. A lot. I also live somewhere with 4 seasons so that really affects what we eat. Now that my youngest is about to be 1 I hope to have more time and energy to devote to preserving and preparing. I am really sad for all the women my age who know nothing about the kitchen and rely on food from packages. But I'm proof you can learn what you want when you want!
    Love all the comments and I learn so much from them.

  19. My grandmothers cooked in the way you speak of: planned meals from what was on hand, what had been on sale, etc. My mom on the other hand, spent her days buying stuff for recipes some of which she made and some of which she never got around to. She also relied on a lot of convenience food items, mixes and such rather than real foods. Some of those things do have a place in my pantry but like you it's ingredients, not mixes and I have learned to cook based on what I have. Just now, I'm out of several produce items, BUT I planned a week's worth of meals and not one item will need to be purchased.
    Personally I find quite a creative thrill from making 'something' out of my nothing and putting a meal on the table that my family finds pleasing.


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