An interview with home writer Jane Beckenham

An interview with Jane Beckenham

Jane

This week I am excited to share with you an interview with Jane Beckenham. Jane lives in New Zealand and writes a lovely blog called My Home, My Sanctuary. As well as home-based topics Jane also writes about other thought-provoking themes relating to living a contented and fulfilled life.

Jane kindly responded to my questions to provide a snapshot of what she and her work is all about. I’m sure you’ll want to check out her blog after reading her answers!

I love the name of your blog, My home My Sanctuary. Why do you think it is important that our homes act as sanctuaries and what specifically have you done to help create your own sanctuary?

Thank you, Sarah. It took a while to come up with the name and it went through a few manifestations. Our homes are our refuge against the world, against the busyness of it, and the constant call for our attention to outside influences. I feel (and hope for others) that when they walk in their front doors they will feel that ‘refuge’, that sense of a place of belonging, of a home that wraps them in its embrace.

Specifically, I try to keep our home declcuttered – stuff doesn’t offer sanctuary or a sense of calm. Now am I always successful at this, no, not always. But it’s the effort that is important. On a ‘superficial’ level I have tried to decorate our home so that it is pleasing to those that live here, both in style, color and design. The old adage a place for everything and everything in its place is something I work towards.

Would you mind sharing a favourite piece of furniture or or decorative item in your home that you particularly love?

I have several pieces.

Firstly is this writing desk. This belonged to my grandmother (who if she had been alive would have been about 117 by now). My sister actually inherited but she has no room in her house for it, so I get to have the joy of having it here, and remembering my grandmother sitting at it.

Jane desk pic 

On it, are vintage tea cups, but the pink one in the middle which has little gold legs was a present my grandmother received when she got engaged and that was in 1908. The well-loved teddy bear was my husband’s when he was a child. The Russian icon ornaments are a reminder of my children’s birthplace.

What advice would you offer to an individual who has never spent much time or thought on creating a comfortable home that acts as a sanctuary, but would like to? Where would you suggest they start?

I think it’s a two pronged effort. The room I would start on first is their bedroom. Because this is the one room, hopefully, in the house that they can take respite in and the bedroom should offer respite.

However, if clutter, dirty clothes, clothes not put away, exercise equipment, tv, computer etc etc, are all taking up space in the room, they should be moved out, and at least for the clothes etc, put away.

You can’t make a calm refuge when there is STUFF everywhere. A bedroom should be a claming place and seeing the treadmill in the corner reminding you that you haven’t used it for months and its become a clothes stand, hmmm. Not good. Then there’s the interruption of laptops, computers etc, Get rid of them. Instead read a book, relax, have a glass of wine. Talk even. People are forgetting how to communicate, we’re so locked into the digital world.

And once you’ve decluttered and cleared out the excess. Clean it, top to bottom, move the furniture clean behind it, clean the windows, wash the curtains.

I know this sounds a lot, but it’s a now and again chore, but by refreshing the room thoroughly, it gives the occupants a fresh start.

Do you follow a routine for keeping on top of household chores and if so, do you think it is important to?

I try! I really do try! Am I successful? Mostly-ish. I have a set list of chores I do Mon-Saturday, plus have recently added exercise – oh joy! Friday’s chores are really my catch up days and I do things I haven’t managed to get done Monday-Thursday. Big chores like cleaning windows, I do when I can. I have a disability and unfortunately trying to do these big tasks is not an easy feat.

But at a minimum every day, the bed is made, dishes done, kitchen counters clean, bathrooms swished and swiped, and a load of laundry done. I’m trying to be more organized and pick out the clothes I will wear the next day, right down to jewelry just before I goto bed. It’s a great boost to the morning if I’m organized from the night before – and that I come out to a clean kitchen.

Decluttered, minimalist living in vogue right now. What are your thoughts on clutter?

People say they want to be more organized, but reality is you can’t organize clutter. The trouble is sometimes it feels overhwhel,omg to actually start. I mean where? Every room has STUFF. My suggestion is that the person just picks up a trash bag and goes round each room, picking up rubbish that can be tossed into the recycle.

They may however, just want to focus on one room. Like I said above, start on the bedroom, because you deserve a place of refuge and solitutde at the end of each day.

But… if that feels like too big of a job to start off with, then go small. One drawer, one cupboard, or go to the smallest room in the house, and start there.

The most important thing is – IS THAT YOU START

You have been a successful fiction writer over the last twenty years and are now turning your hand to non-fiction. Which particular aspect or type of non-fiction writing most appeals to you?

I’m really passionate about home and hearth writing, about women finding their way in life. I’ve recently hit my 60s and the last four years was really tough, as I struggled with depression and also the loss of my mother at the age of 90. I kept wondering why should I push myself, I mean why bother. But I am so happy to say, that just recently, that fog of why bother has lifted, and I’m battling my way back top. I really want to focus on home, family, midlife, reinvention and just searching for that joy and passion and purpose in life that we women seem to crave – well I do, anyway!

What do you enjoy to do in your spare time?

Funny you should ask that – today – I decided to be lazy, I watched a movie (The Secret- which I loved), I had a snooze. I love spending time with my family, I am a mother to two daughters and I also now a grandma! I have a wonderful bunch of writer girlfriends; we meet once a week to talk writing and they are a fabulous group of women ranging from 19 years old to 82. We all get on amazingly even with such a varied ages.

You can find Jane at:

www.myhomemysanctuary.com

@myhomemysanctuary

https://www.facebook.com/MyHomeMySanctuary/

home office makeover

Home Office Makeover

Our home office area has been ripe for a makeover for some time now. I spend a lot more time here than used to as I’m in the process of writing a book, so I really desired a work space that felt clear and welcoming to spend time in.

A compact space

Alas, I don’t have the luxury of a separate room that could be called a study or home office. Most of our rooms are allocated as bedrooms as we have three children. When we had a small extension added on a few years ago we planned for a built-in cupboard to house a desk, filing cabinets and shelving to be a designated home office area. There are folding doors that can easily be closed to these cupboards when no one needs to be working there, to keep the room looking neater. On the whole I am pleased with how much we have managed to fit into such a small space. Planning good storage and organisational systems is the key to a tidy home.

Over time though, the desk area had become increasingly cluttered and messy. It didn’t feel a positive space to work in and was embarrassing when friends and family came round who might see the mess if I couldn’t close the doors to it fast enough!

Concealing the ugly pinboard

Firstly, I decided to get a small piece of fabric to cover the pinboard on the wall. A lot of the items pinned to the board are important bits and pieces that I want to keep easily accessible but they don’t have to be on view the whole time. I found this piece of pale blue ‘Paris’ printed fabric on Ebay for about £7 including postage. It’s pretty cute with Eiffel towers, Sacre Coeur and Arc de triomphes dotted over it. I thought it teamed up well with the mosaic photo frame next to it which holds a selection of photos from my last trip to Paris with my husband. I can scarcely believe that was a whole seven years ago, but it must be because I found out I was pregnant with my eldest daughter the day before we went (so sadly missed out on the wine and unpasteurised cheeses…).

Ditching the garish pencil pots

Next I decided to do something about the ugly old green striped pencil pots we had. Don’t you think they look awful in the pic?! I’m not too sure what possessed us to buy them in the first place. They had become faded from sunlight and were over ten years old. I ran a couple of empty baked bean cans through the dishwasher and covered them with small strips of giftwrap that I already had. They have a little street scene printed across them which bears a resemblance to the one on my blog homepage image, don’t you think?

home office makeover

Then I just had a good declutter (something I aim to do regularly throughout the house) and filed papers away etc. The difference to sit down and work here is incredible. It feels a more relaxing and positive place to be.

Lighting

The one thing I’m still not content with is the lighting. You will see the string of heart-shaped LED lights hanging above the desk, but to be honest they emit minimal light. Yet I dislike having the ceiling lights on because they are ridiculously bright and almost induce headaches. I really need to get a small desk lamp or perhaps a spotlight integrated under the top shelf.

How about you?

What is your home office like? Perhaps you are fortunate enough to have a whole room to dedicate to it. Or maybe you have had to carve out a small corner of another room, like me? I would love to hear what yours is like, even with a pic if you’re able to add one. I’d also be interested to hear which type of lighting you have in your home office area to help me decide on my soft lighting solution!

How to manage time effectively

How to Manage Time Effectively (while at home with a toddler…)

Time management used to be oh-so easy…

Without wishing to sound boastful, I always used to consider myself a fairly skilled time manager.

I remember as far back as at high school when it came to revising for exams, I made myself a revision timetable and stuck to it religiously. It worked- I packed enough study time in to pass the exams and had enough free time to enjoy.

Then at university I obviously had to attend lectures and seminars, spend time in the library writing assignments, plus worked part-time as a shop assistant throughout the three years (anywhere between 18-36 hours a week) to help fund myself through it. Oh, and volunteered for a charity a couple of hours each week. Not to mention setting aside ample time for socialising in the Student Union bar.  Again- it was all doable as long as I planned my time carefully and kept track of everything in my trusty pocket diary.

I was a primary school teacher for many years and combined part-time teaching with having two children. Most of the time I juggled the balls fairly successfully and kept (just about) on top of my teaching workload and enjoyed my days off with my young children, scheduling lots of fun playgroups and activities for them.

Then something changed!

You may have mentioned I referred to the past tense form of  ‘used to’ in the opening paragraph of this post. That’s right. Since I became a full-time stay at home parent I had been finding that as each day passed I was feeling a growing sense of dissatisfaction that things I really wanted to incorporate in my day were repeatedly not occurring. Important things, such as working on the book I’ve started, and exercising, and reading ing a book with my little boy and toddler.

I know I’m privileged to be able to spend so much time based at home with my young children and I wouldn’t change it. But being in this position can make it more difficult to manage my time well and carve out time for things that matter most to me, such as writing. There are so many distractions (including things that really do need doing at some point). Obviously my young kids expect my full attention for much of the time that they are awake.

Something had to improve…

These days my daily routine is mostly dictated by my youngest daughter’s nap times, as well as the morning and afternoon school run plus my son’s preschool pickup at 11.40am. My children have all been good nappers, something that I’m mostly grateful for, although I do sometimes wish the baby would drop her morning nap so that I could get us both out of the house more.

Still, things are what they are and I resolved to be more intentional about planning my time to get more out of my days, especially to make time for the things that matter the most.

Here’s an example of a typical weekday timetable:

8.35- Leave the house to drop the two eldest children at school and preschool.

9.10- Back home. Check what’s planned for dinner- remove meat or fish from freezer as needed. Make my breakfast – I’ve recently started eating a proper breakfast again after months of not bothering but succumbing to chocolate biscuits mid morning. Eating a healthy, nutritious breakfast has made an amazing difference to how well I’m able to concentrate. See pic below of a typical one- seeded toast with poached eggs, spinach and mushrooms.

Then finish cleaning the kitchen from breakfast, load dishwasher and any other household chores.

healthy breakfast poached eggs for productivity

9.45- Put baby down for nap. Then write- either a blog post or on my book. Aim for 500 words minimum.

11.15- Wake baby from nap. Go to collect son from preschool.

11.50- Back home. Change son’s clothes and sort his bag etc. Sit on sofa and share a book with son (toddler wants to join in too). Then start preparing lunch.

12.30- Eat lunch with kids. Tidy up kitchen afterwards.

1.10- Read another book with my son or play with his cars or a simple card or board game for a few minutes. If he and the baby are playing happily together, jump on my indoor mini trampoline (rebounder) while one energetic song plays on youtube.

1.45- synch nap time for baby and son. Unload dishwasher, carry out any household admin (make phone calls, send emails in relation to our kids, home or anything related to our rental home).

3.05- Wake kids from nap. Son in particular needs time to rouse himself! Get coats and shoes on for school run.

3.45- Back home. Play with the kids, make their dinner, take oldest child to clubs/activities. Bath baby (and others) as required. Spend a few more minutes on the indoor trampoline.

6.45- Start tidying with the kids before they get ready for bed. Read stories.

7.30- Lights out for kids to go to sleep. Start making dinner for husband and myself. If husband will be very late, eat mine first.

8.30- Clean up kitchen, prepare anything needed for the kids for school for tomorrow. Then relax, read, watch a film or recording from TV or take a bath.

Making household chores more bearable

As often as possible, I involve my kids in chores. They will happily load clothes into and out of the washing machine and the three year old finds unloading the dishwasher a real treat. Even if it doesn’t exactly save time, it is good for them to get used to helping out at home from a young age. Plus, it makes me feel better that I’m not the only person doing all the housework during the daytime!

Often I play a podcast whilst I clean the kitchen or do other chores- my current favourite is A Slob Comes Clean. This is so motivating and suggests lots of great ways to organise and clean the home. Listening to a podcast or some music makes chores feel less mundane. Sometimes I opt for classical music which calms me and has been shown to have other benefits.

Having a plan- and sticking to it

Once I made a timetable for the whole day and started allotting specific tasks to certain time slots, they were far more likely to actually happen. It feels great that I’ve gone back to writing again and have carved out time to read books during the day with my son, something that wasn’t always happening before.

It does mean being more intentional and refusing to get sidetracked by other things- eg if post arrives through the front door while I’m writing, I just ignore it now until I’m finished. I keep my iPad out of sight so that I don’t get distracted by checking Facebook or anything. This rigid type of schedule may look oppressive to some people, but I know I feel much better if I stick to it. Some things are so important, they need to be ring fenced!

Honestly, I think I’m always going to have to keep pulling myself up on this on a regular basis. I guess I am very easily distracted!

How about you?

Are you organised about managing your time, or do you manage to get the important things done without having it set out in black and white?

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Decorate the home for Easter

Decorating The Home For Easter

Isn’t the springtime just wonderful?! I adore so many things about this season such as the vibrant colours of spring flowers popping up all around, newborn lambs frolicking in the fields and going for walks in woods carpeted with vivid bluebells, amongst many more. Plus, for a self-confessed chocoholic, Easter itself is a pretty fantastic time in itself! The two bank holidays create a lovely four day break for my husband and plenty of precious family time.

A couple of weeks before Easter, we like to decorate our home with Easter-themed decorations. The focal point is always our Easter tree, a white, wooden tree a couple of feet tall (which happens to be resurrected several times a year and renamed the Halloween tree, the Valentine’s tree…you get the idea). This tree was purchased from John Lewis five or six years ago now, but I am sure they are easily available from online sellers too. It comes in useful as a centrepiece for special meals held over the Easter weekend, too.

Decorate the home for Easter with an Easter tree

The kids show great enthusiasm each time I bring the tree out from storage ready to decorate and insist on “helping” to arrange the ornaments on it. I happily let them, though can’t deny that a fair bit of rearranging takes place after they have all gone to bed.

We have built up an assortment of different types of ornaments over the last few years. We began with the just hollow pastel-coloured eggs, and they are now joined by various types of bunnies (some with little bells that chime in the breeze of a nearby open window), chickens and nests with eggs.  There are two large-sized ornaments that get hung near the bottom of the tree: a fluffy yellow hen made from wood and wool and a brightly painted blue ceramic hen, both bought from (different) local gift shops.

Easter tree ornament chicken

Easter tree ornament decoration chicken

This year, we were given a length of bunting with these cute orange and white bunnies on. Apparently they were a bargain from Poundland. Even though they are only made from card, they should last for at least a few years if I pack them away carefully. It was difficult to get a decent photo due to lack of light but the ribbon hangs almost all the way across the top of our bifold doors.

Easter spring decoration bunny bunting

As a nod to my own childhood, I’ve carried on the tradition of making chocolate Easter nest cakes with my children. Rather than using shredded wheat as I used to, though, we tend to just use cornflakes, then mix with melted chocolate before placing in paper cases and adding two to three chocolate Mini Eggs to set in the fridge. No-cook baking at its finest!

How about you? I know some of my southern hemisphere readers are now on the cusp of autumn, which brings its own joys. you decorate your home for Easter (or just the springtime)? Do you have any Easter or spring traditions that you follow, with or without kids? I would really love to hear about them and reading comments from any of my readers makes me smile.

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Be inspired to enjoy your meals with Italian style!

Be Inspired to Enjoy Your Daily Mealtimes… Italian Style!

When I spent my gap year as an au pair in Italy, the family I worked for happened to live in and run an hotel. A rather historic, opulent hotel that Italian royalty used to holiday at in the distant past and celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor have stayed at.

Restaurant Dining Every Day

During the first couple of months of my stay (still classed as summer season), my host family chose to eat their meals in a corner of the main hotel restaurant in which the hotel guests dined. This allowed me to indulge in my people-watching hobby very well, as I (inconspicuously, of course) observed the comings and goings of couples and families that were staying at the hotel. Many of them were wealthy, with luxury sports cars parked outside the hotel and often were dressed head to toe in designer clothes. Guests from multiple nationalities came to stay, and I enjoyed trying to figure out where they were from based on their appearance and trying to identify the language they spoke. Anyway, I digress.

The restaurant was a truly stunning room, with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the azure Mediterranean sea. The tables were simply dressed with pristine white tablecloths, pure white crockery and polished silver cutlery. Each diner was provided with a starched white linen napkin. A vase of fresh flowers, usually roses, was placed in the centre of each table.

Italian style mealtimes

From the first day, despite being seated in a restaurant, it became apparent that my host family followed pretty standard Italian meal traditions (at least for the region I visited), which I shall describe for you.

There was a bread basket placed on the table almost as soon as we were seated. For my host family this included breadsticks (grissini) and locally-made fresh, crusty bread which was eaten plain, never spread with butter or dipped into oil or anything. On my first day, I almost asked for butter but stopped myself after observing that the other members of the family, even the little boy, ate it plain. There were large bottles of mineral water, always a choice of either still or sparkling. The family would usually eat a piece of bread or perhaps two each and sip water while waiting for the first course to arrive.

About the Courses…

The primo (first) course, almost always consisted of pasta, or occasionally a risotto (made from arborio rice) or a polenta dish. Fortunately, I’ve always been a fan of pasta so it didn’t bother me to eat it every day, but they successfully varied it by cooking many different shapes and types of pasta, from long spaghetti to shorter penne and orecchiette to tiny orzo. Plus, different sauces were added to the pasta. Most often, it was sugo al pomodoro, a basic but delicious homemade tomato sauce, and sometimes meaty bolognese. During my stay there, I had my first ever taste of green pesto sauce (made from pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, basil and parmesan). No exaggeration, that first bite of pasta al pesto was sheer, unadulterated bliss and I couldn’t believe I’d been missing out on it my whole life! Sadly though, no pesto I’ve had in back in the UK can compare.

There was always freshly grated parmesan in a bowl with a tiny spoon to sprinkle over the pasta ourselves. 

The main course, known as secondo, comprised a piece of meat or fish, maybe steak. The fish usually had bones, sometimes was a whole baked fish so I had to learn quickly how to deal with removing those bones. Sometimes they even had an omelettte or a couple of fried eggs with a side dish of vegetables (contorno) or salad. For every meal, olive oil and/ or balsamic vinegar was present as the salad dressing and often drizzled over other vegetables, too.

Sweet Treats

With regards to dessert, this was usually just a bowl of fruit from which we all helped ourselves, sometimes to several pieces. This is a ritual I’d like to start with my own kids as it certainly helps ensure the five-a-day get consumed. Only occasionally, perhaps once a fortnight, would there be a different type of dessert such as creme brulee or a selection of choux pastry delicacies purchased from a local specialist shop. However, plenty of Italians  clearly do possess a sweet tooth, as lots of them buy a gelato (ice cream) from one of the many gelaterie in town. It was often an afternoon treat for me to buy one, too, when I wasn’t working (between 3-6pm).

What I’ve detailed above was standard procedure for both lunch (starting at 1.30 or so) and dinner (from 8.00). If people were feeling less hungry, they sometimes opted to have a very small portion of pasta. Perhaps it sounds like a lot of food, but Italians are not big breakfast eaters. Adults often consider coffee a breakfast in itself, perhaps with a croissant. Plus, generally speaking they do not snack a lot between meals. When I was invited to eat at several friends’ homes during my stay, I found the types of food and number of courses to be similar each time.

When the main tourist season finished and the restaurant closed (apart from breakfast time), my host family instead opted to take their meals in a small private room. The types of foods consumed and the courses remained the same, though. As did the beautifully laid table complete with fresh flowers and starched napkins.

Inspiration for my Family’s Mealtimes here in England

When I make the effort to set our table at home in an attentive, beautiful way, it sure seems to make the meal more of an occasion and makes me feel as though I want to slow down and enjoy the experience more. When we eat outside al fresco in the summer, my eldest daughter enjoys picking a few flowers from the garden to place in a vase and fills a jug of water with ice cubes and lemon slices. This, along with a pretty tablecloth really enhances the experience for all of us, even the children (as a bonus they tend to eat better, too).

Even though we don’t manage to sit down and eat an evening meal together as a family every single night, reminiscing over the mealtimes I experienced with my host family has inspired me to renew my effort to make dinners a more positive and pleasurable experience for my family, too.

Actions I plan to implement:

  • Move the vase of fresh flowers that I usually have on the kitchen worktop to the kitchen table before I serve dinner.
  • Cover the table with a clean, pretty tablecloth just before family meals (rather than the scruffy one that protects the table from my eldest daughters’ glue and sticker attacks).
  • Make dessert be a ‘fruit course’ similarly to what I experienced.
  • Experiment cooking different types of vegetable side dishes.

I hope you enjoyed this insight into eating meals the Italian way.

I’m fascinated by how people live their lives in different countries and cultures, so if you live outside the UK, or have lived elsewhere, I would really love to hear what mealtimes were like there, please do leave a comment. I really love hearing from readers, whether you read my blog regularly or it’s your first visit here 🙂

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How to enjoy life's simple pleasures

How to Savour the Simple Pleasures of Life

Although we all enjoy celebrating and anticipating the big events in life, such as birthdays, Christmas, holidays away from home etc, it’s important to be present in the moment and enjoy the simple luxuries that we can partake in the everyday, too; the petits plaisirs as the French would call them.

In one of my favourite films, the French movie Amelie, I love the way that each character is introduced by listing three simple pleasures that they appreciate in life. It’s prompted to make me compile a list of my own simple pleasures. Here they are, in no particular order:

Hot showers with a lovely scented shower gel. A perfect way to start the day and help wake me up up properly. My current favourite is Black Orchid scent by Palmolive- all the better that it’s a bargain! (See post on my favourite bargain beauty buys here).

Slipping into clean bed linen– all the better if it’s been air dried outside.

Listening to the sound of the rain drumming onto our Velux windows in the bedroom while I’m tucked up in my warm bed. The rhythmic sound often sends me to sleep.

The huge old oak tree at the bottom of our garden- at a guess, it’s 200 years old. I love watching it change through the seasons, the different coloured leaves, watching different birds rest on the branches and make nests within it. Every time I look at the  many branches and the thick, sturdy trunk it awes me to think that something so great can grow from a tiny acorn and like to think of this metaphor being applied to other things in life.

Flowers– I adore all types of fresh flowers as detailed here and try to have fresh flowers in the house as much as possible. It lifts my spirits to see flowers growing in gardens or the wild. At the moment we have cyclamen and pansies in our garden and in a few weeks there will be crocuses, snowdrops and daffodils signalling the start of spring on its way.

Reading– I’ve been a bookworm for as long as I can remember. Everything about books is wonderful to me- from the feel of the crisp pages inside a book, roaming through libraries and bookshops containing shelves upon shelves of new books to get my hands on and get lost within. At any given time I have a stack of books waiting to be devoured, kept in a shallow wicker basket in my living room. Novels and non-fiction books about social history from WW1 onwards fascinate me in particular and pondering the lives of others who lived in the past gives me a sense of renewed appreciation for everyday conveniences such as our indoor bathroom, washing machine etc which I can otherwise take for granted.

Fluffy winter house socks- for some reason, I’ve never been a fan of wearing slippers. Fluffy winter socks are another matter entirely. Sliding them onto my feet on a chilly winter day, the super soft fibres warming and insulating my skin, feels like sheer bliss.

As I’ve said before, winter happens to be my least favourite season, despite the fact that winters in my part of the U.K. are pretty mild really. So it’s all the more important that I regularly remind myself of the simple pleasures to be grateful for.

What are you little luxuries that you enjoy on a regular basis? Please do share them. I would love to hear them as they may even remind me of some I’ve forgotten or introduce me to new ones.

How to spend less on your food or grocery shopping

How to Spend less on your Food or Grocery Shopping

Just a few years ago, our grocery bill used to be below the average spend for a family of our size. Gradually though, our grocery spends have crept up frighteningly fast.

Ok, some of the increase can be attributed to to the increase in the number of people we have in our household and the corresponding spends on nappies, fruit, snacks etc. But if I’m honest, we have become a bit lazy and allowed convenience foods to sneak into the trolley far more than they ever used to and those convenience foods obviously cost more. We don’t buy a ridiculous number of takeaways, but even these have been happening more frequently than they used to.

There’s no excuse for this really, other than perhaps for a few months when our youngest was a newborn and I was recovering from surgery. Bad habits snuck in and products that we bought as a one-off due to a promotional price became regular purchases at the standard price.

Anyway, it’s time to rectify the situation. Here are the steps I intend to follow:

Carry out a stock take 

Our freezer is pretty full right now. I need to grab a pen and paper and jot down everything contained within the drawers of it. There is quite a bit of meat and fish I suspect, plus some Quorn (a meat substitute that is vegetarian but we like despite being omnivores ourselves).

Our cupboards also contain a fair amount of canned vegetables, beans, packets of couscous and rice.

Meal plan

I need to sit down and plan which meals can be put together from the freezer and cupboard ingredients. To be honest, I suspect there are quite a few! Hopefully this will have a positive effect on our grocery bill for the next month as we eat out of the freezer and cupboards so buy less new stuff.

Although I usually meal plan a whole week, the dinners for different days often get switched around depending on what we feel like eating or if unexpected events crop up.

Use the slow cooker (AKA crockpots)

I have been a fan of slow cookers ever since buying our first one in 2004, the year that I first moved in with my now-husband. They are wonderful for several reasons.

Firstly, you can bung in all your ingredients first thing in the morning, or even the night before if you like (just refrigerate the ceramic pot overnight to keep chilled if you do so). Switch it on before you leave the house, then return from work at the end of the day to the scent of a delicious, cooked meal ready to tuck into. What could be better?

Secondly, slow cookers are economical because they use a similar amount of energy to a light bulb. They can be used to cook cheaper cuts of meat which, due to the lengthy cooking time, turn from tough to tender and meat literally falls off the bone.

Lastly, the nature of one-pot cooking means less clearing up to do after dinner. That can only be a good thing in my book!

Try out new recipes 

I have a ridiculous number of cookbooks. Yet we seem to eat the same meals over and over again. So, I intend to flick through some of the books and mark the most appealing recipes to try. There are lots I still intend to try in my newest purchase, 5 Ingredients by Jamie Oliver. It makes sense that if I use fewer ingredients in a recipe (as long as they aren’t ridiculously expensive ones, such as caviar and saffron ;)) the cost will hopefully be brought down, too.

Let’s hope that following these steps results in us saving money, eating more healthily and enjoying our food more.

How about you? Do you have any tips to share on reducing your grocery bill? I would love to hear them.