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Jack Monroe's five top cheap eating tips

Jack Monroe Image copyright Mike English

As the government announces new rules to tackle childhood obesity, food blogger Jack Monroe says although the proposals are "well-intentioned" they are "problematic" for some, including those on a tight budget.

Monroe - a single parent who has experienced living in poverty - says there are many complex reasons why cooking and eating healthily on a low budget can be challenging.

Issues including catering for complex dietary needs such as coeliac disease, or access to cooking facilities can dictate what people eat, she says.

"Buying in bulk is not an option if you have to carry it home for miles because you can't afford the bus fare," she says.

"A lot of the work I do is aimed at people in poverty, simple, accessible recipes and ideas teaching them to cook and eat well on a budget."

Here are her top five tips.

1. Do a food audit

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First do an audit of everything you have in your fridge, freezer, and store cupboard.

Every last scrap of anything counts towards knocking a few pennies or pounds off next week's food shop.

I grab a piece of paper and fold it into four, and mark each quarter as "proteins" (beans, pulses, lentils, meat, fish, nuts all count), carbs (potatoes, rice, flour, pasta, spaghetti, crackers, biscuits, cake), fruit and veg (tinned, frozen and fresh all count) and flavours (salt, pepper, mustard, ketchup, any odd spices or herbs, vinegar, all enliven the simplest dishes).

Now search online or in cookery books for simple recipes or ideas to use the ingredients that you already have. A bag of flour can be turned into a loaf of bread or simple biscuits. A squirt of ketchup sasses up a Bolognese or mix it with the beans and some spice and you have a basic chilli, and so on.

Once you have a rough idea of what you have, and what you might do with it, you can draw up the list of what you need.

2. Don't be afraid to substitute ingredients

Use tinned potatoes instead of fresh ones as they're a fifth of the price.

Bung a load of £1 mixed frozen vegetables into a pasta dish or stew or curry or lasagne or Bolognese to bulk it out and make it go further - and get some more goodness inside.

Swap any green vegetables in a recipe for whatever green vegetables you have or can afford.

Swap chicken for white beans, beef for kidney beans, or even just half of it if the thought makes you nervous.

Recipes are not biblical nor prescriptive, they are rough ideas. I'm not precious about mine - I want to teach people to cook so confidently that they reinvent them again and again.

3. Go meat-free two or three days a week

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Lots of great dishes are vegetarian or vegan - and meat is expensive - so find good recipes for chilli, curries, mushroom Bolognese, mixed bean goulash, meat-free cassoulet.

This is all great comfort food that you won't even notice is missing a little something.

If you have a household of hardened meat eaters, add chicken stock to keep them happy. At 35p for 10 stock cubes, it's a sight cheaper than buying a chicken.

4. Check the small print

Buying in bulk doesn't always mean foods are cheaper.

You'll have to get a bit savvy and look at the small print on the labels on the edge of the shelves - look at the price per 100g, rather than the overall large price printed on the packet, to see which is better value for money.

5. Shop around

Finally, know which bit of the supermarket is best for each item.

For example, with fruit, value range tinned mandarins, peaches and grapefruit are far cheaper than their fresh counterparts.

Frozen berries are around a third of the price of fresh ones and just as fine.

A bag of raisins for 90p is a tenth of the price of the equivalent in the handy little snack boxes; just portion them out yourself and save a fortune.

Jack Monroe has about 700 free budget recipes on her blog, Cooking on a Bootstrap.

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