I'm grappling with a course assignment at the moment - I have to work out a week's menu for a family of four with a budget of just over £36. The course I'm on is all about healthy eating, so the menu has to show that even on that low a budget you can eat healthily. I've been working on it for about two weeks now and it's been interesting trying to work out the right balance of meals. It's messing with my head as a vegetarian as I'm recommending meat and fish meals.
This year I have felt the pinch made worse by my guilt for not having earned any money for nearly six years. A few large bills (repairs on the car, repairs to the house due to the rain last year) and it's tipped us over the edge of being comfortable, to having to watch our pennies. But even so, we are not struggling so much that we have to give up all treats - it's relative isn't it what a struggle is for one family compared to another. We treat ourselves with food but we won't be going on a holiday abroad this year (or probably the next). I know that most of our bills are over £40 for food a week and there are only 3 of us. Shockingly, this is with a mostly vegetarian diet and home-cooked meals. I would dread to think what our bill would be if we ate more meat, bought more processed meals and ordered a take out out more than once a month.
As part of the course I've been volunteering on some cooking courses - I come across people who are much less fortunate than me and who are going to struggle even more when the benefit changes come in. It is so shocking that in 21st century Britain, families are starving. The thing is, these are not lazy benefit scroungers. Some are in this position due to the lack of employment, living in areas where there is less choice in terms of food outlets, others due to learning difficulties or mental health issues.
Then there are those that never learnt to cook well - didn't have parents to teach or inspire them. I am grateful that both my parents taught me about food in their own way. I'm obsessive about food - watching lots of shows, poring over recipe books, wandering around supermarkets and markets looking for new foods and for bargains so that I can try something out. I'm lucky.
I hope we don't have any other large bills as I fear it would catapulted us over the edge of being comfortable into the realm of scrimping and I wouldn't be able to feed my obsession which would really mess with my head.