Eating through a recession


Elizabeth Bollard found feeding her family for less was actually a much healthier option, writes COLETTE SHERIDAN

ELIZABETH BOLLARD, author of How to Feed Your Family on Less Than €10 a Day, says that even if she were to win the lottery she wouldn’t change her new-found frugal grocery shopping and healthy eating habits.

When times were good, this single mother of three would typically spend up to €800 a month on food shopping. But when the family finances ran into trouble, Bollard learned how to economise, reducing her bill to €280 a month.

A music teacher who combined her job with renovating houses, moving from one property to another, Bollard says her three daughters (now aged 20, 17 and 11) always had a comfortable life. “I never had trouble paying the bills,” she says.

In 2001, Bollard decided to move her family back to Ireland from the UK. They settled in west Cork, with Bollard commuting to Cork city to teach violin at the CIT Cork School of Music.

Towards the end of the property boom, Bollard put her house in Ballinascarthy on the market.

She had agreed its sale within two weeks and in the meantime found another house that she liked.

She bought this house, but in the meantime the sale of the Ballinascarthy house fell through. This meant that Bollard was stuck with two mortgages.

“I felt physically sick,” she says. “But I went ahead with the move thinking I’d get another buyer for the house. But it didn’t sell because of the recession. Whatever luxuries we had were completely curtailed. I was under severe financial pressure. My salary went on the mortgage.”

Last year, the bank finally agreed to reduce Bollard’s mortgage payments after a lengthy battle involving solicitors’ letters.

She has been through the wars but has learnt a lot about spending less and, through her book, is keen to share her tips on saving money while serving nutritious food.

Reducing her grocery bill meant no more chocolate biscuits and cereals being tossed into the shopping trolley.

“Suddenly, it became very simple. All the processed food and rubbish was gone. It’s all down to planning. You need to plan your menus two weeks in advance – and you really have to stick to your list.”

Bollard admits her daughters’ school lunch boxes used to include cereal bars “and anything that was quick and convenient. There would have been crisps in there and fizzy drinks. Everything was shop bought. It was terribly bad for them and was also expensive.”

As Bollard began to provide healthier lunch boxes, the schools her daughters attended introduced a policy of banning fizzy drinks.

These days, lunch for Stephanie (17) and Alex (11) consists of diluted juice, milk or filtered water, sandwiches made from home-made bread, chopped vegetables such as carrot or cucumber with mayonnaise or hummus, fruit, and sweeter options if required. These would be home-made muffins, cookies, apple or rhubarb pie.

Bollard advises planning school lunch boxes with the daily menu. “Perhaps cook a little extra rice, potatoes or pasta for dinner and hold some back and refrigerate for the next morning’s lunch box. Add chopped ham, lamb or chicken, and peas, sweet corn or diced carrot, along with seasoning, to any of these for an instant salad.

“Mayonnaise on the potatoes and pasta proves tasty, while sweet and sour sauce on the rice with a little chopped pineapple is delicious.”

But isn’t baking bread time-consuming? Not if you have a bread-maker, says Bollard.

“All you have to do is throw in the ingredients. Just make sure the quantities are correct. It takes less than five minutes to measure the ingredients. A bread-maker makes life very easy.”

Bollard says her daughters follow her example and enjoy making bread, scones and cake.

“My eldest girl, who’s away at university, is well able to feed herself healthily. She bakes cakes when she’s feeling stressed out.” Bollard adds that her family’s healthy regime has resulted in fewer visits to the doctor and the dentist. “In the past few years, none of us has had to have fillings.”

Bollard admits that her daughters initially found the absence of chocolate treats and luxuries difficult. But, of necessity, “the unhealthy stuff disappeared from my fridge and cupboards. There was little choice. The girls ate what was available.

“My advice is to cut down unhealthy snacks and sugar-loaded cereal slowly. I made the change from white rice and pasta to wholemeal by adding a little brown to white initially, and increasing the ratio bit by bit.”

Over time, Bollard has learned to vary what she serves. She sweetens stewed apple with honey. She says grated cooking chocolate can make porridge and pancakes more attractive. Whipped cream can also be added to these staples.

“When making bread, I put in some wholemeal flour, flaxseed and pumpkin seeds. When vegetables are not appreciated on the dinner table, try juicing them and add them to sauces for pizza and pasta.

“Try the juice of orange with carrot: it’s delicious. The juicer has been a godsend. You can juice everything from raw beetroot to broccoli.”

Bollard has turned adversity into a pared down but positive way of living. She puts a new twist on everyday food items, making them more attractive. For example, the humble sandwich in the lunch box can be replaced with a “swirly” sandwich.

“Butter one slice of the bread, cut the crusts off and spread cream cheese or jam on it. Roll the bread into a cylinder shape. Wrap it in cling film and refrigerate. In the morning, remove the wrap, slice the cylinder in circles and put them in the lunch box.

“The novelty shape adds a ‘yum’ factor to the sandwich, especially for younger children.”

Bollard’s book is full of nutritious recipes. As well as food tips, the book also includes advice on savings to be made on utility bills, insurance and hiring contractors. And it deals with coping mentally when finances are under pressure.

“I write about being honest with people, trying to live in the ‘now’ and reminding people that even though things can get bad, they improve again.”

How to Feed Your Family on Less Than €10 a Day by Elizabeth Bollard is published by Orpen Press at €9.99.

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