News & views | How I’m tackling #nospend January

News & views

How I’m tackling #nospend January

What - if anything - have you given up for January? Maybe you’ve gone dry or vegan? Or embarked on a #nospend month - giving up on all non-essential spending such as coffees, magazines and meals out?

I didn’t even know that was a thing but I had been thinking of trying to clear the fridge and freezer for a while and January seemed a good time to do it.

Like a lot of you, I imagine, I stocked up frenetically in the early days of the pandemic (remember the flour and bread shortages and empty pasta shelves?). Like others too I embraced sourdough, an obsession that didn’t last as I 'fessed up here when I discovered what a drag it was continually feeding the starter and trying to find something to do with the portion I’d discarded.

It seemed prudent to lay down industrial quantities of tinned tomatoes and chickpeas ‘just in case’ they suddenly became unavailable. Getting supermarket deliveries (a sensible way, I thought, of avoiding potentially plague-ridden shops) only added to the problem as I found myself re-buying ingredients I already had in the fridge to make up the minimum spend

And let’s face it online shopping was one of the only pleasures of lockdown when we couldn’t go out to restaurants, easily justified on the undeniably true) grounds that you were helping small producers.

Things came to a head when I couldn’t ram anything more in the freezer and could barely find space in the fridge.

So this month I resolved that I would give up stocking up for January, living off what I already had in the kitchen with the exception of fresh fruit and veg (though only as much as I actually needed), milk and eggs.

So far I’ve got rid of:

  • A whole bream (simply roasted with lemon slices)
  • A rack of beef shortribs which left to cook overnight with half a bottle of wine then turned into a really satisfying stew accompanied by celeriac mash made from a bag of frozen celeriac
  • Half a pack of gnocchi with a creamy blue cheese and onion sauce and some steamed broccoli
  • The end of a piece of cheddar in Roopa Gulati’s excellent chilli cheese toast from India: the World Vegetarian
  • Some bacon lardons and cherry tomatoes which I turned into a BLT salad
  • A neglected piece of hake, pan fried with a leek and the tail end of a bag of prawns
  • And, last but not least, fishy rice which used up a tin of sardines in spicy tomato sauce from my huge tinned fish stash. (I thought it was my invention but food writer Kay Plunkett-Hogge tells me it’s hugely popular in Thailand with a dash of fish sauce which sounds an excellent addition

You can read more about how I went about it on my instagram feed @food_writer. There are also some great suggestions from my followers especially on what to do with overripe bananas (I’m not a big fan of banana bread)

Of course not everything has been a triumph. Some sunflower seeds I’d kept for too long tasted stale even when roasted. My bread didn’t rise that well, possibly due to using yeast that was too near its use by date (it's a good easy recipe, though). And gnocchi with chorizo is not as good an idea as it sounds, especially made with an improvised sauce made from tomato paste. Sometimes you can be too frugal

The main take away so far is a reminder that there’s no point in saving stuff in the freezer or storecupboard if you never get round to eating it.

In the light of which I’ve just taken out some chicken soup I froze a couple of weeks ago. I’ll let you know of any more.

Have you embarked on a similar challenge? If so how's it going? Do share any tips!

Image (not of my larder) by Darryl Brooks at

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Comments: 3 (Add)

Fiona Beckett on January 17 2022 at 07:59

Sorry about the Covid, Tim, but sounds like you made good use of the time! VERY impressed with your 4 ways with sausages. I daren't have Tunnock's wafers in the house either!

Try and see if you can hold off the extra freezer, Carolyn, though I say this as a food shopaholic. I would find it tricky (though fortunately a lot of the Mercado 44 goodies are ones you can store in a cupboard)

Carolyn E on January 13 2022 at 12:59

I love all your posts, but this one in particular made me laugh as it is so me. Especially the bit about ordering extra to make up the minimum! I am about to move house with a much smaller kitchen and a tiny tiny freezer - I was thinking about buying an extra freezer for the garage and converting the utility room/cupboard to a pantry, but I might just hold off and see if I can run on a smaller stash of food. There only 2 of us after all! Having said that, I can’t resist a good shop at specialist suppliers like Mercado 44……

Tim Burke on January 13 2022 at 10:34

I've undertaken a similar project due to self-isolation from 1-11 January. Living alone and not being signed up for deliveries I thought it a great opportunity to run down the freezer and pantry. I managed with just the delivery of 2pints of milk by a friend and enjoyed the enforced thinking about meal management and having to come up with inspiration without resource to just buying new stuff in. I had a couple of packs of sausages which ended up in four meals - sausage and mash of course, in a pasta sauce, in a sandwich from bread (home made as part of the flour use-up campaign) and with lentils in a stew. I also found it an interesting challenge that I could not binge on, in this example, Tunnock's caramel wafers because I needed them to last another week. It's something I might well try and again - next time hopefully just a voluntary project rather than Covid-enforced.

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