OPINION: Do recipe boxes offer convenience or promote laziness?

A beautiful mushroom risotto - but is it worth paying £25 to cook it at home?

A beautiful mushroom risotto - but is it worth paying £25 to cook it at home when the ingredients from a supermarket would only cost £6 - Credit: Charlotte Bond

You don’t have to be living on the breadline to be affected by the cost of living crisis. All but the wealthiest among us are noticing the soaring food bills, and many are having to make difficult choices to ensure that there is food on their family’s plates.

Inflation is predicted to reach more than 7% this year, and even that figure doesn’t reflect the true increases in real-world groceries.

Food writer Jack Monroe, who first came to prominence writing a blog which shared cheap recipes she had created as a single parent with a young child, has received a lot of press recently for pointing out that for many people, food inflation far outstrips the official CPI figure, which means that those on the lowest incomes face the biggest price rises of all.

For too many people, the simple act of feeding their families is becoming more and more difficult. For many more, budgeting for food is possible, but certainly tighter than it was.

The good news is that careful planning can reduce the cost of putting meals on the table (although I acknowledge that this won’t help those whose budgets don’t even stretch to the basics).

Saving money in this way generally requires a trade-off in terms of time: planning the weekly menu to eliminate waste and ensure you only buy what you need; shopping around to find the cheapest place to actually buy those ingredients; and cooking from first principles rather than relying on convenience foods and ready meals.

Of course, the way many of us live our lives today means we are seeking the exact opposite of that: groceries delivered to our door, often at very short notice, because we have failed to plan ahead. There is nothing wrong with that – provided we are happy to merrily set fire to five pound notes in the process.

Most Read

Of course, there is nothing wrong with paying for convenience, but throwing vast amounts of money away because of laziness when people have nothing to eat is unforgiveable. And yet…

I’m sure you have seen the TV ads for these boxed recipes which are shipped to your door. At first sight they look like a good way of encouraging people to cook from ingredients rather than ordering takeaways or eating additive-laden ready meals. But when you look a bit deeper, you do have to wonder who has that much money to burn?

As an experiment, I went on the website of one of the leading recipe box providers, and selected a typical dish: a bacon and mushroom risotto. Helpfully, the website gives you an exact list of ingredients, which included risotto rice, lardons, onion, garlic and chestnut mushrooms.

So far, so good. But then the big shock. Ordering enough to make this meal for four (with just 80 grams of risotto rice per person, so not huge portions) costs a whopping £24.99. I put the ingredients into a leading supermarket website, and they came to just £6. Even if you factor in a delivery fee, the total cost is still less than half what you will pay for the recipe box. And in both cases, you still have to cook the food yourself.

Have we really become so helpless that we can’t make our own shopping list, but are instead prepared to pay a £19 premium for someone else to write down a list of just nine ingredients?

Another of these recipe box websites just sends you small containers of herbs and condiments, expecting you to buy all of the other ingredients.

I’m looking at one of the recipes now – pasta with chorizo, tomatoes, peas and parmesan. Having shelled out £2.50 for the recipe box, all you have to do is go to the supermarket and buy, er, pasta, chorizo, tomatoes, peas and parmesan. Are people really this gullible?

Who is buying these things? It’s not even people who don’t have cookbooks, because the recipe box website helpfully gives you the method to cook the dish as well as a complete list of ingredients.

I get that people are busy and prepared to pay a little extra for convenience. But when people are literally going hungry, it seems obscene to be prepared to spend so much money out of pure laziness.

So here is my suggestion: if you have that much spare cash that you think it’s OK to throw it away on these overpriced recipe boxes, why not simply order the ingredients online from a supermarket, and donate the difference to your local food bank, where it will probably feed a whole family for several days.