A SUPER-SAVER mum who made headlines with her $1.50 meal plan has responded to "trolls and disbelievers" who questioned if it was really possible to feed a family of four for just $42 a week.
Melbourne-based money blogger Penina Petersen, author of $1.50 Dinners, said the reaction to her ultra low-cost meal plan earlier this year had been a "total whirlwind", with appearances on TV, radio and online.
But while much of the feedback had been positive, she said there were was a lot of scepticism. On Facebook, many people "couldn't believe this was possible", questioning whether there were any vegetables in the book.
Ms Petersen said common comments online were, "How is that possible with the cost of meat?", "She must be feeding her family crap", "Frozen food is bad", and "What about breakfast, lunches, snacks, dessert?"
Rather than dismissing the critics, she said the comments actually sent her back to the drawing board. "Half the debate was about frozen food versus fresh, and the second part was people saying, our grocery shop is $400 a month [if you include breakfast, lunch and snacks]," she said.
"I actually think they all have very valid points. I had a really good think about that. I went back to my desk and reflected on everything."
She set out to revise the system further to include breakfasts, lunches, snacks and desserts. In the process of a "few months of calculations", she realised that by taking into account leftovers, the $1.50 dinners were actually "much cheaper than first expected" - resulting in an updated version of the book.
"I started working out all the unit pricing," she said. "When people are buying flour and pesto, for example, they're not using them all up. When I wrote the second book, I realised makes it much cheaper over time."
Other pantry items like oil, curry powder, margarine, flour or soy sauce won't be used up entirely, meaning savings over time when you cook in bulk.
"It used to be four weeks of meals," she said. "I made a fifth week which uses up leftovers from the grocery shop, and was able to include breakfasts, lunch and dinners. I packed fresh veg into all the meals, which are then snap frozen."
But despite more fresh vegetables being included, there was nothing wrong with frozen food. "There's a big debate on fresh versus frozen," she said. "Some frozen products can be 70 per cent better, because frozen food actually holds the nutrition in.
"My book only does weeknight dinners that are frozen. It's really a lifestyle book. On Friday when you do have time to cook they're fresh meals, but it's for really busy families that are coming home at night and grabbing something out of the freezer."
Due to constantly changing grocery prices, Ms Petersen has made all of her recipes and calculations available online and on an app, so prices can be updated each week. "I update the book every week if there is a change," she said.
PENINA'S NINE COOKING TIPS
1. Shop from your pantry first.
2. Use up leftovers.
3. Shop less, shop with a list, shop strategically and avoid the associated costs of shopping, avoid buying more (due to heavy supermarket marketing).
4. Get home (or shop online) and go straight into cooking.
5. Cook five weeks' worth of dinners and use up all leftovers.
6. Skip entire grocery shopping weeks.
7. Use local suppliers for weekly food top-ups. Avoid supermarkets between bulk cooking sessions.
8. Eat and cook fresh on Friday and Saturday nights. Eat fresh when you have time.
9. Relax and enjoy more time (and money) out of the kitchen. Eat freezer meals when you are time poor.