Category Archives: Blog posts

Here’s where I’ll post all my day to day musings and findings on eating local and organic on a budget.

Vitamin D is free

Vitamin D are we getting enoughSummer is finally here. After all the wind, rain, gales and even hail stones the sun is finally starting to push through. And with its rays comes much needed vitamin D. In the UK we can only really get vitamin D from the sun during the spring/summer months – April to October, and only when the sun is high in the sky around 12-3pm.

When you’re on a tight family budget there’s no money for expensive supplements, so you need to maximise the sunlight and also get it right nutritionally.

In the UK we apparently don’t get enough vitamin D because we don’t get enough sun! What I really think the problem is that in the UK we don’t get enough TIME in the Sun. We’re a nation of desk addicts that rarely take a lunch break as opposed to other Europeans who regularly take time off during daylight hours for leisurely lunches and siestas.

Our children have a more indoors lifestyle thanks to too much homework, TV, computers and video games as well as a fear of letting them play freely on the streets as I used to do as a child.

To top it off, skin cancer awareness has been heightened in recent years and sun screen is liberally applied at any sign of a small ray of sun for fear of burning. I witnessed this over last Summer at Melissa’s nursery where factor 50 was slapped on at every opportunity for an outside play.

This is despite data showing that skin cancer is in fact still on the rise, and that some sunscreens do not protect against the more dangerous UVA component of the spectrum that may cause malignant melanoma. Furthermore, some sunscreen ingredients have carcinogenic (cancer forming) properties, and also block production of Vitamin D resulting in deficiency which has been shown to increase your risk of other cancers.

Yet just 10-15 minutes a day of decent sunlight is all you need to get enough vitamin D! And unlike other nutrients it’s free this way; no need for expensive supplements or modified diets.

What is Vitamin D?

Summer in OxfordUnlike other nutrients, vitamin D isn’t really a vitamin at all; it’s a hormone, made by your body as you are exposed to sunlight. Its relationship to bone metabolism is more complicated than you might guess as it acts to increase calcium in the blood stream by increasing your ability to absorb calcium from foods and by reducing the amount of calcium you lose in urine.

So sadly, if you don’t have enough Vitamin D in your body, then all the milk and cheese in the world won’t give you strong bones.

How to maximise your vitamin D!

1) Get some SUN!

Expose yourself to 10-15 minutes of sun every day in the UK from April to October before applying sunscreen, covering up or simply getting out of the sun so you avoid burning. If you have dark skin you may need longer.

Eat Vitamin D rich foods.

beetroot mackerel salad10% of your vitamin D intake comes from the food you eat. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin so you need to eat fat to get it. Fat is good for you as long as it’s the natural kind (none of these man-made margarines – that’s a whole another blog post). Fortunately oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, pilchards, herring and anchovies is pretty cheap as are farm eggs if you can find a good local source. Try this beetroot and mackerel salad for starters. Here’s where I like to buy fish and eggs in Oxford. So load up on these goodies and enjoy the sun!

Feed a Family Oxford got published!

Caroline Mentzer & Family (4)Earlier this year, after we’d completed the first few months of feeding the family for just £100 pcm, I contacted the Green Parent Magazine with our story. They decided they would like to publish us and here is the finished article which you can find in the June/July edition of the magazine – in the shops now.

‘Thanks to The Green Parent for taking such and interest in us, also to Mark Bassett , our local Oxford photographer, for snapping some lovely photos, as well as The Market Garden at Eynsham for letting us use your beautiful shop as a back drop for the photos’.

Mark did a good job to capture a happy Melissa, as moments after the nettle photo was taken she got stung and it was melt down and game over for us all. Anyway, if you’d like to read the article please click on the photos below to enlarge. We’re very excited to share it. I hope you enjoy reading it! Caroline x

Feed a family in the Green parent page 1Feed a family in the green parent page 1aFeed a family in the Green Parent page 3Feed a family in the Green parent magazine page 2

Congratulations to Oxford Food Surplus Cafe!

Cultivate Oxford Surplus Cafe Cowley RoadDid anyone make it down to the pilot of the Oxford Food Surplus Cafe at East Oxford Community Centre last Saturday? We certainly did, and what a success!!!

The Oxford Food Surplus Café was an event were wonderful volunteers, some from the Cultivate Oxford team are reclaiming surplus food and transforming it into delicious healthy meals for everyone to eat.

Using the pay as you feel system, customers are able to contribute/donate either what they can afford or what they think the food, space and idea is worth. The hope is to create a place that encourages the community to engagement and reconnect people with the food they eat.

Oxford Surplus Cafe Cowley RoadThe wonderful menu that was invented on-the-spot to incorporate all the donated ingredients, included a delicious vegetable tagine with brown rice, scrumptious black beans and a freshly foraged nettle and potato. I hear there were also some yummy puddings too. Here you can see my daughter Melissa tucking into the healthy delights.

I believe the event was a total success – feeding around 500 people. Here’s hoping it’s the start of many! WELL DONE EVERYONE!


The Roast Dinner and leftovers….

There’s nothing more frugal than cooking the way our parents used to, by roasting a chicken on Sunday, eating it with jacket potatoes and salad on a Tuesday, turn the brown meat into a curry on a Wednesday, then boil the bones for a delicious soup on Thursday.

Leftover veg from a roast dinnerAs I’ve been experimenting over the last 3 months with ways to save money on food – and I’ve discovered that our parents (and grandparents) really did know best. No part of the chicken was wasted. Portion size of meat may have been less, but this usually meant that more vegetables were eaten – which research has shown to be healthier in the long run.

With Easter approaching, there’s some fantastic deals on local meat. I bought a joint of local Top Side beef for just £7.99 a kilo at Q Gardens (which would be £13 a kilo in Tesco’s). Local Butchers have got in this seasons lamb, and there’s always the humble free-range chicken.

One of my favourite use-everything-up recipes at the moment is my leftover roast dinner soup. It’s simply some extra roasted roots that I’ve cooked on the Sunday (usually parsnips, sweet potato, carrots and potatoes), blended with stock made from the bones and giblets of the chicken. I add in some roasted garlic and rosemary to jazz it up a bit and serve it with some homemade foccacia – it’s delicious and hearty.

Chicken curryIf you’re after a simple frugal curry recipe, check this one out. The base is made from blended onions, tinned tomatoes and creamed coconut.

You can add in a couple of handfuls of cooked chickpeas to bulk it out if you’re short on meat. Simply serve with rice.

Q Gardens Steventon Oxfordshire

Q Gardens signMy daughter Melissa’s at home with me on Tuesday’s, we like to get out and about and do some market research for the blog.

I stumbled across Q Gardens in Steventon just south of Abingdon, Oxfordshire. I took a fancy to the name as I’m a huge fan of Kew Garden’s in London where I used to work in a little health food store for a few years.

Q Gardens Farm Shop specialises in seasonal produce that has been grown, reared or made as locally as possible –  including fruit from their own orchards (notably yummy cherries) and meat from their own farm just a couple of miles away from the shop.

Oxfordshire Icecream from Q GardensThey also stock bread, dairy products, a wide range of local beers and wines. They have a huge display of locally milled flour, cakes and biscuits, honey and preserves.  But the crowning glory was the refrigerator full of home made ice cream – I couldn’t resist a sample of the raspberry sorbet. The fruit in the ice cream is grown on the farm too!

I splashed out on a joint of Top Side Beef for Easter Weekend. It was only £7.99 a kg, and is large enough to supply at least two meals for our family. The equivalent joint is £13 a kg in Tesco’s. An absolute bargain.

We’ll be back in the Summer to sample the strawberries and famous cherries! Can’t wait!

Here are the shop details –

Q Garden local flour selectionHow to find Q Gardens
Milton Hill, Steventon, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, OX13 6AB
01235 820988 

On the A4130 just a few hundred metres from the Milton Interchange of the A34. At the roundabout take the Wantage exit, go through both sets of traffic lights and we are the cream building on your right hand side.


Top 10 tips on feeding your family for £100 a month

We’ve been feeding the family for just £100 a month for the past three months. As you may guess, we’ve learned a lot about penny pinching, saving on food waste and budget buys.

Here’s my TOP 10 TIPS of feeding a family for £100 a month

Love your leftovers1) Love your leftovers
When I cook a family meal I purposefully make extra so there’s enough for lunch the next day. It saves at least a fiver, which would normally be spent on work canteen food. Plus it’s often healthier too.

2)  Boil your bones
There’s nothing nicer than soup made from real stock. If you think that making your own stock is a faff then think again. All you need to do is put the bones in a litre of water with salt and pepper and boil for a few hours. If you’ve got some, chuck in a few discarded carrot peelings, onion and garlic skins, cabbage heads or celery leaves – they add some additional flavour and goodness.

Pegtop farm mince beef3) Get your veggies local
I’ve always been a fan of getting my veggies delivered to the door and used the more popular nationwide box delivery schemes. However, since shopping local I’ve discovered that many farms nearby also deliver, and that these are often cheaper and have to travel shorter distances to my door – good for me, good for the planet.

4) Go find your nearest farm
The healthiest and tastiest eggs are from chickens that roam free. You can tell a good egg by its thick hard shell and bright vibrant orange yolk (brittle pale eggs are not good). I’ve also found local free range eggs to be cheaper than supermarket free range – and the quality is really quite different.

Budget chocolate beetroot fairy cakes5) Make friends with your freezer
I never fully understood the value of my freezer until I started feeding the family on a budget. But now I freeze leftovers for when I can’t be bothered to cook. Also if a food’s about to reach it’s sell by date I’ll freeze it until needed – it has saved us a fortune.

6) Learn to make do
When you have to make do with what you’ve got, you learn to improvise. This process can be fun and often results in something quite interesting. I found that beetroot juice makes fantastic pink icing, and that roasted pumpkin is a fantastically  moist substitute for butter in a chocolate cake.

7) Re-use and recycle
There’s nothing more frustrating than a child that refuses a meal – what a waste! I found I could feed my daughter’s leftover porridge back to her later in the day when I turned into oatmeal and raisin biscuits. Leftover rice makes awesome rice pudding too! Waste not want not.

cauliflower pizza 28) Re-think the contents of the food waste bin
If you look carefully, you’re throwing away edible stuff. I made gluten free pizza crust out of broccoli stems. Cauliflower cheese soup, from the discarded leaves of a cauliflower. Potato skin crisps from potato peelings, and a food waste soup from vegetable odds and ends.

9) Buy in bulk
There’s certain staple foods that we eat again and again. For us it’s rice, porridge oats and potatoes – look out for deals on bulk buys. It can save you a fortune – like this 25kg sack of potatoes from Rectory Farm.

Westmill Organics Veggie box10) Get a bargain
If you want to visit Farmer’s Markets – go at the end of the day when everyone’s clearing up. At this time there’s always a bargain to be had. Like a large Savoy cabbage or Spaghetti Squash for just £1. Where does the leftover fruit and veg from the markets go? Find out!!! I found a Monday Shop that sells just that for donation only – they don’t want to throw it away.

11) Don’t be scared to get your hands dirty
I know I said just 10 top tips, but I couldn’t resist this last one. There are cultivation projects around the country that need volunteers to work the land. This could mean an hour or two on a Sunday afternoon. It’s worth finding out about, because you get to take some of the harvest home as payment. You don’t have the commitment of an allotment, yet is an fun afternoon out and an enjoyable way to educate children about where your food comes from.

Any more tips from you – please feel free to leave them in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Who said #Oxford’s Covered Market’s expensive?

Oxford covered market 15 farm eggsI had  a lovely email from a reader a few weeks ago that told me where to get some fantastic Farm Eggs in Oxford’s very own covered market. I was surprised I have to say, as I hadn’t ventured there believing that I would not find any deals. I was wrong.

Yesterday I ventured to John Lindsay’s butchers at the back of the Covered Market and found 15 Fresh Farm eggs for only £2.10! That’s 14p an egg. Amazing. I couldn’t resist. I also spoke to Stuart the butcher who said the eggs came from Crowmarsh Farm in Wallingford. The butchers also supply local meat at very reasonable prices. Needless to say, I’ll be visiting more often!