Six months ago, Jess and Simon Atherton would take two trolleys into the supermarket for their weekly shop and wouldn’t bat an eye if their bill hit $780.
That spend was in addition to $150 the couple from south of Auckland forked out for a delivered meal box and two to three takeaway meals each week – on top of a well-stocked fridge and freezer already at home – bringing their weekly outlay to $1300 for the two adults and three children in the house. That’s $68,000 per year.
Frequent unplanned meals out meant the blended family was emptying their kitchen bin, full of wasted food, every day.
When an intervention was staged in January by chefs Ganesh Raj and Michael Van de Elzen for the TVNZ show Eat Well For Less, Simon weighed in at 136kgs and his partner Jess, was 100kg.
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Jess, 36, and Simon, 38, have six children altogether, and three – Noah, 11, Amelia, 3, and Beau, 7 months – living with them in Karaka. After filming their episode, the couple joined a gym and started to write shopping lists. Simon now clocks in at 100kg and Jess is 81kg – shedding a massive 55kg between them.
“We decided to invest in a better lifestyle for us and the children,” Jess said.
“We cut out all the fizzy drinks and treats. Without them in the house, it was out of sight, out of mind,” said Simon, who has put three new holes in his belt and “lost two chins”.
Changing their eating habits was a lot easier than what they thought it would be. The Athertons say that came down to sticking to a list of ingredients and not straying into areas of temptation like the bakery section.
“Anywhere between $600-$700 was our normal shop. Now, it’s $400-$450 in total, including five Hello Fresh meals; $300-$350 at the supermarket,” said Jess.
She said business, not laziness, formed their old relationship with food. New baby Beau went through a stage of not sleeping and Jess, who is a relief teacher, felt like a zombie.
“Convenience is a big thing in today’s society because everyone’s always on the run. And it is harder with children. When you’re by yourself, or as a couple, it’s easier to make changes,” she said.
Like many Kiwis, Jess and Simon felt planning meals was one chore too many. They’d forget to take the meat out of the freezer, duck back to the supermarket for “one thing”, or go to a restaurant on the way home from the kids’ sports.
“I used to be in awe of my friends who made menus. We got to a point where we were sick and tired of us having bad meals, eating out all the time, and I was feeling yucky in myself from having a baby and not losing the weight,” said Jess.
A few friends had tagged them in an advert for Eat Well Eat Less on Facebook and they decided to signed up.
Simon used to have chronic back pain, indigestion, snore heavily, would get out of breath easily, and often feel lethargic. All those symptoms have disappeared.
“We can’t remember the last time any of us had takeaways,” he said, “and we only had fizzy when Beau turned one because it was a special occasion. The kids don’t even ask for it.”
Amelia used to ask for popcorn or lollies after every meal but now gets an apple or mandarin.
Jess thinks her urge to overfill the fridge, pantry and freezer was an instinct to provide.
“The reason I see now is that Simon and I grew up with parents who were always on a tight budget. We never went hungry, but there was not a lot of room for all those extra treats. I guess we were trying to compensate for that.”
Meal boxes still provide a level of convenience for them during the week and on weekends they make do with what’s in the freezer.
“You can’t tell people how to spend their money, or judge them on what they spend it on,” said Jess, “We always had enough to go around, but we wanted to do more, take the kids on holiday, get married and save for a house.
“We realised that we needed to do a bit more to help ourselves.”
Jess’ advice for other Kiwi families looking to save on their food spend, or to improve their lifestyle is: “It can be done, if you put in a bit more planning.”