We've paid a ludicrously high price for convenience in the past. Now it's time to get a little wiser in our approach to cooking affordably

Have you noticed how supermarket supremos have stopped mouthing off about the cash-rich/time-poor shoppers of late? These were the people who would pay exorbitant prices for an aspirational-looking ready meal that came in three layers of pricey packaging because they were convinced they had no time to cook.

Supermarkets talked up and cultivated this now rapidly disappearing breed because they stumped up for all the gimmicky added-value products that feed corporate profits. There's only so much you can charge for spuds, even hand-scrubbed, heirloom varieties. But process them into Louisiana-style crispy skins, or microwaveable jacket potatoes and you have a created a licence to print money.  

But in the current straitened economic climate many more people will start considering themselves more flush with time than money. The aisles of Lidl and Aldi are full of customers who always made the time to peel a carrot, people who daily cook up a basic meal, more or less from scratch. Why? Because it saves them money. 

It's no wonder that the car parks of Lidl and co are filling up with Volvos and Hondas as well as old bangers with Polish numberplates. The indigenous middle classes are looking hard at discounters' prices and asking themselves why, when they shop at Tesco et al, they are paying significantly more for everything from parmesan to peas.

Deep discounters are becoming more popular, yet they offer precious little convenience food. Most notably, they stock almost nothing by way of chilled, ready-to-cook food, a category that has been a huge revenue-booster for the big supermarkets in recent years. This is because many of their core customers come from foreign countries that, unlike Britain, understand that cooking for yourself is the best way to control your food-spending budget.

Retailing reactionaries predict that as we tighten our belts, all the niceties, such as organic, higher-welfare, more ethical food, will be struck off our shopping lists. But an alternative formula is emerging for making fairly spectacular savings: ditch over-priced supermarket chains, keep buying the free-range eggs, organic milk and Fairtrade coffee by using a mix of discounters, farmers' markets, farm shops, greengrocers and high street butchers. And last but not least: cook more. n

Joanna Blythman is a food journalist and author of

Bad Food Britain