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The Great British Budget Menu - Meals for £1 or less per serving

Sunday 21 July 2013
There was in interesting programme on the BBC a couple of weeks ago called The Great British BudgetMenu.  The programme explored food poverty by showing how 3 different households experienced it.  One man was retired and lived on his state pension in sheltered accommodation, another household was a working single mum on minimum wage and her pre-teenage daughter and the final household was a family of two parents both had jobs but high fixed expenses and little left to spend on food once bills had been paid.  All of them were feeding themselves and their children for approximately £2 each a day or less in the case of the retired gentleman.

A celebrity chef lived with each household for three days to see how they live/eat and then attempted to shop as the household would using their budget.  None of the chefs were able to stick to the budget of the household they lived in.  None of them!

It was clear that the supermarket was not a usual haunt for any of the chefs, neither was comparing prices or shopping with such a small budget.  Watching James Martin struggling to find the clearance section in the supermarket was hilarious and entertaining viewing, as was watching Angela Hartnett calculating the price of chickens and exclaiming the last time she had to do that much maths was during her A levels.  Richard Corrigan was gobsmacked that if customers don’t have enough money they have to put food back when shopping at the supermarket.  The challenges that all three chefs were shocked and frustrated by are experienced by many people every time they shop for food.  It is much easier to shop on a strict budget for a family than it is for one or two people.  If you have £15 to last the week buying small portions can be more expensive than larger ones where bulk offers may apply.

A £50 weekly food budget equates to £1.79 per person, per day for a 4 person household.  This amount is less than is allocated to those housed in Her Majesty's Prisons and only slightly more than what is spent on the daily meals for the majority of NHS patients.  Eating well whilst restricted to this amount is possible.  I’ve compiled Meal Plans for my family of 5 that total £50.  What we struggled with was strict portion control and my children found it difficult not being able to have fruit and snacks whenever they felt like some.  Our usual Meal Plan total of between £60 - £65 works out at about £1.80 per person per day, for our 5 person household, if I spend £63.  We eat well and are not deprived of nutritious food, I shop at a supermarket taking advantage of special offers, and I know how to create and cook tasty meals.

That is the issue, lack of cooking skills and the ability to create inexpensive and healthy meals.  I was taught how to budget by my Mum, and I have taught my 3 children.  I taught myself to cook healthily on a tight budget when I left home at 17 and had to manage on a student budget, it was a good life lesson which is helping us now we have 3 children and an equally tight budget.

It is difficult for households on low incomes, our household is one of them, the constant penny pinching is frustrating and exhausting at times.  I can totally understand why a meal of chicken nuggets and chips is more appealing than slaving over a hob for half an hour.  You can purchase 42 chicken nuggets and 1.5kg of budget oven chips for £4, enough to feed a family of 4 dinner twice.  It is low faff food, only £2 per meal, but it is also low on nutrients.  That should be a sometimes meal not a standard daily diet.  It would be difficult to compete with the price and convenience of that meal, however it is possible to create a low faff healthier option for around the same price.

There needs to be much more education and resources available to families who are struggling with the cost of food and how to prepare healthy low cost meals.  Having more offers on fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables in supermarkets would help as would cookery classes in schools and communities.  Food Banks do a fabulous job but are becoming a necessity for some families instead of an emergency option.  Part of the problem is that working households can find themselves in poverty due to low wages.  Not all employers pay a “Living Wage” and high rents consume a significant portion of income.  Regardless of the circumstances that lead to food poverty, households in that position need help to feed themselves decent meals.

I’ve created several meals which cost under £1 per serving and are easy to prepare.  You could also check out our Super Scrimping Meal Plan or our LiveBelow The Line Meal Plan for more frugal meal ideas.

Lemony Courgette Spaghetti

500g spaghetti
1 tsp olive oil
3 courgettes, grated
2 cloves garlic, crushed
zest and juice of 1 lemon

Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water according to the instructions on the packet.  Heat a little oil in a pan, add the grated courgette and garlic, cook whilst stirring for for 3 minutes until the courgette and garlic soften.  Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and ricotta.  Stir to combine.  Drain the pasta then stir through the creamy courgette mixture.  Serve immediately.

Total Cost:                                                                     £3.52
1x     ASDA Ricotta (250g)                                           £1.00
1x     ASDA Lemons Loose                                         27p
1x     ASDA Garlic Loose                                              25p
1x     ASDA Courgettes (3)                                           £1.00
1x     Cook Italian Wholewheat Spaghetti (500g)    £1.00

If you used budget spaghetti costing 19p instead of wholewheat spaghetti the meal costs £2.96


10 tortillas, plain or wholemeal
1 tin chilli beans
4 spring onion, thinly sliced
150g cheddar cheese, grated
Cooked mixed vegetables, to serve

Lay a tortilla on a board, spread with some chilli beans then sprinkle over some sliced spring onion and grated cheese.  Put another tortilla over the top, like a sandwich.  Heat up a frying pan over a medium heat, transfer the prepared tortilla sandwich to the frying pan and cook for a couple of minutes, carefully flip it over and cook for a further couple of minutes on the other side.  Repeat until all the tortillas and filling have been used and cooked.  Serve with cooked mixed vegetables.

Total Cost:                                                                     £3.73
1x     ASDA Smartprice Mixed Vegetables (1Kg)     75p
1x     ASDA Chosen by You Chilli Beans (290g)    48p
1x     ASDA Mexican Plain Flour Tortillas (10)         £1.00
1x     ASDA Spring Onions                                          50p
1x     Ilchester Applewood Cheddar(162g)                £1.00

Salmon Fishcakes

750g potatoes, cut into chunks
418g tin wild salmon, drained
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1 medium free range egg, beaten
1 Tblsp plain flour

Boil the potatoes for 10-12 mins or until tender, drain then mash well.  Stir in the drained tin of salmon, spring onions, and enough of the egg to bring the mixture together but not be too runny.  Divide into 10 – 12 portions then shape into rounds.  Dust with some flour then shallow-fry in batches for a couple of minutes on each side.  The fishcakes should be golden. Serve with cooked mixed vegetables.

Total Cost:                                                                     £3.98
1x     ASDA Wild Pacific Pink Salmon (418g)          £2.17
1x     ASDA Baking Potatoes (4)                                 £1.15
1x     ASDA Spring Onions                                          50p
1x     Free Range Medium British Egg                      16p or £1.00 for 6

Vegetable Fritters

2 free range eggs
125ml milk
150g self raising flour
400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
326g tin sweetcorn, drained
2 carrots, grated
4 spring onions, finely chopped
Handful of chopped fresh herbs such as parsley or chives, alternatively 2 tsp dried mixed herbs

Put the eggs and milk into a large mixing bowl and whisk until completely combined.  Sift the flour into egg mixture, whisking to form a smooth mixture without lumps.  Add the chickpeas, grated carrot and herbs.  Mix well.

Put a large frying pan over a medium heat and grease with a little oil or butter.  Put spoonfuls of batter into the frying pan, enough to make 3 or 4 fritters each batch, however many will fit easily into your frying pan.  Cook for 3 - 4 minutes on each side until golden. Repeat until all the batter has been used. Serve the fritters warm.

Total Cost:                                                                     £3.87
1x     ASDA Spring Onions                                          50p
2x     Free Range Medium British Eggs                    32p or £1.00 for 6
1x     ASDA Smartprice Sweetcorn (326g)                32p
1x     ASDA Chick Peas in Water (400g)                   62p
1x     ASDA Milk Skimmed 1 Pint (568ml)                49p
1x     ASDA Smartprice Self Raising Flour (1.5Kg) 45p
2x     ASDA Carrots                                                       17p
1x     ASDA Whole Cucumber                                    50p
1x     ASDA British Iceberg Lettuce Loose                50p

Spaghetti Bolognese

500g beef mince
2 onions, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 carrots, finely diced or grated
3 sticks celery, finely sliced/diced
2 tins chopped tomatoes
2 tsp dried mixed herbs (optional)

Heat a small glug of oil in a frying-pan over a medium heat.  Cook the onion and garlic until soft and transparent.  Turn up the heat a bit then add the beef mince, breaking it up as it cooks. 

Add the tins of chopped tomatoes, and finely diced and sliced vegetables.  Give everything a good stir and then let the sauce simmer for at least 20 - 30 minutes.  Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

While the sauce is simmering, you can cook some pasta to accompany it in a large pan of salted boiling water, according to instructions on the pasta packaging.

Serve the Bolognese sauce over the drained cooked pasta with some cooked mixed vegetables if you have any.  If you want to freeze any leftover Bolognese sauce for later, make sure that you only freeze the sauce and not the pasta.  You can defrost the sauce overnight in the fridge and reheat it thoroughly whilst cooking the pasta, or defrost the sauce in the microwave. 

Total Cost:                                                                     £3.96
1x     Butcher's Selection British Beef Mince (500g)     £2.00
2x     Carrots (Approx 110g)                                         17p
2x     Red Onions (Approx 130g)                                23p
1x     Celery                                                                     50p
1x     ASDA Garlic Loose                                              25p
1x     Smartprice Spaghetti (500g)                              19p
2x     Smartprice Chopped Tomatoes (400g)            62p

Vegetable and Lentil Curry with Rice

1 red onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tblsp Balti curry paste
400g can chopped tomatoes
410g can green lentils, drained
500g frozen mixed vegetables
400g cooked rice, to serve with the curry

Heat a little oil in a deep sided frying pan or large saucepan.  Fry the onion until soft, add the garlic and fry for another minute.  Stir in curry paste and gently fry for 1 minute, stirring all the time so it doesn’t burn.  Add the chopped tinned tomatoes, half a tomato can of water, lentils and mixed vegetables, bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer for 10 mins. Serve with cooked rice.

Total Cost:                                                                     £3.47
1x     ASDA Smartprice Mixed Vegetables (1Kg)     75p
1x     ASDA Smartprice Long Grain Rice (1Kg)       40p
1x     ASDA Green Lentils in Water (400g)               64p
1x     Smartprice Chopped Tomatoes (400g)            31p
1x     Sharwood's Balti Paste (290g)                          £1.00
1x     ASDA Red Onions (Approx 130g)                    11p
1x     ASDA Garlic Loose                                              25p

Butternut Squash Risotto

1 butternut squash, about 1kg , deseeded and peeled then cut into chunks
3 Tblsp oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
250g risotto rice
Approximately 1 litre of vegetable stock

Preheat your oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6.
Put the chunks of butternut squash on a lined baking tray and and rub with 2 Tblsp of oil. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the squash starts to turn light-golden at the edges. 

Whilst the butternut squash is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a deep frying pan and add the onion. Cook the onion over a medium heat for about 5 minutes, until it softens. Add the rice and mix it in with the onion and cook for a couple of minutes.

Bring the stock to the boil and then gradually add it to the risotto one coffee mug at a time.  Stir the risotto well each time you add stock.  Wait until one addition of stock has been absorbed before you add more.  Adding the stock slowly and stirring well will help to make a thick, almost creamy risotto.  When the rice is tender the risotto is done.  Stir the cooked butternut squash into the risotto and season to taste then serve.

Total Cost:                                                                     £2.97
1x     ASDA Arborio Risotto Rice (500g)                    £1.10
1x     ASDA Red Onions (Approx 130g)                    11.7p
1x     ASDA Butternut Squash (Approx 850g)          72.3p
1x     ASDA Garlic Loose                                              25p

1x     ASDA Vegetable Stock Cubes (12x10g)         78p

Now it's your turn!

We tend to buy fresh fruit and frozen vegetables because some fresh vegetables are too expensive for our budget.  We grow as much as we can in our small back garden and are fortunate enough to share an allotment and be looking after the school one.  I always look in the reduced section of the supermarket for reduced fruit, vegetable and meat bargains - about an hour before closing time is when they reduce the prices the most.  How do you feed your family on a strict budget?  What are your tips, tricks and hints for making your money go further when feeding your household? 


  1. This is a really valuable post. I agree that it's not just about money, it's about knowledge. If people really had all of the knowledge they needed but were short on money, there would regularly be countrywide lentil shortages!

    I turned the programme on half way through one episode to see one of the chefs buying a side of salmon, breaking the budget and then claiming you could make a soup out of the leftover salmon and rice he was cooking (which depending on how you did it could be either or both minging and dangerous), so I decided to switch over.

    I found it incredibly sad that the chefs were so out of touch. On my blog, my food is always thrifty. I don't earn a fortune in my day job but likewise I'm not rolling in it either. The food part of my shop is probably about £50-55 a week for three and we eat well on that. What annoys me is hearing celebrity chefs preach about organic and free range. In my view it's a "nice to have". If you are buying a non free range piece of meat but using every scrap of it, that's respect and far more important in my view.

    1. Your blog is fab and I enjoy reading others thrifty recipes :o) The Watermelon Ice Lollies look delicious and I will definitely be trying them out. I was disappointed the chefs were out of touch and didn't offer thrifty recipes or tips, it is a real opportunity missed. I agree that free range and organic are expensive, however I always buy free range eggs or use those from my friends chooks which are free range. If savvy cooking and thrifty tips were shared more widely we wouldn't have as much malnutrition.

  2. Good recipes. We are getting a few fresh vegetables from our allotment which is helping us manage our food budget.

    1. We are too. I was lucky a friend asked us to share her allotment and we took on the school one too when nobody else wanted to look after it. It is so much fun and the kids really enjoy digging, harvesting and watering :o) Mostly the harvesting and eating though ;o)

  3. These are great recipes and similar to how I cook, although I only have myself and my partner to feed. I often cook enough for 4-6 people so there's always a second portion for the next day if I know I'm going to be too tired to cook, or I stash portions in the freezer for quick reheating at a later date.

    I've been a student since 2005 and still not quite finished yet so I like to think I've become pretty good at budgeting and am very grateful that my Mum gave me some basic cooking skills before I left home. Over the years I've improved upon these skills and am now a confident cook. This is definitely what is missing for a lot of people and I don't know how this can be improved but it does need to happen somehow.

    The programme annoyed me as well because if the chefs had been allowed a weeks budget to prepare the food for the families then they probably could have come up with some better options.

    I also have a quick tip to share, if your large local supermarket has an Asian foods section buy spices, lentils, pulses, rice etc from there rather than in the rice/pasta aisle as you can get a lot more for your money. I also check out the reduced price sections every time I shop, which is every few days as I have to carry my shopping home, sometimes there are some really good bargains.

    1. That is a brilliant tip! I looked at the World Foods aisle at the supermarket and found noodles, rice and spices much cheaper than in the main aisles. I lurk in the discounted section too, the ladies who price the items are used to me following them around thankfully.

  4. A thought provoking post, always impressed by the amount of effort that goes into your blog. My tip which I"m sure I've read elsewhere on here is to use lentils and/or vegetables to bulk out mince and perhaps if you are just buying for yourself to perhaps shop with a likeminded friend so you can take advantage of bulk offers. I also think frittatas and home made pizza's are a good way to make a few ingredients go a long way or to use up some leftovers.

    1. Thanks so much, my Meal Plans are the hardest thing I blog each week - they take the most time to write. Great tip using pulses to bulk out mince dishes and share offers with friends. Homemade pizzas and frittatas are our favourites too for a quick dinner using up leftovers :o)

  5. I loved the programme and this post. I shop on a budget, we are a family of 5, with only my hubby working. I can feed us all because, like you say, I have some knowledge with regards to cooking. I really did feel for the families and was pleased to see the chefs give out a 'starter box' at the end.

    1. Thanks :o) I was glad the chefs gave out a starter box and also the chef that gave the family some chooks. It was frustrating as I really felt for the families and others like them. I think they programme missed a good opportunity to share tips, recipes and knowledge.


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