Week 1 – Crisis diet for when the cupboard is bare

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Baroness Jenkin recently announced (admittedly while being ambushed by the Press, but still …) that the poor don’t know how to cook, and went on to claim that you can sort yourself out with a few 4p bowls of porridge. Anne, you are wrong. As an affluent person, you can afford to live frugally, but many people are forced to pay what we call a ‘poverty premium’ for their goods and services. For example, sometimes people live nowhere near a food shop and have no transport apart from expensive buses. Sometimes people can’t afford to buy in bulk as their cashflow is too limited. Sometimes people have no money for the meter (and remember that if you use a meter, you pay more for fuel than people who are able to pay via direct debit). Others have disabilities or depression and are unable to put in the time and effort it takes to organise a healthy diet on next to no money for years at a time. So you would do well to remember that next time you are insulting your fellow citizens.

In the meantime, here’s an emergency meal plan designed for if you really are up against it financially, and need to spend as little as possible for a week or two without missing meals, or compromising your nutrition levels too much. In planning this menu, I am assuming you have access to a cooker and fridge with a freezer compartment.

If you shop very carefully you could feed family members for £1-2 per person per day on this plan, less if you prowl around several supermarkets near closing time for reduced price special offers, use coupons wisely, and ask for free fruit and veg when market stalls are closing down and have overripe things to give away. Other tips include choosing frozen and tinned foods over fresh, as nutrition levels are usually better than with things that have been languishing in your fridge. Also make sure you choose full fat dairy products over skimmed or semi skimmed, to maximise vitamins and calories.


Porridge with full fat milk, optional raisins.


Tinned soup – choose a different type every day. Do not substitute with packet soup.

I piece of brown toast with sunflower spread

If there’s no protein in the soup, also allow 25-50g ham, spam, tofu, tinned fish or cheese


1. Baked potato and full fat cottage cheese, sliced tomato

2. Corned beef hash and frozen peas

3. Vegetable curry with lentils and rice

4. Spaghetti bolognaise made with Quorn, turkey or pork mince and tinned chopped tomatoes

5. Frozen sausages with mashed potatoes and frozen mixed vegetables

6. Fish fingers with oven chips and baked beans

7. Cauliflower cheese with bread and butter

Still hungry?

1. Tinned fruit and custard made from powder

2. Stewed or baked apples and custard

3. Rice pudding with full fat milk

4. Natural yoghurt and a little sugar or overripe banana

5. Jelly

6. Blancmange

7. Home made jam tarts

Shopping list – cost it out at http://www.mysupermarket.com and take note of any ‘Switch and save’ suggestions they make. Currently the best place to buy it is Asda and this costs up at £33.89 at the moment.

Large bag of porridge oats

2 pints of full fat milk per day – make sure you all drink it if it’s not used in cooking, including the adults

Small bag raisins/sultanas/currants/dried mixed fruit (optional)

14 tins of soup – look for multi buy offers, favour vegetable-rich ones

About 1.5 to 2lbs of any of the following: cheese, ham, spam, tofu, tuna or other protein

8 oz tub sunflower, olive or other vegetable oil spread

2 x 800g loaves brown bread

4 large potatoes

8 oz full fat cottage cheese

4 large tomatoes

2 large tins corned beef

3 onions

5lbs regular potatoes

2 lbs carrots

Bag of frozen mixed veg suitable for curry (root veg especially useful, and you can include some fresh carrots and potatoes)

Small bag lentils

Small bag long grain rice (use with curry and also in rice pudding)

Packet spaghetti

1 lb Quorn, beef, pork or turkey mince

12 frozen fish fingers

Tinned chopped tomatoes x 3

12 frozen sausages

Bag low fat oven chips

Bag of frozen peas

2 tins baked beans

1-2 cauliflowers, depending on size

2 tins fruit, eg pears/prunes/mandarins/peaches

Bird’s custard powder

4 baking apples

Small bag of plain flour

1 pint natural yoghurt

1 packet jelly

1 packet blancmange

If the cupboard really is bare, try the Trussell Trust food banks. Their website is here, and you can get referrals from GPs and other community professionals who are part of the scheme, to receive three days’ worth of food:



7 thoughts on “Week 1 – Crisis diet for when the cupboard is bare

    carol edwards said:
    22 February, 2012 at 9:45 am

    Thanks for this timely article. I have had to do this for many years with a growing family and it is surprising how well you can feed a number of people for very little if you are creative and flexible. Willingness to use up free veg or discounted food is key, as is making sure, when you do have a little cash, to stock up on condiments, herbs and spices, stock cubes, cheap pulses and other storecupboard fare, so that in a crunch, you can jazz up very basic ingredients, like potatoes and rice and lentils and create something quite palatable.
    I’ve also found that a decent cookbook of Indian vegetarian recipes has enabled me to make some amazing meals for special occasions for well under a tenner, with dals, veggie curry, flatbreads, raita, simple salads and rice all easily do-able with cheap foodstuffs.

    Kate said:
    23 June, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    A year and four months after your first posting, I just priced this up on mysupermarket again, and you won’t be surprised to hear that the Sainsburys and Tesco’s baskets were both up by around £5, and the Asda basket by £7. I didn’t buy the absolute cheapest versions of everything (fresh mince and tinned soup in particular) which would shave about £4 off each basket, and some of the purchases will leave product left for the following week, especially if one has access to a freezer. Food price increases just seem never ending.

      Sandra Bradley responded:
      23 June, 2013 at 9:31 pm

      And that explains why people have to ask for food parcels from the Trussell Trust and so on now. I think it’s turned the corner and now it is officially impossible to live healthily on benefits unless you have access to free fruit and veg from neighbours with allotments, heavily discounted basics that you can afford to buy in bulk from having a small savings float, and so on. For normal people in urban areas in genuine difficulty, it’s horrific trying to manage, and I am increasingly embarrassed to be British at the moment.

    Ingrid Senger-Perkins said:
    4 January, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    It’s true about being able ‘to afford to live frugally’. I hate hearing such things from wealthy people!

    I will be keeping this plan, but it will always be more expensive for me, as I have a Special Needs son who will only eat 5 foods!

    I do love your tips and advice, and it all works for the 3 non-SN in my household 🙂

      Sandra Bradley responded:
      5 January, 2015 at 7:18 pm

      Glad it’s helpful!

    Kate said:
    5 January, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    I’ve just recosted this again, three years after the original and 18 months after my previous post. The Asda basket is now up another £3 on the interim post, and a total of £6 on the initial post, that’s with the very cheapest of everything. And yet again I find myself saying that food price increases are never ending, that it still isn’t stopping. Increases of 10% are way, way above inflation and wage rises, so we’re all getting stiffed every step of the way.

      Sandra Bradley responded:
      6 January, 2015 at 9:13 pm

      Thank you for doing this again for us. I really don’t understand why basic food costs are rising, given the drop in wages and oil prices globally, but I suppose we are going to have to resign ourselves to these increases. I really don’t know how to make the menu cheaper without involving unusual access to things such as other people’s allotments or quirky foods that would be hard to get hold of for most people. This is why I have been pleased that young children are getting Free School Meals in the UK. That £7 a week saved on a child’s lunch can make a great difference to the overall food budgets of families over the poverty line but without the means to live comfortably. I hope they extend the programme further.

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