Menu plans

Week 1 – Crisis diet for when the cupboard is bare

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(This post was originally published in January 2015. The price of the recommended Asda shopping basket has gone up from £33.89 to £46.63 in the subsequent four years. That’s an increase of 38%. During the same period, the UK’s average wage has only risen 8%, if we look at the official data from the Government’s Office of National Statistics).

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 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

(2019 update: Since the original post in 2015, more and more people are being forced to use food banks. If this happens to you, the experience is more positive than you might think, so don’t hold back from using this service. You are sat down with a hot drink and a biscuit, while the volunteers find out about the types of food you need and like. You are sent away with three days’ supply in normal shopping bags, so it’s discreet. If you are suffering with fuel poverty as well, they can supply foods you don’t need to cook. There are people available who can offer financial counselling if you need that as well).

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:


Week 2 – Crisis diet

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This is a slight adaptation of week 1. Keep to the porridge for breakfast, preferably with raisins or mixed dried fruit in it, for maximum nutrition at minimum cost.  Likewise, keep to the soup for lunch, with a piece of toast or bread and a small amount of protein to stave off hunger during the afternoon. Here are the dinners for the week.


1. Ready made lasagne

2. Home made turkey and mushroom pie with shortcrust pastry, serve with cabbage and/or carrots

3. Pasta with sauce and crumbled Lancashire cheese

4. Roast chicken dinner with roast potatoes , carrots and cabbage. You can make stock with the carcass and make a carrot and lentil soup, with spare carrots from this week and lentils from last week, or a pea and ham soup with frozen peas from last week and a bit of ham from your packet.

5. Fishcakes with oven chips (you should have some left from last week – if not make saute potatoes) and peas (from bag last week, if you haven’t used them in a soup)

6. Toad in the Hole made with frozen sausages, served with vegetables of choice

7. Omelettes, served with bread and butter, and a small salad (optional)


Still hungry?

1. Apple crumble and custard

2. Home made sponge cake

3. Bananas and melted chocolate sauce

4. Ice cream

5. Semolina and jam

6. Flapjacks, if you have some porridge oats spare, and sugar in your cupboard

7. Tinned pineapple, or pineapple upside down cake.


Shopping list: (currently £37.92 at Asda, including the puddings)
Vanilla ice cream

Large bag porridge oats

Large bag plain white flour

Large bag self-raising flour


Pasta shapes

Bolognaise sause

Strawberry jam

Lentil soup x 2

Oxtail soup x 2

Pea and ham soup x 2

Tomato soup x 2

Vegetable soup x 2

Pineapple pieces in syrup

4 x 4 pints whole milk

15 mixed weight eggs

2 x 500g sunflower spread

250g Lancashire Cheddar

Mixed dried fruit

Savoy cabbage



2.5kg white potatoes

4 Bramley apples

At least 4 bananas

1 kg carrots

125g thin sliced ham

340g diced turkey breast

Medium chicken

8 Smoked haddock fishcakes

12 thick sausages

Bar of milk chocolate

Dinners for the home – Week 4

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Baked white fish with boiled potatoes, fresh parsley sauce and green beans

Fruit salad and cream


Home-made burgers with baked potatoes, sour cream and chives.

Ice cream and chocolate sauce


Gammon steaks with mashed potatoes and green beans.

Greek yoghurt with honey


Vegetable stew with hidden eggs


Microwaved chocolate cake


Pork stir fry with rice noodles

Mango fool


Chile con carne with rice

Banana split yoghurts


Roast beef with horseradish sauce, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, carrots and peas


Image: Paul /

Dessert recipes for Week 3

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Dessert recipes for Week 3 menu plans and shopping list.

Microwaved chocolate cake (with acknowledgements to the Toshiba Book of Microwave Cooking)

  • 4 oz/125g vegetable spread
  • 3 oz/75g self-raising flour
  • 4 oz/125g caster sugar
  • 1 oz/25g cocoa
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • ½ tsp baking powder

Whisk all the ingredients together until you get a smooth mixture, and put into a microwaveable bowl or soufflé dish and cook on high in a microwave oven for 6 minutes. Good served as a sponge pudding with cream, ice cream or custard.

Poached pears and marscapone

  • 1 pear per person
  • 100g sugar
  • Glass white wine
  • Juice of half a lemon

In a heavy saucepan bring wine and sugar to boil. Simmer for 5 more minutes to burn off alcohol. Add lemon juice and pears. Cook for 10 minutes over medium to low flame. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or tablespoon of marscapone.

Boiled fruit cake

  • 12 oz (300g) value mixed dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, currants and candied peel)
  • 4 oz (100g) butter or vegetable spread
  • 4 oz (100g) sugar (preferably brown)
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • ¼ pint (100ml) water
  • 8 oz (200g)self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp ground mixed spice or ½ tsp each of ground cinnamon and ground ginger

Heat the fruit, butter, sugar and water in a saucepan until the butter has melted, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon. Leave to stand and cool for 20 minutes for the dried fruit to swell. Add the eggs and stir again, before adding the flour and beating thoroughly. Pour into a 2lb (1kg) loaf tin lined (silicon, non-stick, or lined with baking parchment) or 2 x 1lb (500g) loaf tins. Great for packed lunches or to give as presents, or eat it Yorkshire style with apples and cheese for the ultimate supper by the fireside. An optional dash of whiskey or brandy in the mix adds to the flavour, especially at Christmas time, and then it makes a lovely present.

Chocolate mousse

  • 12oz/320g strong dark eating chocolate
  • 1 oz/30g unsalted butter
  • 6 large eggs

Break the chocolate into small pieces and put in a bowl set over a pan of boiling water. Add the butter and allow it to melt with the chocolate. Stir occasionally and take off the heat when they are done, allowing to cool for a moment. Separate eggs into yolks and whites. Whisk egg whites to soft peaks. In a separate bowl, beat the yolks. Stir the yolks into the chocolate and butter mix. Fold in the whisked egg whites very carefully so as not to lose the air. Pour into a dish and refrigerate for a few hours until it is set.

Dinners for the home – Week 3

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Lasagne and green salad

Greek yoghurt and honey


Salmon steaks with boiled potatoes and carrots

Microwaved chocolate cake


Grilled lamb chops with new boiled potatoes and green beans

Poached pears with marscapone


Baked potatoes with ham and cheese

Ice cream and chocolate sauce


Beef stew and rice

Fruit salad and cream


Omelettes and salad

Home made fruit cake


Roast pork with apple sauce, roast potatoes, carrots, peas and broccoli

Chocolate mousse

Image: Catherine Hadler /

Dessert recipes for Week 2

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Simple, quick desserts to treat the family with. Links to Week 2 menu  plans and shopping list.

Banana split yoghurts

  • 1 banana per person
  • 1 pint/500 ml natural yoghurt
  • Chocolate sauce

Divide the yoghurt into bowls. Chop the banana and put in on the top of the yoghurt. Drizzle with chocolate sauce. This has to be yoghurt Nirvana.

Rice pudding

  • 1 pint/500ml whole milk
  • 1-2 oz/50g short grain pudding rice or risotto rice
  • 2-4 tsp sugar

Boil 1 pint milk and add 1-2 ounces of rice and 2-4 tsp sugar. Simmer for 20 minutes or until rice is soft. Serve with jam, honey or rosehip syrup.

Mango fool

Peel and chop a mango and puree in blender. Pour in 1 pint thick Greek yoghurt and puree briefly until all mixed up. Serve in little glass dishes with a mint garnish if you have one.

Pear and almond crumble

  • 4 oz/250g plain flour
  • 4 oz/125g vegetable spread (suitable for cooking)
  • 2 oz/50g sugar
  • 2 oz/50g ground almonds
  • 8-12 oz/250-375g chopped pears

Rub together the fat and flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and ground almonds. Put pears in a ceramic baking dish and sprinkle crumble mixture on top. Bake for about 20 minutes at 170C, until the mixture is browned on top and the pears are soft.

Dinners for the home – Week 2

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The second week of my economy menu plans, linked to the Week 2 shopping list and dessert recipes.







Spaghetti bolognaise

Banana split yoghurts


Cottage pie


Mango fool



Mashed potatoes


Onion gravy

Fruit salad and single cream or yoghurt


Turkey stir fry and rice

Yoghurt with blueberry jam and elderflower cordial


Baked trout, herring or mackerel with boiled new potatoes and green beans

Rice pudding


Lamb curry and rice

Ice cream and chocolate sauce


Roast chicken with roast potatoes, green beans and broccoli

Fruit crumble and custard

Fruit salad and single cream

Image: Catherine Hadler /