(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
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
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
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)
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:
Organic veg box suppliers are having a tough time at the moment, as people are apparently cutting their orders back as they downsize. So this week I tried to think of a way of factoring in an organic veg box into this week’s crisis diet, while still keeping the total around £35. This proved to be too much of a challenge, so we are looking at £27 at Asda and £14 for a medium organic vegetable box (Abel and Cole), totalling £41 for the week’s shopping.
Breakfast is porridge as usual, lunch is tinned soup and bread plus protein as before.
Dinner ideas are as follows, and recipes are readily available on the internet. The veg box items are in bold. They are tasty, and seasonal.
1. Broccoli and cream cheese bake
2. Chard and salmon quiche
3. White pollack fish with boiled potatoes and fennel
4. Roast gammon, mashed potatoes and peas
5. Baked potatoes with bolognaise sauce
6. Chicory wrapped with ham, tinned chopped tomatoes poured over, and grated cheese on top, baked for 30 minutes.
7. Mushroom omelettes
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)
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
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
2.5kg white potatoes
4 Bramley apples
At least 4 bananas
1 kg carrots
125g thin sliced ham
340g diced turkey breast
8 Smoked haddock fishcakes
12 thick sausages
Bar of milk chocolate