(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
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
Image: Catherine Hadler / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The second week of my economy menu plans, linked to the Week 2 shopping list and dessert recipes.
Banana split yoghurts
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
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 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
To avoid waste and minimise expenditure, you need to take a view over a month of what you are likely to need in the way of food. To that end, I have devised a monthly menu plan for a family’s evening meals, which I have linked to related weekly shopping lists, designed for precisely this purpose. It should feed a family of four, where each family member is out at work or school during weekdays, and getting a school dinner or a light mid-day meal at work, but having lunch at home at the weekends. In addition to the meals listed in each weekly menu plan (see in the Food and Cooking Category), a healthy breakfast on a budget could be chosen from the following options, avoiding expensive branded cereals:
- Porridge (add cinnamon and/or raisins for a treat)
- Toast and Marmite, jam or marmalade
- Boiled egg and soldiers
- Baked beans on toast
- Yoghurt with banana
- Stewed apple and yoghurt – see my post on Austerity breakfast recipes.
- Birchermuesli – ditto, see the Austerity breakfast recipe post.
- Apple or orange juice (diluted for children to protect their teeth)
- Hot or cold milk, tea or coffee
Ignore fiddly packed lunch recipes in fancy books aimed at fictitious yummy mummies with time and money to waste. Simple and cheap packed lunches for children could contain things like this, and they are just as likely to eat the contents.
- Ham or cheese sandwich
- Apple or satsuma
- Carrot sticks
- A piece of home made fruit cake or flapjack (see recipes)
- Some diluted fruit juice in a reusable metal water bottle.
You can compare the cost of shopping online using price comparison websites such as http://www.mysupermarket.com. A healthy and sustainable housekeeping budget at 2010 prices, using leading supermarkets, is something in the region of £25 per person per week for parts of London and the South East (considerably less in some other regions), although this should be seen in monthly terms as some weeks you will spend a lot more than others. This budget includes food from the monthly menu plan as well as breakfasts and packed lunches, cleaning materials, and everything you need to do the laundry, as well as basic toiletries.
Image: Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
As you have probably read on other pages of this blog, my starting point for investigations into housekeeping practices and their effect on family wellbeing started with a series of home management books produced for schools in 1910, written by Wilena Hitching (previously a headmistress and school inspector). These books were designed to give a thorough, almost scientific introduction to the study of housekeeping to girls between the ages of about 11-14, with a view to preparing them for lives as wives and mothers. While some of the advice she gave sounds dated today, most of it has surprisingly significant relevance for men and women a hundred years later, particularly in times of financial constraint. My focus today will be what Miss Hitching considered to be a healthy diet for families, viewed through a 21st century lens.
Breakfast options (served at 8am)
Bread crusts soaked in warm milk
Brown bread and butter and an egg
Smoked Finnan haddock
Hot milk for children
Cocoa for adults
Most of these are high in fibre and protein, with very little sugar evident and comparatively little fat (with the exception of the bacon). This is clearly an idealised diet – Miss Hitching does permit the drinking of tea and coffee, but regards it as somewhat stimulating and less preferable than cocoa.
Luncheon (which took place mid-morning, around 10.30 am, and was really for children)
Hot milk and a biscuit
Brown bread and butter and a banana
Dinner options (which took place in the middle of the day, around 1pm). A good housekeeper would prepare a two or three course meal, depending on the weather and the type of work family members were engaging in.
Roast meats, leftovers minced or served in shepherd’s pie (for example)
Chops or steaks
Savoury Yorkshire pudding (served alongside roast meats or before the meal with gravy as a kind of appetiser)
Savoury or sweet suet puddings, such as steak and kidney pudding or jam roly poly (but not both in the same meal!)
Macaroni or rice pudding
Stewed fruit and custard
These are high protein meals, comparatively high in saturated fat, but the amount of sugar used in the desserts is comparatively low – a teaspoon of sugar here, a little bit of jam there. There is ample use of fruit, vegetables and pulses, simply prepared, meaning the meals are comparatively high in fibre as well.
Tea (served mid-afternoon, around 4pm; again, mainly aimed at children)
Bread and butter
Watercress, lettuce or radishes
Stewed fruit (apples, rhubarb, prunes, etc)
Once again, this is a high fibre meal with more fruit and vegetables, designed to maximise satiety (feeling of fullness). Watercress is packed full of vitamins, iron and other minerals, representing a kind of Edwardian superfood.
Supper (served before bed, around 7pm) – one or more of the following might be served.
Bread and butter or bread and dripping
Cream crackers, butter and cheese
Simple fare, and perhaps less extensive that in modern times for the time of day. This is presumably because the bulk of the calories needed was taken in during breakfast and lunch, and the family had had the opportunity to gather together for a hot meal during the middle of the day as well. The need to give the stomach a rest from meat overnight is emphasised in Miss Hitching’s book.
I look at all this food, and wonder whether personally I could plough my way through all of this every day, even taking out the ‘luncheon’ and ‘tea’ on the basis of not being a growing child. It is also intriguing to wonder what might happen to the body, were we to start eating like this regularly. Given that the calorific intake is probably higher than we are used to today, would we end up fatter? Or would the simple nature of the food allow our bodies to process the fats and sugars more effectively than we tend to now, leading to fewer metabolic problems such as diabetes and obesity. I think I have an inkling as to the answer, when I think about rationing that was to come thirty years later during World War II, which involved a diet not too far removed from what we are seeing in this 1910 list, albeit with less meat. This led to an improvement in the nation’s health, so perhaps the answers to the obesity epidemic lie in what our grandmothers already knew about choosing food for the family?
This entry was posted in Food and cooking, General, Housekeeping history, Menu plans and tagged banana, breakfast, children, cooking, desserts, dinners, economy, family life, family meals, fish, food, fruit, home organisation, housekeeping, meals, meat, menu, menu plans.