Eating well
on a budget

It doesn't have to cost a lot to eat well. That's what we found with our six-month Food Sense campaign, run with The Trussell Trust earlier this year.

We worked with food blogger, Lesley Negus, to create some tasty meal plans on a budget. Read her recipe plans below to see how to eat well for around £1 per person.

Thrifty Lesley's recipe plans

A general day's eating plan for a £1 a head

This sample day’s menu serves two adults, one man and one woman at 2500 and 2000 calories each. I set all my meal plans up this way because it is the government-recommended amount of calories and it gives the option of reducing the amount you eat if you need less. It can also be halved for one person and doubled for four.

What’s on the menu?

Breakfast: Banana and Oat Smoothie, 18p
Lunch: Vegetable Hummus with Carrot Batons and Herby Scones, 38p
Dinner: Roasted Beetroot, Feta and Black Olive Pasta Salad, 41p
Snack: Banana Muffin, 4p

Total cost: £1.01 per person for the day

If you need to adjust the calories, use more or less pasta in the pasta salad and adjust the amount of herby scones and banana muffins you have.

 

Nutritional values

2,000 calories for a woman, plus 2,500 calories for a man
11% protein, 36% fat, 54% carbs, 31g fibre per person
Government recommendations 10–35% protein, 20–35% fat, 45–65% carb, 25g fibre per person per day
This plan has a total of 5.2 portions of fruit and veg per person

The items not used in the following recipes can be used in many other things. Why not try the beetroot, roasted with some thyme and onions,  mixed with feta and piled into a tart case? Or roast off some of the carrots and onions, mix with black olives, flour and water to make a thick batter and drop dollops into a hot oiled frying pan for delicious little pancakes.

The recipes

Breakfast: Banana and Oat Smoothie

Serves 2
Vegetarian, would be vegan if you use dairy-free milk

A large banana, 180g, 13p
500ml semi skim milk, 2.27litres/89p, 20p
40g value oats, 1kg/75p, 4p

Put everything into a blender and whizz for a couple of minutes until smooth. Share between two glasses and drink straight away. Homemade smoothies don’t keep particularly well.

If you don’t have a blender, mash the banana with a fork until it has really broken down, then mix in with the milk and oats.

Per serving 18p, 300 cals, 13g protein, 6g fat, 48g carb

Lunch: Vegetable Hummus

Serves 2
Vegan and gluten free (check the beans)

100g value onion, 2kg/£1.07, 5p
500g value carrots, 1kg/59p, 30p
Tin of value baked beans, 25p
30ml veg oil 1 litre/£1.10, 3p
Clove of garlic, peeled, a bulb/25p, 3p
Total cost 66p

Cut the onion in half. Chop 300g of the carrots into chunks, no need to peel. Place the vegetables in a roasting pan and drizzle with a teaspoon or two of the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in a hot oven for 30 minutes or so until they are very soft. Remove the onion skin.

Meanwhile drain the beans and rinse under the tap. The juice can be reserved and added to the next casserole/soup/stew you make.

Tip the beans and roasted veg into a food processor together with the remaining oil and garlic clove and process until nearly smooth. If you do not have a processor, mash the beans in a bowl with a fork until smooth. Chop the vegetables with a sharp knife until they are as smooth as you can get them. Season well with salt and pepper.

Serve the hummus for lunch with herby scones and the remaining carrots cut into batons. It can be taken to work as it will travel well.

If you have any tahini or a spoon of peanut butter they would work well here. And maybe a squeeze of lemon juice, or a little cumin or coriander.

I have used many other vegetables in this kind of hummus. Beetroot, drained baked beans and horseradish/thyme; butter beans, olive oil and lemon zest; even a value tin of kidney beans and leftover garlicky roast vegetables. And of course then there is the classic chickpea version. To the chickpeas, you can add a dollop of caramelised onion relish; a red pepper from a jar; some cumin and coriander; orange zest and the juice of an orange. Lots of different flavours to play with.

Per serving 33p, 347 cals, 9g protein, 15g fat, 44g carb

Lunch: Herby Scones

Makes 12 small scones
Vegan, use gluten-free flour for a gluten-free version

270g value self-raising flour 45p/1.5kg, 8p
90ml veg oil, litre/£1.25, 11p
tsp mixed dried herbs, 25p/tub, 1p
pinch salt and pepper
Total cost 20p

Mix all the dry ingredients together. Add the oil and enough cold water, about 100ml, to make a loose dough. Pat out on the counter into an oblong about 2cm thick and cut into half down the middle. Now cut each half into six small scones. If you like, moisten the top with water and sprinkle on a little smoky paprika, cayenne, crunchy salt or ground pepper.

Bake in a hot oven for 15 minutes until golden. Especially good served hot, maybe with a little butter melted on the cut surface, or a sliver of cheese, or just on their own.

If you have malted grain flour in the cupboard, that would work well. These can also be made with gluten-free flour.

I have some sage a big rosemary bush in my garden. So I picked three big sage leaves and a big sprig of rosemary and chopped them up really fine. It made a tablespoon and tasted really good in the finished scones, just about the right amount.

You could use any combination of herbs that you like. A teaspoon of value mixed dried herbs is the same as a tablespoon of fresh. Try basil, oregano, marjoram or thyme. Sage might be a bit much all on its own, but if you like it strong, try it and see. I have a bit of thyme in the garden, so next time I’ll try thyme and marjoram.

Serve the scones with the vegetable hummus for lunch. The calories and costings allow for 8 of the 12 scones to be shared between you during the day.

Per scone (12) 2p, 137 cals, 2g protein, 7g fat, 16g carb

Dinner: Roasted Beetroot, Feta and Black Olive Pasta Salad

Vegetarian. Substitute feta for a vegan version. Use gluten-free pasta for gluten-free option.

50g value feta, 200g/40p, 10p
200g value onions, 2kg/£1.07, 11p
200g beetroot, 500g vacuum pack/60p, 24p
100g carrots, 59p/kg, 6p
180g value pasta, 500g/29p, 10p
Tsp oil, £1.10/litre, 1p
50g Chosen By You black olives, 165g/69p, 21p
Total Cost 82p, 41p per serving

Put the onions (unpeeled), beetroot and carrots (unpeeled) cut into chunks into a roasting tin. Drizzle over the oil, season with salt and pepper. Add a sprig of thyme or rosemary if you have it. Roast at 375-400F/190-200C/180 fan/gas mark 6 for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables are soft.

Meanwhile, boil the pasta in lightly salted water until al dente. Drain well.

Once the vegetables are cooked, remove the onion skin. Roughly chop all the veg and toss in with the pasta, be sure to add any lovely sticky bits from the pan. Add the feta.

Serve immediately, although this is good at any temperature, so it would also make a lovely packed lunch.

Adjust the amount of pasta if you want more or fewer calories. You could add a clove or two of the garlic to the roasting tin.

The vegetables can be swapped around or added to, a pepper from a jar would be good, some raw mangetout sliced small, a little sweetcorn, a few raw peas, a handful of spinach, some fine sliced fennel.  Anything you fancy or have available.

Per serving 522 cals, 19g protein, 17g fat, 74g carb

Snack: Banana Muffins

Vegan, for a gluten-free version, use gluten-free flour

255g self-raising flour 45p/1.5kg, 8p
1 tsp baking powder, £1.29/170g 4p
1/2 tsp salt
Banana, 13p
85g sugar, 59p/kg, 5p
210ml milk, 89p/2.27 litre, 8p
90ml veg oil £1.10/litre, 10p
Total cost 48p, 4p per muffin

There is no egg in this recipe; will you be able to tell the difference? I couldn’t.

You will need a 12-hole muffin tin, paper cases will help to remove the baked muffins. If you don’t have any cases, oil the holes in the tin and dust with flour

Pre-heat the oven to 375-400F/190-200C/180 fan/gas mark 6

Sift together all the dry ingredients. Put the oil and milk in another container (a jug or small bowl). Mash the banana. When you are ready to bake the muffins, add the banana and oil/milk mixture to the dry ingredients and stir just enough to incorporate, a light hand is essential here. Too much stirring will toughen the muffins.
Spoon the mix into the paper cases in the muffin tin and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and firm.

These will be soft and completely gorgeous, just like a muffin fresh from the oven should be.

Variations for muffins are endless. If you are not using a moist fruit like bananas, you will need to increase the milk from 150ml to 240ml, plus four tablespoons if you are not using an egg.

You could use raisins, or any other dried fruit, date and cinnamon, apricot and almonds, apples. You could add grated carrot, courgette or beetroot. You could make cranberry ones for Christmas, use lemon or orange zest and juice with maybe a little dribble of icing over, you could stir in a little mincemeat, you could use poppy, sesame or sunflower seeds

You could add chocolate chopped into small pieces, or cocoa powder replacing some of the flour.

If you would prefer a savoury muffin, use some of your feta and olives instead of the banana. Leave out the sugar and add 240ml milk instead of 150ml.

Muffins are best eaten spanking fresh, so any that aren’t used during this day, pop them in the freezer and take them out when you want one.

Per muffin 184 cals, 3g protein, 7g  fat, 26g carb

Lesley's Christmas menu

If you’re on a tight budget cooking up a Christmas dinner may seem impossible. But with a bit of extra planning, you can enjoy a delicious festive feast, without spending a fortune.

What’s on the menu?

Lunch: Roast turkey (or pork), pigs in blankets, stuffing, home made gravy, roast potatoes, sprouts, roast parsnips, cranberry sauce
Pudding: Muscovado and mixed fruit pudding, with double cream

As well as Christmas lunch I have suggested lots of recipes to use up your ingredients during the rest of the week.

Total cost: £1.38 per person per day. Not bad for a week of great Christmas eating!

If you don’t want turkey, a pork joint at the same price can be substituted and used throughout the week.

Suggested amounts are for two people. If there are more of you, multiply up accordingly. If you are going to cook for yourself, most of the leftovers will freeze or keep in the fridge or store cupboard. I have put in as many festive flavours as I could, using seasonal spices, cranberry sauce, stuffing, sage and mince pies.

The recipes

Christmas Day lunch

Serves two
200g of cooked turkey joint, £1
400g potatoes 27p
Tblsp rapeseed oil 2p
75g brussel sprouts 14p
1 sausage, 11p
50g cooking bacon, 6p
Quarter pack of stuffing, 4p
100g parsnips 680g/£1, 15p
1 tblsp cranberry sauce, 6p
1 tblsp value flour

Total cost £1.85, 92p per serving

Method

Cook the turkey according to the pack instructions.

To make pigs in blankets cut the sausage into four. Bash the bacon out into a flat piece and wrap the sausage in pieces of the bacon. Set to one side.

Mix the stuffing with the amount of hot water given on the packet, form into small balls and place to one side.

Peel and cut the potatoes into chunks and boil for 10 minutes. Drain and shake well to get some fluffy edges. Whilst still hot, drizzle with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Put in a baking tin.

45 minutes before the turkey is done, put the potatoes in the oven.

20 minutes before the turkey is done, put the parsnips, stuffing and pigs in blankets in the oven.

When the turkey is done, remove it from the tin, place on a warm dish, cover and leave to rest. Put the roasting tin on the hob and make some gravy with the juices. Depending on how many juices you have, you may need to add a little water, white wine or stock. Add a bay leaf if you have one, and a bit of grainy mustard too if you have it. Add the flour and whisk like mad until it thickens, add more flour if it needs to be thicker (it depends on how much liquid there is). Whisk in any tasty bits stuck on the tin.

Serve everything up immediately.

per serving, 760 calories, 33g protein, 24g fat, 66g carbs, 9g fibre

Pudding: Muscovado and mixed fruit pudding, with double cream

This makes four servings, so if there are two of you, keep two for another day. They freeze well.

These puds have a lovely festive flavour from the muscovado sugar and dried fruit.

They take just a few minutes to cook in the microwave, and can be prepared the previous day and kept in the fridge ready to cook or reheat. If you are reheating them in the microwave, just heat them for a few seconds or they will go rock hard.

1 egg, 8p
100g self raising flour, 3p
100g muscovado sugar, 20p
100g butter 32p
100g mixed dried fruit 19p
50ml double cream per person, 57p
Total of £1.39, four portions, 35p per portion

Method

Weigh out the sugar and put one tblsp in with the fruit, along with 60ml hot water, and leave the fruit to soak and plump up. You could microwave it for a few seconds to help it along.

Put the remaining sugar and the butter in a bowl and beat together until creamy. Add the egg yolk and beat. Now add half the egg white, beat, and repeat. Add the flour and gently stir through. Do not overstir as it will make the pudding leathery.
Now, you have a few options. You can bake this in a medium oven for half an hour until golden, or steam it in a slow cooker for two hours, or microwave it almost instantly.

You can use one dish, one pudding basin, or divide it into four in ramekins or even microwaveable teacups or small mugs.

I use four little plastic pots with lids. The mix should only come about halfway up the pots, or the mix will spill out as it expands in the microwave. Put the soaked and plump fruit, and remaining juice into the baking dish/pudding basins and the pudding mixture on top, dividing equally if using individual dishes.

Microwave in one dish for six minutes or individual servings for five minutes.

Serve with a dollop of double cream.

per serving, 672 calories, 7g protein, 45g fat, 60g carbs

The rest of the week

Here are my suggestions to make the best use of your leftovers, and for eating during the festive week, starting on Christmas Eve eve, the 23rd December. You’ll find these recipes on my website www.thriftylesley.com, and they’ll use the extra groceries in the ingredient table above.

23 December

Breakfast: porridge with muscovado sugar.
Lunch: spicy lentil soup – add some ginger and turmeric to the soup for a warming and wintery flavour.
Dinner: Spanish omelette using carrot, onions and bacon, served with homemade oven wedges. Use two eggs each.

24 December

Breakfast: jammy oat bars – use some of the dried mixed fruit in place of the jam in the oat bars, soak them first and add a little sugar and cinnamon to lend a bit more Christmas flavour.
Lunch: spicy lentil soup
Dinner: smoked salmon pasta followed by mince pies – use a value pack of smoked salmon pieces, using half here, and half in the scrambled eggs for your Christmas day breakfast. Follow with mince pies made using the flour and oil to make oil pastry. You will get loads more mince pies if you make them yourself or buy a box of 6.

25 December

Breakfast: smoked salmon & scrambled eggs, toast.
Lunch: roast turkey and trimmings with muscovado and mixed fruit pudding.
Dinner: turkey sandwich with stuffing and cranberry sauce.

26 December

Breakfast: pancakes – mix cinnamon or mixed spice into the pancake batter for a festive flavour. Serve with a few frozen red fruits. Defrost them and mash with a little sugar to make a lovely juice.
Lunch: turkey stock soup with kidney beans, onions and carrots – make a soup using a little turkey or any bones for flavour adding some drained kidney or other beans and any vegetables you have handy.
Dinner: turkey and onion pie, followed by frozen fruits cheesecake – make a pie using turkey, stuffing and sausage that you have. Follow with a quarter of the cheesecake each and serve with a few more of the red berries.

27 December

Breakfast: cinnamon toast
Lunch: spiced parsnip soup
Dinner: gnocchi with sausage and stuffing – use fresh potato rather than dried to make the gnocchi as you will have fresh ones in the cupboard. Use a sausage each in the gnocchi and a little stuffing if you have any left.

28 December

Breakfast: oats with cinnamon syrup.
Lunch: spiced parsnip soup
Dinner: pizza use any turkey, stuffing or sausages left.
Add any turkey, stuffing or sausage to the pizza. Any leftover carrot or parsnip medallions would be delicious on a pizza as well. This pizza doesn’t use a tomato sauce base, or cheese on top either. Pizza is one of those base recipes that can accommodate a wide range of leftover ingredients.

29 December

Breakfast: jammy oat bars
Lunch: turkey soup
Dinner: quiche– use two eggs in a two-portion quiche and fill up the dish using bacon, grilled until crisp, onion, any vegetables available, a drizzle of cream and maybe serve with parsnip and carrot medallions, roasted in the oven, or homemade oven wedges – or both! Spice them up with curry powder, or sage and rosemary.

Get creative

I hope this has given you a few ideas. You can eat festively, and deliciously, without breaking your budget. These ideas don’t neatly use up all the ingredients you will need within the week, but all the ingredients suggested are used by lots of recipes on www.thriftylesley.com. Get creative and try some of these recipes and you won’t need to waste a thing.

A Valentine's dinner for two

Valentine’s Day will be here soon. And with flowers, chocolate, perfume, date nights out – it can set you back a huge amount of money. So, what else can we do to have a lovely romantic time without bankrupting the family finances? I’ve listed some good ideas below for inspiration, but first what about cooking something lovely for your evening?

I came up with this for our tiny budget. I think it is a beautiful menu, I hope you do too.

We have a Smoked Salmon and Crispy Toast starter, a main of a warm Asparagus, Bacon and Egg Salad, and a pudding of Chocolate Cherry Cake with Cream. It all comes in at £1.84 a head, which is very good value. I have tried to stick to ingredients that can be used in lots of other meals when there are any left over, and there are a few ideas on that below. If you use up those ingredients in meals through the week, and concentrate on the cheaper meals on my website, you should still be okay for your £1 a day budget.

Suggested amounts are for two people. If there are more of you, multiply up accordingly. If you are going to cook for yourself, most of the leftovers will freeze or keep in the fridge or store cupboard.

The recipes

Smoked Salmon and Crispy Toast starter, about 35p

If you would like a starter, how about smoked salmon in cream cheese on toasted bread in heart shapes?

Use 10g of smoked salmon trimmings in a spoonful (about 20g) of basics cream cheese per person, mixing together and season with black pepper. Cut out some shapes from a couple of slices of bread using cookie cutters or a cardboard template and toast them. Serve the salmon on top.

Warm Asparagus, Bacon and Egg Salad, about 80p

This is based on this recipe from BBC Good Food, I did it for my Women’s Institute group and it went down a storm!

The recipe calls for a few toasted hazelnuts, but these can be expensive, so you can also use 20g raw peanuts instead.

For the vinaigrette, you need 1 part acid (any vinegar except malt) to 3 parts oil. So 3 teaspoons of olive oil if you have it, vegetable oil if you don’t and 1 teaspoon lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, plus a teaspoon of grainy mustard. Give it a whisk until it emulsifies and add salt and pepper to taste.

Boil the eggs for 4 minutes. Leave to cool. Snap the asparagus off at the stem end to remove the woody part (keeping that part for stock). Simmer for about 4 minutes until tender. Drain well, keeping the water for stock.

Cooking bacon tends to be found in lumps rather than rashers, so you will either need to snip it up into little pieces or bash it out flat.  In either case, grill the bacon until crispy.

Meanwhile, put a smear of oil in a frying pan and fry the hazelnuts or peanuts until they brown. Keep an eye on them as they can catch and burn easily.

Shell the eggs and keep them warm with the plates.

Put half the asparagus on each plate, top with the crispy bacon, and the halved eggs. Sprinkle over the nuts. Drizzle over the dressing and serve immediately.

You could scattered a few puy lentils over the top or add a crispy French baguette and butter  to bulk this out if you like.

Chocolate Cherry Cake with Cream pudding, about 69p

Heart-shaped everything is the order of the day for Valentine’s!

Make a chocolate sponge cake in the usual way, baking it in a tray with deep sides instead of two sponge tins. When it’s cooled, cut out four heart shapes using a template or cutter and place one on a shallow bowl. Drain a bottle of cherries (I got mine from Lidl) and place on top, or add defrosted frozen berries. Follow with some whipped cream and top it off with the second heart, sprinkling with icing sugar just before serving.

This dessert looks great and tastes divine. You can use the remaining fruit and cream in lots of other dessert, while any leftover cake works well in a trifle.

Play with variations of this. How about a lemon or orange sponge with a tin of drained mandarins? Or pair with a fruit compote (heat fruit very gently with a little sugar until the juices run) or apple slices, fried in a little butter. Or take a look at my Victoria Sponge post – any of those variations would work just fine.

I like to keep fruit liqueurs in the cupboard, and this is just the place to add a dash to whatever fruit you use. Raspberry trifle with a dash of raspberry liqueur, that Blue Curacao that seemed a good idea at the time! Don’t add too much, stir well and taste, then go from there.

Toast yourselves with whatever your budget runs to and enjoy your romantic evening.

Using up the remaining ingredients

Try smoked salmon in a pasta sauce: stirring it through warm pasta with some of the soft cheese and lemon zest if you have one. Or fry an onion, add a tablespoon of flour and a little milk to make a sauce and add about 50g salmon for two portions, with 80g dried pasta each. You could make this twice with the remaining salmon. Or use the rest in a quiche filling with three eggs, some grated carrot and a handful of frozen peas; use a 20cm pie tin and you will have four portions of quiche. See how to make pastry with oil.

Soft cheese is extremely versatile so you shouldn’t have any problems using that up – lots of ideas on my website.

Add chocolate or plain custard to the remaining chocolate cake, or add some homemade chocolate fudge sauce. Crumble those together and add as a pancake filler, or warm it through for a few seconds and enjoy with ice cream.

The rest of the frozen fruits can be used as a compote to have with yogurt for breakfast or a pudding, or put them in as the fruit base of a baked sponge or oaty crumble.

The cooking bacon has lots of uses; try my recipe for a Bacon and Sweetcorn Pie; use some in a rosti, or make some soup using whatever vegetables you have left and a bit of bacon for flavour.

Celebrating Valentine’s Day without spending a fortune

I promised you some good ideas to celebrate your loved ones without breaking the bank.

How about writing a love letter to your best beloved? When we were broke once, I asked my husband to do just that. He sweated blood over it – it didn’t come naturally – and it was very short. But it meant a great deal to me and I still have it tucked away and take it out every now and again. If you need inspiration, try this website.

Taking this idea further, you could create a scrap book for you as a couple. Put in love notes, photos, ticket stubs from places you had a good time, a photo of the cinema where you watched your first film, anything that is meaningful to you as a couple. Or try making a CD of their favourite songs.

And as a special gift? Love coupons are a well known way of giving without spending cash. You could promise to do all sorts of things that can be redeemed when they want it. Or write coupons for a back or foot massage, watching their favourite film, whatever would be special. Fill a jar with suggestions and let them pick and choose as they wish.

I hope I have given you some ideas on how to show your love and affection without spending any money – there are plenty more on my website. If you are new to living on a tight budget, please try to bear in mind that it really is the thought that counts in situations like these. Have fun and happy Valentine’s Day!

Looking for more healthy recipes on a budget?

Check out Thrifty Lesley’s website at www.thriftylesley.com 

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