Feed your family on 50 a week: Top cook Prue Leith shows how – and you won't just be eating baked beans
23:55 GMT, 23 November 2012
As a young chef earning just 12 a week, I learned to cook on a budget. And today, although Leiths School Of Food And Wine frequently teaches chefs how to prepare michelin-star-style dishes made with expensive ingredients, I still love the challenge of creating something from leftovers — opening the fridge and playing a game of ‘ready, steady, cook’ with whatever I find inside.
These cheap, home-made dinners are often far healthier than fat and salt-laden ready-meals.
So I was saddened to read research published in the Mail this week, which revealed that soaring food prices are having a terrible effect on the nation’s diet, with cash-strapped families filling up on cheap processed foods, and failing to eat enough fruit and vegetables.
Impossible Prue Leith fed her family for a week on just 50 a week
I’d like to prove that it is possible
to make healthy food on a budget — and that, in fact, you can feed a
family of four for a week for as little as 50.
Of course, this isn’t easy, and
requires careful planning and shopping around. But the money-saving
tricks I learnt when I was a struggling young cook have stayed with me,
and can be used to help you, too.
Be brave enough to cook new things and
try my seven-day meal planner below. Mother-of-three Amanda Cable, from
South-East London, created my menus and tested them on her family,
including her children aged ten and 13. She found it saved her money,
but was it a hit on the taste front, too
Breakfasts all week
Porridge followed by eggy bread (French toast made with slices of bread dipped in beaten egg and shallow-fried in oil) or toast topped with grilled bacon or fried tomatoes.
Lunchbox: Cold chicken legs, carrot sticks, celery sticks, bread roll. The price of meat has rocketed but chicken remains a cheap option: the best deal I found was eight plump chicken legs from Aldi for just 1.19 — 15p per leg. I used four for lunch, saving four for Sunday.
Supper: Bean and bacon casserole
Cheap and filling: Prue cooked a bean and bacon casserole for supper on Monday night
Method: Soak dried beans overnight. Slice an onion and cook in a pan on a low heat, along with some celery. When soft, add tomato paste and cook for a minute. Add water, a stock cube, peas, red kidney beans, haricot beans and chickpeas. Add cooked bacon scraps and cook together on low heat until soft. Crumble a mixture of grated cheese and breadcrumbs over the top and grill.
Pudding: Tangerines or clementines in caramel
Method: Choose two tangerines or clementines per person and peel, leaving them whole.
Place 100g caster sugar in a pan and heat gently until it turns golden brown. Pour a little immediately onto oiled foil and leave to set — this will make shards of caramel that you can use to decorate the oranges with. Add a little water to the remaining caramel (be careful as it will splutter) and swirl until the caramel dissolves, before adding the oranges. Leave to cool, then serve the tangerines with shards of caramel scattered over them for a dramatic effect on a shoestring!
Prue says: ‘I think chicken legs are best served cold, and the casserole is cheap and filling. I used to teach chalet girls who were preparing to cater for parties of skiiers and needed to learn how to cook warm, nourishing food — and this became a firm favourite.
The pudding is great at Christmas, with the tanginess of the fruit making a wonderful change from all the sickly sweet Christmas puddings. The secret is always to use fruit in season. Right now, clementines are cheap and plentiful — especially at the local market. I managed to buy eight tangerines for just 1 at Asda.’
Amanda’s verdict: ‘Every piece of lunch was eaten, but send your child to school with wet-wipes — my twin sons came home covered in bits of chicken! In the evening, they screamed in horror at the sight of the beans – it looked far too healthy for their liking. But I added sausages to give it more flavour and they cleaned their plates. Pudding was a bit of a disaster, as my caramel burnt and snapped. Think I need practice to perfect this.’
Total Cost: 3.83
Lunchbox: White soup
Method: Cook 1 chopped onion or 2 leeks until soft, add 1 clove crushed garlic, soften and then add 2 peeled and chopped parsnips, 4 potatoes, 300ml milk and 1 stock cube. Add enough water to just cover the veg, then simmer until it is tender. Liquidise for a smooth soup.
White soup: Prue cooked this for lunch on Tuesday with one onion, some garlic, two parsnips, four potatoes, milk and a stock cube
Pudding: Sliced pear
Supper: Fish Pie
Method: Chop and fry 2 sticks celery in a knob of butter. Place 1kg of fish in a frying pan with 300ml milk (adding bay leaf if you have one in your store cupboard) and simmer gently until the fish flakes easily. Drain and save the milk. Save half the fish for later in the week.
Make a white sauce (melt 25g butter and 25g flour into a saucepan, gradually whisk in milk until it thickens). Add cheese, and pour over fish. Boil and mash 750g potatoes, add a knob of butter and spread over the fish filling. Sprinkle with a little extra cheese. Grill until golden.
Side dish: Peas and Kale
Shred kale finely, throw frozen peas and kale together, and cook with a knob of butter. In my experience, kids like peas so will eat the kale mixed in with them.
Pudding: Watermelon Slices
Prue says: ‘There’s nothing more comforting than a fish pie. I can serve it for children’s tea or dinner parties with discerning guests — and it never fails to please. Use the cheapest fish going — usually frozen white pollock (just 3.99 per kg at Lidl). It has a slight off-white colour, but is just as tasty and versatile as cod. Bulk up the pie with celery, peas, spinach or boiled eggs.
‘Home-made soups come into their own when budgets are tight. The basic stock recipe and method remains the same, so you can alter it according to whatever is selling cheap at the market or languishing in your cupboard.’
Amanda’s verdict: ‘My husband Ray enjoyed the soup as much as the children did, but I needed to add extra stock to make it go further. I wasn’t sure about the fish pie, as I’ve always splashed out on expensive haddock, salmon and cod in the past.
Prue advised me to add mustard to her white sauce — and this was all the flavour it needed. It’s certainly pollock in future for us!’
Total Cost: 10.91
Lunchbox: Tuna sandwich with cucumber sticks and a banana
Supper: Pasta with ham, cheese, broccoli and tomato
Method: Cook rigatoni or macaroni in boiling water according to packet instructions. Two minutes before it is ready, throw in broccoli. Drain, then mix with butter, ham, cheese and raw tomato. Cook extra pasta for Thursday’s lunchbox
Tasty: Wednesday supper was pasta with ham, cheese, broccoli and tomato which was also used for Thursday's lunchbox
Pudding: Pear and orange salad
Prue says: ‘Every student in the world becomes a pasta chef supreme. It’s cheap, easy to make and filling. Asda offers 500g of pasta — enough for five people — for just 24p. It’s also a good source of energy and fibre, even the non-wholeweat type which children prefer.’
Amanda’s verdict: ‘I’ve always thought own-brand tuna was tasteless and mushy, so spent more on named brands. In fact, Aldi came up trumps with a flavoursome, cheap alternative. The pasta was the family’s favourite meal all week and looked so colourful I was tempted to take a picture!’
Total Cost: 4.28
Lunchbox: Cream cheese and pesto pasta
Method: Take a scoop of soft cheese, add Morrison’s value pesto, adjust levels according to taste, and allow to melt into your pasta.
Supper: Stuffed marrow with grilled aubergine, garlic and breadcrumbs
Food, glorious food! Prue still enjoys the challenge of creating a dish from leftovers and out of whatever she finds inside the fridge
Method: Split marrow in half lengthways, cover and microwave until soft. Scoop out insides when three-quarters cooked. Grill aubergine slices so they become soft, chop them up, add crushed, cooked garlic, cooked rice and salt and pepper and place inside the marrow. Add breadcrumbs and cheese on the top, bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until soft on top.
Serve with tomato sauce: Soften onions in a little oil, add chopped garlic and a dessertspoon of tomato puree. After a minute, add a tin of whole tomatoes (pre-chopped cans are more bitter). Cook slowly, add Italian herbs from your larder and season with half a stock cube. Save half for tomorrow’s soup.
Pudding: Bananas and evaporated milk
Prue says: ‘One of my great budget finds is Asda smartprice soft cheese, costing just 62p for 250g. It’s good source of calcium and protein, which is great for growing kids. The evening meal, as well as being filling, counts as three portions of your recommended five-a-day of fruit and vegetables.’
Amanda’s verdict: ‘I’ve tried the lunch pasta before with more expensive Philadelphia cheese —but this tasted just as good. As for dinner, Prue made this sound so easy, but I turned it into green mush. However, it actually tasted ok, even if the children did laugh at my efforts.’
Total Cost: 4.98
Lunchbox: Red tomato soup
Method: Re-heat your tomato sauce from yesterday, adding a teaspoon of sugar if necessary, and watering down with vegetable or chicken stock. Cook slowly to let flavours infuse.
Supper: Fishcakes, chilli and spring onions
Method: Cook 340g of potato, cut into cubes. Mash, and add the cooked pollock you saved from earlier in the week. Season, add butter, chilli and onions, with beaten egg to bind. Shape into flat patties. Coat with flour and pop into fridge for up to two hours to firm up the shape. Dip in beaten egg and then breadcrumbs. Heat oil well, and add butter for extra taste before you fry until brown both sides. Serve with peas and leeks.
Pudding: Rice Pudding
Method: Add a tablespoon of caster sugar, 2oz pudding rice, 570ml milk, vanilla essence and grated nutmeg (if you have in your store cupboard) into a dish and cook on 150c or Gas Mark 2 for three to four hours.
Prue says: ‘Whenever my children were ill, this home-made tomato soup worked wonders. I found 400g tins of tomatoes for just 31p each at Aldi. For the fish cakes, either pollock or cheap whiting can be used, but you need to add a pinch of chilli powder or spoon of mayonnaise for extra flavour.’
Prue learned to cook on a budget when she was a young chef earning 12 a week
Amanda’s verdict: ‘My children all love tomato soup, and adding sugar took the edge off the tartness. I added a bread roll each to keep them from getting too hungry. For the evening meal, the fishcakes took a lot of preparing, but I added a dash of mild chilli powder and they were delicious. Another tip is to try a dollop of tartar sauce. A winner with the kids, who loved the crunchy coating.’
Total Cost: 6.06
Lunch: Tuna and sweetcorn bake
Method: Cook 400g macaroni until tender, make a white sauce (same way as fish pie) add two drained cans of tuna and cooked sweetcorn. Once mixed with pasta, add 50g breadcrumbs and 50g cheese for a gratin top and grill.
Serve with: Cabbage salad with parsley and pine nuts
Mix very finely shaved white cabbage or pak choi with mustardy vinaigrette and chopped parsley.
Supper: Baked potatoes stuffed with leeks, mushrooms and cheese
Method: Bake in microwave for around three minutes, turn and cook for another three minutes (remembering to prick first otherwise they’ll explode!) Make sure they’re soft inside, and carefully scoop out the flesh. Meanwhile, cook leeks and mushrooms in butter in a pan, mix them up together with chedder cheese and potato flesh, put back into the potatoes and pop into the oven for 20 minutes at 400F.
Pudding: Banana and custard.
Prue says: ‘Lunch is my own take on macaroni cheese — which offers a good balance of carbohydrates and protein, and low saturated fat. Many teenage girls don’t drink milk, so recipes like this are a great way to get calcium into diets. Contrary to popular myth, decent baked potatoes can be made in a microwave, it’s the filling that really makes a difference. Chop up the fruit, it encourages children to eat it!’
Amanda’s verdict: ‘My teenage daughter refuses to drink milk, and it was reassuring to see her finally get some calcium with this tasty pasta bake. I came a cropper on the baked potatoes, though — I didn’t read Prue’s advice about pricking, and the contents of one potato ended up all over the microwave. This added to the appeal as far as the children were concerned — they all wanted the ‘volcano potato.’
Total Cost: 6.19
Lunch: Chinese chicken legs with pumpkin and rice
Method: Use one tablespoon of honey and three tablespoons of soy, and rub over four large chicken legs. Cut thick slices of pumpkin and roast together with the chicken for 35 minutes. Serve with boiled rice (some of the tastiest rice can be found incredibly cheaply in Indian supermarkets).
Family favourite: Chinese chicken legs with pumpkin and rice is popular with Prue's children and grandchildren
Pudding: Baked apples and custard
Method: De-core 4 large baking apples, stuff with sultanas, sugar and a knob of butter.
Bake in oven (180c) for about 20 mins or cook in the microwave for 6-8 mins. Make custard from powder, it is more economical.
Supper: Scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast
Prue says: ‘The chicken recipe is a family favourite with my children and grandchildren. The salty soy and sweet honey make a wonderful sticky sauce.
Pumpkin is cheap at this time of year, but you can use butternut squash. My nanny used to give us baked apples for pudding when we were children — one of my treasured memories.
Scrambled eggs for supper can be made extra special with pancetta or Parma ham, and using water instead of milk made it even cheaper. Fry the ham until crisp and add to the eggs for a delicious meal.’
Baked apples and custard took pride of place on the dinner table for dessert on Sunday
Amanda’s verdict: ‘I didn’t think lunch would be enough to fill my hungry teenager, but the baked apple for afters did the trick! At supper, the children moaned about their thick slices of brown bread —they wanted less healthy white. But the scrambled eggs tasted great. Making them using water didn’t seem to alter the taste.’
Total Cost: 5.70
Amanda’s verdict on the week: ‘I normally spend 130 a week on food for our family of five, and never believed it could be done for less than 50. Most of the meals were filling, although the tomato soup wasn’t enough for my hungry kids. Prue’s best advice was to be brave, and throw food together rather than throwing it in the bin. So much is wasted every week — and I’m determined to budget better in the future.
Total spend for the week: 41.95