dieting

Feed your family for under £50 a week…

My first thought on seeing top cook Prue Leith’s diet to feed a family on £50 a week was how fantastic – I love to read anything that can help bring the price of my own grocery shop down. But is it really all it seems? dieting

A typical day’s eating – which journalist Amanda Cable, her husband and their two children aged ten and 13 tried out in the Daily Mail article consists of: breakfast: porridge followed by eggy bread (French toasts dipped in beaten egg and shallow fried in oil) or toast with grilled bacon or friend tomatoes.

Sunday lunch is Chinese chicken legs (four large chicken legs, one tablespoon of honey and three tablespoons of soy and rub over), thick slices of pumpkin roasted together with boiled rice. Pudding is a baked apple and custard

Tea would be scrambled eggs made with water on wholemeal toast. The total cost of this day is £5.70.

Portion size

But the problem I have with all these article to begin with what is the portion size like? Would scrambled eggs on toast for tea (made with water!) be all that a man requires for his whole evening meal? Considering a man needs an average of 2500 calories a day (with someone in a physical job requiring more) would a main meal of just one chicken leg, what equates to one spoonful of rice and a slice of pumpkin honestly be enough for a hearty lunch for healthy and active adult?

Another day home made rice pudding is made as a dessert. This is something I regularly make – but I use 5oz of rice not just 2oz! 2oz would give each of us little more than a tablespoon.

Again the amount of porridge bought – 500g – is very small. I eat porridge every single day for breakfast and believe me that amount would never adequately feed a family of four eating it every day for seven days for breakfast as suggested in this piece…

Healthy?

Where are any greens in this day’s menu? Quite apart form this particular day, there is barely any fruit or fresh veg set aside, let alone calcium from dairy products, for the whole WEEK. One head of broccoli is deemed enough for the whole week for four people – one of my sons alone would devour that by himself. And all I see on the vegetable and fruit front for this Sunday outlined is fried tomatoes (if you choose that not terribly healthy option for breakfast), pumpkins and baked apple with a few sultanas.

Is Prue Leith really telling families this is a healthy day’s meals? As it turns out the Sunday roast in our family is cooked by my husband. But were he to provide these meagre offerings for all of us, I can assure you there would be a family outcry. And I’m quite sure that this would ruin our day as my three adult kids would for sure be heading out for some pub grub.

Unfortunately the whole week’s menu is not only devoid of iron-giving vegetables such as spinach and greens but also red meat.

Omissions

The other big issue with this article is what is left out of the food bill which comes to a total of £48.95 a week. Where are drinks? There is no mention of any tea, coffee, squash or fruit juice. As any shopper knows, it coffee is very expensive, and certainly bumps up the shopping bills, as is tea. There is also very little milk? As a family of five we go through 20 pints of milk a week but in this menu, a tiny 4litres is expected to last the whole seven days. Did this family simply drink water all week? It doesn’t say.

And there are other omissions too. For Friday’s fish cakes, Prue says” “Either pollock or cheap whiting can be used, but you need to add a pinch of chilli powder or a spoon or mayonnaise for extra flavour.” Fine – but there is no mention of the jar of mayonnaise on this shopping list (or the price of making it yourself) and as any cook knows, putting a spice cupboard together doesn’t come cheap either (but no mention of spices either.) Again, the journalist mentions she’s added a bread roll to some meals. Where are the costs of these bread rolls calculated? Soy sauce is mentioned in one recipe – how much was this? Another time the journalist admits she added sausages to a bean and bacon casserole. But along with the soy sauce, the sausages (which ended up being the main part of the meal…) are just not on the shopping bill…

Sainsbury’s ad claiming ‘feed for your family for £50’ banned

It’s worth noting that in April a Sainsbury’s campaign offering to Feed a family for £50 a week was banned after being found in breach of advertising laws. The reason? Customers complained that the meal plans did not provide sufficient calories, meaning additional food would have to be bought.

The reason I know how much all this really takes and costs is because despite working full-time, I’ve always been a huge fan of home cooking myself. I regularly make my own soups and despite being working parents, both myself and my husband have always made meals for our three children from scratch.

Finding the cheapest supermarket

The other issue is that in order to get this shopping within the £50, the items must be bought from various supermarkets. Thus, it states you would have to visit Lidl, Asda, Tesco, Morrisons and Aldi to get the best buys. Surely the money spent on petrol alone would rule out the pennies in savings made on a tin of tomatoes. Not to mention – what sort of busy parent physically has the time to shop in so many different outlets?

The problem with these sorts of articles is they mask the painful truth of food shopping – it is jolly expensive these days to feed your family properly. Plus for most people ‘grocery shop’ means other items besides meals. Loo rolls for example, washing up liquids, shampoo – even if you only buy the most basic items, the price of these things quickly makes budgeting very hard.

Then although you do get people who ‘boast’ they only spend £50 a week feeding the family, they omit to mention the tenners spent on the take away at the weekend or the amount of money they give to their kids for school meals … It’s a little like that programme ‘Secret Eaters’ where people who are overweight deny how much they eat. A lot of people deny even to themselves how much they really spend on extras between food shops at the supermarket.

Guilt

Plus such articles can make parents feel guilty that they are firstly not rustling up their own meals from scratch every day and secondly that they are hopeless at budgeting. If you spend £100 a week on feeding your family of four, this sort of menu makes you look as if you are simply throwing money away (when in fact if you are eating healthily you are doing extremely well.)

Of course we are a family of five so our food bill would be higher anyway. Even taking this into account (and adding in an extra £15 on top), the truth is all things considered it is NOT possible to feed a family for this amount of money. Yes, of course you can exist by spending such a small amount. But put it another way – it is not possible to feed one person healthily for £12 a week. This equates to £1.71 a day, which is less than is allocated to someone in prison or the amount the NHS allocates to a day’s meals (the cheapest in a January 2012 survey of hospitals was £2.57 and they bulk buy food very cheaply, plus this is without your family topping it up.)

There is also the issue of quality of food. What sort of chicken is offered in a meal like this, what sort of eggs? There are other issues to be considered when you buy food.

However, the bottom line is if you add in all the extras – the missing bread rolls, sausages, soy sauce, mayonnaise, drinks and milk and make the meals realistic with sensible portions for an adult or hungry child – then this menu for four will not cost you under £50 a week.

You might be lucky enough to own a farm or not have a full time job so you can spend your whole day sourcing the cheapest ingredients. But for the average parent, trying to feed a healthy family of four (unless your kids are babies) for under £50 a week will make them feel very deprived. There isn’t a home made dish mentioned here that my family does not regularly eat. But to have a week of no chocolate or biscuits at all, not a yoghurt in sight, no tea or coffee, no jam – and on top of that to exist on such tiny amounts – would be miserable. Then there is the health aspect. Are there enough calories in these meals – I think if you put them through a calorie counter, you might find they are woefully low. There is simply not enough amounts of fruit, vegetables, dairy products and animal protein (such as red meat) to make this a high quality healthy diet.

I do applaud the idea. It’s true that you don’t have to resort to expensive cuts of meat or ready meals to eat well or junk food to eat cheaply (although junk food seems pretty expensive too these days…). You can also greatly cut costs by planning meals well in advance. But I would have preferred it if Prue Leith had truly included everything in her price calculation – even if she had come to the conclusion that it isn’t possible any more (and how terrible that food is so expensive – this is the real issue that should be addressed!) to truly feed your family for this amount. What is also missing is a nutritionist’s verdict.

Read the article: Feed your family on £50 a week.

How much do you – realistically – spend on feeding your family? Let us know below…

Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website Featureworld.co.uk, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

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