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Could you feed your family for £20 a week?

Posted 05 December 2014

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If you needed to, could you feed your family for £20 a week? We'll show you how.

According to the Office of National Statistics, the average UK family spends just under £60 per week on food and non-alcoholic drinks. But with many of us feeling cash-strapped, especially in January, is it possible to feed a family of four for less than £20 a week?

Whilst this might seem like a big challenge it could help you feel like you’ve got more money than you really have. What we mean by this is, sometimes you might think you’ll be suffering if you don’t spend your usual amount on food, but when the pennies are tight, it might be useful to see how little you could survive on and still serve your family really tasty, nutritious food. This might give you a renewed sense of security about being cash-strapped – at least you can put food on the table! 

So, it’s not us setting you the challenge, it’s you setting it for yourself. Why not see if it’s possible to make the road ahead less daunting. Here are some ideas and thoughts that should help you plan your £20 a week shopping challenge. 


Potentially more nutritious

You may find that the food you prepare is more nutritious than your usual fayre, especially if you currently tend to buy lots of ready meals that you pop in the oven. The reason for this is that you will have to make lots of foods yourself, from scratch, to save money. You pay a premium for prepared food, which is understandable as you’re paying for someone else to make it for you. It also means that you’re never really quite sure what’s in the meal. You could, for example, be eating much more salt than you should be simply because you don’t check the labels on the prepped foods you buy. Who does, right?      

Stop throwing food away! 

And, as UK households throw away on average £700 worth of food each year, which is approximately £60 a month, an exercise in monitoring what you spend on food could save you even more. The main reasons for the waste are preparing too much food for one meal and not eating what we’ve bought in time, so better planning could save you some money straight away. Try these two ideas to save on waste:

·         weigh your food

This may seem like a weird thing to say, but if one of the main reasons for food being thrown away is making too much to begin with, why not just make what you need? One way of doing this easily is to weigh out the number of portions you need and nothing more. So pasta, for example, you’d need about 125gms for two adults. If you have kids, you obviously need to add in more, but how much would depend on how old your kids are. You could try a couple of times to see how much is a suitable amount, making sure you note down what you used for next time. Same goes for pretty much everything you use. This way you’ll know that what you are preparing will be eaten and not thrown in the bin.

Of course, you can deliberately make more than you need so that you’ll have left-overs for lunch the next day. But, make sure you measure those portions out too or you could end up eating the same

·         learn about ‘use by’ and ‘best before’

It’s also useful to know that many foods are safe to eat way past their best before dates have passed. This date simply means just that – the food will be at its best if you consume it before that date. It’s not about safety, it’s more about the quality of the taste of the food. So dried foods, things like pasta, rice or lentils will be fine for many months to come and tins can last many, many months beyond their best before dates.

However, you do need to be careful about use by dates, as these are usually put on items that perish quicker. So it’s wise to make sure you plan to use up all perishables before they go out of date.     

Try the £20 challenge one week in four

Now, this whole idea might seem like a right faff, but we’re not saying that you should do this on regular basis, unless you want to of course. We’re suggesting it could be used as a temporary measure, say one week out of four, in a tight month, just to help see you through. It might mean the difference between being able to afford to pay all your essential bills and sacrificing something.    

The meals

We were thinking of planning out the meals for you, but you’re adults, you can plan your own meals depending on what your family likes and will eat. Maybe you’ve got a fussy little five year old, who’ll only eat green food, or maybe one of you has a huge dislike of cheese, onions or whatever. So rather than dictating what meals you should cook, we’ll suggest places where you can find cheap meals that you could make if you wanted to.

You can also change it up by being a bargain hunter. If you spot a pasta dinner for four on the reduced shelf for £2.00, snap it up and use it for one of your weeks meals.  

Breakfasts can be really cheap if you just grab yourself a bag of oats and make up porridge each morning. You can vary the toppings to make it more interesting, so you could add a handful of raisins to the mix one day, cinnamon the next, banana slices and so on.

For lunch and dinner ideas, here are some great websites you can trawl through for recipe ideas:

50 recipes for under £1 a head

How to eat healthily on £1 a day 

10 meals costing 50p per portion

Thrifty Lesley – 1 person, 1 day £1

So is it possible for a family of four to survive on a £20 food shop a week?

It seems the answer is ‘yes’, as there are people doing it already, such as budget-meal queen, Jack Monroe. She has a huge number of recipes on her website, some of them are literally pence to make, and in this article she shows you how to feed two people on £10 a week. Some of the recipes even make enough for four! So, if you make a little effort, be a little bit adventurous about trying new things and get yourself organised, you’ll be just fine.    

Let us know how you get on

If you are going to try this for a week, let us know on our twitter page @Debt_AdvisoryUK – we’d love to hear how you get on.

If you’re regularly finding yourself with not enough money to live on cutting back on food isn’t the answer - you should think about speaking to a trained debt advisor. They’ll go through your finances with you to see if there’s a debt solution that could help you. If you’d like to speak to one of our advisors, just click one of the ‘contact us’ buttons on the left of the page. You can also get free advice from the Money Advice Service



by Shelley Bowers

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