Feed a family of 4 for less than £9/week – me for the Daily Mirror


On Monday afternoon, I received a message from the Daily Mirror, asking if I would be interested in writing a piece about food. Having discussed almost nothing but my body for a fortnight, I leapt at the chance to get back into the kitchen with gusto, and said yes.

They asked if, in response to Prince Charles plea for us all to support British farmers, I could write a meal plan for a family of four, on the Living Wage. Hmm, I thought. Impossible to know what their food budget is without knowing household costs, bill commitments, gas, electricity, whether they have a telly and what subscription service they have, how many hours a week that Living Wage is being paid for, and if it was the real Living Wage or the Government’s pretend one? So, I sat down at my desk and started to rifle through my books. I decided instead to use my £10 a week as my benchmark, that was my average when I started writing this blog. I was a single mum on benefits, unemployed, with endless trouble with my Housing Benefit payments meaning that quite often I missed my rent, accrued bank charges, missed bills because the bank charges took me into a negative overdraft, got late payment charges from the missed bills and more bank charges as the unauthorised overdraft spiralled. To put it bluntly, I was in shit. It has taken me three years to get out of that shit, and I’m still not quite there.

Anyway – they came to me because I guess they thought I know a thing or two about planning meals around miniscule amounts of money, and making those meals something that children might actually eat. All of my recipes have been run past my son, and the general rule is that if he doesn’t eat it, it doesn’t end up in my blog or books – what’s the point in cooking two separate meals every night?

And so, I set about it with gusto. Copied recipes onto small pieces of paper and stuck them on my wall for breakfast, lunch, dinner. Shuffled them around, started to make a shopping list, whipped out any that needed ingredients that wouldn’t be used up in the week or couldn’t be put in anything else, shuffled again, added some more. Made a new shopping list, dug out my recent receipts to see the prices of ingredients, cross-checked them online to check they hadn’t changed, and started typing up condensed versions of my recipes, deducting things from the shopping list every time I ‘used’ it to make sure it would all last the week.

Now normally, week to week, I do this without thinking about it. I just open the cupboard, see what’s in there, rustle it into something, type it up afterwards and do the cost calculation. But if I was going to make a truly helpful resource, on the basis that someone was starting with nothing but a bit of cooking oil and a pinch of salt in their cupboards, I had to be forensic.

I finished at 7am the next morning – up all night with copious cups of tea and occasional flails into the kitchen to check if I could thin my berry bircher pot overnight with milk and come back to it thickened up in the morning (yes, I could). I made my mushroom risotto with tea instead of wine at 4am and prayed my upstairs neighbours were heavy sleepers as I smooshed berries and yoghurt in my blender shortly afterwards.

And in the end, I did it. A menu plan for two adults and two children, for a week, for £35. It won’t meet everyone’s dietary requirements, but it’s a start. (I’m working on a vegan one now, and a gluten free one too, with no promises for a delivery date because I need to speak to the paper to see if this is something we can do again – but I am working on them.)

So, as a starting point, a foray into cheap and simple cooking that doesn’t require fancy gadgets or too much technical ability, it’s all here. It’s not too carb-heavy, as my own diet was back then, I’ve learned a lot in the last four years or so! It averages 5 fruit and/or veg a day, and protein is the biggest section on the shopping list. It’s not perfect – but if you find yourself in a sticky situation financially, or know someone who is, or just want to learn to cook a little, save some money, or live a week in the life of my stomach, here you go.

The Shopping List: http://jackatapinch.com/2015/11/11/feed-a-family-of-4-for-less-than-9week-the-shopping-list/

The Breakfasts: http://jackatapinch.com/2015/11/11/feed-a-family-of-4-for-less-than-9week-breads-breakfasts/

The Lunches: http://jackatapinch.com/2015/11/11/feed-a-family-of-4-for-less-than-9week-lunchtime/

The Dinners: http://jackatapinch.com/2015/11/11/feed-a-family-of-4-for-less-than-9week-dinnertime/

The Desserts, Snacks & Juice: http://jackatapinch.com/2015/11/11/feed-a-family-of-4-for-less-than-9week-dessert-treats-and-juice/

Enjoy, good luck, and please share it – you may not need it, but you probably know someone who does.

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @DrJackMonroe. Instagram: @MxJackMonroe

Categories: Blog, NEWS, Recipes & Food


    • Jack

      I am popping my blogging cherry by penning this, but I have been so moved my you, and all that you stand for.

      Perhaps this is strange when I add some context- I am poles apart from you on many planes, I am an old fashioned libertarian Tory and a serving Lieutenant Colonel. But your passion, great recipes and burning sense of injustice chime with me.

      I wish you well!


  1. Jack,

    You’re a real slouch aren’t you? Get a job and procrastinate like heck on it.

    No really, this is astounding work! Not only do you get it the paper in almost ridiculously short order, you get it to the world in less than 4 days.

    As happy as I was for you to be doing big gigs, and getting well known, this work is the stuff that you do exceptionally, and uniquely. BIG THANKS!

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I saw your tweet that you’d done this, but I was having trouble getting onto the Mirror web-site. I’m looking forward to reading all the posts with the details.

  3. Still just the personal gripe of mine that you’re not inculding the cost of the energy needed to keep the oven at 180C for an hour. That’s probably 1KW electricty, for an hour is one unit, which is approx. 20pence – not an insignificant amount at all. Why isn’t this cost added to the costings??

      • That’s rather a copout, isn’t it? I don’t know everyone’s energy ratings either, but I know the average cost of a 1KWh of electricty. The “average” cost of running an oven at 180C for 1 hour is pretty much known I would say.

      • Regardless, one’s got to cook, no matter the energy cost. Baking a loaf of banana bread at home is still cheaper than buying the meal. You did good Jack.

      • The best way to tackle the issue of how much it costs to use a cooker, is to quote costs in terms of kWh, rather than the actual monetary cost. That way, it’s easy for your readers to do their own calculation, based on what they are being charged per unit.
        Anyone cooking on a budget would find this information useful, I suspect.
        Good luck.

      • It’s not just the cost of running the oven for an hour. There is the cost of cooking veg. etc on the hob, the cost of running the fridge to keep food fresh, the cost of getting to the shops and back. It would be impossibly complex to factor in all costs.
        In addition, if Jack included a costing of fuel based on averages then someone would object and say that their fuel costs are greater.
        Surely far better to say thank you to Jack for all her hard work and then go and do your own sums since you know the cost of a KW hour.

    • I suspect that I’m making an error of judgement replying to your comment as you’re being deliberately provocative but are you seriously only going to focus on the absence of fuel cost calculation? As far as I can see that wasn’t part of the brief – providing a menu for a limited budget for a family of 4 whilst buying British was. And Jack, who I do not have the pleasure of knowing personally but whom I admire a great deal, has done that – quickly, ensuring it is healthy/balanced and child friendly. Not finished there Jack has shared all of the links here so those that do not have access to the paper can find them easily.
      There is also an assumption one is fortunate enough to have a roof over one’s head and access to a cooker and utensils. I don’t believe it’s reasonable to expect one article and series of posts to tackle ever challenge we face – not even Jack could cure all of societies ills in one day.
      I believe a more appropriate response might have been ‘thank you for sharing’.
      Goodness, you’ve made me cross.

      • Thankyou Jacq, well said. Unfortunately some people cannot find positives even when they smack them in the face. Jack you have done a marvellous job…well done and many people would be very grateful to you for being so considerate.

    • I guess you’re one of those people who is never satisfied, no matter how much others do. To put all of this together, in such a short time, with all of Jack’s other commitments, is nothing short of amazing. Most people, self included, are happy to see a list of cheap and filling, healthy recipes. The oven is going to get used, no matter what you cook in it, and most people will know (especially those counting their pennies) what their average electricity and gas bills come to, so that information isn’t crucial on a menu plan and shopping list. Like you say, it’s a PERSONAL gripe, so why don’t you just get over yourself, and acknowledge that, once again, Jack has come up trumps.

    • As it appears you have a lot of time on your hands & seem to know where to find the information, please feel free to support Jack in their quest to help others by furnishing us all with the information that you seem to feel is missing.

    • do you seriously know any recipe/meal plan or website that does this? costs of cooking are going to be there no matter what – whether you’re making spag bol from a jar or from scratch. do you want her to estimate the petrol or pubic transport cost of getting to the supermarket, too?

    • I’ve never seen a recipe anywhere, by anybody, for anything, that includes the cost of energy. I think maybe you’re being a little petty…….?

      • Harry, I agree, I haven’t seen a recipe book that mentions energy costs either, but it’s going to happen.

        Right now, for the first time, emergency measures are in place to prevent blackouts this winter, and we only have a few day’s worth of gas if our supplies our cut off.

        Given that Jack is well placed to get people thinking about cooking with economy in mind, she might want to boost her credentials by being the first to incorporate this useful information in her recipes.

        I’m sure Jack’s editor, once alerted to the concept, would see the inclusion of energy consumption as a no-brainer.

      • Possibly a little, I agree.
        But if you’re going to give a headline to, say, the Mirror, that you can feed a family on £9 pp a week then shouldn’t the costings of the oven be included?
        And to someone who commented about costing for the fridge as well, well that’s just silly – the fridge is on 24 hrs a day. The oven is only on (and consumes 20 times as much electricity) when the food is being cooked.
        I’ve been personally in this situation with an electricity token meter, so I know that it *does* matter.

    • Seriously? My god, don’t you have better things to do than be so negative? Or better yet, just figure it out for yourself? Why not include the cost to drive to the store? Or the cost of the refridgerator holding the items. Such negativity is a bore.

  4. Thank you Jack. I’m single and live alone and don’t have much to live on just now but you’ve motivated me to eat properly again. If ever you want to see how lever ty and mental health works out nutritionally in South West London, let me know. Thank you, and good luck with everything. S X

  5. You are an inspiration. I love this. Thank goodness we’ve always been able to afford food for our 2 children (and I consider this a blessing beyond anything) however, I am always on the lookout for good healthy, quick recipes. And since yours are kid tested, I am sure mine will eat them (they are 4 & 2). Much love to you. xo.

  6. Kinnison1 instead of assuming Jack of “coping out” (sounded antagonistic to me, perhaps you didn’t intend it to be so)) why not just share the information, which you did by the way, but do so with grace. 🙂
    So now we know 1Kw for 1Hr = approx 20 p.
    But I live in New Zealand so means nothing to me, also the Sainsbury prices, but I still know it’s economical and healthy. Go Jack! you’re awesome!
    Hi from the “colonies” 🙂

  7. Kinda off topic but I feel compelled to tell you those bank charges whilst your sole income was benefits is in breach of the credit consumer act 1974. The banks are not allowed to charge you on any credit (I.e. Going over your limit et el) when your sole income is hardship. You can get all those charges back or voided.

  8. The banks are in breach of the credit consumer act 1974 by applying charges when your sole income is hardship I.e benefits. They broke the law. You can either get any outstanding voided and you should be able to get a refund on the old ones. Any problems with either contact the FSO and report them.

  9. fantastic, thanks! Doubt I’ll wean the fella off cocopops for breakfast (and yes, I’m talking about a 50+ year old here, and yes, it has to be Kelloggs….) but the teen and I will enjoy test driving these and I’ll be testing most of them with Asda’s gf flours so we shall see how that turns out too! (it’s a cheap gf flour, not as nice as Dove Farm but does the job passably well)

  10. My email service has sent your posts to the spam folder because its had so many of them in one go. Might be an idea to space them out a bit so we don’t go weeks without a post and then loads turn up at once?

  11. I never thought of using tea in place of wine. I don’t drink wine, but I have plenty of tea about!

    Also, I look forward to a vegan version should it happen, but there’s some great recipes in this lot. A happy accident could also be that the liquid from kidney beans makes a great egg replacer.

  12. You know what I love most about these posts? The shopping list and the way you’ve planned out a whole weeks worth of meals. I’m always looking out for this sort of thing rather than just buying a set of ingredients to do one recipe. I think a lot of people struggle with knowing what to buy to create a whole weeks worth of meals without waste. It’s a skill we aren’t taught at school eh? It’s brilliant, thank you.

  13. Excited to try this but on an exclusion diet coz of breastfeeding small, allergic one. Dairy and soya are in sooo much 🙁

  14. No excuses for not eating healthily on a low budget! Looking forward to the vegan blog as trying to cut out too much meat and proccessed foods get back to basics, thanks for recipes so far : )

  15. Nice mixture of recipes, and they look great nutritionally. By the way, one snack I’ve seen elsewhere is slices of apples with peanut butter sandwiched between: I know this isn’t something that would keep, but it would fit with what you’ve got on your shopping list 🙂

  16. i don’t want to appear critical as I think you’re ace and i think you get enough flack as it is – this is not meant as an attack but it is a genuine thought that is bugging me; – that you are being/will be used to justify low low payments for families to live on? “look at all those whingeing scroungers…etc etc – we’ve shown it perfectly possible to live well on £35 a week…” that sort of caper? – And before anyone gets all aerated with righteous indignation – this is not an attack on Jack – this is a deep mistrust of the media.

  17. Hi Jack – I’ve done up a shopping list for this meal plan based on Australian supermarkets. We really only have two main supermarkets that are everywhere plus Aldi which is nearly everywhere, so I’ve just compared those three to your list. The cheapest was $116.30 – $29.07 per person. (Currently £55.41, £13.85pp.) Click my name to go to the blog post – includes a link to a spreadsheet with the shopping list compared! You do end up with a little more food than your shopping list simply because of the amounts that food is pre-packed as in Aus supermarkets. Like 2kg of prepacked onions being the same cost or cheaper than 1kg of loose onions!

  18. I have only recently discovered your work but I already made two of you recipes this morning – the carrot, garlic and carrot soup (the most delicious soup I ever ate, I swear, and so cheap & easy to make!) and the gorgeous Mexican Bean Ghoulash, which I brought to hospital with me so I wouldn’t have to spend on fortune on sandwiches while I wait for my appointments!! I’m vegan so I love the fact that your recipes are mostly very vegan-friendly/vegan usable – thank you for all you do, please ignore the trolls (and let’s not feed them ;-D)
    I think you do great work, thank you for sharing it, it’s made z difference to my life 😀

  19. Hi Jack
    Thank you for a great recipies, you have some great stuff on here. I am also looking forward to you Gluten Free meal plan – I was diagnosed with a wheat allergy 7 years ago and I find it a struggle trying to keep a balanced diet on a limited budget (plus I am meat free too!) I will look forward to your Vegan meal planner too.
    Thank you for your hard work, dedication and passion for helping us out.
    ps I made your beetballs (managed to buy some gf bread in the reduced aisle) and they were great 🙂

  20. Jack u are such an inspiration. Have you wrote any books I would love to purchase one. As a single mother tears come to my eyes as I see myself in ur boat and it’s heartbreaking but you keep going for baba. I love ur recipes and will definitely will be using all your tips thanks so much sometimes u feel so alone x x x

  21. The links don’t seem to work anymore? I’m trying to persuade OH to invest in one of your books, and i think this bit of genius would certainly help!

Leave a Reply