“I’ve had enough of this,” I said recently to my husband, as I flicked through social media to see yet another clickbaity ‘red top’ headline proclaiming some woman had fed her entire family for a week on a tenner. Spoiler alert – she hadn’t.

The day before there was a piece about a young lad who’d managed to feed himself on a similar budget...sustaining himself on jam sandwiches.

We’re living through one of the worst financial and social crises in memory, and these kinds of leading, misinformed pieces of content do more harm than good in my opinion.

So this week I’ve decided to bring you my own – realistic – version. I’ve managed to create five tasty, satisfying family dinners for just shy of £30. With leftovers.

I bought the ingredients from Aldi, and the recipes assume you have things like salt, pepper and oil in the cupboards. I didn’t go for the ultra-basic ranges on some items, so the cost could be reduced further. And all, but one, recipe freeze well so could be made for two, portioned up, and stashed away for another time.

I became a mum at just 21, and had two children under two by the age of 23, so I know a thing or two about budgeting...believe me. I’ve included some of my favourite hints and tips I’ve picked up across the years. I hope they help you save money and eat a bit better as we navigate the ‘new normal’.

Charlotte’s shopping list

Grana Padano cheese £1.65

Mini bottle of wine £1.99

Gravy granules 85p

White bread 36p

Plain flour 45p

Self-raising flour 45p

Beef mince £1.65

Pepperoni 85p

Coconut milk 65p

Streaky bacon (16 rashers) £1.99

6 eggs 79p

Mozzarella balls x 2 49p each

Fresh basil 47p

Fresh baby tomatoes £1.59

Tinned chopped tomatoes 45p

Brown rice 99p

Carrots 39p

Red potatoes (2.5kg) 99p

Garlic x 4 79p

Purple sprouting broccoli £1.19

Unsalted butter £1.55

Savoy cabbage 43p

Green beans 69p

Onions 71p

Extra mature Cheddar £1.79

Total: £24.73

Extras from the Co-op: Dried red lentils £1.49, frozen peas 95p

The recipes

Cheese and potato pie

(Makes 4-6 portions)


1.5kg red or white potatoes

200g extra mature or vintage Cheddar

2 large onions

Salt and pepper

Oil for frying

1 egg for glazing, beaten

For the pastry

100g butter

300g plain flour

Pinch salt

To serve: Steamed/boiled vegetables and gravy

Make the pastry first. Chop the butter into small cubes and add to a bowl with the flour and pinch of salt. Rub with your fingers until you have fine crumbs. Pop the bowl in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Peel the potatoes and roughly chop. Place into a pan, cover with water, bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer, pop on a lid, and cook until the potatoes are soft under a knife.

While the potatoes cook, roughly chop the onions and fry in a splash of oil over a low to medium heat until very soft and slightly golden at the edges.

Drain the potatoes, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Mash until creamy and add the onions, stirring them in. Chop the cheese into small pieces and stir through the mash. Season well to taste. Spoon into a casserole dish, about 20cm x 30cm, and allow to cool.

Take the pastry bowl out of the fridge and drop by drop add cold water, bringing it together into a dough. Roll out on a floured surface to about 1cm thick and cut a lid to fit over your potato dish. Pop it on top, press the edges of the pastry to the dish to stick, and glaze with the beaten egg. Make a hole in the centre of the pie so steam can escape.

Bake at 210C for 30 to 40 minutes until the top is golden.

Notes: Potato doesn’t freeze well, so it’s best to eat this as soon as you can. It will be fine for up to three days in the fridge.

There will be leftover pastry. This can be rolled up and frozen. Or grate in some of the leftover cheese, combine, roll out and make cheese biscuits.

Pea, basil and bacon risotto

(Makes 4 servings)


150g frozen peas

2 chicken stock cubes

1 medium onion

1 clove garlic

350g risotto rice

Miniature bottle of white wine

8 rashers smoked streaky bacon

Fresh basil, 1 handful

2tbsps butter

1-2 handfuls grated Grana Padano cheese


Oil for cooking


Bring the peas to boil in a small pan. Remove the peas, reserving the cooking water, adding the chicken stock cubes – measure it – you need about 1lt of stock. Place the peas in a food processor (or use a hand blender) and blitz until smooth, adding some of the pea water/stock to loosen. Set aside.

Fry three rashers of the bacon in a pan until very crispy and golden. Set aside. Crumble when cool enough to handle.

Pour a couple of spoons of oil into a heavy-bottomed pan (I use a shallow enamel casserole dish). Finely chop the onion and garlic and add to the pan. Set on a low to medium heat and cook until very very soft. Don’t allow the mix to colour.

Chop the rest of the bacon and add to the onions. Cook for a couple of minutes. Add the rice and turn the heat up, mixing well to coat. Pour in the wine and boil until it has mostly evaporated.

Now spoon in a ladleful of the stock. Turn down the heat to a simmer and stir until all the stock is incorporated. Continue until all the stock is used. The rice should be creamy, but with a little bit of bite. If you like it softer, add more boiled water, a ladle at a time, to the consistency you like.

Spoon in the pea puree.

Shred the basil leaves and add to the dish. To finish, add the butter and cheese, whipping the rice with a wooden spoon.

Serve with the crumbled bacon on top, and a few fresh basil leaves.

Scone based pizzas

(Makes 4)


450g self-raising flour

2tbps oil or spread

Large pinch salt

1tsp dried herbs (optional)

250ml-300ml milk

For the sauce

2tbsps oil

Pinch chilli flakes

4 cloves garlic

1 tin chopped tomatoes with herbs

Pinch sugar


To top

2 balls mozzarella


Serve with a salad of chopped vegetables


Make the sauce first. Slice the garlic finely. Heat the oil in a pan and add the chilli flakes and garlic. Cook until you just start to smell the garlic. Take the pan off the heat, allow to cool for a moment, and carefully add the tinned tomatoes. Crush them with the back of a spoon or fork. Return to the heat and simmer gently until thickened. Add a pinch of sugar and season to taste.

To make the dough, place the flour in a bowl with a pinch of salt. Add the oil or spread and rub it in until it disappears. Add the herbs if using and combine. Now, slowly stir in the milk, a little at a time, bringing the mix together into a soft ball.

Allow to rest for five minutes.

Split the dough into four and roll into pizza shapes – about 20cms each. Place on lined trays and pre-heat the oven to 210C. Spread some of the sauce over the top of each base, rip over mozzarella, and finish with a few slices of pepperoni. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the dough is risen and the top is melting and slightly golden.

Tip: If you have a large freezer you can flash freeze the pizzas on lined trays and individually wrap them to eat later. They’ll cook from frozen in about 20 to 30 minutes.

Beef rissoles

(Makes 4 servings)


500g red or white potatoes

1 onion

2 cloves garlic

500g beef mince

2tbsps gravy granules

1 handful grated strong Cheddar

8 slices white bread, blitzed into breadcrumbs

2 eggs, whisked



Oil for frying

To serve: Steamed or boiled seasonal vegetables


Peel and roughly chop the potatoes. Place in a pan, cover with water, bring to the boil. Turn the heat to a simmer and cover with a lid. Cook until knife tender. Leave to cool.

Finely chop the onion and garlic. Fry in a little oil in a large frying pan or medium saucepan until softened and a little golden. Add the mince and fry until browned all over. Stir in the gravy granules.

Mash the potatoes and stir through the beef/onion mix and add the cheese. Taste. Add plenty of black pepper and some salt to your liking.

Leave to cool slightly.

Have bowls ready with the beaten eggs, another with the breadcrumbs, and another with about 8tbsps flour.

Take egg-sized pieces of the potato/beef mix and shape into flat ovals (kind of like chicken nuggets). Dip in the flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs and set aside on a plate.

To cook from fresh, heat some oil in a pan and fry lightly on each side until golden. At this stage the rissoles can be flash frozen on trays and stored in freezer bags until needed.

Or, place on lined baking trays in the oven at 200C and cook for 20 minutes.

From frozen allow 30 minutes at 190C - until piping hot through.

Super easy daal

(Makes 6 servings)


1 onion

300g lentils

2tbsps curry powder

1 can coconut milk

1 chicken stock cube

Oil to fry


To finish

3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly

Pinch chilli flakes

70g butter


To serve

Boiled brown rice

Roughly chopped tomatoes and sliced onions tossed in a little salt and lemon


Finely chop the onion. Pour a little oil into a large pan and add the onion, frying until golden. Add the lentils, curry powder, coconut milk, two tins (from the coconut milk) of water, and the stock cube. Bring to the boil, turn to a simmer, cover and cook gently until thick and soft, adding a little more water if needed along the way. It will take about 30 to 40 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

Heat the butter in a frying pan and add the garlic and chilli flakes. Cook until the garlic begins to colour. Add a generous pinch of salt.

Serve the daal over rice and drizzle some of the seasoned butter over each dish.

10 ideas for leftovers

You will have leftover: Potatoes, butter, rice, Cheddar, Grana Padano, tomatoes, bacon, onions, gravy, eggs, basil, risotto rice, peas, plain flour, self-raising flour, lentils

1. Peel and finely chop 100g of potatoes and 1 small onion. Fry in an oven-safe pan with oil until both are very very soft. Beat two eggs and season well. Pour over the potato/onion mix and cook until the bottom is set. Add some peas, grated cheese, basil or cooked bacon if you like – then finish under the grill. Serves one.

2. Grate a mixture of the leftover cheeses and add them to the recipe for the scone pizza base – to make cheese scones. Cut into 4cm rounds and bake at 210C for 9-10 minutes.

3. Roughly chop tomatoes with half the amount of onion and a clove of garlic. Fry in a touch of oil until soft, and season with salt, pepper and chilli flakes. Pop into an oven proof dish, break over a couple of eggs and bake until soft set. Serve with bread.

4. Blitz some leftover basil with Grana Padano cheese, some oil, seasoning and any nuts you might have in the cupboard for a tasty dressing for toast or pasta.

5. Fry a couple of onions and cloves of garlic with the leftover bacon (optional), add stock and peas, simmer and blitz to make soup.

6. You’ll have enough ingredients to make half the risotto recipe once again. Cook this, allow to cool, and split into golf ball sized shapes. Pop a cube of Cheddar inside each, roll in beaten egg and breadcrumbs, and fry until golden.

7. Cut potatoes into wedges and bring to the boil, cooking for 10 minutes. Allow to cool, then toss in a little oil and season. Bake at 200C until golden. Top with grated Cheddar, fried bacon, fried onions and gravy – makeshift poutines.

8. Fry a small onion with some bacon and pour over two beaten eggs, maybe some grated cheese, to make an omelette.

9. Make Irish potato bread to serve with the leftover bacon, some fried tomatoes and poached eggs. Peel and boil 450g of the potatoes until tender, drain and mash. Add 75g plain flour, 25g butter and seasoning. Combine. Roll out on a flat surface into a round about 1.5cm thick and cut into four. Fry in a pan until golden on each side.

10. Make a light, simple soup by frying a couple of finely chopped onions with two cloves finely chopped garlic and some tomatoes. Add the rest of the lentils, and stock to cover by 2ins. Bring to the boil, then simmer until the lentils are soft. Add basil at the end if you like. Leave it chunky or blitz until smooth.

Buying yellow labels

There’s no shame in buying yellow ticket label items in supermarkets. In fact, I actively encourage it. You’re getting a bargain, and preventing food from going in the bin (something that happens all too often). With these products, the freezer is your friend. You can often get fish and meat at ridiculously low prices. Stock up and freeze to eat later. Use yellow ticket fresh produce (often fruit and veg that’s perfectly fine, but past it’s ‘best before’ date) to plan your next few days of eating. If there’s, say, cauliflower for 15p – how about cauliflower cheese for dinner tomorrow?

I’ve recently bagged a whole ribeye of beef for £6 (it was huge), locally smoked haddock fillets down from £8 to £1.15, and a giant pizza (was £5, down to 90p).

Food savvy tips

1. Always try to plan your shopping in advance and only buy what you really need. However, if you aren’t tied to an office job, there’s much to be said for shopping ‘on the hoof’, day by day – especially if you can work out what time your local shop does its discounts.

2. Make Friday (traditionally the day before the ‘big shop’) your fridge day. Rummage through the fridge, freezer and cupboards to see what you can rustle up with what you have, using a bit of creativity. You might surprise yourself.

3. If you’re using more expensive items for a dish (like curry paste, anchovies, olives or capers) don’t let them fester in the fridge, destined for the bin. Chop finely, and freeze in ice cube trays. Then you’ve got pops of flavour ready at hand.

4. All herbs can be frozen. Then crumble as you need them, from frozen, into your cooking.

5. Keep lids on pans to bring down the overall cooking time, saving energy.

6. Milk that’s on the turn is perfect for making scones or pizza scones. The acidity will actually make them rise better.

7. Don’t throw away staling bread. We keep ours in a wicker basket on a shelf in the kitchen. Once it’s fully dried out, blitz into breadcrumbs and store in an airtight container.

8. Invest in some fridge liners for the bottom drawer. I got some in a discount shop and they really do stop fruit and veg spoiling so quickly.

10. Lentils are your friend. I can’t tell you how many meals I’ve padded out with them over the years. Replace up to half the meat in a curry, chilli, braise or stew with them, and they’ll thicken the sauce, making it more satisfying, and add extra nutrients.