Thursday, 5 May 2011

How does Sainsbury’s Feed Your Family for £50 campaign stack up?

Can you feed your family healthily for £50 a week? That’s the question Sainsbury’s is posing in an expensive new advertising campaign which is plastered all over the papers today.

Obviously they wouldn’t be spending this kind of money if they didn’t think it would be profitable for them but could you stick to the Sainsbury’s meal plan which you can find on their website here?

I was one of three food writers The Guardian asked to contribute to the debate - in the ‘yes you can’ camp. As the comments below the posts from readers show it is doable though I have reservations as to how many families who are not already living on that kind of budget could manage. As I said in my post it’s not only a question of what you buy but whether you can persuade your family to eat it - and to eat round the table at the same time. And how used you are to cooking meals from scratch.

Now that I’ve seen the meal suggestions in detail I have to say it looks more appealing than I thought - a good deal better than the details one reader posted by mistake from a similar Sainsbury’s offer that was made several years ago which included bought meat pies and canned beef and vegetable soup.

Whoever has devised the plan has managed to cram a surprising amount of fruit and veg into the weekly budget though I haven’t scanned it in enough detail to see how they’ve worked out the costings. If they’ve costed carrots for example pro rata they must be assuming that people would by them loose which I’m not sure the majority would do. It’s managing to use up the food you buy that really saves you money.

There are also some imaginative suggestions. Whizzing up bananas with your breakfast milk to make a banana flavoured milk to pour over your cereal is a great idea as is sprinkling cheese on bread crusts and grilling them to make cheesy croutons for a tomato soup.

There are some surprisingly unfrugal suggestions though like putting on the oven just to roast some tomatoes for breakfast, using ready-made tomato and stir fry sauces rather than making your own with a can of tomatoes or using soy sauce and failing to use the carcass from Sunday’s chicken in some way to make a meal for Monday or Tuesday.

I’m not sure it stands up from a health point of view either. Recommending toast and jam as a suitable breakfast for hungry teenagers three days a week doesn’t seem particularly good advice. In fact I’m not sure how a strapping teenage boy would survive on these relatively meagre rations. And surely it would be better to serve more veggie options than dish up cheap frozen sausages twice a week?

There are also many ingredients that you could buy cheaper than the price Sainsbury’s is charging for them. Most market stalls and a fair few shops would charge less than 80p for a cucumber, for example.

Obviously the week’s plan will come in on budget if you stick to it - but that’s a big if. My guess is that Sainsbury’s is hoping that you won’t.

What do you think of Sainsbury’s menu plan? Do you reckon it’s possible to feed a family of four for £50 a week and what would be your best tips for economising?


EvidenceMatters said...

I'd prefer to be able to read the nutritional info at the top of each Sainsbury's suggestion - I can't see the detail in the pie chart of nutritional breakdown.

It's more expensive and would depend on you having pudding rice/similar in store cupboard, but I'd prefer to see rice pudding or porridge subbing in for the breakfast toast (porridge is made with water in my house but I know that's not universally popular). My guess is that the toast is being used to meet some nutritional requirements - as conferred by the fortified flour.

I think it's a reasonable stab by Sainsbury's. It's a shame that they couldn't include some tasty curries or such but it's possible too many people would have complained about the cost of spices and whether or not they'd be in a standard store cupboard (albeit 1 packet of Panch Poran would cover a fair amount of different recipes).

verity said...

Fascinating reading! You make an interesting point about pro-rata-ing - I hate it when you see recipes which are supposedly cheap, only to find that you have to buy something that is only available in a far greater quantity. Fine if you have it to hand/can use it in something else but otherwise not.

Fiona Beckett said...

Agree, porridge seems a bit of an omission EvidenceMatters - surely it must be more sustaining than toast?
And curries don't have to be expensive if you use curry pastes which are much more economical than curry sauces.

I think ideally such plans would have a set up cost before you get going, Verity, which would cover ingredients like garlic, oil and some basic seasonings.

It will be interesting to see how they update the menus.

The Coffee Lady said...

I'm amazed by the number of sausages suggested by nearly every frugal meal plan I've come across. Sausages, bacon, and yet more sausages.

Fiona Beckett said...

I guess it's that supermarkets - and authors of similar plans - reckon it's what kids will actually eat but it does seem to me a bit of a cop out. Particularly if they're suggested twice in one week

Robert said...

I thought the menu wasn't interesting. I also don't consider toast as a breakfast as I know I'll be starving before lunch. I work in a heavy manual job and I'll be snacking on the wrong food and busting the budget. I've only looked at 3 days menu but where's the curry dishes? I need curry at least once a week! Overall for me, I find it boring as I'm used to eating chicken katsu or Thai food on a near daily basis. But then I live alone and eat what I fancy instead of appealing to a family.

Matt said...

I work for a free meal planning site called The Resourceful Cook. I'd be interested to know what people think of our site in comparison with what Sainsbury's is offering?

Hopefully you'll agree there's loads more choice and ways to personalise what you eat!


Fiona Beckett said...

Actually your link isn't working, Matt - it's !
But nice site and a much more practical versatile approach.

And I agree with you about curries, Robert. Even if it's for families it could include something like a korma

Matt said...

Oops, thank you Fiona - seems I still haven't quite got the hang of copy'n'paste!

Glad you like the site :)

Anonymous said...

We are a family of 7 and have to manage on a budget of £100 per week for food and other sundries.I cannot see that the menu and portion sizes would be sufficient to fuel our five children (scaled up in proportion as I suppose it's for a two adults and two children scenario).We used to be able to stretch the budget at Sainsbury's because they marked bread and other items down considerably at the end of the day.They now don't mark down by much and guess where all unsold items end up? - In the skip at the back of the store!A criminal waste and primarily for accounting purposes and profits.So I find the £50 a week menu a bit hard to swallow for more than one reason!

Diane said...

Whilst the idea of toast and jam might use up some bread, it probably costs more than porridge made from just oats!

Porridge can then be livened up with a spoonful of jam or a chopped banana or even a creative mix of other fruit. Grated apple is great in porridge - add it before you cook the oats so it cooks a little.

Do the recipes fill the 5 a day fruit and veg and the required amount of fibre?

Fiona Beckett said...

That's awful to hear, anonymous. I agree with your doubts about whether the portions would feed five kids. There's also a world of difference between a five year old girl, say and a 6ft 4 strapping teenage boy of 15. But I suppose it makes it too complicated to allow for that.

I'm also a great fan of porridge, Diane. I think they have been quite careful to incorporate recommended portions of fruit and veg though the eating plan is too low in fibre, I'd agree. And rather too high in fat and salt with those cheap sausages.

MersthamMomma said...

My Hubby and I have two small boys, aged 3 & 5.I am at home ful-time so we have a tight budget and I see a large part of my job as providing good nutritious food. We have been using the 5 meals for £20. Sainsburys is the only supermarket in our town at present. Re: the shortcomings of the new plan, I think they are easily solved in our house by subbing Basics Muesli for the branded cereal (a saving of over a £) and having cereal and toast every weekday which is frankly what we would do normally. I think the plans are very good but that two or three of the evening meals are huge: the stir fry and sausage hotpot are massive so we could save by freezing some/making less up and using the rest of the stir fry bag to make an additional salad one night. The criticism i think is most apt is the one about the poor use of the chicken and too much bacon/sausages. We try and steer clear of bacon/ham and rarely buy whole chickens as we try to buy minimum Freedom Food welfare standards so if I do get a chicken it's pricey so destined to be used in at least 3 meals. Looking forward to seeing the next menu plan!

Greedyrosie said...

I'm not the slightest bit interested in frozen sausages and toast and jam, really. Its possible that you can feed your family for this amount by curries, casseroles and pastas and good old beans on toast.
I know that I'm lucky to have the time to make these dishes for my family - but I can't think anyone could sustain too much interest in a diet like this.

Anonymous said...

I feed a family of four plus all cleaning and personal goods for 45 - 50 per week with 7+ portions of fruit and veg per day and not a pot of jam in site! Cereal, marmite toast and juice for breakfast ( the odd cooked one at weekends)pasta, soup,sandwich, jacket potato, salad etc for lunch with homemade bread and sauces and for dinner could be anything from curry to tapas to pizza. By keeping the stock cupboard filled up with dried goods and spices (usually about £5 a weeks worth)not eating meat and making most things from scratch and using up all the food I buy it is more than possible.

Fiona Beckett said...

Great to have your feedback and tips MersthamMomma, GreedyRosie and anonymous. Shows it can be done without any sacrifice of flavour if you get into the right mindset

Frugal Student said...

OT but how do you make a stir-fry sauce from soy sauce?

Fiona Beckett said...

You simply add a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce and an equal amount of water. It doesn't make a lot of sauce but enough to flavour a simple stir fry. You can always serve it with some sweet chilli sauce for extra flavour.

Anonymous said...

I have a family of 4, both myself and my hubby both work and we had grown tired of buying in the same food. We understood that we needed to eat more fruit and vegetables and we are always so short of time this was ideal for us. I have seen a lot of people slating Sainsburys about their choice of breakfasts, lunches etc. I actually feel I have to defend them as at least they have tried hard to support everybody's eating habits. I think they have tried hard and I think with a bit more practice they will get alot better. Keep it up Sainsburys - we're enjoying this alot. - Thanks Lisa V