5 reasons why popular food budgeting advice is all wrong

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5 reasons why popular food budgeting advice is all wrong


UK households are being seriously stretched when it comes to everyday tasks – like feeding themselves and running their homes. With food and utilities costs soaring, many are looking to cut back on spending in a number of areas – while many more are just trying to find ways to survive.

Food poverty is very real in the UK. Between April 2020 and March 2021, charity The Trussell Trust distributed 2,537,198 three-day emergency food parcels, with nearly a million of those going to children. It’s the first time their figures have gone above 2 million, and the charity admits that their figures are probably a huge underestimate of the true scale of the problem.

There’s plenty of advice out there for those who are struggling to afford to feed themselves and their families – but it varies in terms of how appropriate it is. Take Lee Anderson MP, for example, who believes we should all be able to feed ourselves for 30p per meal – and who’s received a huge amount of criticism for being so out of touch with reality.

His advice isn’t the only advice that doesn’t take the true extent of the UK’s food poverty crisis into account, though. Here are 5 reasons why a lot of popular food budgeting advice simply isn’t realistic.


1. Risk avoidance

There’s loads of advice out there about frugal food budgeting. We’re told to bulk meals up with vegetables, eat plenty of pulses as they’re filling and nutritious, eat more vegetarian meals, fill up on things like porridge.

They’re all valid points, and definitely great ways to cut food costs. But they’re not for everyone.

What if a household isn’t used to eating lentils and other pulses, and doesn’t know if they’ll like them? Will they really risk spending £1-£2 of their budget on a bag of dried lentils when they may only have £10-£20 for the whole week?

What about households with allergies? What about families with autistic children who will only eat foods they know? It’s one of those that’s a good idea in theory, but won’t suit everyone.


2. A lack of space

The idea of batch cooking is all well and good. After all, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to cook double the amount of food, saving money on ingredients AND filling the freezer for future meals?

For many, it’s just a pipe dream. Research from early 2020 suggested that at least 2.8 million people in the UK were living without a freezer. It’s not just those who have no freezer at all, either: if you’ve just got a tiny freezer compartment as part of your fridge, how can you be expected to batch cook and stock up?


3. Where’s the nutrition?

Yes, 30p can make a meal. A cheap packet of instant noodles, half a tin of value baked beans and some bread – there are undeniably options out there.

But however dedicated you are to food budgeting, it’s hard to buy food that’s both filling enough and nutritious enough if you’ve got just 30p to spend on each individual meal. Can you really meet the minimum daily calorie requirements that an adult requires for that little money – especially with food prices increasing?

Research from The Food Foundation thinktank earlier this year revealed that “about 2 million children were living in households that do not have access to a healthy and affordable diet, putting them at risk of diet-related diseases such as obesity, and poor physical growth”.

The 30p figure quoted by Lee Anderson MP – that magical number that we should all be able to create great meals from – was based on an event organised by his local food bank and a local college. In a Facebook post, he says, “In this film we made 170 meals for 50 quid. This included a lunch and dinner, a breakfast of cereal and milk and enough milk, sugar and tea for a week”.

With a £50 budget, as in the example given by Lee Anderson MP, the team was able to create huge batches of chilli con carne, sweet potato curry, beef casserole, sausage casserole and pasta Bolognese. All very impressive – and nutritious. With a £50 budget, though, that’s hardly surprising. Having £50 to spend on food shopping meant that they could allocate some of the funds to filling proteins like beef and sausages, as well as ensuring that there was plenty of variety. This isn’t such an easy task for those living on a significantly lower food budget.


4. No budget to stock up

Stocking up on ingredients – food that can be frozen, store cupboard ingredients, ingredients to batch cook and reduce the cost per portion – is a great idea, and one I’d definitely recommend. But how realistic is it for those families who are living in true food poverty?

How can families be expected to stock up on store cupboard essentials, when 8.8% of households (4.7 million people) have experienced food insecurity within the last month? How can the 3.6% of adults (1 million people) who say they or someone else in their household has gone a whole day without food in the last month afford to stock up in case it happens again?


5. Inaccurate costs per portion

It’s always handy when a recipe comes complete with a handy guide to its costs per portion. But how accurate are these, in reality?

With food prices having gone up, many websites may not have double-checked that the costs they’ve given reflect the new reality. These given costs may also be based on the cheapest versions of the ingredients, comparing costs at multiple supermarkets. Not everybody has the luxury of being able to shop around.

It’s not just the cost of food, either: these costs per portion don’t take into account the cost of the gas/electricity used to make the dish. Estimates from early 2022 suggest that the hourly cost of running an oven is 60.2p, with an hour’s kettle use costing you 58.8p in electricity. The hourly cost of using an air fryer is 42p, with the grill and hob also costing the same amount to run for the same period.

It may not seem like much – but it soon adds up. Food budgeting to keep costs down is fair enough – but if you’re making meals that involve you running your appliances for long periods, you might find that the savings you’ve made on food are simply being added onto your utility bills.


So, what can households really do to save money on their food and drink? Here are five alternatives that won’t require any additional funds, making them great for those finding food budgeting tough:


1. Look online.

The OLIO app is a great way to rescue food that could otherwise have gone to waste. It’s used by food businesses and individuals alike: anyone who has food (or other products) that they won’t use, and that they’re happy for someone else to take advantage of. Once you’ve registered, you can check what’s in your area and organise collection of any items you’re interested in.



It’s not just OLIO either: don’t forget to check out Facebook groups for your local community. In our local area in the last year or so, we’ve had people giving away pumpkins (they’ve grown too many), plums (from trees in their garden that have produced more than they can eat), and tomato plants.

I’ve personally given away multiple bags of a certain snack that nobody in our house liked, but that I didn’t want to waste – and I’ve collected packets of shortcrust pastry mix that a neighbour was giving away as she’d bought too many. It’s always worth checking to see what’s out there.


2. Find your nearest community fridge

Hubbub co-ordinates 280 (at the time of writing) community fridges across the UK: the largest community fridge network in the world. These are places that rescue surplus food from restaurants, growers, producers, food retailers and individual households, helping to both reduce waste and support their local community.

In 2021 alone, Hubbub estimates that their community fridge network redistributed around 3,150 tons of surplus food in total, welcoming 250,000 visitors in total.

It’s important to note that these are not food banks: they’re a resource that anyone can use. Some community fridges will have a Facebook page that’s updated regularly with what’s in stock. To find your nearest community fridge, take a look at the Hubbub website.


3. Search for free samples and coupons

If you’re a commuter, or you shop in-store at supermarkets, you’ll no doubt have noticed promotional stands giving away free samples of everything from food and drink products to laundry powder – make the most of them! You’ll also find websites dedicated to rounding up details of free sample giveaways from all over the web: try sites like Save the Student, Latest Free Stuff and Magic Freebies, for starters.

These sites – as well as apps like Shopmium – are also a great place to find vouchers which’ll save you money on food and drink products – or sometimes even allow you to sample a product for free.


4. Is it really food waste…?

When you’re preparing food, take a look at what you’re throwing away. Is your food waste really food waste?

Bread crusts can be blitzed into breadcrumbs or turned into croutons. Vegetable peelings can be used to make stock. Potato skin peelings can be washed, dried and tossed in oil, baked and turned into crisps.

Use broccoli stalks to make soup. Bananas that are going brown can be turned into easy ice cream. Have a look online, and you’ll find plenty of ideas for ways to use up food “waste” that you may currently just be binning.


5. Growing and foraging

Leaves, berries, edible flowers…there’s plenty of free food out there if you know how to forage for it! The Woodland Trust has a great guide on its website which explains what you may be able to find from month to month – as well as responsible foraging guidelines.

And when it comes to growing your own, why not try and grow from food you may otherwise have thrown away? Sprouting potatoes can be planted to grow more, spring onions can be regrown from their roots – as can things like celery, carrots and lettuce. If you’re on Tiktok, follow @creative_explained for more great regrowing ideas!


What are YOUR top tips for great food budgeting?


2 Responses to 5 reasons why popular food budgeting advice is all wrong

  1. Very helpful and informative.

  2. This post is very helpful.

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