Hi, I’m Natalie, and welcome to the fourth (and final) week of the Summer Dinner challenge.
Over the past four weeks I have been exploring how far the Welsh Government £19.50 school meal scheme, which was extended over the summer holidays, could be stretched. And if it is possible to reach the recommended nutritional guidelines on that budget.
I have been pleased to share my journey with you in the hope that this will also help to relieve some of the pressure of planning nutritious meals for your families on a budget. Here are my thoughts on week 4...
What I learnt this week – Get creative and mix it up
Last week I put my detective hat on and dusted of my calculator in a bid to find easy, cost saving tips to lower the cost of meals. My aim this week was to get creative with ingredients and to make the most of store cupboard items and left-over ingredients. Many of the meals in my plan this week focus on using items previously purchased to get the most out of my pennies.
Break the norm and mix it up! Firstly, be flexible and learn what can and can’t easily be swapped in and out of recipes. If you are following a recipe which includes ingredients you don’t already have, take a look in your cupboards and see if you’ve got an alternative that can be used. For example, a simple swap could be onions for leeks or spring onion; or crème fraîche and soured cream which are largely interchangeable. Don’t have mince? Try cutting up sausages instead. Swap chicken breasts for fish or turkey steaks instead of pork chops…the possibilities are endless.
You can also be a bit more adventurous and try adapting recipes all together… fancy a lasagne but have some left over chicken to use up? Try looking for a chicken lasagne recipe instead. Have lots of mince beef to spare? Try spag bol, chilli, meatloaf, home-made burgers or kebabs. Or jazz up your family favourites ... bored with fish fingers? Try fish finger tacos instead. Be adventurous and don’t be afraid to give things a try. You will never know if you don’t, and you will also be reducing waste and saving yourself money. There is plenty of inspiration on the web, get searching and bookmarking your favourites.
Go fresh, go local! As consumers, we are now used to having a wide variety of fruit and vegetables on our supermarket shelves 365 days a year. With such a big choice now being the norm, have you ever stopped to think about where it all comes from? Our Welsh climate certainly isn’t capable of producing strawberries 12 months of the year! A closer look at the packaging will provide the answer, the country of origin can vary from Spain, Peru and Israel. But what impact do those ‘food miles’ have on the quality of the produce? Flying halfway around the world certainly isn’t good for the carbon footprint, never mind the nutritional value of the produce which starts decreasing as soon as it is picked.
So looking closer to home for fruit and vegetables that are in season will not only be better for the environment, but for you too. The fresher your fruit and vegetables are, the more nutritional they will be.
Seasonal produce also tends to be cheaper as it is easily available and hasn’t travelled far to your supermarket or grocer’s shelves. Having some produce only available at certain times of the year also keeps your dinner plate exciting and tasty. Asparagus freshly picked from a Welsh field in May tastes so much better than crops flown in from Peru in November.
The uncertainty around the availability of certain foods in the last few months is also a reminder to keep it local. We have an abundance of growers on our doorstep here in Wales who are growing fantastic fruit and vegetables all year round and by shopping local you can be supporting these businesses. Next time you go shopping, why not call into your local grocer and see what seasonal produce they have available. You might even save a couple of pounds…
Swap out your cravings. Delicious treats are everywhere, and whilst the odd treat is part of a healthy lifestyle, having too many sugary or high fat treats can put an unwanted strain on you and your child(ren)’s health.
Often, we fancy a treat because we are bored, tired or feel emotional. This is often the perfect time to go for a short walk and get some fresh air, as the distraction will often relieve the craving and calm the mind.
Sometimes you crave things because your body is searching for some energy or a particular nutrient, this is when some small swaps can ease the craving, but still maintain health.
Try making your own treats which can be beneficial to health as you can control the amount of simple or sugary carbs used in comparison to shop bought and processed treats. We have included recipes for treats such as banana loaf, carrot cake, flapjacks, ice cream, jelly, fruit salad and apple crumble over the last few weeks, but there are plenty more available online.
Grow your own! Last week we spoke about introducing new flavours with items like fresh herbs or spices which make for more exciting tasting experiences. But these can add up when you're trying to shop on a budget. Get green fingers and try swapping out shop bought herbs with ones you have grown. Many herbs are perfect for growing on small space on windowsills, and you can also get the kids involved in watering and planting.
To get you started this week, here is the meal plan:
And here is the shopping list. Just to add a disclaimer, prices vary by supermarket so may fluctuate from the prices advertised. The shopping list includes the ingredients needed for this meal plan for 2 primary school children. Double the portion sizes and ingredients for adults.
Download the full week 4 pack, including recipes here:
There's only one thing left for you to do! Have a go, get creative, and get sharing your ideas, recipes and meals with us by using #HealthyKidsfor£20 on social media!