Fun on a budget. A £20 Springtime 3-course dinner for 4 challenge

I am very used to running our busy household on a tight budget but now my husband has had an accident which is likely to see us managing without his income for some weeks I am going to have to find even more imaginative ways of making our pennies stretch.

The one thing which often suffers is fun but since spending time with our family and friends and eating good food are high on our list of priorities I am determined that as far as possible our social life will continue albeit with some tweaks!

This week I was challenged by Ffrees to create a 3 course dinner for four people spending just £20.  Well that's a doddle for my canny shopping abilities so I decided to take it one stage further and make a veritable feast for 6 adults, three teens and 5 children. With £20.
UK £20 note

We love picky tapas style starters so I made a loaf of bread in my bread maker (cost around 50p) and bought a pack of assorted continental meats (£2.60) and a bag of frozen seafood cocktail mix containing squid rings, mussels and prawns for £4.

 Presentation is all and generally it's free so I laid the meats out on two small vintage plates making it look like there was more than there actually was, and pan-fried the seafood in a tiny knob of butter with some garlic then divided it between two rustic terracotta bowls before dusting with paprika. The bread went on a wooden board with butter to serve (around 50p's worth)

To keep in budget I did only serve the starter to the 6 adults although the children did help themselves to bread and a couple of pieces of chorizo!

tapas continental meat and Spanish style garlic seafood

Now I've mentioned I am a canny shopper (average grocery bill for 7/8 under £100 a week) but there's no trick to it.

My top food budgeting tips would be:

  • Buy  products in season
  • Take advantage of special offers
  •  Don't be too proud to buy reduced in price items. If something goes out of date that day check if it's freezable and freeze it as soon as you get home.
  • Brand names are not always best-you pay for the name sometimes so vary from your favourites occasionally to try out cheaper alternatives. 
  • Although it's good to have a list don't have a completely rigid meal plan- if pork is cheaper than chicken on the day you go, substitute and save money.
  • Compare fresh and frozen prices - frozen is often cheaper and just as nutritious.

This approach served me well when shopping for our main course. I love cooking roast dinners for larger numbers as it works out more economical than chops or other cuts.

I picked up a ginormous lump of pork being sold as apart of a half-price promotion (£9.08) and chose up cauliflower, parnsips and carrots for 49p each. I got really lucky with the potatoes which had been over-ordered by my local supermarket and were being sold off at 10p for each 2.5kg bag! Bargain!

3 course budget meal for 4
I made cauliflower cheese using half the cauli, steamed carrots and roast parnsips and potatoes with a side order of mashed potato for the mash-mad children in my family. The pork I simply rubbed with oil and salt and cooked for 4 hours. The smell was divine and it was such a huge lump of pork we had about a third left which we ate as cold cuts the next day.

Pud was a cheat to be fair. My friend made plum crumble with home-grown plums but we estimated that if we'd had to buy the ingredients it would have cost about £2.50 to make.

That takes my total for the meal for 14 to £20.53. *smiles proudly and bows to imaginary applauding audience." And bear in mind I had half a cauliflower and enough pork for another meal left over!

I am ignoring the friend who pointed out I could have bought two "Dine in for £10" meals from my local store and had two bottles of wine to drink since that would have only fed 4 of us. It is a good deal though especially if you want to celebrate a special occasion on a budget.

As an aside my children have already learned budgeting skills from me. Helping me with the shopping my 15-year son disappeared head-first into the chiller cabinet emerging triumphant with a pack of raw turkey cut into stir fry strips reduced from £2.80 to 35p. He announced he wanted to make us all a "Chinese" for lunch that day and headed to the veg aisle to pick up noodles and vegetables and a half-price sweet and sour sauce creating a meal for 8 of us for £2.85.

Chinese stir fry on a budget for teens

Disclaimer: I was given £20 to buy ingredients for my dinner by Ffrees Family Finance Ltd. Ffrees is the free alternative to a basic bank account. Everyone is welcome (as long as you are over 18 and living at a UK postal address) you can save as you spend and earn cash back, you can't go overdrawn and there are no credit checks. It's free to join and you can get a Visa debit card.