I've started out on the menu planning with lunches and snacks because I think that planning for lunch and snack time is the most difficult area of all meal planning. The great snag, for me, is that my children are older and have very healthy appetites, they take a packed lunch to school and they come home absolutely ravenous. The same can also be said for my DH - eats packed lunch, is ravenous when comes home. Preparing packed lunches is an absolute pain in the neck if you're on a budget and pressed for time, also I think you have to consider peer pressure when it comes to packed lunches...humus vs cheese strings, surely there's a middle way? Packed lunches in our house tend to be pretty same-y: sandwich, biscuit, drink, crisps, fruit. The fruit is in there to salve my conscience and to make sure the NQTs don't blab to the Daily Mail about my child having chocolate spread sandwiches two days in a row! And, of course, this is not enough food to see them through until dinner. When they come home they could eat for England and the easy way is to throw yet more crisps and biscuits at the situation. However, this is both unhealthy and expensive. When I think about how much of the precious grocery budget goes on the ubiquitous fried potato snack I shudder. The way around this is to insitute a proper light tea at four o' clock. This sees them through until six, when their dad comes home and we can eat dinner - it also means they eat slightly less at dinner - giving the DH extra portions.
Taking all of this into consideration, the frugal solution I've come up with when it comes to both lunch and tea is to resort to "plain British baking". First, the menu plans (more suggestions than a plan) and then the recipes. The bits in bold ar the frugal bits I've baked.
Ham sandwich, egg mayo sandwich, tuna sweetcorn sandwich, cream cheese and tomato/onion/olive sandwich, cheese and ham swirl, pigs in blankets, tuna pasta salad. Plus, cake for lunch boxes. crisps for lunch boxes, fruit for lunch boxes, scones.
Light, after school, tea
Cake, pigs in blackets, scones, cheese and ham swirls, flapjacks, juice, cherry tomatoes, milk, tea.
Today, I had a baking day and resolved to use only 8 oz of butter for the whole day's baking. This meant I had to throw Nigella out of the prverbial window and resort to the traditions of frugal British baking. British plain cakes tend to take the following basic form: 7oz self raising flour, 3 oz butter, 3 oz sugar, 1 egg, milk. you can then add to the basic mixture anything you fancy - a small bag of chocolate chips, spice and 3 oz of raisins, chopped fresh fruit or nuts. This mixture will make one cake in a 20cm tin or 12 small buns or rock cakes. I made two cakes using this basic mixture. To the first, adding three chopped fresh plums to the mixture and then sprinkling it with dark brown sugar at the end of baking. The second, adding a peeled chopped apple, a handful of sultanas and the grated rind of a lemon. Each cake will give nine generous portions or 12 stingy portions. So far six ounces of butter have been used.
The final two ounces went on a basic scone mixture: 8oz self raising flour, 2 oz butter, milk. This scone mixture will make roughly ten average sized scones. However, the basic mix can be turned into more savoury delights. If you add three ounces of mature chedder to the mix you'll get a scone pastry base for the cheese and ham swirls, pigs in blankets or just plain old cheese scones!
Now, I know all of this makes for pretty dry reading, but if, like me, you have to be super frugal with food then a quick glimpse of the basic recipes will show that the whole day's baking cost no more than £2.80 and would have been consdierably less if I hadn't added cheese and ham to the scone mix. Also, if you wanted to use baking margerine rather than butter you'd make a considerable saving (£1.20 for butter, 55p for baking marg). The ten cheese and ham swirls will go in place of sandwiches in one day's lunch box, in place of crisps in the next day's lunch box and the rest will be for after school tea. There are eighteen portions of cake, all told. This will go in lunch boxes, in place of the biscuit, and for tea. I don't think this baking will last until the weekend and I'll probably have to bake the pigs in blankets and flapjacks on Friday.
So finally, here are the recipes!
7 oz s r flour, 3 oz butter, 3 oz sugar (use whatever you have in), one egg (beaten), milk to bind.
Rub the sugar, butter, flour together as for a crumble. Add the extra ingredients of your choice (fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, dried fruit), then add the egg and enough milk to bind the mixture. The mixture should be reasonably stiff and should be able to support an upright fork! Spoon into a prepared cake tin or bun cases and bake at 200 degrees. You can even make rock cakes from this mixture and splodge the fruity mix straight onto a prepared baking tray. If baked in a tin, check the cake after twenty minutes, if baking individual buns check after fifteen minutes.
8 oz s r flour, 2 oz butter, pinch of salt, milk to bind and glaze. Rub the butter into the flour and the salt. Add enough milk (perhaps four tablespoons) to turn the mixture into a stiff-ish dough. Flour your board and press or roll the scone mixture out until about 2.5cm thick. Cut out 10-12 rounds, pop them on a baking tray, brush them with milk and bake in a hot (220 degree) oven for 10 mintues or until golden. You can also add dried fruit, 3 oz of cheese or anything you fancy to the basic mix before you add the milk.
I made the cheese and ham swirls by making a cheese scone mixture, rolling out the dough to rough 5mm thickness and placing two slices of ham and an extra ounce of cheese on top of the ham. I then rolled the dough up into a sausage shape and cut the "sausage" into ten rounds. I then baked the rounds as per plain scones.
You can make pigs in blankets using a cheese scone mixture. Simply roll out the cheese scone dough to a 5mm thickness, cut into strips the same width as a small sauage and wrap the dough around the sausage. Brush with milk and bake for twenty- thirty minutes at 180.
I'm so aware that this post is too detailed and a bit boring for casual reading. But, essentially, you could cater for a small children's party using the recipes I've given and not spend too much more than £8! All you need is the know how and a bit of determintation to live like it was 1933.
I'll be back tomorrow with family dinners for under a fiver!