The food £15 will really buy you in a Lancashire supermarket that puts the Government's food parcels to shame
After hordes of parents complained about inadequate food parcels delivered for their children’s lunches during lockdown, the spotlight has fallen on just what you can get for £15 - effectively the budget for school food vouchers.
Images have flooded social media of parcels with just a few items inside, including half a tomato, a cut-up carrot and a handful of pasta.
As the mother of a three-year-old boy myself, it made my eyes roll. There’s no way this would make my son a week’s worth of lunches, and it seems that virtually everyone is in agreement.
Footballer and meals campaigner Marcus Rashford labelled the parcels for those in receipt of free school meals “just not good enough”, and Minister for children Vicky Ford launched an urgent investigation.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he was “absolutely disgusted” with the images and said a national supermarket voucher scheme would reopen on Monday.
So, what can you get for £15 (the amount schools can claim back per pupil, per week, for these vouchers, on top of their usual free school meals funding)?
I chose my nearest low-cost supermarket, Lidl, and went to find out. I was armed with experience of what my son requests to eat for lunch (ham and cheese sandwiches, every day), balanced meal ideas and guidance such as “do not rely on parents having extra ingredients at home to prepare meals”.
Firstly, fruit. My son devours it. But forget strawberries and blueberries - too expensive. Let’s stick to ‘fun’ sized apples (75p), pears (57p) , and a five-pack of bananas (69p). Plenty to go at there.
Then you get to the veg section. This is where you have to start thinking more strategically about meals and planning your week.
I decided on carrots (44p for 1kg), a cucumber (46p), broccoli (69p), onions (three in a pack for 44p) and cherry tomatoes (67p). I’m lucky, my son loves carrots and cucumber as a snack or with a sandwich, but they would also be good to bulk out a pasta dish.
I did come across a ‘stew pack’ for 75p that contained carrots, small onions, turnips and parsnips. But honestly, I can’t see many children eating turnips and parsnips, so while it was good value, I just wouldn’t use it.
Because sandwiches are a staple in our household, I bought a loaf of own-brand bread for 45p, margarine for 69p, a packet of seven slices of ham for £1.19 and grated cheese for £1.49. I also bought a tin of tuna for 75p, which could go on a sandwich or in a pasta bake.
Talking of pasta, I managed to get 500g of penne for 29p and a pasta bake sauce for 49p, or should a little one fancy boiled eggs and soldiers, a packet of six large, free range eggs for 99p. You can also have tinned spaghetti (13p) on toast.
For snacks and/or deserts, I picked up a packet of six own-brand chocolate biscuit bars for 75p, six yogurts for 69p and a multi-pack of cheesy crisps for 85p.
Incase mashed or jacket potatoes were required, I got two baking potatoes for £1 and two pints of milk for 88p.
Totting everything up with pennies to spare, I sneaked in a tin of rice pudding (33p ) and a packet of jelly (55p). However, my calculations were slightly off, and when I got to the till, I was 30p over on the food, so took the jelly away.
It’s tricky with a basket and a brolly to walk round a supermarket with your mobile phone calculator, making sure you’re putting everything in correctly. And that’s without the distraction of children with you.
In conclusion, I surprised myself with what you can buy for £15. You need to plan meals ahead, cook from scratch and choose own-brands where you can. But, if you have to stick to such tight margins every week, I can see how the food choice and meals could soon become tiresome.
For those who are struggling to make the parcels or vouchers work, help is at hand locally. Noor Foodbank in Preston is offering deliveries of parcels. Visit: http://noorfoodbank.co.uk