Can you feed your family for just €50 a week? Here's how...
One supermarket says its menu can help you save money and eat healthily. Aideen Sheehan puts it to the test.
As the credit card bills come in we're all trying to economise and get back to healthier eating habits for the new year.
So after the excesses of Christmas, Smart Consumer decided it was time to economise by following a lowprice meal plan for a week.
We tried out Lidl's challenge of cooking seven family dinners for €50, though most other supermarkets offer similar budget recipe ideas on their websites to give you inspiration.
For example Tesco has a range of "Family Meals on a Budget" recipes such as Squash, Leek and Butterbean Stew.
Aldi meanwhile is promoting a number of Operation Transformation family recipes such as fish pie or lemon chicken while SuperValu has healthy options such as pad Thai chicken with noodles.
Celebrtiy chef Paul Flynn has done the hard work of devising a menu that includes a variety of protein sources from fish and pork to chicken and turkey as well as a range of vegetables and fruit for nutritional balance.
The menu is designed for a family of four, but though there are just three in mine, second helpings and the occasional visitor made sure nothing went to waste.
Keeping to a weekly plan is a good discipline for preventing both food and financial waste.
Full details of the Lidl recipes are on their website lidl.ie and there's a weekly shopping list as well as details of store cupboard basics such as spices and herbs you'll need to make the recipes.
As ginger features in a couple of the recipes I was disappointed to be told in my local Lidl that they only stocked it now and again, meaning I had to go to a different supermarket to find it, but otherwise the ingredients were all easy to find.
Day one: Chicken and sweet potato traybake:
Like many Irish families we've fallen into the habit of eating pricier chicken breasts rather than the cheaper and tastier legs and thighs.
Irish consumers' appetite for white meat is so pronounced experts say we'd need to breed six-breasted chickens to feed it -- which explains why we import vast quantities of chicken breasts to this country, yet export loads of the off-cuts.
The price difference if you choose legs is extraordinary -- €2.99 for a 1kg pack is about half what you'd pay for a similar amount of chicken breasts.
It was a cinch to cook up this dish of chicken legs, sweet potatoes, red onions and red pepper in a single dish -- and it felt just right after richer Christmas fare.
And boy did it go down well, the meat was juicy and tasty and my six-year-old positively loved gnawing on the chicken bones, showing it was my reluctance rather than her's which had kept us on white meat in the past.
This meal cost €5.14 in total or just over €1.28 per portion and served up 839 calories per person.
Day 2: Cod bake
This economical fish pie is quite a healthy dish at just 443 calories and 15g fat per portion.
Basically, you add cod to mash with some cheese and scallions and bake it in the oven, with peas and fresh spinach to up the veg quota, though I forgot the mint sauce, which might have given it a further lift.
Again, this went down well with the family and it always feels good to get a bit of fish in non-finger form into the child.
This cost just €5.07 in total, less than €1.27 per portion.
Day 3: Meatball and bean casserole:
It would never occur to me to use baked beans in a casserole but this proved an easy option for a quick casserole.
The chopped tomatoes, onion, garlic and sweet paprika give a warm flavour to the dish, which uses Lidl's prepared meatballs.
It's recommended you serve this with mash, but I'd had enough cooking for one day so we went with the lazy option of pitta bread for our carbs.
This dish cost €5.41 in total or €1.35 per person.
Day 4. Spaghetti with slow-cooked onions
This was a veggie pasta option that's like carbonara without the bacon. Slow-cooked onions form the base of the dish, which is then mixed with cheese and egg.
The recipe called for Parmesan but I used some strong cheddar I had in the fridge, as this is an ideal end-of-week leftover meal.
The price worked out at €4.32 in total or just over €1 each.
Day 5. Bangers & mash:
We left out the suggested black pudding as this was heavy enough without it.
It was tasty too, though I didn't manage to caramelise the onions as suggested in the recipe.
This was also the cheapest meal at under €1 per person or around €3 for the lot though sausages, however tasty, don't feel like the healthiest choice in January.
Day 6: Turkey satay:
Peanut butter passed me by in childhood no matter how many American TV shows it featured in, so using it with coconut milk to make satay sauce was a new departure for me.
This proved a delicious option however, though it tasted like it contained far more than the 527 calories claimed for it.
With plenty of peanut butter left in the jar, we'll have to find out soon if peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are as delicious as their fans say.
Day 7: Pan-fried pork chops with Gorgonzola & roasted pears:
Pears with pork is an unusual choice but in fact the accompaniment proved really tasty and will feature again in my kitchen.
Sliced baked potatoes, onions and pears scattered with Gorgonzola was delicious, though the six-year-old wasn't so keen on the pungent cheese.
Unsurprisingly, with all that cheese and meat this dish packed a bigger calorific punch at nearly 1,000 calories per person, but it made a good Sunday spread.
At €8.66 for the lot it was also the most expensive but still just over €2.16 per person.
VERDICT: I'd definitely use a couple of these recipes again but the biggest benefit of following this, or any other weekly meal plan, is that it disciplines you to buy and use up healthy ingredients rather than reaching for an easier but less nutritious ready meal or take away.