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Filling tummies on a budget

With everyone staying at home more, you’ve probably noticed you’re spending more money in the supermarket. Here are some tips on keeping the cost of your shopping down, as well as suggestions on food alternatives, for when your usual items aren’t on the shelves.

Try to remember that if you're out shopping it's important for you and your family to wear a face covering, but that children under the age of 5 shouldn't wear one.

Feeding your family on a budget

Get planning

Planning what you’re going to eat and making a shopping list is always helpful. Check the cupboards to see what you have and what you might need. If you can, try to plan meals around ingredients you have, which can help reduce the cost of your shopping and prevent unnecessary food waste too! Try to remember that you might also need to be flexible once you’re doing your shop, as what you’re looking for may not be available.

Check out our meal planner to help with planning meals.

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Food shopping

It’s always good to look for bargains when shopping, but multi-buy deals aren’t always a saving, especially if the food goes to waste. Also, try to remember to check the use by/best before dates to get the longest life and minimise potential waste.

Try to remember that if you're out shopping it's important for you and your family to wear a face covering, but that children under the age of 5 shouldn't wear one.

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Cheaper alternatives 

It’s easy to get used to buying a favourite brand, but there’s usually a cheaper alternative for most items. Supermarket value ranges, which include items like bread, pasta, rice, fruit and vegetables are usually much cheaper. Don’t be afraid to give them a go, you and the family might be surprised and you’ll likely save some money in the process.

If you’re buying fresh fruit and vegetables, check the price difference between loose and pre-packed items – it will usually vary as to which is cheapest. Lots of fruit and vegetables can also be frozen at home, which can avoid unnecessary waste and also saves time when you need to use them next.

Eating seasonally can also be cheaper, as it reduces the cost of transporting fruit and vegetables from other countries. This also has the added bonus of helping the environment too.

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Meat and fish

Meat and fish are often the most expensive parts of a dish, but adding things like beans and lentils (known as pulses) instead can be a good way to reduce cost. Canned or dry pulses are cheap to buy and can be added straight into anything from a stew to a curry.

If you usually eat meat at each meal time, why not try a meat-free day by adding some vegetarian dishes to your week’s meal plan?

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There are so many recipe ideas to help you create cheaper meals that are still tasty using the foods you have already, and leftovers.

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Portion sizes 

To make meals stretch further, portion control is important. You can do this by weighing out ingredients or thinking about the amount on your plate. You might find there are enough leftovers for the next day!

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The freezer is your friend

Made too much? Leftovers can go into the freezer – you can defrost them when you haven’t got time to make a meal from scratch.

You could also try cooking batches of food and freezing unused portions. Chilli and pasta bakes are all good batch cooking meals. It might take 30 minutes one day to make, but only minutes to reheat in the microwave!

Substituting foods


Meat dishes can often be made with a variety of different, cheaper cuts. Braising steak is a great example - it just may need to be cooked for a little longer. Also try using chicken thighs instead of breast, or mince instead of diced meat.

You can also use different meats than the ones listed in many of your favourite recipes. Simply swap your usual beef mince for turkey, pork or lamb mince and you’ll be able to make a dish just as well. It may be you need to buy a whole chicken, if chicken breasts aren’t available, but you can use other parts of the chicken for another meal. A whole chicken gives you two breasts, two thighs, drumsticks and wings as well as a carcass which you can use to make stock for soup.


You can use plain flour instead of self-raising flour. Just add 2 teaspoons of baking powder for every 150g of flour in a recipe.


When baking, butter and margarine can be replaced with a vegetable oil. You will need around ¾ of the amount of oil to the amount of butter listed in a recipe.


There are a huge number of milks available that could replace cow’s milk, such as soya or oat milk, but young children aged under five years should not be given rice milk as a substitute for breast milk, infant formula or cow’s milk.

Substitute milks can also be used within recipes. However, often, water will work just as well. If you need the creaminess of milk, then try plain yoghurt. Avoid strong flavours when substituting and go for unflavoured whenever possible.


Does it have to be pasta? Can the meal use rice, cous cous, potatoes or even bread instead? Remember, if you can’t get your favourite pasta sauce it is simple and cheaper to make your own. Use tinned tomatoes or passata as a base, add in some mixed herbs, black pepper, maybe a pinch of chilli powder and some of your family’s favourite vegetables.

Help with the cost of feeding your family

Free School Meals

If your children are eligible to receive free school meals, this will continue while schools are closed. This has also now been extended to ensure that free school meals, or alternatives, will continue to be available right through the summer holidays. Your local council and school will make provision to get these to you. You can find contact details for your local council here.

Children in P1 - P3

During the school year, all children in P1 - P3 receive free school meals, but this will not carry over into the summer holidays. You can find out more on our FAQ page.

Best Start Foods

Best Start Foods is a payment card you can use to buy healthy food for you and your child. It’s for use when you’re pregnant or have children who are 3 or under and you receive certain benefits. Find out what your family is entitled to on our page about Best Start Grant.

Community Food Co-operative Programmes

Community Food Co-operative Programmes across Britain provide affordable fruit and vegetables to communities. For further information go to Sustain's website

Scottish Welfare Fund

The budget for the Scottish Welfare Fund has been more than doubled to ensure it can meet the needs of those facing financial crisis as a result of the impacts of COVID-19. There is guidance on how to apply for a Crisis Grant in your area.

Food banks and other community support

Local community groups across the country are providing extra help with food and other essentials for families who might be struggling. To find out what’s available in your area contact your local Third Sector Interface.