The BBC has embarked on a series examining the state of poverty in Britain. As part of this they invited three celebrity chefs to stay with those in food poverty and produce nutritious and satisfying recipes for a "Great British Budget Menu" competition. One linked up with a single old age pensioner, the second with a family on unemployment benefits and the third on a family with both parents working. Despite this, that family has an average of £1.66 ($2.49) each per day to spend on food once the other household bills have been paid.
The competition was judged by three professional food critics who also judge the "Great British Menu" competition. This is an continuing annual competition leading up to a banquet or similar - another one off programme in 2010 concentrated on food waste.
Other chefs were also invited to invent recipes that would fit into similar budget and the BBC has 54 on its site. While food tastes and the costs of food differ between the USA and UK, there are some general principles that apply to the situations in both countries. The very poor tend to rely on pre-prepared meals from supermarkets (or fast food outlets) which have poor food quality. These often contain high levels of salt, fat and sugar even in savory foods. There are however some excellent hints about producing healthy and nutritious food cheaply. One interesting starting point was the need for a base store cupboard of spices etc:
The first step was to put together a list of the ultimate store cupboard essentials (the complete list shoppable at under £20 in a number of high street supermarkets), a variety of these ingredients can then be used across the 52 recipes, each designed to cost under £1 per portion.This does perhaps point towards one need that food banks - in both countries - could address along with practical help and advice on cooking techniques. Obviously the two sets of base products will be different in the two countries - the British for example have a passion for curries to the extent the favorite dish in restaurants is said to be chicken tikka marsala. The recipes are for main meals. Economy breakfasts would perhaps consist of porridge (with a banana rather than sugar or syrup for sweetening) costing the equivalent of 30 cents for a filling and healthy meal.
The store cupboard ingredients are charged to recipes on a pro rata basis while all extra ingredients are charged at the full supermarket unit cost to reflect realistic shopping opportunities. The store cupboard is designed to last over a number of weeks.
One advantage in the UK is the general availability of fresh fruit and vegetables even in the poorest areas - which tend to have reasonable access to national supermarket chains like Tesco, Asda and Waitrose. Indeed, one of the problems encountered by the chefs in the challenge was their having to go round several of these to find the best bargains so they could stay within their host's budgets.
Note also that the times for the next broadcast are for repeats. The first showing was tonight (Thursday) at 8 p.m. on BBC One, their main channel, immediately after their very popular soap "Eastenders". As an aside, I wonder if any US main networks would devote a similar peak time slot to such programming when their principle aim is to gain income from advertising rather than to "inform, educate and entertain" - the public purpose of the BBC as set out in its Royal Charter (.pdf)