Foodbank recipes: Creamy pasta bake

I saw a TV chef presenting a programme about ‘moneysaving recipes’ today. It was on directly after a programme which examined the lives of children in the UK whose families use foodbanks. It was surely a thought-provoking programme, with parents literally doing whatever it takes to try and keep their children healthy. And then, immediately after, here was this chef, telling us how to make a cost cutting paella, including chicken thighs (chicken breasts are pricier), chorizo (quite expensive, but you don’t use much), prawns (frozen, so you save) and mussels (didn’t catch why they are cheaper). Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a cost-effective bite of Spanish nibbles, but it seemed strange that a meal containing four kinds of protein was considered moneysaving when we’d just been hearing about people who have to chose between whether to heat their house or buy food.

In 2012, I did the Live Below the Line challenge on my birthday, to raise money for people globally who live in food poverty. It was hard and I didn’t eat particularly healthily, so I am now wondering if it is possible to make nearly healthy recipes from ingredients people receive from foodbanks, or the cheapest ingredients available at the supermarket. I don’t think £2 per portion is cheap enough for a lot of people in the UK at the moment, so let’s see what we can rustle up.

Crispy Spaghetti Bake

Naturally, pasta is one of the cheapest meals you make, but if you haven’t got a lot of money then it can be difficult to give it a bit of variety, some decent flavour, and nutritional value. I appreciate that this recipe uses the hob and the oven and so may be a stretch to those living with prepay fuel meters. I’ll look to create some no cook recipes too.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • 250g value spaghetti (This is half a packet, which costs 20p)
  • Tin of value chopped tomatoes (34p per tin)
  • 335g head of value broccoli (49p)
  • Packet of sage and onion stuffing mix (15p)
  • Salt (25p per kilo – worth investing in a bag for flavour)

The total cost of this basic meal is £1.43 for four people and you’ll have 997g salt and half a packet of spaghetti left for another time. I’ll offer some alternatives later if you want to try a deluxe version.


  • Put your spaghetti on to boil.
  • Put your oven on to heat at about 180’C. 180’C cooks just about everything.
  • Put the amount of boiling water into a jug with your stuffing mix and leave to soak up.
  • Empty the tomatoes into a pan and heat them up, leave to simmer gently for 5 minutes or so so that they reduce. Cut the broccoli into florets and toss into the tomatoes to soften slightly as the sauce simmers.
  • Take the pasta off the heat and drain a couple of minutes before the instructions say, so it is still a little al dente. Mix your pasta in with the tomato and broccoli sauce. Add a pinch of salt and pour the whole lot into an oven proof dish.
  • Crumble your stuffing mix over the top of the pasta and bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes or until your topping goes crispy and brown.


  • Make your sauce healthier by using the broccoli stems as well as the florets. If you don’t fancy the texture, but you have a food processor or stick blender, you can cut the florets into dice, cook them down with the tomatoes, blend the whole lot, then throw it back in the pan with the florets to simmer lightly.
  • Add more flavour with garlic, it’s good for the blood. Three value cloves are currently 49p and garlic lasts a long time in the fridge or a dry, dark cupboard.
  • If you fancy a creamy sauce rather than a tomatoey one, try a can of value chicken soup as the sauce base instead. A tin of soup costs 25p, so less than the tomatoes, but obviously it’s not quite as good for you.
  • Chickpeas are a good source of fibre and protein. Personally I’d be more than happy to dump some in my pasta and they are currently 4 tins for £1 in my local supermarket. You could blitz together some chickpeas and garlic to make your own hummus too – serve it with value pitta breads (22p for 6) and you’ve got a great breakfast or snack.
  • Add other vegetables.

According to the recipe calculator, the basic version of this recipe is 165 calories per serving, with 1g of fat, 7g of protein and 4g of sugar. Add in your chickpeas and you get 230 cals, 3g fat and 12g protein – around 1/4 of your daily RDA of protein. So not bad.

What’s the verdict – are there other meals out there that are interesting and vaguely healthy on the tightest of budgets?


Bestselling author and freelance drinks writer. Champion of pubs and breweries. Occasional printmaker.

3 thoughts on “Foodbank recipes: Creamy pasta bake

  • Anyone got extra chicken bones? I like to grind them up and snort them ;)

  • Gonna have to give it ago. Stuffing topping sounds interesting. I too get annoyed when chef's say budget busting meals then go and put in ingredients which are clearly expensive to the vast majority of families or their hard to obtain.


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