Food parcel scandal: How much food £15 really buy you?

How far will £15 really stretch on food? As Government school lunch parcels face huge criticism from parents, FEMAIL reveals how the budget can cover hearty meals such as pasta with meatballs, fresh fruit and snacks for a week

  • @RoadsideMum on Twitter shared a photo of the food parcel she’d received
  • The depressing-looking parcel contained bread, cheese, two carrots and tin of baked beans among other items and was designed to feed a child for a week 
  •  How much food can you buy with a weekly budget of £15? FEMAIL found that fresh fruit and veg alongside staples and some treats came in under budget 

The dispiriting photo shared by a parent in receipt of a Government school meal food parcel – where the items appeared to add up to around £5 – has left many suggesting that they could provide a healthy, more satisfying box of food for the same price. 

Fierce criticism of the scheme, which this morning saw Prime Minister Boris Johnson meet once again with food campaigner and football star Marcus Rashford, came after a Twitter user, RoadsideMum, shared an image of what she’d received from the £15-a-week per child scheme paid for by the Government. 

The photo showed a sparse package from suppliers Chartwells, run by £24.8billion-earning Compass Group UK & Ireland, and was designed to feed one child not at school for a week. The items included bread, a few slices of cheese, two carrots, a small tin of baked beans, three apples, a portion of pasta, two small Soreen loaves, and three Frubes yoghurt tubes.  

FEMAIL sent out a reporter to see exactly how far a food budget of £15 could stretch…and whether their purchases could be transformed into healthy, child-friendly dishes.

Here we reveal how £15 can create filling lunches to last for a week, including pasta with beef meatballs and an omelette, with fruit and snacks for dessert, shopping at Aldi and a local greengrocer. 

Scroll down for video   

And how FEMAIL got on… reporter Jo Tweedy spent £14.19 on a one-week shop for a child – including meat, dairy and fresh fruit and vegetables – after shopping at her local greengrocer and Aldi supermarket

Parent @RoadsideMum on Twitter shared a dispiriting photo of the food parcel she’d received from Chartwells under the Government’s free school meal parcels scheme; it was estimated the food cost around £5.22 with the remainder of the £15 allocated to profit, delivery and packing

By Jo Tweedy

Mask firmly on, I headed out to a local fruit and veg shop and then a cut-price supermarket to see just how far I could get £15 to stretch – determined to bring home better food than the meagre-looking items sent to Twitter user @RoadsideMum in the photo that went viral yesterday.

Making a list before I went to ensure I didn’t get tempted by spontaneous purchases, the remit was clear – include a good mix of fresh, tinned and dried foods that could be used to create healthy, satisfying lunches for a child for the homeschooling week, with some treats thrown in.   

First stop, my local greengrocer, where rows of delicious-looking healthy fruit and veg had been fetched at dawn from a West London wholesaler.

My basket ended up with seven pieces of fruit – a combination of plums, apples and satsumas – as well as salad (vine tomatoes and a cucumber) and plenty of veg – broccoli, carrots, a red pepper, onion and baking potatoes. 

FEMAIL reporter Jo Tweedy went shopping with a set budget of £15, the same amount being allocated to English schoolchildren accessing free school meal parcels during lockdown

After spending £6.59 on fresh fruit and vegetables at her local greengrocer, Jo headed to cut-price German supermarket Aldi to spend her remaining £9 budget and came away with a bag groaning with dried, tinned and fresh foods

I could, I’m sure, have paid less at any one of the major supermarkets…but my bill still only came to £6.59, leaving me with almost £9 left to spend on dried foods and other fresh products. 

I decided to make for one of the UK’s cut-price stores to try and eke out as much as I could from the remaining £8.51, using the calculator on my phone to ensure I stuck to the budget. 

Arriving at my local branch of German supermarket Aldi, I decided to first stock up on easy lunches from the dried goods aisle. 

Fresh from the wholesaler that morning, the fruit and veg in Jo’s basket came to £6.59

More than enough for one child for one week, Jo picked up carrots, baking potatoes, broccoli, cucumber, red pepper, apples, vine tomatoes, plums, satsumas and an onion

At Aldi, a 20 pence bag quickly filled up with fresh, tinned and dried goods including eggs, pasta and cans of soup

My basket quickly became heavy with two tins of soups, family bags of pasta and rice, and a loaf of wholemeal bread – plus tuna and tinned tomatoes – but I barely dented the budget by more than £3. 

Meat and dairy came next. While it definitely wasn’t easy keeping my remaining budget in tact, I managed to add in fresh beef meatballs, mild cheddar, bacon lardons and two pints of milk – and some sweet treats too in the shape of chocolate oat biscuits and baked cheese snacks. 


At the greengrocers

Carrots x 3 

Baking potatoes x 2 

Broccoli x 1

Cucumber x 1

Red pepper x 1

Apples x 3 

Vine tomatoes x 3 

Large plums x 2

Satsumas x 2

Onion x 1 













The receipt from Jo’s shop in Aldi – goods including rice, pasta, cheese and meatballs were bought in family sizes and then divided per 1/4 or half a portion to get the correct prices listed below

Allowing for treats including chocolate oat biscuits and baked cheese snacks, Jo’s eventual bill came in at under £15

 At Aldi supermarket

 Wholemeal bread – 1/2 loaf

2 free range eggs 

Family pack penne pasta 

Family pack easy cook white rice 

1/2 tin tuna 

Yoghurt tubes x 3 

Bacon lardons 1/4 pack 

Oatie chocolate biscuits whole pack 

Large can of sweetcorn 

2 pints of semi-skimmed milk 

Chicken soup 

Chopped tomatoes 

Baked beans 

Tomato soup 

Beef meatballs – 1/2 pack 

Baked cheese snacks – 7 packets 

Mild cheddar – 1/4 family pack 

 Shopping total



















And what can you cook with it? Five hot lunch ideas on a £15 budget…

MONDAY: Jacket potato with a topping of baked beans and cheese, with fruit and a chocolate biscuit

 Plenty to go on…Jo found providing a warm, hearty lunch covering all of the major nutrition groups was easy to achieve on £15 a week per person

TUESDAY: Chicken soup, served with cheese and salad sandwiches on wholemeal bread, with a yoghurt or fruit for dessert

WEDNESDAY: Penne pasta with beef meatballs and lardons cooked in a simple tomato sauce (using chopped tomatoes, olive oil and salt and pepper), served with grated cheese, with a chocolate biscuit and fruit for dessert

THURSDAY: Tuna rice salad, with red pepper, broccoli and onion, served with carrot sticks and fruit or yoghurt for dessert 

FRIDAY: Cheddar cheese omlette with carrot sticks and salad, served with fruit or yoghurt for dessert 

How will these groaning bags transform into hot lunchtime meals for five days? 

There’s plenty of options: Penne pasta with beef meatballs and lardons cooked in an easy-to-make tomato sauce, served with grated cheese. 

Or perhaps a tuna rice salad, with red pepper, broccoli and onion, served with carrot sticks. With fruit, yoghurt and chocolate biscuits all options for pudding. 

The final bill for my whole shop came to £14.19 – after I’d divided up the price of some of the family packs I’d bought (cheese, bread and meatballs)…and obviously doesn’t include delivery or the logistics of picking and packing that the companies being paid by the Government scheme face. 

However, assuming firms like Chartwells can negotiate strongly on high street prices, it certainly feels like profits are being put long before decent meals for kids.


The company behind the lunches are Chartwells, which is the education catering specialist of £24.8billion-earning Compass Group UK & Ireland.

On December 8, Chartwells announced it had joined the Child Food Poverty Taskforce formed by Marcus Rashford MBE.

Chartwells managing director Charlie Brown said at the time: ‘Marcus Rashford’s campaign shines a much-needed spotlight on the issue of child food poverty.

‘We know how important nutritious food is to educational attainment, and that food provision is a real struggle for some families, so we fully support widening access to free school meals.

The Chartwells box that sparked the row over free school meal parcels, which is supposed to sustain a child for a week

‘We’re now going to be working with the taskforce to provide healthy meals during school holidays for those entitled to free school meals. As the first school caterer on board, I believe our insights and our networks in schools will be valuable, to make a real difference to young lives.’ 

Until December this year Tory donor Paul Walsh was the chairman of Compass, the millionaire showing on Electoral Commission documents giving the party £10,000 in 2010.

Companies House documents showed he resigned just over a month ago on December 1, nearly a year after he announced he would.

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