This is how far we could stretch £30 to feed one school pupil for two weeks (Image: Mirror/Talia Shadwell)

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This is how much £15 and £30 can really get you at the shops – if free school meals cash was handed directly to struggling parents.

A scandal erupted this week as a disabled mum-of-two's shocking picture of her measly free school meals parcel ignited controversy.

Parents up and down the country shared pictures of the 'woeful' parcels they were sent – in some cases amounting to just a few bits of bread and ham.

Furious parents demanded answers in a nationwide backlash led by high profile child poverty campaigners, including footballer Marcus Rashford.

The Government then today announced under pressure that a voucher system would return to replace the parcels.

Eligible families whose kids are learning remotely during the coronavirus lockdown will be able to use the £15 vouchers to buy a week's worth of food.

With that in mind, and following another high-profile cycling trip in East London earlier this week, the Mirror hopped on a bike to make a 4-mile round-trip to Hackney to see just how far we could stretch £30.

Scroll down to see exactly how the £30 was spent…

News of the u-Turn on vouchers broke halfway through the grocery shop
(Image: Mirror/Talia Shadwell)

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How we spent £30

The Mirror visited a Lidl supermarket to see what the Government's official budget per child across two weeks' worth of school meals could buy – if parents had full control of the cash.

The news of the Government scrapping the food parcels in favour of £15 vouchers for parents to buy the food themselves broke while we were in the chilled goods aisle.

So we also revisited some primary school maths back at the (working from home) office to split the shop – and see how much £15 might get.

A receipt for the £29.29 worth of food the Mirror purchased
(Image: Mirror/Talia Shadwell)

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One of our Mirror mums – busy juggling working from home while helping her son with his remote schooling provided expert guidance over the phone – while we searched for the best bargains for kids' meals in-store.

We based our shopping list on Chartwell's now notorious food parcels.

And with no overhead costs such as transport, staffing or distribution, we found we could stretch the cash a lot further – and even had money leftover for some treats.

We thought thought about how families plan a shop – from the ingredients they may already have in the cupboard, such as cooking oil – to how much kids actually eat, and reducing preparing and cleaning times for parents.

We were able to spread the £30 far in a budget Lidl supermarket
(Image: Mirror/Talia Shadwell)

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So what's on the Mirror school dinner menu this week? Meals we planned ranged from ham and cheese sandwiches, and tuna and cheesy pasta, to peanut butter on celery snacks.

We also bought plenty of fruit and veges, and on our mum expert's advice – cherry tomatoes to stop fussy eaters making a mess.

But as child poverty charities often tell us, 'it's expensive to be poor'.

Bootstrap Cook author Jack Monroe, who has led the campaign for answers on the free schools scandal this week, has highlighted how families in poverty struggle with access to basic ingredients and fridge and freezer storage.

This cycle trip across east London had a purpose
(Image: Mirror/Talia Shadwell)

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Using the free school meals budget meant we were able to plan for two weeks at a time in one 'big shop' – which allowed us to make some bulk purchases – which is not always possible for struggling families living week-to-week.

So we also used our budget to splurge on bigger volumes to stretch across a fortnight – like a £3.99 block of cheese that could be chopped into two, and one half frozen.

We know many of our readers who live every day on a tight budget have clever tricks up their sleeves like using discount coupons and tracking supermarket specials.

So read on to see how we spent the money, and share your tips and tricks, and views on how we could have done better in the comments below…

Caterer Chartwells responded to this viral picture, saying it showed five days of meals but did not meet its standards
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What child poverty experts say

One organisation tackling poverty, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said research showed the best way to loosen the grip of food poverty is to boost incomes directly through Universal Credit or Child Tax Credit top-ups.

Trussell Trust chief executive Emma Revie, chief executive at the Trussell Trust said: 

“This week’s situation has underlined some of the problems with supporting families through food rather than giving them the resources to pay for essentials themselves. No one should have to rely on emergency food to get by, in the way these families have had to."

The Trust said a "dignified response" for children would be to improve Universal Credit, and it was urging the government to keep the £20 uplift due to be cut in April.

How we spent £30

The total purchase came to £27.27 in Lidl, Hackney in east London on Wednesday, January 13.

Two bread loaves 72p (36p each)
Celery bunch 49p
Cherry tomatoes punnet 67p
Bag of 10 red apples £2.79
Bananas 88p
Five oranges 98p
Punnet of grapes 1.39
Four jars pasta sauce £1.56 (39p each)
Peanut butter (£1.25)
Two packets pasta 58p (29p each)
Four tins baked beans 88p (22p each)
Potatoes 41p
Cucumber 46p
Lettuce 47p
Cheese 1kg £3.99
Milk 80p
Lettuce 47p
Squash 79p
Spread £1.09
Sliced ham £1.55
Three-pack tuna tins £2.45
Peanut butter £1.25
Four tins baked beans 88p (22p each)
Two six-bag multipacks of crisps £1.24 (62p each)
Gingernut biscuits 25p
Digestives biscuits 42p
Muesli bar six-pack £1.19
Orange squash 79p

Total: £29.39

What nearly £15 spending can get you
(Image: Mirror/Talia Shadwell)

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What £15 could get you

The Mirror also split the purchase into one week's food.

The tuna was only available in-store on the day in a multipack- so the price was based on Asda where a single tin of Skipjack tuna retails online at 79p.

The fruit purchased in bulk has also been adjusted for the price per kg.

Yoghurt six-pack £1
Cucumber 43p
Lettuce 47p
Mild cheddar 1kg £3.99
Ham £1.55
One tuna tin 79p
Peanut butter 1.25
One Baked beans tin 22p
Six-bag multipack of crisps 62p
Bananas 44p
One packet pasta 29p
One jar pasta sauce 39p
Two potatoes 20p
Celery bunch 49p
Cherry tomatoes 67p
Three apples 84p
Two oranges 40p

Total: £14.40


    *The food purchased by the Mirror for this story is being donated to a foodbank.