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Steven Saunders’ brilliant Thrifty 50 recipes: Delicious, low-cost food for less than £1 a portion

This week, celebrity chef Steven Saunders tackles the cost of living challenge with a first selection from his new ‘Thrifty 50’ recipes of low-cost, nourishing food. He shows us how to shrink our shopping lists by buying more smartly this winter - and he cooks some dishes at home with his girlfriend.

Chef Steven Saunders. Picture: Keith Heppell
Chef Steven Saunders. Picture: Keith Heppell

Wow. What a few weeks it has been. A new PM, the death of our Queen, a new King, a mini budget, some interesting new politics, some tax reductions, some energy price caps. But does any of that affect the cost-of-living crisis?

It doesn’t change the cost of using the electric oven, which is about £5 every time you roast a chicken, nor will it change the price of a roast joint on Sunday or the price of eating out.

Whoever you are, wherever you are in the UK, the cost of living is more than a crisis, it’s a catastrophic reality.

Food prices are not going down, energy is still the most expensive it has ever been, the war in Ukraine still goes on, helping to keep costs high.

When you think that we may be OK, along comes Mr Winter, who will hit us hard with a sharp chill and suddenly we all want to eat homely food.

Always trying to help, I have created and funded what I have called FeedtheUK. It’s a project born out of a passion to ensure that while we may be cold this winter, with some not able to heat their homes, we won’t go hungry!

Chef Steven Saunders. Picture: Keith Heppell
Chef Steven Saunders. Picture: Keith Heppell

I sat for weeks working on a list of 50 low-cost meals. I called it my Thifty 50 on Sky TV, because it is. I created it to help shrink your shopping list, but not your waistline or your sanity.

It’s exclusively to the Cambridge Independent, with many more recipes coming online soon.

The objective is simple. Fresh, homemade meals that will reduce your food costs significantly, saving us all money. Chicken thighs are a fraction of the cost of chicken breasts and taste better, sweeter and juicier. Minced turkey makes a pleasant change from minced beef. Corned beef makes amazing chilli con carne. Pork knuckles taste delicious when slow-cooked by almost forgetting about them and making pancakes at home is more fun than watching TV.

All of these dishes are guaranteed to warm you up and give you some essential nutrition ready to defend us against Mr Winter and the cold nights that are looming.

Some recipes have been adapted from old war-time favourites, with modern-day twists. Some have been forgotten and have been resurrected, some are modern and new, and some are essential, but all are available and in season.

Let’s not forget vegetarians and vegans. It’s all part of the DNA of a modern society. So when your daughter says she is a vegan, you have to react with joy, as if she has just announced her engagement, or she may never eat with you again!

Steven Saunders with his girlfriend
Steven Saunders with his girlfriend

Back at home, I have been teaching my girlfriend to cook. Letting her loose in the kitchen with the cooker, the fryer and the chef’s knives.

Tea towels have gone up in flames, meat has been carbonised (she calls it caramelised), fish has ended up looking like porridge and some meat dishes have looked like the food the pooches eat, but I love her, so it doesn’t really matter.

Which brings me to some of our cookery sessions at home, which have been filmed and will be available for you to watch soon on YouTube, social media and at cambridgeindependent.co.uk.

They are amusing, but they focus on cooking on a budget using simple methods like spoons of ingredients rather than weighing anything out. Let’s don our aprons and get cooking this winter!

Steven Saunders with Dr Alex Davidson. Picture: Keith Heppell
Steven Saunders with Dr Alex Davidson. Picture: Keith Heppell

And some breaking news…I am delighted to inform you that I have joined forces with Dr Alex Davidson, an NHS GP from Cambridge.

Alex is an exceptional, highly qualified nutrition and gut specialist. She will examine the recipes, then season them with a sprinkling of nutrients, and offer us health advice, to keep us well-nourished, fit and healthy this winter. Without Alex, I can only do so much. With her, I can do much more!

  • www.theodessaproject.com
  • Email: thechefsaunders@gmail.com
  • Instagram @saunderschef

Steven’s Spanish meatballs with spiced tomato sauce (Albondigas)

Spanish-style meatballs, from Steven Saunders
Spanish-style meatballs, from Steven Saunders

I had a restaurant in Spain for eight years and this dish was a favourite Tapas at lunchtime. It is delicious with some grated manchego cheese served on top, but that all adds cost so I have avoided it in the recipe below. Enjoy with rice or pasta.

Ingredients (serves 8)

For the meatballs

  • 250g minced pork
  • 250g minced beef
  • 2 tablespoons of dried breadcrumbs made from stale bread
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp of dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried coriander
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper

For the sauce

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled and chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 150ml beef stock
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp of chilli powder ( optional)
  • ½ tsp salt

Method for the meatball mixture:

Mix all the ingredients with your hand in a large mixing bowl.

Roll between 30 and 35 small meatballs out of the meat mixture, about the size of a walnut. Wet your hands from time to time. it will be easier to form the balls.

Fry them in a frying pan on medium-high heat in a little olive oil for about five minutes, until brown on all sides, turning them often with a plastic spatula or a wooden spoon.

It is better to fry the balls in two batches rather than frying too many at once, to avoid the pan being overcrowded.

They will not be completely cooked through at this stage; you will continue cooking them in the sauce later.

Method for the sauce:

  • Transfer meatballs to a bowl using a slotted spoon and use the same pan (without washing it) to make the delicious tomato sauce.
  • Cook the onion in some oil until translucent. Add the garlic and stir in.
  • Add the remaining ingredients as above.
  • Simmer on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes.
  • Add the meatballs and cook them in the sauce for about five minutes or until cooked through.
  • Adjust the taste with salt and pepper.
  • Serve with grated cheese on top (optional)

They are ideal for freezing which is why we are making more than we need. They will keep for three days in the fridge in the sauce.

Cost: 84p per portion

Steven’s vegetarian cottage pie (serves 4-6)

You can change this dish up by adding minced beef or even minced turkey. If you do that you won’t need the beans.


  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 courgettes cut into small chunks
  • 2 carrots peeled and cut into small chunks
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
  • 6-8 florets of cauliflower
  • 1 tin of black beans
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 500g spinach, washed
  • 50g cornflour flour, mixed with 1 tablespoon of cold water
  • 400ml milk
  • 125g cheddar, grated - save a little extra for the top
  • 4 large potatoes, cooked and mashed


  • Heat the oven to 200C.
  • Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large, frying pan or casserole dish. Fry the carrots over the heat for three to four minutes.
  • Fry the courgettes, garlic, cauliflower and oregano in the same pan and cook for one minute. Stir in the spinach, put the lid on the pan and leave for a one min to wilt. Add the drained black beans.
  • Make a cheese sauce by boiling the milk and adding the cornflour in a small saucepan and stir or whisk until combined. Whisk gently until thick, then stir in the cheese and season.
  • Pour the vegetable mixture into a pie dish pour over the cheese sauce.
  • Spread the mashed potato over the top of the pie.
  • Scatter over a little more grated cheese and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden.

Cost: 95p per portion

Chilli con carne made with corned beef (serves 8)

Chilli con carne with corned beef, from Steven Saunders
Chilli con carne with corned beef, from Steven Saunders

It’s amazing how far a tin of corned beef goes when mixed with tomatoes and the beans. Make a lot and then freeze.


  • 2 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 6 large garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
  • 2 whole mild chillies deseeded and chopped
  • 500g tin corned beef
  • 400g tin kidney beans
  • 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp paprika sweet or smoked (or chilli powder, to taste)
  • 2 tbsp ground cumin (or chilli powder, to taste)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • cooked basmati rice, to serve


  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a low heat and add the onion and garlic. Cook for a few minutes until slightly softened and then add the corned beef.
  • Seal well and add both tins of beans. Pour in the tomatoes and add the paprika and cumin and chilli.
  • Season with salt and pepper, stir and increase to a medium heat. Cook, stirring gently, for 10 minutes and then reduce the heat.
  • Cook for 15 minutes, until smelling fantastic. Serve hot with the rice.

Cost: 93p per person

Tuna fishcakes with spicy sweetcorn salsa (serves 8)

Tuna fishcake with sweetcorn salsa, from Steven Saunders
Tuna fishcake with sweetcorn salsa, from Steven Saunders


  • 4 large potatoes (approximately 1kg), peeled and quartered
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise, plus extra to serve
  • 2 x 145g cans tuna, drained
  • 200g can sweetcorn, drained
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 150g dried breadcrumb made from stale bread
  • sunflower oil, for frying
  • salad to serve with


  • Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until soft. Drain and allow to steam/dry in the saucepan. Tip into a bowl, season and mash.
  • Stir in the mayonnaise, tuna and parsley. Shape into eight cakes and chill until cold and firm.
  • Dip each cake into the egg, letting the excess drip off, then coat in the breadcrumbs. Chill for 15 minutes.
  • Heat a little of the oil in a pan and gently fry the cakes for two to three on each side until golden. Then you will need to bake them thorough a hot oven (190C) for five to six minutes.
  • Serve with sweetcorn salsa - below - and salad.

Sweetcorn salsa

Mix all these ingredients together and serve with the fish cakes:

  • 200g of cooked tinned sweetcorn kernels
  • 1 tsp of dried chilli flakes
  • 1 onion peeled and chopped finely
  • 1 tbsp mayonnaise
  • Salt and pepper

Cost: 75p per serving

Banana pancakes with chocolate sauce

Ingredients for the pancake batter - makes 12 pancakes (serves 6)

  • 100g plain flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 300ml milk
  • 1 tbsp sunflower vegetable oil, plus a little extra for frying
  • caster sugar to serve (optional)
  • 3 bananas


  • Heat a 10in non-stick pan over medium heat. Add enough oil to coat, then add two tablespoons of the crepe batter and swirl the pan to cover it in a thin, even film (use a rubber spatula to help, if needed).
  • Cook on the first side for two or three minutes, until the bottom takes on a deep golden-brown colour and then turn and cook for one minute.
  • Remove the pancakes and reserve.
  • Fill the pancakes with the sliced banana.
  • Fold the crepe sides over to create little parcels.
  • Top with a little caster sugar if you like or serve with a chocolate sauce - below.

Simple chocolate sauce

  • 50g dark chocolate
  • 125ml double cream
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar


  • Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water until completely smooth
  • Heat the cream and sugar in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat and stir into the melted chocolate. Serve.

Cost: 55p per portion

Parsnip and pear soup (serves 6)

Parsnip and pear soup, from Steven Saunders
Parsnip and pear soup, from Steven Saunders


  • 500g of parsnips
  • 1 onion
  • 2 conference pears
  • 50g of butter
  • 1000ml of semi-skimmed milk
  • 150ml of single cream
  • Maldon salt
  • Parmesan cheese - optional


  • Peel and quarter the parsnips, ensuring you remove any woody centres. Peel and finely chop the onion, then peel, core and quarter the pears.
  • Heat the butter with a little olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan until it starts to foam. Add the onions and cook gently without browning for five minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the parsnips and pears and continue cooking for a further five minutes.
  • Pour in the milk to cover the ingredients and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes, until the parsnips are tender
  • Remove the parsnip soup from the heat and pour in the cream. Reheat on a gentle heat, stirring continuously. Once you have added the single cream to the soup you must not boil or it might curdle.
  • Purée the parsnip soup in a liquidiser, then pass it through a fine sieve. Season to taste with salt and pepper then serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and some warm crusty bread

Cost: 40p per portion, including bread

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