Jun 02

10 Quick, cheap family recipes

Reading Time: 11 minutes

Working parents can struggle to put anything other than cheese toasties on the table when they get home from work. What we need are quick, cheap family recipes that everyone can enjoy. They’re like gold dust.

A bit of planning (the slow cooker!), thinking ahead, plus giving kids the foods they like – BUT ARE HEALTHY – is a better solution than sandwiches every night. It also staves off the sugar highs/mood swings that can strike when we get too hungry and then grab for whatever’s available (in the corner shop i.e. sweets). Here are some of my essential, go-to, cheap, family recipes, that are win-win every time. Note: they’re based around VEG = cheap.


1. Chicken and Frozen Veg Bake

Chicken & Frozen Veg Bake, photo: Sarah Lockett

This is an easy family meal to knock out on a weekday, when you don’t have any interesting veg in. Pull out a bag of frozen broccoli, cauliflower and crinkle-cut carrots (only about £1.80 for 1kg!), plus chicken pieces, and you are sorted. It’s also low-carb (very Atkins), although you can always serve it with potatoes, rice or buttered pasta, if you like.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

  • 6 skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp sumac
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped/crushed
  • 1kg bag frozen broccoli, cauliflower and crinkle-cut carrots
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 100-200ml single cream (optional)


Put the chicken, garlic, 1 tbsp oil, salt and pepper, plus sumac in a bowl to marinate for a few hours. Cover with clingfilm (or your whole fridge will smell of garlic). 1 hr before you’re ready to eat, grease a large, deep baking dish/tray with the other tablespoon of oil and tip in the chicken. Add the veg, plus more salt and pepper, and sprinkle over the cumin. Stir around a bit, then bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes. Check nothing is burning and stir the veg/chicken around again to get everything nice and crispy. The veg gives off quite a lot of water but don’t panic – it evaporates and makes a nice sauce. Cook for another 20-30 minutes, keeping an eye on it (this is the time to cook some pasta or potatoes if you’re having them – I did pasta pesto). If you’re not watching your weight, stir through some cream at the end to make a velvety sauce, but it’s tasty without.


2. Creamy Veg Soup

Cream of (free) Marrow Soup, photo: Sarah LockettSoup and sandwiches is a great, quick, family lunch or supper – it adds some veg/fibre/vitamins to your bread/carb-based meal, and bulks it out, making it go further. This is marrow, which takes on curry spices beautifully. If you haven’t got cream (as I didn’t), use milk, or a dollop of creme fraiche swirled through at the end.

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1-2 tbsp sunflower or olive oil
  • 2 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 chicken Oxo cube (or veg)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes, cayenne or paprika (to taste, for heat)
  • 1 medium/smallish marrow or half a whopper
  • 150ml cream, or milk, or creme fraiche


Gently fry the onion and garlic in the oil in a biggish, lidded saucepan for 5 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, crumbled stock cube and all the spices. Stir around then add the peeled, cubed, de-seeded marrow. get all the veg covered in the spicy oil then cook for another 5 minutes, on a medium/gentle heat. Add boiling water from the kettle till it not quite covers the veg. Simmer for 15 minutes. Puree in a blender then stir through the cream, milk, or creme fraiche. You can swirl cream or creme fraiche on at the table, if you prefer. But milk looks a bit parsimonious so is best mixed in. Check seasoning and serve. I don’t go in for bread – but serve alongside if you want.


3. Cardamom Chicken

Cardamom Chicken, photo: Sarah LockettI believe I may have mentioned before, just a couple of thousand times, that cardamom is my favourite spice. So imagine my delight when I came across this recipe for Cardamom Chicken, with a lovely touch of honey to make it sticky.

I never buy thighs with the skin on so these are automatically healthier than the skin-on variety (I have read that if you eat the skin of chicken you double the calories, and these are wonderfully savoury and sticky without). Incidentally, I buy ground cardamom from my local Turkish corner shop – much less palaver than grinding the pods up in a pestle and mortar (although I have done that too). I have reduced the honey too but you can go up to 4tbsp if you like.

Ingredients: Serves 4-6

  • 6-8 skinless chicken thighs or other chicken joints
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp runny honey
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped/crushed
  • 2 lemons, zest of both and juice of 1
  • 2 tsp ground cardamom
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds (optional, I didn’t have any)


  1. Put all the ingredients (except the sesame seeds) in a glass or non-metallic bowl and marinate for a few hours, or overnight.
  2. Roast the chicken for 40-50 minutes in a deepish baking tray or ovenproof dish, in a hottish oven at 180 degrees Celsius.
  3. 10 minutes before the end, sprinkle over the sesame seeds, to toast.
  4. Serve with rice and green veg (I had de-skinned broad beans, sliced courgettes and mint in a vinaigrette).


4. Stuffed Veg

Stuffed Marrow, photo: Sarah LockettYou can use peppers, courgettes, big flat portobello mushrooms, butternut squash etc. But here I’ve used marrow. You can stuff them with more-or-less anything so long as it includes cheese, is my mantra.

This is a smoked fish stuffing, but also try a bolognaise-style mince filling too.

Ingredients (serves 6)

  • 1 marrow
  • 1 pack (240g) peppered smoked mackerel fillets
  • large handful breadcrumbs
  • 50g brown shrimps, (optional)
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper
  • 1tsp mixed dried herbs, or 1 tbsp fresh chopped herbs
  • 6-8 sundried tomatoes, chopped
  • sunflower or olive oil for greasing
  • 100g cheese, grated, plus extra for sprinkling


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Wash the marrow, cut off the ends and slice into 6 thick 5cm slices. Scoop out the seeds. Place in an oiled baking dish. De-skin the mackerel fillets and flake/crush into small pieces with your fingers. Mix in a bowl with all the other stuffing ingredients. Press into the marrow cavities and sprinkle with a little extra cheese. Bake at least 30 minutes (possibly 45, depending on how dense your marrow is and how thick you’ve cut the slices). Serve with mash or a mango salsa (as I did – it was counter-intuitive but lovely). NB: The skin is too tough to eat so just leave it.


5. 3hr Pork Belly

3hr Pork Belly, Photo: Sarah LockettThis is delicious. A real man’s meal – they like meat, don’t they? Sorry to generalise. I also love it, incidentally, and the kids lap it up too. So, an all round family winner. Pork belly is a relatively cheap cut (£5.99/kg) because it is marbled through with quite a lot of fat, and does need long cooking. I tend to buy about 1kg, or whichever size Waitrose/Ocado sends me, and it feeds 6 people.

Ingredients (serves 6)

  • 1kg (approx) pork belly
  • 2 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 1-2 tbsp thyme leaves (stripped off the stem)
  • 2 lemons (or 1 lemon and 1 lime)
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil


Crush the fennel seeds, salt and thyme in a pestle and mortar. Unwrap the pork and pat dry with kitchen paper. Score the skin with a Stanley knife, just a few millimetres through the surface. Place on a deep-lipped baking tray and rub all over with the spice mixture. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rest for 24hrs, or a few hours, if you are pressed for time. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Slosh over 1/2 tbsp olive oil, rub it in, and roast for 30 minutes (skin side up – this is meant to crisp up the crackling but I am admitting defeat on this). Turn the heat down to 160 degrees and pour over the lemon/lime juice. Roast for a further 2 1/2 hrs. If my crackling hasn’t crisped, I sometimes turn the joint over for the last half hour. Lift the meat out of the oil (it renders quite a lot) and slice into hefty chunks on a board. Scrape out the sweet-sour blackened lemony bits. Serve with a sharp-sweetish sauce (fruit-based, apple puree? redcurrant jelly?) and some sides: perhaps coleslaw, baked potatoes or other salads.


6. Spanish Soupy Warmer

Photo: Sarah LockettI’ve only recently discovered smoked paprika so was attracted by this recipe which I have adapted from Good Housekeeping. It’s a lovely winter warmer, perfect for when we’re all sitting around with colds, having staggered in from the school run in the horizontal sleet. I also had half a jar of pitted sliced black olives that needed using up before the brine became too cloudy and suspect! Serve in bowls with spoons.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

  • 1 tbsp oil (olive or sunflower, or rapeseed)
  • 500g boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chunked
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 red pepper, de-seeded and sliced
  • 1 courgette, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped or crushed
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • 1 tsp mixed dried herbs
  • 2-3 tbsp pitted sliced black olives
  • 400g tin white kidney beans, cannellini or similar, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 pack fresh parsley, chopped


Fry the chicken cubes in the oil in a large lidded casserole or saucepan for 5 minutes, then add the onion, pepper, courgette and garlic. Stir and leave to fry for 5 minutes on a medium heat.  Add the salt and pepper, tomatoes, crumbled stock cube, paprika and dried herbs. Then fill up the tomato tin with boiling water and add that (this both washes it out and makes sure you don’t waste any tomatoes). Finally add the olives and leave to simmer gently for 45 minutes-1 hr. This can be done on the hob on a low heat or in the oven at 150 degrees Celsius. Personally I put it in my slow cooker all day i.e. 9 hrs. 5 minutes before you want to eat, add the beans and parsley (you can stir them in but they look nice sitting on the top, see picture). A nice touch is a blob of creme fraiche, sour cream or yoghurt. I am not a  crusty bread eater, but you could add some if you fancy it.


7. Cauliflower Couscous

Cauliflower Couscous, photo: Sarah LockettReally much nicer than it sounds, especially as part of a buffet of different salads. I was very sceptical about this. Cauliflower can be very ammonia-ey, and have an unwanted effect on your digestion (ahem). But this is delicious and light, and not too cauliflower-y. If you’re cutting down on carbs, it’s also a good option, especially as it’s wheat/gluten free. I got the idea from 5:2 Vegetarian by Celia Brooks (Pavillion Books, £9.99).

Ingredients: serves 3-4

  • 1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
  • salt and pepper
  • juice 1 lemon
  • 25g parsley, de-stalked and chopped
  • 25g pack mint, de-stalked and chopped
  • 25g pack coriander, de-stalked and chopped (optional)
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • Finely chopped veg e.g. 1 grated carrot/few halved cherry tomatoes, diced cucumber etc


Put the raw cauli in a food processor and blitz until the size of couscous. Microwave for 2 minutes with a tablespoon of water.  Mix through all the other ingredients. Serve with grilled prawns, chicken breast, salmon steak, grilled halloumi, tuna chunks, or any other favourite protein. Or sprinkle with crumbled feta.


8. Easy meat Curry

Photo: Sarah LockettToday’s recipe comes to you courtesy of the fact that I bought some goat meat at a farmers market a while back and put it in the freezer – something a little different.  Buy goat meat online – or use beef/lamb. And yes, my kids also ate it – they made a face but were secretly intrigued. Serve with rice, of course.

I discovered that ordinary, long grain, white rice is 40p/kg in Lidl, whereas basmati is £1.29/kg. I know basmati is a different flavour, but go for the cheaper one if you’re watching the pennies. This is also a slow cooker recipe, although you can also prepare it on the hob, on a low heat (or put it in the oven for a few hours) in a casserole/ovenproof lidded saucepan.

Ingredients: serves 4-5

  • 500g cubed red meat (I used goat!)
  • root ginger, peeled and chopped (about the size of 3 walnuts)
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped or crushed
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds (or a star anis, or fenugreek)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • really good grinding of freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 400g tin coconut milk (reduced fat or ordinary)
  • 1 chopped tomato or 1 big tablespoon tomato puree
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • juice of 1 lemon or a few curry leaves
  • 1 tsp grain mustard or mustard powder
  • 1 tsp cornflour, optional
  • fresh coriander leaves, chopped, to serve


Put all the ingredients in a slow cooker and stir. Cook on low power all day (10-12 hours) to be ready for the evening. Or start off on high power for 5-6 hours and then turn the heat down to low. If it looks too liquid towards the end of the cooking time , slake a teaspoon of cornflour in cold water and stir into the curry. Serve with chopped coriander leaves sprinkled over and brown or white rice, plus a fresh green salad to make it go further (I am using mung beans which I sprouted myself with cucumber, grated carrot, parsley etc and a simple vinaigrette).



Photo: Sarah Lockett

I always have feta cheese in my fridge. It keeps for about a year and is good for quiches, salads and scattering over grilled/roasted veg. But there’s more to Greek cheeses than just feta. Halloumi – which I tend to eat sliced and spread with jam or honey (sorry). Or I have it fried in a little olive oil as part of a mezze for a salady lunch.

In the Yamas range of Greek and Cypriot cheeses, the cutest product is Halloumi burgers, pre-sliced rounds, vac-packed. Of course, we’ve always known we can fry halloumi for a veggie burger but this just makes it the right shape. You can also top a regular burger with a fried halloumi round for an extra savoury, cheesy layer, just before you slather on the relishes and sliced gherkin. This recipe though, is made with Feta:

Ingredients: (makes 4 tarts)

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 25g butter
  • 1 onion, peeled and sliced lengthways
  • 1 tbsp demerera sugar (or any sugar)
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • pre-rolled puff pastry, cut into 4 squares or circles
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 fresh figs, cut into eighths
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 100g Yamas feta or smoked feta
  • salt and pepper


Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.  Heat oil and butter in a frying pan and sweat the onion for about 20 minutes, adding the sugar after 5 mins and garlic after 10. Towards the end of cooking time add balsamic, honey, thyme leaves, salt (not much!) and pepper. Stir. Line 4 small tart tins with the pastry, or make one big tart. Spoon in the onion mix. Top with the fig. Cover with crumbled feta. Cook 15-20 mins till the pastry is cooked and the cheese is golden brown. Serve with a salad, perhaps rocket and cherry tomato with a vinaigrette. Lovely as a starter or light lunch. My kids loved it because of the sweetness from the honey and figs.


10. Maple Roasted Sprouts

You can buy sprouts most of the year. They’re not just for Christmas. And they’re cheap too: £1 for 500g at Ocado, and probably cheaper at markets. Here they are roasted with maple syrup, and bacon/sausage juices (I put the bacon-wrapped chipolatas, sprouts and a slug of maple syrup all in the same roasting dish for Christmas day lunch – yum!)

The great food writer Nigel Slater says the secret with sprouts is to keep them well away from boiling water – I agree, although I did cheat with these and par boil/blanche them for just a few minutes before roasting. Next time I will try it totally blind and shove them in completely raw, albeit trimmed (and larger ones with a cross cut through the stem, so they all cook evenly.

If you have lardons or some smoked bacon, chop it up and scatter “in and around” (as Jamie Oliver says) the prepared sprouts, and sloosh over some maple syrup (not maple-flavoured syrup!). You could grease the dish first with a smidge of butter or olive oil but the bacon fat should render out and keep everything moving. Roast in the oven for up to 30 minutes or until the sprouts are no longer little bullets, but retain some bite.


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