I've been poor. I was a single mum on benefits for a decade, now I'm an older single woman with a low income and years to wait for the basic state pension of £9k a year.

Heating or eating? I haven't had the heating on since January. I simply can't afford it.

This isn't healthy; I become listless and unproductive. Eventually the cold gets into your bones and it's harder to warm up. I've gone to bed at 6pm to save on heating.

As the cost of everything from energy prices to a basket of food rockets, those on fixed or low incomes will suffer. Being single is a tax in itself. There used to be a lone parent benefit to recognise the particular costs of living alone, until the Blair government stopped it within months of being elected. I was very involved with the fight against this: protesting outside parliament even taking my two-year old – now a political lobby journalist – who sat quietly in the Strangers' Gallery watching the debate.

"Shame on you,” I called to left-wing MPs who voted for the move. I visited Glenda Jackson's surgery, then MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, with a single parent group and argued that helping lone parents wasn't encouraging it, using statistics to show that only 6% were teenagers and most were divorcees.

I'm angry again. One reason I became a chef was because the only thing I could afford as a single parent was to cook from scratch. I couldn't go out, go on holiday, or buy new clothes, but I could make nice food.

Now cooking has become more complicated: not just the price of the ingredients but the expense of heating them up. Cooking in a gas oven for an hour costs 34p while an electric oven costs 65p (including the daily standing charge). Poorer people are less likely to have energy efficient ovens. The cheapest way to cook is in a microwave or on a hob. Even running a fridge costs £5 to £10 a month.

I went to Lidl to shop for these recipes. Like Aldi, it's one of the cheaper supermarkets. Being poor is hard work: you have to do your research and stay alert for bargains - you can't just grab a trolley, drive to one of the big five and toss in whatever you fancy.

Throughout my career as a food writer, I've recommended cooking from scratch: choosing dried, soaked beans, which taste better than tinned. But when it takes several hours to cook them, tinned is a better energy saver.

These recipes assume that you have salt and some spices (it's cheapest to buy from Asian stores). The cheapest fat is lard; butter is very expensive and margarine isn't good for your health. The cheapest oil is vegetable oil, although you can buy a litre of extra virgin olive oil for £1.99 at Lidl. Protein is expensive, the cheapest is beans or eggs. But it's virtually impossible to eat good-quality fresh food on the basic pension or benefits - a neighbour of mine, a single parent on benefits, says when she's really broke she buys a £1 frozen lasagne from Iceland.

So here are three "gourmet" recipes, which you could serve to friends for approximately £2.50 for four. Because one of the worst things about being poor is the shame. It's a basic human need to entertain, to be hospitable, and to share.

Garlicky mussels with pasta (serves 4)

Use a large pan and cook the pasta and the mussels at the same time. Top tip for energy saving: keep lids on pans.


Packet mussels from Lidl (1.59)
500 g bronze- die linguine pasta from Lidl (55p)
3 tbsp olive oil (7p)
1 tbsp salt


Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Cook the pasta along with the bag of mussels for 10 minutes. Remove the bag, drain the pasta, and mix the two together. Dress with olive oil and serve hot.

Shakshouka (Serves 4)


3 tbsp olive oil (9p)
1 brown onion, chopped (21p)
1 red pepper, chopped (31p)
2 cloves garlic, chopped (5p)
1 x 400 g tin of tomatoes, chopped (28p)
1 tsp salt
a pinch of cumin (5p)
a pinch of sweet smoked paprika (5p)
4 eggs (56p)
1 tiger loaf (75p), cut into thick slices


Heat the oil, then soften the onions until golden, adding the red pepper at the same time.
Add the garlic, tomatoes, salt, cumin and paprika. Half-fill the tomato tin with water and add. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Crack the eggs into the sauce, put the lid on and poach for 5 to 10 minutes. Eat hot with the crusty bread.

Basa fillets with rocket pesto and pommes à la vapeur (serves 4)


500 g white potatoes, cut in quarters, microwaved or steamed (16p)
1 tbsp salt
3 tbsp Olive oil (9p)
Sprigs mint, from a garden (free)
Packet rocket (Lidl 35p)
1 clove garlic (3p)
pinch salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil (2p) for frying.
Packet 2 frozen salt and pepper barr fillets, cut in 4 lengthways, (Lidl 1.99)

Microwave/steam or boil the potatoes with the salt until tender. Drain then toss with 1 tbsp of the olive oil and the fresh mint.
Pound or blend the rocket with the garlic, 2 tbsps olive oil and salt.
Using a frying pan, add the vegetable oil and gently fry the fillets until golden.
Garnish the potatoes with more fresh mint. Drizzle the fish fillets with the 'pesto'. Serve hot.

Kerstin Rodgers is a food and travel writer. Follow her at msmarmitelover.com