Seven weeknight dinners for $70? How one mum feeds her family of four

Karen Hardy
June 5 2024 - 5:30am

Chelsea Goodwin's not afraid to admit she was once a terrible cook. Even her three children had no hesitation in telling their mother she needed to lift her game.

To escape (perhaps, even to escape those critical children) she loved watching cooking shows on television. It was the domestic goddess herself, Nigella Lawson, who sparked something in Goodwin.

"I started watching Nigella's series, Nigella Bites, on television and somehow she not only coaxed me into the kitchen to try her recipes but ignited a spark of joy that I hadn't ever experienced whilst cooking," says Goodwin.

WATCH: Supermarkets are designed to make shoppers buy more.

From there on, she completely embraced cooking. She scoured op shops for cookbooks, built on her skill set, tried different recipes, even watched more cooking shows.

As a single mother, finances were always tight, she lived with a budget of $150 a week to cover all their food.

"The biggest challenge was figuring out how to feed my family on such a low budget without compromising on flavour and variety," she says.

For Goodwin, the answer was meal planning. She began creating weekly plans for her family. She'd make pad see ew for "Fakeaway Friday", stretch larger cuts of meat over three different dishes.

Chelsea Goodwin with her children who were her harshest critics. Picture by Melissa Darr
Chelsea Goodwin with her children who were her harshest critics. Picture by Melissa Darr

"After some careful planning, and creative thinking and cost-saving tweaks to my recipes, I couldn't believe we could eat so well on such a small budget," she says.

In August 2022, she shared one of her meal plans on social media in a mums' group she was a member of. Seven dinners for $70. It's the day that changed everything.

Now Goodwin runs the $10 Meals community with more than 200,000 followers on social media. And she's just published her first cookbook, $10 Meals with Chelsea.

"The community has been a constant source of happiness and motivation over the past 18 months," she says.

"The groups have grown at a rapid rate but have still retained a very strong sense of community, which is what's needed right now.

$10 Meals with Chelsea: Weekly meal plans. Tasty dinner recipes. Average $2.50 per serve, by Chelsea Goodwin. Ebury Australia. $36.99.
$10 Meals with Chelsea: Weekly meal plans. Tasty dinner recipes. Average $2.50 per serve, by Chelsea Goodwin. Ebury Australia. $36.99.

"It's a really beautiful thing to have Australians of all ages sharing their cooking knowledge, tips and recipes.

"I learn so much from them every day, particularly from the older generation that have already experienced the challenge of feeding their families in tough economic times."

Goodwin was shocked by the response to that first post.

"I don't think I was fully aware of just how many Australian families were struggling, like I was, and desperately seeking solutions to help reduce their food budget," she says.

"Within minutes of posting my meal plan, hundreds of mums bombarded me with requests for more plans, more recipes and pleaded with me to start up my own online group - which I did - that same day!"

Goodwin still has the same food budget she did two years ago, and she thinks the success of the $10 Meals community is that it's always been authentic.

"When I write my recipes I don't make any assumptions about the reader's level of cooking knowledge," she says.

"I think this resonates with the average cook and there are a lot of people in the group who are beginner cooks or neurodivergent cooks. There's something for everyone."

Does she have a go-to meal?

"If ever I get stuck and for some reason my meal planning is derailed, my go-to, 'run into the supermarket quickly' meal is my chorizo, spinach and feta pasta. I can buy everything I need for about $10, it's delicious, filling and ready in 20 minutes."

Money-saving tips

Meal plan: The only way I can keep my food costs at $150 per week is by meal planning, writing a corresponding grocery list and sticking to the list - no matter what.

Cheap cuts of meat: I only purchase meat that's under $15 per kg. Purchase larger cuts, portion them up and use them in multiple meals across the week.

Seasonal vegetables: I've observed that a lot of people (particularly beginner cooks) are scared to deviate from the vegetables specified in a recipe. In most cases they can and should be substituted if they're not in season and replaced with a lower cost alternative.

  • $10 Meals with Chelsea: Weekly meal plans. Tasty dinner recipes. Average $2.50 per serve, by Chelsea Goodwin. Ebury Australia. $36.99.

Buttermilk chicken burgers

Buttermilk chicken burgers. Picture by Melissa Darr
Buttermilk chicken burgers. Picture by Melissa Darr

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breast fillets (500-600g)
  • vegetable oil, to fry

Buttermilk marinade:

  • 250ml milk
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Coating:

  • 300g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 3/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 5 tbsp buttermilk marinade

Coleslaw:

  • 1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 200g coleslaw mix
  • 2 tsp white vinegar
  • 75g mayonnaise

Burger:

  • 4 burger buns, halved
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced
  • 4 large lettuce leaves
  • mayonnaise or sriracha mayo

Method

Prep:

1. To make the buttermilk marinade, combine the milk and vinegar in a shallow bowl or container. Stir and set aside for five minutes to separate. Add the salt, paprika and cayenne pepper and stir together.

2. Cut chicken breast in half horizontally. Add chicken to the marinade, cover and refrigerate for one hour or up to 24 hours.

3. Remove the chicken from the fridge. Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, paprika, black pepper, garlic powder and cayenne pepper together in a shallow bowl. Add five tablespoons of the buttermilk marinade to the flour mixture and stir it through. Use your hands or a fork to mix it until there are even clumps throughout.

4. Place the marinated chicken pieces into the coating mixture and turn to coat well on both sides. Transfer to a plate or tray.

5. Chop parsley and add to a medium bowl with the coleslaw mix.

6. Stir through the vinegar, mayonnaise and a pinch of salt. Cover and refrigerate for later.

7. Halve the burger buns and slice the tomato.

Cook:

1. Preheat the grill to toast the burger buns (optional). Fill a large deep pan with at least 5cm of oil. Heat over high heat until hot, then reduce heat to medium-high. The oil should be about 180C.

2. Fry the chicken in the oil for eight to 10 minutes, turning with tongs once the bottom side is golden brown. Remove to a plate. Depending on the size of your pan you may need to cook in batches.

3. Toast the burger buns (buttered or plain) on a tray under the grill, cut side up, for about 30 seconds.

4. Assemble the burgers by spreading a thick layer of mayonnaise on both buns. On the bottom bun stack a lettuce leaf, a piece of fried chicken, tomato slices and coleslaw. Place the bun lid on top.

Notes

Buttermilk: The milk and vinegar combination is a homemade version of buttermilk. This can be used in cakes, pancakes or any recipe that calls for buttermilk.

Frying: You can use a deep fryer but you'll use a lot more oil. I prefer to shallow fry in a pot or large wok and top up the oil if necessary. Any flavourless oil that's suitable for frying can be used. You can also strain and funnel your oil into a jar/bottle and reuse next time you're frying chicken.

Serves 4.

Chorizo and lentil soup

Chorizo and lentil soup. Picture by Melissa Darr
Chorizo and lentil soup. Picture by Melissa Darr

Ingredients

  • 250g fresh chorizo, diced
  • 2 brown onions, diced
  • 3 large carrots, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 375g pack red lentils, rinsed well in sieve or colander
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 x 800g tins diced or crushed tomatoes
  • 2 litres chicken or vegetable stock, plus extra if needed

To serve:

  • finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 50g feta, crumbled toasted or grilled Turkish bread

Method

Prep:

1. Dice the chorizo, onions and carrots, crush the garlic.

2. Rinse the lentils well in a large sieve under cold, running water. Remove any discoloured pieces.

Cook:

1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the chorizo and cook for about five minutes, until browned. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the chorizo to a plate, leaving the flavoured oil in the pot.

2. Turn the heat down to medium and cook the onion and carrot in the chorizo-flavoured oil for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft. Add the garlic, salt, cumin, oregano and paprika and stir for one minute.

3. Pour in the tomatoes and stock, then add the lentils and bring just to the boil. Reduce the heat to low allowing the mixture to simmer, partially covered, for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Stir occasionally to ensure that the lentils don't stick to the bottom of the pot.

4. If you like, use a stick blender to partially blend the soup. This thickens it but still leaves tiny chunks of veggies and lentils. Add in extra stock at this point if you feel that it's too thick.

5. Add most of the chorizo to the soup, reserving some to serve. Taste soup and season with salt and pepper.

6. To serve, ladle soup into bowls, add a squeeze of lemon juice and top with remaining chorizo, lemon zest and crumbled feta. Serve with grilled Turkish bread.

Notes

Chorizo: 250g is usually two chorizo sausages. Choose a fresh or semi-cured chorizo that requires cooking, rather than a cured chorizo that can be eaten raw (like salami).

Dietaries: For gluten-free, ensure that the chorizo does not contain gluten. Omit the Turkish bread or replace with gluten-free bread, to serve. For dairy-free, omit the feta.

Leftovers: Store in the fridge for up to three days or freeze for up to three months. Reheat on the stove top or in the microwave.

Spices: This isn't a spicy soup, but if your family prefers mild flavours, halve the spice quantities the first time you make this.

Serves 8.

Thai green fish curry

Thai green fish curry. Picture by Melissa Darr
Thai green fish curry. Picture by Melissa Darr

Ingredients

  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 zucchini, halved lengthways, sliced
  • 200g green beans, trimmed
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped coriander stems
  • 500g white fish fillets
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp Maesri green curry paste
  • 3 x 400ml tins coconut cream
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp lime juice

To serve:

  • steamed jasmine rice
  • coriander leaves
  • lime wedges

Method

Prep:

1. Start cooking the rice.

2. Crush the garlic and grate the ginger.

3. Halve the zucchini lengthways and slice. Trim and halve the green beans. Finely chop the coriander stems. Slice each fish fillet into four pieces.

Cook:

1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, wok or pot over medium-high heat then add the curry paste, garlic and ginger. Cook, stirring, for two minutes.

2. Add half a tin of coconut cream to the paste mixture and cook, stirring, for about two minutes or until the liquid has reduced by about a third.

3. Pour in the remaining two and a half tins of coconut cream add the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and chopped coriander stems (if using) and bring to a gentle boil.

4. Add the fish, zucchini and beans and cook for another seven to eight minutes or until the vegetables are cooked and the fish is opaque. Taste to check spice level and flavours. Add a little more lime juice, sugar or fish sauce to balance flavour if required.

5. Divide among bowls with steamed rice. Top with coriander leaves and serve with lime wedges.

Notes

Balancing flavours: If it tastes a little acidic or sour, add more brown sugar. If you'd like a saltier flavour, add fish sauce. For a fresher flavour, add another squeeze of lime juice.

Fish: I use thawed frozen basa or barramundi which can be bought at the seafood counter in the major supermarkets. You could also purchase frozen fish and thaw it yourself.

Leftovers: Store in the fridge for three days, freeze for one month. Reheat in the microwave or on the stove top. Freeze any leftover curry paste for up to one month.

Spice: Cook the recipe as written for a medium curry. If you prefer a mild curry, start with two tablespoons of curry paste. If you find yourself with a curry that's way too hot, you can add additional coconut cream or add vegetable/chicken stock.

Substitutions: Substitute zucchini and green beans with three cups of any suitable vegetables, such as snow peas, sugar snap peas, broccoli, broccolini, capsicum or baby corn. If you don't like fish, you can use thinly sliced chicken breast or thigh instead. Add the chicken breast in (raw) at step four before you add the veggies. Give it 10 minutes to poach in the coconut cream before adding the beans and zucchini.

Serves 4-5.

Karen Hardy

Karen Hardy

Canberra Times lifestyle reporter

I've covered a few things here at The Canberra Times over the years, from sport to education. But now I get to write about the fun stuff - where to eat, what to do, places to go, people to see. Let me know about your favourite things. Email: karen.hardy@canberratimes.com.au