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How to Eat Cheaply in the United Kingdom

A guide to eating cheap in the United Kingdom Food in the United Kingdom always gets a bad rap from travelers. Ok, so it isn’t the fanciest cuisine in the world, but it’s not the worst either. For one thing, you are unlikely to find menus serving something you previously thought of as a pet. [...]

A guide to eating cheap in the United Kingdom

Food in the United Kingdom always gets a bad rap from travelers. Ok, so it isn’t the fanciest cuisine in the world, but it’s not the worst either. For one thing, you are unlikely to find menus serving something you previously thought of as a pet. As an ex-pat American living in the UK, my biggest complaint about food here is actually the lack of variety on most menus. Pub menus tend to all be the same, serving the “traditional” dishes such as fish and chips, sausage and mash and pies.

What you will notice when you look more closely at food here is that the traditional dishes and snacks all reflect the fact that this is a country with a cold and damp climate. Order a salad and you’ll be disappointed by the lack of imagination. British food excels for filling you and warming you on a rainy winter’s day.

The pasty

Meals out in the UK are expensive. Even food at the local fish and chips shop will seem expensive to a traveler. Your best bets will be local bakeries and grocery stores.

The Local Bakery

Bakeries in the UK aren’t just about cakes and sweets. They usually double as sandwich shops and have a large selection of savoury pastries as well. Of these, there are 2 that you will doubtlessly get to know well if you are travelling on budget:

The first is the sausage roll. This is a rectangular pastry with a flaky crust that is filled with pork sausage meat. Sausage here is not the black peppery stuff that is served for breakfast in America, but has a more subtle and herby flavor to it. These usually will retail for about 1 USD but the price can vary quite a lot depending on the area you are in. Add a pack of crisps, aka potato chips and you have a nice filling lunch.

The second offering the bakery can provide you with is the pasty. This traditional pasty  is a stuffing of meat and chunks of potatoes in a short crust pastry case. These were originally lunch food for miners, all the leftovers from last nights meal baked into something portable! These are definitely a meal in their own right! Warm, slightly peppery and very filling! But of course they don’t only come in the traditional variety. It’s quite common to find flavours such as “cheese and onion,” steak, and several others depending on the local traditions. Pasties usually sell for 1.50 USD and up depending on the filling and location.

One thing to be aware of in England is that the taxes differ between food that is eaten in or food that will be taken away. If you want to have a seat in their cafe, be prepared to pay more.

The Supermarket

Now I won’t presume to explain all the ins and outs of a grocery store here to you. I’m sure you have them in your own country and know perfectly well what they stock. I will however go through the basics of what you might find different in the UK versus other countries and where to get the best bargains.

The time to hit the supermarket here is right around 6pm. This is when most of them do their daily markdowns on fresh food that is going to go out of date at the end of that day or the next. There will usually be a section on a lower shelf near either the dairy or “cooked meats” aisle where they will stash all the stuff they have marked down.

The important thing to bear in mind here while you are making your selection is the difference between “use by” and “best before” dates. “Use by” means that there are likely to be health consequences if you let the product go much longer than the given date. “Best before” is a date that more represents the freshness of the product and not that it will be spoiled in any way if you leave it beyond this date. As always, use your common sense when purchasing or eating items from this section. Cheese is a favorite of mine, but I steer clear of anything with fish or shellfish in it.

Grocery stores in the UK usually also have a hot food counter. You’ll be able to get a lot of the same stuff as at the bakery such as sausage rolls but they are usually even cheaper here. They frequently do multibuy offers as well. Roast and sometimes fried chickens are usually available and relatively cheap if you are looking for a good hot meal on a budget.

And don’t forget a trip to the deli counter. Buying a few slices of ham or other meat and cheese is a lot cheaper than buying a whole pack that you might not need.

For the cheapest of the cheap, a jar of store-brand peanut butter and a loaf of bread can feed you for a few days for about 3 USD. If you have access to a microwave then soups and the ubiquitous “Pot Noodle” will give you something warm and filling for easily under a dollar.

If you are looking for something sweet, the antiquarian tax structure in the UK declares that while chocolate cookies are a luxury, others and some cakes are not, so you’ll find some sweets distinctly cheaper than others.

Eating cheap in the United Kingdom conclusion

Eating, like everything else in the UK is not cheap compared to many countries, but you can find a way to survive very cheaply as long as you avoid restaurants and pubs. Shop in grocery stores for offers and store brands with the occasional treat from a bakery. Don’t expect everything to be tasty, but you’ll free up funds for other things!

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What did you eat in the United Kingdom? What are your cheap food strategies? Let us know below.

Filed under: England, Europe

About the Author:

Cindy is an ex-pat American who lives in the UK with her charming English husband, overly clever toddler and pudgy cat. In her spare time she enjoys cooking, crocheting, creative writing and might even one day pick up a few miscellaneous hobbies that don’t start with the letter C. When not in the kitchen or at the computer you can probably find her dressed in velvet, wandering castles and dreaming of days gone by. Visit her blog at Medieval Moods, find her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. has written 12 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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  • LAbackpackerChick November 14, 2011, 12:40 am

    One of my favorite ways to save money when in the need of “fast food” were the meal deals you get at Tescos, Sainsburys, Asda, and Morrisons. For £2.50 or about $4 you get a sandwich/pasta/salad/sushi plus chips/fruit plus soda/water/juice. The food available in the meal deal doesn’t even taste bad. some of it is actually quite good for the price.

    Another cool thing about the UK is that prices already include tax so what you see is what you get.

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    • Vagabond Journey Guides November 14, 2011, 12:45 am

      Excellent tip! The prepped food in grocery stores is ground zero for cheap food in Europe.

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  • Thomas @ Stitch and Frog June 4, 2012, 10:17 pm

    Yum! Great tip!

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  • Smirky August 6, 2012, 1:02 am

    Hey Guys

    the major Supermarkets such as Asda and Morrisons tend to be the cheapest with the aldi, Lidel and netto being a little cheaper still.

    All have there own brands which while not as good are fine when the need for a cheap feed is on the cards. Instant noodles currently go for 0.11p a packet, Pasta and sauce 25p, savaory rice 25p and a kilo of american long grain rice 0.40p.

    The other way to fill up is use the all you can eat buffets chinese style etc in Manchester were i live the cheapest in the city center go from less than £5 for lunch so you can have a really good feed

    http://www.buffetcitymanchester.co.uk
    http://www.buffetmetro.co.uk/

    last but not least almost as English as fish and chips and taken to heart by every beer loving male is the Doner kebab. here up north you can get a large Donner on nan bread with salad and sauces for between £2.50 and £3.50 you cant beat it.

    A Large Donner could easily be shared between two people and if you dont want meat a cheaper version is to just ask for salad nan which will prob set you back about £2 and make a nice luch with all the sauces

    In the chip shop (again up north) we like our chips and gravy, Curry sauce or a chip Barm-cake which all make a hearty warm lunch for £2

    The Pub chain Wetherspoons often have a pint of beer for less than £2 and i see they do a beer and a burger and chips for a fiver, or two main meals for £7.50

    As for beer check out the supermarkets again they always have a price war on and you can get some great deals on a case of 12-24 cans for less than £12 which split a couple of ways is a nice way cheap way to get merry.

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    • Wade Shepard August 6, 2012, 1:16 am

      Thanks for this advice. Will definitely use it next time I’m in the UK.

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