Live on £1 a Day: Imelda Day 4

We are managing OK – not waking up feeling hungry, but missing fresh fruit and veg which we normally eat SO much of with Chris having an allotment.

We have had several discussions this week about the economy of growing your own food when living on a tight budget: how accessible is growing space for those in households with low incomes? Whilst flats offer little, most council houses have gardens, and tubs and window sill pots are great for herbs. The issue is more about education and knowledge both in terms of growing and using homegrown produce, especially herbs to flavour potentially bland food. The recipes we have been using in Jack Monroe’s cookbook rely heavily on herbs & spices. Many call for fresh coriander which we couldn’t afford on our budget so had to omit! Growing herbs on window sills seems a ‘middle class’ notion when this actually provides an excellent means of adding flavour to budget meals.

At Chris’ allotment site there is a community project called ‘Grow your Own’, providing smaller individual plots inside raised wooden boxes areas. Help and support is provided to get started in the process. This initiative was set up by an man who was himself living on a low income and who recognised the importance of enabling others to include fresh produce in their diets. The project is a great success and has developed over the years into a social & well-being vehicle too. A communal hut and picnic tables have been added and a harvest swap and share is in operation.

Perhaps as an add-on provision at distribution centres there could be a ‘seed’ bank where people could collect donated seeds…? Where does this education start? Many schools today are great at this and some even have school allotments; the message needs to be continued through. Maybe by having seeds to grow yourself available alongside your foodbox, this would prompt & remind people that grow your own is an option…? Anyone out there willing to take this on…?

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We had support from allotment sites when they have gluts of various fruit and vegetables, especially in the summer, which has gone to support both foodbank parcels and also our FISH clubs – contributing to the meals but also being given out to families to take home for tea.

We love the idea of helping people to grow their own – it would be much more sustainable if it were kept up, but as Imelda says, where does it need to start – when people come to foodbank, things have got pretty desperate and to think about the future in terms of planting, growing and nurturing produce, would seem like a bit of a way down the list of things to do. But getting involved in projects that are already up and running like the one at Chris’ allotment mentioned above, and also TCV in Lakenham –
https://www.tcv.org.uk/eastern/tcv-norfolk/tuckswood-food-growing-project – the results would come a lot quicker and hopefully literally plant a seed in people’s minds to keep going and keep coming back for the many benefits this kind of activity provides. Definitely food for thought and something to signpost people onto when they come to foodbank!

Live on £1 a Day: Imelda Day 3

Morning observations – cheap loaf of bread has more slices as cut thinner, therefore goes further!

Tea is definitely a diuretic, particularly effective with no dehydrating alcohol or coffee!

We were just thinking about the shopping we did this week and how much of the stuff is available in the foodbank boxes that Chris helps put together in his volunteering role within the warehouse. It made us realise even more how helpful – no, essential – the foodbank support is and how sad it is in this day and age that so many people need this kind of support.

Another thought… We know the importance of education and knowledge to healthy living and good budgeting, so would it be helpful to put a photocopy sheet with a Jack Monroe recipe or two in the foodboxes as meal suggestions? I believe Norwich foodbank has been donated a complementary copy of the book from the author who sounds like she would allow copyright for this purpose?? I am sure funding could be found for this. [see notes at the end for an update…]

Wow! Chick pea and peach curry is going to be on our menu again! It was quite delicious! I was feeling hungry as I had done Pilates today and over 4 hours working in the garden and needed something both filling & tasty!

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Well Imelda, great minds think alike! Norwich foodbank did indeed receive a donation and, like many foodbanks across the UK, are the proud owners of Jack Monroe’s ‘Cooking on a Bootstrap’ cookbook! Many of the recipes included can be made using foodbank donations (i.e. tinned / long life items), with only a few cheap additions in some cases – just an onion and some garlic in many of the recipes.

With permission from Jack, we have been trialling recipe kit bags at one of our busiest centre, with really positive feedback! We’ve mentioned previously, and it’s echoed in this blog, that tight budgets can lead to limited choices and trying a new recipe with different foodstuffs to what you would normally buy / choose, can be very high risk. The recipe kits give the opportunity to try new dishes with all the items and instructions, so very low risk.

Keep following these blogs to find out more and check out Norwich foodbank on social media (facebook, twitter and instagram) to see more of what Norwich foodbank is doing.

Live on £1 a Day: Imelda Day 2

Yesterday’s experience has resulted in much discussion around the wider issues of coping on low income amongst not only ourselves but also friends and family reading our blog. It has been so interesting to hear wider perspectives and to dwell on them. Our daughter raised some thoughts around the social issues and the knock on effect this has on wellbeing.

Today we have an actual example of that. We have our granddaughter here for the day and my friend and her granddaughter coming over to play and share lunch. How do we host them on our budget? In the ‘real world’ this would indeed be an issue. However, we have the luxury to decide not to involve them in our challenge. We have plenty of eggs & cheese in the ‘house’ fridge (we have set aside the other fridge as our Lent fridge… goodness, I feel so guilty having two fridges now!). We can offer them scrambled eggs on toast with grated cheese on top. Oh how I longed for grated cheese on top of my beans and jacket potato last night! We are however using our Lent loaf for their toast!

As my mind is focused on this topic, I had a discussion with my friend this afternoon about buying goods cheaper in bulk and the fact that those on a tight weekly budget can’t afford the initial outlay. For example, I talked about buying 4 tins of tuna to get a cheaper cost per can, but with my budget, I could not afford the multipack and would have to opt for the much dearer single can. My friend said she used to wonder why people on reduced income bought small packets of washing powder as it is so much cheaper to buy the larger sizes. Now she knows.

During the last two days we have learnt that keeping busy seems to be the best way to distract from the need for food. We were well ready for our evening meal today! Burgers in buns, made with crushed kidney beans, grated carrot, onion and cumin. Surprisingly yummy! See photo.

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Another good point made about quantities and prices here. Due to the labelling and related health and safety / food safety issues around splitting big quantities (all the information needs to be recreated from the original and for most foodstuffs, being airtight would be a requirement), the majority of foodbanks ask for smaller items to be donated – 500g of sugar instead of 1kg, smaller packs of washing powder rather than ‘family size’ ones – because two 500g bags can help support two families, one 1kg bag can only help one family, albeit for a longer period of time. We are genuinely grateful for all donations and we do understand that smaller quantities can cost the donor more, but hopefully this explains why we are sometimes so specific in what is needed!

Live on £1 a Day: Imelda Shop & Day 1

My husband and I accepted to undertake the foodbank’s Lent appeal of living for five days on a food budget of £1 per day each to highlight the struggle many people face on a daily basis.

The money we save this week will be used to supplement the donated food we use to provide hot meals and basics for the homeless of Norwich, as part of the Anon Street Team.

Today is the beginning of this journey. We agreed to adhere strictly to the brief if we possibly can, so no dipping into our own cupboards or using any produce from our allotment! To prepare for this, we decided to select main meals for the 5 days, as these would form the major intake each day. We could then make a shopping list and see whether it was possible with the pooled resource of £10. We would also need to buy staple food such as milk, bread, margarine and tea (we had decided to abandon coffee for the period as it’s too expensive and Chris disliked ‘cheap instant’.

The best resource here was a Jack Monroe cookbook which our daughter-in-law loaned us on hearing our plans. This book is amazing! It was written by Jack when she was struggling as a single unemployed parent and is full of healthy budget meals prepared using simple cheap ingredients. Apparently our children use some of these recipes as family favourites and particularly recommend the burgers (made from kidney beans) and the chick pea and peach curry!

So, with our five menus chosen and shopping list in hand, I am off to Aldi in the hope that I can purchase everything I need for the £10 note I have in my purse…

Well that was an interesting shopping experience! I bought ‘basic’ in everything I could and the bill came to £10.28. I was planning to add on teabags (40 for 29p – (I had previously bought a box of 160 for £1.15 & planned to take a 40 pack out). Also, I planned to split a previously bought multipack of tuna to get my can at the best price. Decisions have to be made! I have decided to dump the tuna bake, normally our cheapest meal of the week, and replace with jacket potatoes & beans. Now I could remove pasta & sweetcorn and add another tin of beans. I already had the potatoes as an extra for a lunchtime! Also, as we are only doing 5 days I decided to be more realistic with the quantities we would be using of the packets we bought and reduce costs accordingly (every penny matters when you are on such a slim budget). The adjustments made, I am left with 86p. I would love to afford some fresh salad or green veggies; let’s see how we go!

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We’ve mentioned in previous blogs about our relationships with FareShare and Norwich FoodHub and we’re so glad to receive fresh fruit and veg through these collections – as Imelda says, this is something that she wishes her strict budget could allow for. The foodbank parcels are nutritionally balanced and all include tinned fruit, vegetables and beans, but it’s really nice to supplement this with extra, fresh items as supplies allow.

Lots of other charities and groups – including the Anon Street Team that Chris and Imelda volunteer with – also use donations from FareShare and FoodHub to provide meals to many in need around the city of Norwich. We’re very grateful to our volunteers who collect and distribute these donations, but also to all those who volunteer with FoodHub and those who coordinate the FareShare collections to help all those who ultimately benefit from this food.

Live on £1 a Day: Angie Day 5

It’s the last day. I can almost taste the chocolate that has been sat in the fridge since before I started this. Walked the dogs and did some more weights as I won’t be running again for a couple of days. I’m surprised how well I actually feel; I thought I would be worn down and totally fed up by today, but I’m not.

Lunch was a cheese sandwich; I was able to make the slices of bread nice and thick to fill us up.  We only had the tiniest bit of cheese left for tonight. I have been impressed with how we’ve made 1 block of cheese last the week, it does make you realise how much of the things you like that you use. I really should eat less cheese as I don’t need the extravagance of just how much I usually use.

I had to go and do some shopping after work as we have visitors tomorrow. I bought a pack of sausages to add to the pasta with tinned tomatoes and onion, as this made a lovely meal and will definitely be something that I’d do again.

Reflection: I am extremely fortunate! I haven’t always been and because of that, I don’t think I would ever take for granted the fact I am able to make choices about what and when I eat. It made me realise that although I probably eat very similarly to how I did last week, when the choice is taken away from you it feels very different. I probably missed chocolate more than anything else, but I was determined to stick to it and didn’t touch the bars of chocolate that were sat in the fridge. I also realised just how much I snack throughout the day, mostly they are healthy snacks, but not being able to graze constantly hit me hard.

I am lucky that I was able to go out and do ‘free’ things like running with friends. Even going to the pub was not traumatic and I didn’t feel embarrassed about only having water. 

It was interesting asking friends to try and do a shopping list for a week allowing a £1 per day per person.  When they actually thought about it, they realised it was much more difficult that they initially thought. It also made them think about how much they spend each week and what would they change if they didn’t have the funds available that they have now.  Hopefully it has opened their eyes a bit to the challenges that people face day to day.

Live on £1 a Day: Angie Day 4

Woke up feeling remarkably good! Probably still the endorphins from running last night, but I think my body is also getting used to the reduced amount of food it is getting. Took the dogs for a walk and then did some weights when I got back before having my shower.

Lunch today was pasta, not too exciting as it was just tinned tomatoes, butter beans and onion, but there was lots of it and it definitely filled me up. So much so that I didn’t manage to eat it all. My colleagues are still supplying me with tea throughout the day and it is definitely appreciated!

Tea tonight was simply jacket potato with beans and the tiniest bit of cheese. We used up the last of the potatoes, but there were only small ones that were left and it didn’t look as though I had that much on my plate; however it did fill me up. I have to say that drinking water all evening is getting a bit boring. I would have liked some squash, but that will have to wait until day 6.

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Universal Credit (UC) has been in the new a LOT over recent weeks, months and possibly even years. At foodbanks across the country, clients are attending because of difficulties transferring (or ‘migrating’) from one benefit to UC, because of making an initial claim of UC and waiting – on average – 5 weeks for the first payment to be received and issues around budgeting with fluctuating monthly amounts.

The Trussell Trust are running a campaign called #5weekstoolong to call on the government to end this initial waiting period. Have a read about it all here: https://www.trusselltrust.org/five-weeks-too-long/ and if you want to support this campaign, do sign the petition (link in the page) – over11,000 people have signed up already!

Live on £1 a Day: Angie Day 3

Woke up feeling Kk, but worried about my other half.  As I was walking the dogs, I decided that he needed to start eating properly again or he was going to make himself ill.  This highlighted how difficult it could be for someone doing a physical job to have to have limited funds to buy food and maybe not be able to fuel themselves properly to eat. He burns on average 3500 calories during his working day and given that we were probably eating less than 1000 calories a day, it showed how difficult it could be for someone with a physical job.

Lunch was homemade broccoli and cheese soup again, simply because I love it. We both had bread and spread with it to bulk it up. I didn’t actually feel too hungry today, but I did notice that I struggled to concentrate on my work as well as I should and found myself double checking things to make sure I hadn’t made mistakes.  Again, this is something you may not necessarily think about, but how easy is it for someone that is hungry to concentrate on what they are doing if they are at work?

When I got home, I made myself a single piece of bread and spread with a very thin bit of cheese.  We were going to the running club that we are part of and I knew that I would struggle if I didn’t have something else to eat. I should have planned better and taken an extra sandwich to work. While we were waiting to go, I made a cheese and potato pie with beans for our tea for when we got home and some pasta for the next day’s lunch. It has been challenging trying to make 2 tins of beans and 2 tins of tomatoes last for 5 days, but I think I managed it as there were still some tomatoes left for our last tea. We went running and after we finished, we all went to the pub as usual. Oddly enough I didn’t feel too awkward asking for a glass of water with a slice of lemon, I guess that’s because lots of people have water as well as a drink when we go there after running.

I have to say that the cheese and potato pie was amazing when we got home.  We stuck it in the oven while we were showering and although it didn’t have as much cheese as we would usually have, it was delicious and made me think I should do this more often because it was so easy and quick to heat up.

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One of the foodbank myths is that everyone who uses the service is on benefits, but we often see people who are in full or part time work and the wages they receive just don’t make ends meet. Sometimes this is due to zero hours contracts and it’s extremely hard to budget and manage when your income fluctuates month by month. Sometimes it’s simply low wages and the outgoings have been reduced as much as possible but there’s still not enough. Sometimes it’s when someone has started a new job and extra expenses (travel and uniform for example) are incurred before the first pay-check is received.

As Angie’s partner found, living on a reduced income often means reduced calorie intake and this can make a physical job tough, if not impossible. We have met people at foodbank who have lost their job because they can’t afford to get there or because of ill health and missing too many shifts – a vicious cycle, resulting in a visit to the foodbank which is absolutely not what we want to see happening.

As part of the Trussell Trust, all our foodbank parcels are nutritionally balanced so if a client who receives our support has literally nothing else, the food parcel includes everything they need from a nutritional point of view for the 3 days the food covers.