Archie & Sophie Lent 2021: Day 3

The general, ever-present hunger is definitely starting to set in now. I started getting hungry for dinner at about half past 3 – normally I’d easily keep going until 6PM before I even thought about what was for tea! I’ve also been craving meat a lot – which is strange because I’ve been happily vegetarian for the last 1½ years and never before have wanted to go back. I will have to see if it persists or not but luckily the budget didn’t stretch to meat so there’s nothing to be tempted by

This week has also made me consider a lot more about waste. We’ve really made sure that we get everything out of every tin whereas normally if a few baked beans were left in the tin I’d probably give them to the dishwasher rather than scrape them out. After a busy day I was somewhat on autopilot when cooking dinner – and I started peeling our solitary potato and then put the peel into the bin… before realising that that’s a good tenth of a potato (and lots of fibre and nutrition) that we could have eaten! I was careful not to make this mistake again when preparing the rest of the meal – but I’d never usually think about eating absolutely 100% of everything I buy, even though I do try to be waste-conscious and not buy tons more than I need. 

I am also definitely discovering a few things I’d gladly have again even though I’d previously always gone for the branded versions. The cheap tin of soup we had today tasted no different to the branded version (I’m sure you can guess which…) which I normally buy. To be honest, there’s nothing this week that I would avoid eating again (although I might tweak some of the quantities up a little!)

Breakfast: Cornflakes, Sugar, Tea

Lunch: Half a tin of tomato soup, 3 small slices of toast with butter, tea and a biscuit

Afternoon snack: Half an apple and another biscuit

Dinner: Bean and tomato hotpot (recipe below) with rice. 

Ingredients:

1 tin baked beans, 1 tin chopped tomatoes, 2 small/medium carrots, 1 medium baking potato, ⅔ of an onion, Half a tsp salt, Half a tsp pepper, 1 Tsp mixed herbs, Generous tablespoon of margarine

Melt the margarine in a medium saucepan over a medium heat. Chop the onion finely and fry. Whilst this is cooking, dice the potatoes and carrots so that the pieces are no bigger than a 1cm cube. Add these, season with salt, pepper and herbs and put the lid on the pan. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then, add the beans and tomatoes. Rinse each tin out with half a tin’s worth of water and add that too. Then, simmer for approx. 30 mins. Serve with rice, potatoes, pasta or bread. 

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Hannah Lent 2021 – Day 4

I’m sticking with eggy bread, fruit tea and lemonade for breakfast and have counted the slices of bread I have left – enough for 3 more slices today if I need them, plus the same (4 slices altogether) tomorrow if needed.

We’re in the middle of redecorating our bedroom and today’s task was continuing to strip the old wallpaper and fill the holes on the walls we’d already done. We started this about 9.30am and I had a fruit tea and lemonade about 11.30am. Starting to feel a little hungry but this took the edge off and didn’t stop for lunch til just after 1pm. Soup, toast and a boiled egg didn’t fill the hole entirely but there was plenty more to do during the afternoon so it would be good to be busy.

We stopped around 5pm and I decided it was too early to be cooking tea so had another fruit tea and watched a bit of TV til 6pm ish then had a bigger dinner than I’ve had all week, knowing what I had left only needed to last one more day: pasta, hotdogs, baked beans, carrots and chick peas.

I thought about parents and families who’s children would be eating ‘early’ and so they might be cooking and eating at 5pm and then easily would be hungry again later in the evening and there wouldn’t necessarily be any more food to share or spare. I have a friend with 4 children and when I go round for dinner (pre-covid of course), they would be pestering mum for a snack while dinner was cooking, pudding or something to eat after – and we always ate ‘well’ in terms of a balanced plate and plenty of it – and all of them would want something during the evening. Often they would have crisps or fruit or a biscuit and while none of these alone are necessarily ‘expensive’, they all add up and the cost could easily provide another meal and that is a choice so many families across the UK have to make – a snack now or a meal tomorrow.

If you read Emma’s story from 2019, you’ll see this kind of situation reflected. She took her toddler on the shop and he grabbed a treat near the till and the cashier put it through without asking Emma. She requested it be put back as it wasn’t affordable in the budget but how many of us grab a last minute treat for ourselves or our loved ones without needing to do the maths of whether or not we have enough money?

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Norwich foodbank has run a project called FISH – ‘Food (and Fun) In School Holidays’ – since 2014. Local clubs were set up all over the foodbank’s geographical patch – coving Wymondham, Wroxham, Loddon and in between – and schools were asked to invite and register families who may struggle during the holidays when free school meals weren’t available.

In the summer of 2014, around 300 children attended at least 1 session and had a free hot meal, pudding and took part in free fun activities provided either by the volunteers from local churches and the community who helped to staff the club, or bought in with funding including Banham Zoo, Norwich Puppet Theatre and The Garage who provide music and dancing workshops.

Many clubs also ran sessions in the October half term, a Christmas dinner hamper in the Christmas holidays, February half term, Easter and May half term, with a few running in the long school summer holidays only.

During the pandemic, while vouchers for families were made available, thanks in part to the Marcus Rashford campaign, we heard of several schools and families where this wasn’t administered quickly or ‘well’ and so many were still struggling financially when schools remained closed. Several FISH clubs adapted quickly, as so many charities and other groups had to, and provided either takeaway meals for families to collect, or recipe kits including all the ingredients needed for a family meal. They also provided activity packs, some from their own resources and also given to the foodbank from Norfolk County Council and Norfolk and Norwich Festival Bridge.

Live on £1 a day 2021, Hannah’s shop

In 2019, Hannah (Project Manager for Norwich foodbank) and a few volunteers and supporters took up the idea of living on £1 a day for 5 days (in terms of food and drink) and wrote about their experiences. You can read their stories here: https://norwichfoodbank.blog/

2020 was a strange and challenging year for so many reasons and, rightly or wrongly, campaigns such as these weren’t run in quite the same way. But in 2021, routines have changed but are a little more ‘settled’ and Hannah and others have taken this idea up again to build a greater understanding and empathy with and for the individuals and families the foodbank serves every day, to highlight the difficulties tight budgets pose and, for some, as a personal Lent reflection at this important time for Christians all over the world.

Here are Hannah’s thoughts and comments on starting this 5 day period in 2021:

‘I had a read back through mine and other’s writings from 2019 as I wanted to remind myself why I was doing it, how I felt and if there was anything I could learn and do ‘better’ or differently this time. £5 does not give much leeway so, looking at my proposed shopping list and the items I bought in 2019, there were going to be only a couple of differences. In 2019, I bought a big bag of porridge oats and a bottle of squash totalling £1.74. I had a lot of both left over and while that is fine if living on this budget for a longer period of time – I would have technically more to spend the following week – it did feel like a ‘waste’ and I wondered at the time, could I have spent more wisely?

I am a creature of habit and I have toast with butter and marmite (huge fan) and a glass of fruit juice for breakfast every day. At the weekend I might add an egg or two, but this sets me up for the day and I enjoy it. Reading back on my previous breakfasts, the porridge really did fill me up, but I just didn’t want that this time and DID want toast so bread was firmly on my list. I decided eggs would be a good source of protein and although expensive (compared to other items), worth it. I toyed with the idea of having peanut butter, but decided on eggs as I could buy 10 and have one as snack if needed, whereas a spoonful of peanut butter didn’t feel like it would cut it! Time will tell… I decided to stick with cuppa soup for lunch and a loaf of bread meant I could have a slice at lunch too which would be more than I had previously, then a bag of pasta which would need do all 5 dinners with a combination of my 2019 additions of chick peas, baked beans, tinned tomatoes, fresh carrots and tinned sardines, but with an added tin of hotdogs for ‘variety’. I had added in a bottle of Aldi cola at 39p and fruit tea bags (couln’t afford my go-to rooibos and these were the cheapest hot drink I might enjoy – I don’t like green or peppermint tea), but switched to a bottle of lemonade as this was 29p and the cola put me over budget. I enjoy something sweet now and then and thought a fizzy, sweet drink would do the trick and was much cheaper than a carton of fruit juice or bottle of squash. Although thinking now, a bottle of squash would be only just more than the fruit tea and lemonade and could have done hot AND cold drinks…

I spent £4.98 and then had a panic when I got home as there was only 4 cuppa soups in the box and I thought there were 5 – I hadn’t checked to be fair. I looked back on the 2019 list thinking about shrinkflation (!) and saw there were only 4 then too, so the pasta stretched to 5 dinners and 1 lunch. I clearly have a very bad memory.

My shop is inadvertently dairy free, but as with last time, I’m thinking how much more difficult it would be for someone who has a gluten intolerance – the bread and pasta alone would have been half the budget I expect and not available every week at Aldi where I did my shop (there are often ‘specialbuys’ available, but these aren’t guranteed to be at every shop or that they meet the ‘right’ dietary needs).

I shopped on Shrove Tuesday, ready to start on Ash Wednesday and, while cooking pancakes AFTER dinner (a luxury for so many to have a pudding), I received a text from a client I had spoken to earlier in the day about sorting an ‘Energy Bank’ voucher to help with gas and electric. I hadn’t said when I’d do it, but the text asked if it would be today (it was 7pm) as she’d just gone into her emergency credit and was worried. I immediately sorted it out (we buy online voucher codes that are then presented at a PayPoint or Post Office machine for pre-payment meters) and thought about how grateful I am for hot water, gas and electric for cooking and heating and how I’ve never had to worry if there’d be enough for the day / the meal / the shower and how so many worry EVERY day. My £5 obviously isn’t going to cover the cost of cooking and I hadn’t really thought about this, but again this reminds me to be thankful.

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Norwich foodbank is part of the Trussell Trust UK-wide network, providing emergency food parcels for people referred to us by agencies or professionals who can help, advise and support the individual or family with underlying issues. The charity work with over 300 such ‘referral agencies’ including Citizen’s Advice, Shelter, Leeway, councils and Age UK.

Since the start of the pandemic, all 10 distribution centres closed and the foodbank moved to a 100% delivery model, taking referrals by phone and email and delivering direct to people’s houses on weekday afernoons and Saturday mornings. Lots of volunteers had to stop due to sheilding and ill health, lots of new people came forward to help out and, in February 2021, Norwich foodbank was approved as a frontline agency and around 80 actively involved, client-facing volunteers were able to get their first vaccination against Covid-19.

During the course of 2020, almost 15,000 food parcels were delivered – a 22% increase on 2019.

If you would like more information on the work of the foodbank, have a look at their wesite http://www.norwichfoodbank.co.uk or followon social media – Facebook = Norwich foodbank UK, Twitter and Instagram = @norwichfodobank

Live on £1 a Day: Emma Day 5

Breakfast – Weetabix with water. It’s pretty grim but here’s no milk and I didn’t have time to go to the shops yesterday. I feel terrible about not having time to do a top up shop, but I just couldn’t fit it in between work and picking up the kids. Being on a budget makes being organised about food that much more important, and I’m feeling the strain. I top the kids up with extra milk (not in budget), and I’m not working today so I can go to the shop. I’m feeling optimistic knowing that this is the last day of the Lent appeal.

I eat the last two remaining biscuits mid morning and then go to the shop. We need milk, bread and fruit and there is £1.17 left in the budget. I don’t have enough money for all of these, so I spend ages trying to decide whether milk is more important for the kids, or fruit. I don’t know if there’s a right answer, but I decide to prioritise milk (for the kids) and bread (for lunch).
In the shop my 3 year old is hungry, and tries to convince me to buy him treats. I would normally just buy him whatever he wanted without too much thought, as I can’t bear the thought of him being hungry. When we get to the checkout he has picked up a treat, and he passes it to the cashier to scan. She does so without asking me if that’s ok, so I have to ask to put it back, and the cashier looks surprised and then embarrassed.

It’s nice to have some fresh bread and we both enjoy lunch. Its not enough for my 3 year old and he also wolfs down a yogurt, banana and a bag of hula hoops – none of which are in budget.

It’s a long afternoon with no snacks. I don’t have the energy to play and run around after my son that I usually would, maybe its because its Friday afternoon after a long week, or perhaps because we’ve been living on empty carbs all day.

Dinner is chicken fillets, sauce made with carrots and tinned tomatoes, and spaghetti with frozen veg. I am so sick of spaghetti but the food tastes good, and its’s a hit with the kids. I would rather give them fresh meat but I know they are guaranteed to eat this frozen breaded stuff, and its cheaper. My husband would normally eat at least twice as much food as he has for dinner this evening, and its hard to watch the kids finish their meal and ask for more while we are still hungry. Knowing that this is our last meal of the lent appeal lifts our spirits.

I’m relieved I won’t have to choose between feeding myself or feeding my kids tomorrow, or worry about whether they are getting enough nutrition. The kids have cereal and milk for supper, and we go to bed counting our blessings, looking forward to a good breakfast tomorrow.

END

Live on £1 a Day: Emma Day 4

It’s day 4 and I frankly can’t wait for this to be over.

I’m hungry and tired. We have run out of fruit and milk, and today will see the last of the bread. I look forward to finishing off the eggs for breakfast, and kids enjoy boiled eggs too so it’s win-win. I put spread on my toast without even thinking about it – although it’s not in budget. These apparently small things make such a difference – things I usually take for granted.

I am so grateful that we have tea bags in our shop this week. The tea and occasional biscuit (although today will finish them off) are keeping me going, and again I am so grateful to not have to worry about what the kids are eating during the day. There’d be nowhere near enough food if they weren’t eating at school.

Sandwiches (again) for lunch. I’m getting fed up of having the same thing over and over, and I think I can’t face it, but in actual fact I’m starving and eat it really quickly.

The afternoon goes quickly because I am busy with work, but everything does seem a bit harder / and I’m a bit more tired than usual.

I’m really looking forward to roasted chicken thighs for dinner. Protein and fat is just what I have been craving; the portions just aren’t big enough. The kids grumble but eat it anyway. Dividing up the food between 4 of us and deciding who gets bigger / smaller portions is by far the biggest challenge this week.

Thank goodness this will be over soon.

END

All our bloggers have got to a point within their 5 day period of living on £1 where they’re looking forward to day 6. But for many people, this is daily life with no end in sight. One issue that’s very topical currently an could help people significantly is reducing the 5 week wait between making a Universal Credit claim and receiving the first payment. The Trussell Trust have launched a campaign called #5weekstoolong and you can join in by signing the petition to call on the government to reduce if not scrap this waiting time that is built into the claim period. Details are here: https://action.trusselltrust.org/5weekstoolong

Live on £1 a Day: Emma Day 3

I’m really feeling it now.  I’m tired and hungry and fed up.

Breakfast is weetabix for everyone.  The kids also have yogurt (not in the budget) and we share banana.

In my rush to leave the house I forget my lunch (chicken sandwiches).  I could cry, but realise that I have always taken for granted that when that happens, I can pop out and get something else.  I count my blessings.  

Dinner looks good.  The kids love the potato wedges and spaghetti hoops, but I wish we had some protein and more veg.  I’d love a roast chicken right now. I’m hungry again very quickly after dinner and eat some biscuits.  My husband is very hungry, he could have eaten twice this amount.  I’m finding it a challenge to know how the share out the food we have.  The kids are small so should they get less, or more because they are growing?  My husband could eat more than the rest of us put together, so should he get more?  I don’t know.  How can I make these choices?

I top up the kids with fruit and milkshakes (not in the budget).

END

We know that mums often go without food and other expenses (new clothing for example) to ensure their children are fed and clothed and have their needs met and we expect that there are several partners who ensure their other half is seen to before themselves also – so they are at least 3rd in line in terms of needs being met.

In the film ‘I, Daniel Blake’, one thing that struck many viewers was when Katie (the female lead), on receipt of her food parcel, opened a tin immediately and started eating. Many were shocked, but sadly this is something we see every week at least during the foodbank session. Due to time constraints or embarrassment, people often come to the foodbank after they have exhausted all other options and sometimes haven’t eaten for days.

All of our centres offer hot and cold drinks as well as biscuits and cake for those who come for our help, but 3 centres also offer a free hot meal for foodbank clients. This not only means the 3 day parcel stretches that bit further, but a hot meal can be enjoyed immediately and we are showing that little bit more care and love to those who access our service.

Live on £1 a Day: Emma Day 2

Up and out at 5am today for work, breakfast is overnight oats (oats and milk) on the train. I have had to be more organised than usual and plan / make food the night before. The kids have boiled eggs and toast, and I am again grateful for school / nursery meals – otherwise I would have to save the eggs for lunch.

It’s a really long day and I am getting lightheaded, so I wolf down lunch at 11am before I remember to take a photo. I’m offered a coffee at work and I’ve never been more grateful – I’m not sure if my headache is tiredness or withdrawal for the coffee. I have a whole banana to myself and feel really selfish for it; I should have shared it with the rest of the family.

By mid-afternoon I’m really really hungry, and have a desperate (and unsuccessful) rummage in my handbag for stray sweets. No luck. As soon as I get home I eat several biscuits and feel rather ill.

The kids are hungry and enjoy the spaghetti (spaghetti, veg and sardines). As soon as they realise there are sardines in the food they start messing around and throwing it on the floor – its infuriating and I feel like I haven’t brought them up correctly. Then I feel guilty, they are just kids after all. I didn’t like dinner either, and I feel bad I haven’t managed to make a ‘nice’ meal.

This evening I notice that I’m not hungry, but I feel bloated and unwell with all the stodge. I just want some food that I really like. I don’t feel like I have eaten well. When I’m bathing the kids they seem so fragile – especially my 3 year old – I need to make sure they are well and taken care of, and FED. They are so small and still growing. How would it affect them if they don’t get the nutrition they need?

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At the risk of being repetitive – again! – as part of the Trussell Trust network, Norwich foodbank supplies nutritionally balanced food parcels, with 3 days of food. A report compiled by a nutritionist was updated in April 2018 and you can read it here: https://www.trusselltrust.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2018/06/Food_Parcel_Report_April_2018.pdf

The food parcel has enough food for breakfast, lunch and dinner plus some drinks and snacks (tea / juice / chocolate / instant noodles for example) and assumes the recipient has nothing to add – so therefore 9 complete meals. As all items are non-perishable, it is a little limiting but will still meet the nutritional needs of the person during the 3 day period the food covers.

This is why foodbanks so often say ‘we really need X’ (see yesterday’s post – pasta sauce and sponge puddings!) or sometimes ‘we don’t need X’ (for example we’re really well stocked with baked beans, soup, pasta and cereal) because we need to include a variety of items including, but not limited to, the foodstuffs we have in abundance.

We hope this helps to explain what goes in a parcel and why we are sometimes so prescriptive!

Live on £1 a Day: Emma’s Shop

Years of meal planning and budgeting with a young family (two grown ups, a 7 year old and a toddler) have left me feeling well-equipped for this challenge.  Although £4 per day for a family is a smaller budget than I’ve had in the past, I am interested to see what is achievable with some thought and planning.

I confess that after half an hour browsing online grocery shopping my enthusiasm was waning a little.  I don’t know what sort of food to prioritise – pasta, bread and porridge to keep us full, but we need fruit, veg and protein too and I’m surprised at how expensive this is.  We definitely can’t afford tea, coffee or chocolate, puddings or yogurts. I realise we will also miss stock cubes, herbs, salt and cooking oil a lot this week.

I find room in the shopping basket for a packet of biscuits, and think about how much money we spend on food we like rather than the food we actually need.  I can’t find a way for us all to have enough veg and a piece of fruit every day, and I’m not sure whether the kids will eat some of the dishes I have planned.  (What if they don’t?  They’ll be hungry without snacks to keep them going.  I realise what a privilege it is to have options and how awful the pressure to feed your kids must be if you don’t). Its stressful trying to balance all these priorities and I don’t know what the right answer is.  Feeling like a bad mother I pack the shopping basket with tinned tomatoes and pasta, and hope it will all fall into place somehow.

I thought about ‘click and collect’ but this would cost £2 – I never really thought about the hidden costs around our weekly shop! I spent £18.74, leaving £1.26 to spare. 

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We are so grateful to all those who support us with donations. This blog reminded me that we have really incredible donors and some of them will do a food shop and have it delivered directly to the foodbank warehouse! Sometimes this is done anonymously and sometimes we have the donor’s details so we can thank them which is great and we’ve had deliveries from all the major supermarkets. Just remember to switch the address back to your home address for the next shop… we received someone’s shopping once because of this! If you are thinking of donating, check with your local foodbank as to what they need most – Norwich foodbank currently needs long life sponge puddings and pasta sauce please.

Live on £1 a Day: Imelda Day 5

Last night’s meal was another tasty recipe from the Jack Monroe cookbook – mixed bean goulash with rice. Lunch was an indulgent vanilla filled doughnut which tasted incredible since I had nothing fancy or sweet all week ‘til then. I was visiting a friend’s house and didn’t want to turn up empty- handed so found this doughnut bargain – 5 for 50p  (I managed to bring one home as a treat for Chris!). Little things mean a lot on a budget and he was extremely grateful! I spent the remaining 36p of the budget on knock down bananas to put on toast for breakfast today and make a sandwich for lunch – they were actually 40p but I was desperate!

Tonight’s meal is a simple ‘spaghetti Arrabbiato’ from a recipe given to us by an Italian friend – one of our favourite light supper dishes. However, best served with a glass or two of red wine! We are surprised we have not missed alcohol too much this week (so far… tonight will be a big test!).

As we come to the close of the 5 day timeframe, our evening meal was a fiery spaghetti dish with half an apple each to follow. Our provisions have lasted and we have been successful in maintaining a varied and sustaining diet (although we would have liked more fresh fruit and veg). It has been an interesting and rewarding experience from which we have grown in our understanding of the issues involved in managing life on a low income. Our involvement in this project has stimulated much discussion amongst our family and friends around the day-to-day struggles of low income individuals & families.

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Check back on Sunday when we’ll be sharing Emma’s experience as her family of 4 will be living on £1 a day each for all food and drink next week.

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!