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!

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 2

Felt a bit woozy on my walk with the dogs first thing, I think it was likely because of the lack of sugar and salt as I was probably dehydrated after my run. Busied myself around the house changing the beds, ironing and doing a bit of tidying to try and keep my mind off the fact I had woken up hungry. Arrived at work and got myself a glass of water, was lucky enough to be made three cups of tea throughout the day, but that is way short of what I usually drink so did miss it.

Lunch was homemade broccoli and cheese soup today. This is actually my favourite and I often make this and take it to work. I did go easy on the cheese though as that little block has to last the whole week. It has made me realise just how much cheese I eat, we regularly go through 2–3 blocks of cheese a week!  Again, I had two bits of bread and spread to try and bulk up my lunch.

I do appreciate the fact that I go out to work as it kept me busy so that I wasn’t constantly thinking of food, however I did find myself hungrier than usual today and would have loved to have grabbed an apple, a bag of crisps or a bar of chocolate to fill the gap in the afternoon.

When I got home from work we made a pizza base and, while the dough was proving, we took the dogs for a walk.  My other half said he’d not been feeling well all day and while we were walking, he had to sit down as he was feeling so dizzy. All I could think about was getting home and making the pizza. This was where I said I was going to cheat: I had a pepper, a few tomatoes and mushrooms that were already out of date and needed to be used up and I couldn’t wait. When shopping they had sold out of tomato puree and I toyed with getting passata, but didn’t buy it as it would have meant I had to go without something else.  Instead I pureed some of the tinned tomatoes to make the base layer to build everything on.

The pizza was amazing! I usually chop chillies and then dip it in mayonnaise so had to miss out on that, but it was still great.  We just watched telly in the evening and would usually have had a bottle of beer, but stuck to water.

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Angie’s pizza reminded us of our FISH clubs (Food (and Fun) In School Holidays) for low income families and one of the children’s favourite activities, which is DIY pizzas with the Morrisons Community Champion. We have done this on several occasions, thanks to Geoff at Morrisons Riverside, and he brings all the foodstuffs needed and the children can add wahtever toppings they fancy. Something we’ve always noticed, and we have had shop-bought pizza for lunch on a few occasions – the meals the children make themselves (and we’ve done DIY wraps too!), always result in fewer leftovers.

We think this could be the same for the parents too as we trialled the Joy of Food cookery course alongside FISH last year and the adults who took part were so chuffed with the meals they created and enjoyed them for their tea each week.

We’re currently trialling recipe kits at the foodbank, giving clients the opportunity to take a bag of specific ingredients and a recipe home, alongside their food parcel to try.

Those of us who enjoy baking and cooking for ourselves and / or for friends may do so just for fun and if it goes wrong, it doesn’t really matter. But trying a new recipe while on a tight budget can be risky – what if it goes wrong – what will we eat instead and I’ve now wasted that meal’s money. If the children or family members don’t like it, what do we eat instead; there’s no backup. The recipes are going down well so far, watch this space for..!

Live on £1 a Day: Angie Day 1

Got up, walked the dogs and got ready for work. When I arrived, there was a cup of tea on my desk waiting for me – I have some lovely colleagues!  I started to feel hungry around 11:30am, but as I said before I am trying not to eat until 12pm; I left my lunch where it was and sat it out.

Lunch was homemade tomato, onion and butterbean soup. I also added a handful of pasta to try and make sure that it was as filling as possible. I’d used potatoes to thicken it up and myself and my partner had two slices of bread and olive oil spread. I have to say that I didn’t notice the difference in the bread even though we had omitted the sugar from the dough. It was very nice and I am extremely glad that I had bought stock cubes in my shop as I think it would have been pretty bland without.

The afternoon went well and I had several cups of tea made for me and I drank plenty of water. I usually graze throughout the afternoon, even if it is healthy grazing that I do and I missed this a lot. I found an apple on my desk and gave it to a colleague although I would have loved to have eaten it myself. By about 4:30pm I was getting really hungry; I started thinking a lot about food and what I could make with all the potatoes we bought. 

I didn’t leave work until 6pm as I was meeting some friends to go for a run. I am lucky that I have a hobby that, once you have the kit, it’s free, but it does make you think about what you would do if you needed new trainers and had to choose between new trainers to allow you to continue doing something that you enjoy and is good for your mental wellbeing, or having food to give you the fuel to do it.

I often find that running dulls my appetite and when I got home I wasn’t that hungry. At around 8pm, we had beans on toast as that was something simple and quick. I missed adding some chopped chilli to my beans – I grow my own and have a freezer with lots of varieties – but I was determined to stick to what I bought so they stayed in the freezer. I often grate some cheese on top as well, but left that off as I need enough for my pizza, broccoli and cheese soup and for any pasta I will be making later in the week.  It does make you think about the things you take for granted…

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We’ve mentioned before during these blogs about the nutritionally balanced food parcels, as set out by the Trussell Trust, but it’s worth mentioning again! Today, we had a school visit from a year 5 class who came with a large donation of items and lots of well thought out questions. One student asked ‘how much money do you [the foodbank] spend on food each week?’ and the answer is not very much at all, thanks to our amazing supporters, listening to our needs and responding. We send out a monthly ‘most / least needed’ list to those who have requested it (around 80 recipients, several who represent groups), highlighting the items that we really need, but also the items we don’t need due to high stock levels.

If you’re local to Norwich and would like to support us, look at our website and social media pages to see updates on what we do and don’t currently need. If Norwich isn’t your local foodbank, get in touch with them as we know they would really appreciate giving you up to date info on how best you can help.

Live on £1 a Day: Kathryn Day 4

The weekend is here – 48 hours stretch out in front of me with no specific plans.

Breakfast – cornflakes and milk

Lunch – pasta, vegetables with soft cheese

Tea – beans & cheesy mash potato ‘pie’

Very tired today – that could be due to the previous evening activities – but I admit that the thought of cornflakes was not welcoming as they don’t fill me up.

This is going to be a boring blog day – I really didn’t do much apart from housework, washing and knitting. Normally a day to myself without the pressure of work is welcome but the day dragged as I was just focused on when I could eat next.

One good thing was (due to an inspired tip from my sister) I made ‘crisps’ from my potato peelings.   To think I was going to throw them away – but baked in the oven they came out crispy and were a welcome snack during Saturday evening .

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Norwich foodbank is part of the Trussell Trust and follows their model of providing 3 days of nutritionally balanced food in each of the parcels given out. Because of this, the mixture of items is really important and so when we ask for certain foods, it’s to ensure we have a good stock of ALL required items. Baked beans, pasta and cereal are donated the most as they basically cover the main meal staples, but this also means many foodbanks are extremely well stocked with these items. Therefore, things like milk, fruit juice and sponge puddings (all long life of course!) are in shorter supply and are even more gratefully received.

Norwich foodbank currently needs sponge puddings if you’re in a position to donate and if you’re in need yourself, do get in touch with the office on 0103 251733 or via the email admin@norwich.foodbank.org.uk

Live on £1 a Day: Kathryn Day 3

I’m tired and weary today.   Could that just be a Friday feeling or there are other factors at play…?

There have been a number of interesting conversations in my office – for those staff who have heard what I’m doing and understanding why I’m more grumpy than usual.  It is great to hear the debates and making people think about what they take for granted and what they are (genuinely) grateful for.

Breakfast – cornflakes and milk

Lunch – pasta, vegetables with soft cheese

Late afternoon snack – small amount of spaghetti hoops

Tea –  NONE!

Food planning has been a challenge again today.   Due to knowing I’m out volunteering straight from work this evening, I’ve brought some of my spaghetti hoops for a snack to help me last the evening.

The relief that a cup of tea was offered first thing prompted a spontaneous hug for one of my colleagues.   Never been this emotional over a cup of tea before!

I will say here that it was noted at work that I was far more irritable and snappy than normal during the day.   I was asked a number of times ‘are you Ok?’

I was very glad for my late afternoon snack as my evening plans were a lot longer than expected and didn’t get home until past 9pm.   I’ll be honest, I was beyond being hungry and I didn’t have any tea.

The weekend is looming and I’m not looking forward to it.

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One myth about those who use the foodbank is that everyone who comes, is on benefits and not in work. Well many people are in employment AND need our support – this may be due to zero hours contracts which mean income is unstable and budgeting is near-on impossible, or it may due to low wages / low hours due to childcare or other commitments.

Some of you may read this blog and be thinking about food choices and shopping and hunger, but another point to sharing these experiences is to help better understand and therefore empathise with those who struggle day in, day out to make ends meet.

Live on £1 a Day: Hannah Day 5

Another lie-in for similar reasons as yesterday, but an evening later night out! I had two glasses of soda water while out with friends yesterday – I honestly didn’t feel jealous or miss having a drink as I’m often the driver, but despite my drink looking like lemonade or a spirit and mixer, I did feel like I was being a martyr (they knew what I was doing and so offered to buy me a drink but I politely refused because not everyone has people who could or would do that) and also like I stood out as not being able to afford a drink.

As I said yesterday, having a limited income doesn’t just impact your diet but your social activities as well and being isolated because you can’t afford to take part, can have a major impact on a person’s mental health, existing friendships because if you have to keep saying ‘no’ when invited out you may stop getting invites and on making new friendships.

Breakfast

Porridge with blackcurrant and carrot sticks later in the morning for a snack.

Lunch

As I’d run out of soup, I had pasta with baked beans. I realised at the start of this 5-day period that I would need to ration my pasta – usually when I cook pasta, I put in a couple of handfuls but because I needed it to last 6 meals (5 dinners and 1 lunch), I have been having 85g per meal; probably a similar amount to my handfuls but I didn’t want to run out on day 4.

I sometimes (!) get cross with my husband for eating something that I had plans for – either something that was going to be the next day’s lunch or tea or eating too much to leave a whole portion for another day. If this happens, I’ll be annoyed, but there’s always something else in the cupboard / fridge / freezer that can replace the eaten item. This weighing and rationing out of my food supplies hasn’t been stressful for me because I know they won’t be eaten by accident (labelled in tubs in the fridge or just not appealing to hubby!), but I can’t help thinking of families with hungry children or adults in the household who innocently eat something needed for another meal and the cook or breadwinner worrying what can be done, having to give smaller portions to everyone or having to go without so others can eat.

I didn’t have much on today and I usually love a lazy day, but today I was more restless and felt hungry and it just demonstrated how much snacking I do during the day and how many times food punctuates my time. A cup of tea here, a piece or fruit or crisps there, another cup of tea or other drink, pop out to do errands and have a coffee out, invite people over or go round their’s for a drink / something to eat / take some chocolates round. I have been more and more aware how much food and drink is linked to social activities and if you can’t afford it, it can be tough. ‘Shall we get a coffee? Shall we get a takeaway?’ etc. I know I’ve said this kind of thing before, but this has been one of my ‘takeaway’ (no pun intended) lessons.

I roasted the remaining chickpeas as an afternoon snack and they were nice, but I usually put garlic salt on and that would have been tastier… Throughout this 5 days, I haven’t thought about the cost of the gas or electric to cook the food I have been eating, although this would be a concern for many of those who are on a limited income.

This winter (November til March), foodbanks across Norfolk have been partnering with agencies to enable clients using the service to access emergency payments towards gas and electric to help them cook the food we give them and / or heat their home during the colder weather. I’m fortunate that I don’t have to choose which I spend my money on, but many do and it’s a very hard decision.

Tea

My last meal of the 5 days was the remaining pasta, tomatoes and sardines. I’m left with 17p, 2 carrots, a glass of soya milk, most of the bag of porridge oats and half a bottle of squash. If I did this again, I would buy different things as I got in a muddle about value for money (hence the big bag of oats when 8 instant sachets would have been tastier and the same price), but at the same time if I was spending £5 tomorrow for 5 days, I’d have an ‘extra’ £1.70 ish to spend, as I’d have oats and squash left from this week. I’m thinking I could have done £40 for the whole 40 days of Lent, so that’s an idea for next year maybe.

I did find that I felt full before I’d finished my bowl of food. I don’t know if this is because I’m getting used to smaller portions, or because I was bored of the same things and just didn’t want any more (I finished it, I don’t like waste) and I’m already thinking about tomorrow and whether I’ll feel ill eating a ‘normal’ 3 meals which will be bigger portions, even if just more fruit and vegetables. I do need to think more about portion control as I haven’t felt bad at all on this ‘diet’, despite my working out that if I had a portion of all my food items (and it was only today that I had a little of everything I bought), I have had between 500-600 calories a day. I don’t have a particularly physical job, but for those that do, I don’t think this is anywhere near enough to maintain a healthy lifestyle on.

I’ve also realised that I eat what I want, not necessarily because I’m hungry – ‘I fancy some chocolate or crisps’ – but I could have had a bowl of porridge if I was actually hungry and I didn’t. Therefore I can’t really have needed anything. Something a mum always says…!

Norwich foodbank – and multiple foodbanks and other charities across the UK – run holiday clubs for low income families to attend for a free hot meal and free fun activities. Part of this is to help provide a meal when free school meals aren’t an option, but the activities side can be just as important, as outlined above – for the children to socialise during the school holidays, but also for the parents. Norwich foodbank’s project FISH (Food (and Fun) In School Holidays) has been running since 2014 and has helped to support 11 clubs, seeing hundreds of children and serving over 6,000 meals (not including seconds, thirds or puddings!). Some of the clubs welcome the whole family, others provide activities for the children and space for parents to relax and meet other families in their community and some allow the parents to have a break while the children are entertained for a couple of hours. Have a look at the facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/FISHfoodbank) for more information or email fish@norwich.foodbank.org.uk if you would like to know how to receive this support in the holidays or are able to help in some way.