Sunday, 21 April 2013

Live Below the Line

That stray fiver in your pocket what can you get for it? A coffee and a pastry? A sandwich from Pret and a magazine? How about living on it for a whole week, that’s a pound a day – not enough for a metro ticket or an egg mayonnaise sandwich... Could you do that?

You're walking in to the supermarket and you only have one solitary little gold fella to spend, what would you buy? What springs to mind? I started by racking my brains for the cheapest things in the supermarket. A bread bun, a tin of beans or soup, a packet of rice, a baking potato. What can you think of that costs less than a pound? And then how would you make 3 meals with it? Not just your lunch, but every meal for the whole entire day... It doesn’t really seem feasible does it?

Last week I received an email from Oxfam asking me to take part in the Live Below the Line challenge. A campaign to help change the way people in the UK think about extreme poverty and also raise money through sponsorship at the same time. Surviving on this small amount each day is the reality for the 1.4 billion people worldwide, currently living below the Extreme Poverty Line. The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living on the equivalent of US$1.25 (2005 PPP) a day, roughly the equivalent of £1 here in the UK. I was pretty quick to say yes, I worry about people not having enough to eat and I feel terribly guilty when I throw food away or waste anything.

I began with the question of what I was actually going to eat... I started with research, meals plans and recipe pricing. I'm aiming to actually make my food, not just buy cheap tins and ready meals, but it's pretty difficult to be that imaginative with £1. I've been researching the cheapest vegetables, cheapest grains, cheapest tins... Meat is out of the picture, it's just too expensive. Eggs are a possibility but only if I buy battery ones, cheese no, drinks no, fruit no, greens no... perhaps I can stretch to a couple of bananas... Root vegetables and pulses are cheap, flour, pasta, spices and rice too... But you can't have all of these, just two or three things really, because by the time you have bought some lentils and some vegetables you're £3 down already.

It's the lack of choice that is so very difficult, not just being hungry, but such little scope for variety or opportunity. If you buy rice then it's rice all week, you can't have pasta and lentils and rice and vegetables, just one or two options, that's it.

I started with the idea of buying a chicken and roasting it to make salads, sandwiches and chicken soup; but even a cheap battery chicken is about £4, sometimes cheaper if it's on offer. So you also have to make choices about animal welfare and food provenance, if you only have £1 a day can you afford to care? You can get Asda smart price eggs for 9p an egg, the free ranges ones are 17p each.

There are some rules. You can price things like spices, herbs and salt by the gram, so you can add flavour without having to buy a whole pot of spice, but everything else needs to be bought and priced for the whole packet or tin. You are allowed to use food you have grown, as long as you factor in the cost of production, unfortunately I only have some damp seeds in pots at the moment which do not look like a tasty snack...

So far on the menu I have planned a roast butternut squash soup; a butternut squash at £1, a tablespoon of vegetable oil at 2p, a stock cube for 6p and half an onion for 12p, roast then blend. It makes about 4 portions and works out at 29p per portion. That covers lunch, with 71p left to make dinner. It's hard, so I'm hoping to find something amazing on the discount shelf at the last minute.

Flatbreads roll in at at only 3p each if you make them yourself! Winner! I'll be eating a lot of them I think. 150g of flour with half a teaspoon of salt and 80ml of warm water makes enough dough for four flat breads. With a bowl of daal, full of spices and onions, that sounds like a lovely meal. But once I have bought a bag of lentils, it will be lentils every night I guess... Lentil kofte, lentil burgers, lentil soup? Couscous and rice are cheap, pasta is cheaper. Ideas for my menu so far include couscous with roast butternut squash, pasta with spicy tomato sauce, chickpea curry and rice, homemade hummus, leek and potato soup, curried parsnip soup and baked potatoes.

'Cheap Family Recipes' is a brilliant blog with very cheap, priced, imaginative meals, if you are looking for inspiration, as is the Live Below the Line Facebook page which is full of photos of meals people have made so far, it is pretty pulse heavy, so I see I am making similar choices to the rest of the folk taking part. I will be updating my blog with my progress if you would like to keep track of how I'm doing.

My current menu is looking a little as follows, it seems that I will be mainly eating butternut squash, lentils and flatbreads...

Sunday – Roast Butternut squash soup for lunch with a flatbread, Lentil daal and flatbread for dinner

Monday - Homemade hummus, carrots and flatbreads, Roast butternut squash and chickpea stew

Tuesday – Roast Butternut squash soup for lunch with a flatbread, Chickpea, Paprika and Vegetable stew

Wednesday - Vegetable soup for lunch with a flatbread, Lentil and Carrot Curry with flatbreads for dinner

Thursday - Homemade hummus and flatbreads for lunch, Lentil daal and flatbreads for dinner

I might have a bit of a break from flatbreads when I'm done! My shopping list is basically dried lentils, dried chickpeas, a butternut squash, root vegetables and flour. I might be able to stretch to a few bananas, and I'd love to come across a bag of discounted spinach so I am eating some greens!

From the 28th of April to the 2nd of May I will be doing my bit and raising some money from sponsorship. If you would like to take part yourself, you can sign up on the website, it is really very simple. If you click here you can sponsor me, read recipe updates before the challenge, and follow my progress day by day during the challenge.

So far people who have signed up have raised £216, 254 through sponsorship. Over the course of the 5 days, Live Below the Line is also running in Canada, Australia and the USA simultaneously, with more than 20,000 people spending 5 days living below the line. 

Sponsor me and find out more here:



  1. Oh my goodness it is so hard to do. A real eye-opener. We are so fortunate to be able to eat a variety of delicious things all the time. Well done for doing it, a very worthy cause.

    1. Thank you so much for your donation!!

      Anna x


Happy cooking! Let me know if you make any of my recipes, send a picture, and let me know any of your own recipes and tips! Anna x