Live Below the Line Lentils

Day 3 of Live below the Line Week started really well. I made a lentil curry. Using fresh vegetables and lentils and coconut mil from a local independent store this was a very cheap and nutritious meal. It was also really tasty. I am not a vegetarian and I don’t think I ever will be, yet, having no meat days is a the way to eat well on a low budget.

I ate a lot of vegetarian food when I was a volunteer at Lentil as Anything in St Kilda, Melbourne. I really enjoyed my time working there, they are a great team and the philosophy of this social enterprise is amazing. There are no prices on the menu. Instead customers are invited to give what they feel the food is worth and have the opportunity to donate to the philosophy.

The food there is so tasty and filling, you do not miss meat. I had one customer, who had never eaten in a vegetarian cafe before. He was a retried man from Yorkshire. Now Yorkshire men are weaned on roast beef! If there is no meat on the plate, it isn’t considered a meal. Needless to say he loved his Moroccan Hot Pot. He was cool guy actually, taken early retirement and was visiting his children who lived in the USA, Melbourne and New Zealand. Living life not watching it from afar.

Working there had inspired me to make more vegetarian meals. this was from a Weight Watchers cook book and the ingredients were very cheap.

Lentils £0.80 as used half a bag

Coconut milk £0.25 as use 1/4 of a tin

Carrots (6) £0.18

Potato (1) £0.06

Onion (3) £0.09

Curry Powder £0.10

Garlic £0.03

Organic Vegetable stock £0.10

Total £1.60 and it made 5 lunches so that is about 32p per portion. I had egg on toast for breakfast. Home made bread and an egg from my chickens comes to about 10p.

So far so good. I can live below the line if I eat like this. Only 42p of the £1 allowance per day gone and I have had two meals.

So here comes the #fail. I went out that evening to a Social Media Surgery. I also had to go to the Apple Store to fix a problem on my iPad, so I was in Birmingham most of the afternoon and evening. I was hungry. I bought a pasty from Gregg’s at 91p. One pasty and that would break the budget for those living below the line.

It doesn’t stop there. A friend had come to the surgery and we had arranged to eat out and try out beer at a pub I had been recommended. Dinner at Bodega was £10 and the real ale at the wonderful Post Office Vaults was £3.40.

Definitely went over the budget then. I don’t regret the money spent on a really good meal at Bodega, but the 91p for a vegetable pasty, I do. For those who have to live on a limited budget in the UK every day, a 91p pasty may seem a cheap and filling option.

Learning to cook is one of the most important life skills. Headlines like this Our Hidden Poor and the growing number of food banks is worrying and are not a solution. They are a band aid. I hope that those taking part in Live Below the Line will continue to consider the cost of the food on their plate, reduce waste and whenever they can, share cooking and shopping skills to help those who live below the line, not from choice for 5 days but from necessity. Every day.

Live Below the Line. Planning to fail.

School Meals Time

School Meals Time (Photo credit: coreycam)

Never Seconds is a brilliant blog about school meals that has made headlines in the UK. Move over Jamie Oliver! however much he tells parents and children that most school meals are crap, the power of a 9 year old blogging makes the front page. Take a look to see what £2 gets you in a state school in England.

Some kids from lower income families are entitled to free school meals, yet there is low take up of these, in some of the most deprived areas. Why is this? Perhaps because what they get is really poor quality food and the parents would rather make a packed lunch for them. Or that they don’t know that they are entitled to a free meal. Or that the stigma of having to claim is upsetting and that the children may get bullied if they are on free dinners.Some go home to eat but many go to the local fast food outlet. I don’t really understand how families who live below the line can afford to turn down a free lunch and I would urge anyone who is entitled to free school meals to claim them. I would also urge all of you to lobby get behind people like Jamie Oliver who campaigns to improve the quality of school dinners.

Have you turned down free food this week because you were taking part in Live Below the Line?

Free Lunch!

Free Lunch! (Photo credit: LexnGer)

Can families in the third world afford to turn down handouts of food. What about food banks? Do they solve a problem or are they just a sticking plaster?

So now is my confession time.

Confession 1. I accepted a free lunch on Thursday. I was attending a training event at SCVO and there was a buffet which I indulged in.  This would certainly take me over the £1 a day allowance if I had been sticking to it.

Confession 2. I had already spent £1.20 on a sausage sandwich for breakfast at the Bookworm Cafe in Smethwick Library .

Confession 3. Due to lack of planning and communication there was no dinner ready that evening at my house. Takeaway curry it was then.

Chicken balti from Delta Indian Takeaway, Edin...

Chicken balti from Delta Indian Takeaway, Edinburgh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Total spend on food for just me, on Thursday 9 May was a staggering £8.20, not including the free lunch! #fail

The reality is that to eat well on a limited budget is that planning ahead is crucial. Failing  to plan, is planning to fail. Plan what you will be eating and when, check what you already have in the store cupboard and make a shopping list and stick to it. Check out the cheapest place to buy food, and buy seasonable fruit and veg. Eat meat free as often as you can.

It was lack of planning that resulted in the sausage sandwich and the curry.  I did enjoy it though! I also realise how lucky I am to be able to make these choices that people, who have to live below the line, every day, don’t have.

Living Below the Line, a literary perspective

This quote is from Small Island, a book I am currently enjoying as part of a Read Aloud group called Make Friends with a Book. Reading it made me think of the dilemma people on the Live Below the Line challenge would go through when faced with the temptation of free food. Did you surrender, like Gilbert?

I swear I could still feel the fingertip touch of Queenie’s hand on my arm from that afternoon when we first met. Sitting at the table in her mother’s kitchen she had served me with a cup of milky tea. I had gratefully taken it from her hand but declined to add the sugar she offered even though, as everyone is aware, tea is disgusting without it. She had then presented me with a large delicious-looking hunk of crusty pork pie. Despite my mouth watering so that my drooling was visible as a dog before a bone, I refused this repast. Why? Because of Sergeant Baxter. It was this man who taught me, and all his colony troops, that owing to shortages and rationing in Britain if invited for food into someone’s home the polite response was to say no, thank you — perhaps with the excuse that you had eaten already. ‘They can’t go giving the likes of you all their precious food,’ this sergeant reasoned. ‘So act like you don’t need it.’ ‘No, thank you. I have already eaten,’ I had said. ‘Are you sure?’ Queenie asked me. ‘

Homemade traditional English pork pie

Homemade traditional English pork pie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tell me of pork pie?’I then asked. ‘Is it an English delicacy?’ There came that laugh from nowhere — an alarming sound, which suddenly filled every corner of the dull and dour room with dazzle. ‘Well, I think we’re the only ones daft enough to eat it, if that’s what you mean?’ I hoped my envious eyes were not protruding too obviously as I watched her take the first mouthful of her slice. But as she chewed, this pretty woman began to smile. It was then that she had gently laid her hand on my arm. Looking mischievous wide blue eyes into mine, she’d said, A word of advice, Airman Gilbert. Never be polite in a butcher’s house. You eat as much as you like.’ Oh, she was so charming that afternoon. With Sergeant Baxter ignored, I just had to surrender.

Still not Living Below the Line

Living below the line is not really a lifestyle choice for me, it is a necessity. Since returning from travelling, I have not yet found a job and my husband works part time. It is one of the reasons I chose not to join the Live Below the Line challenge, as I guessed I was pretty much already keeping to a very low food budget.

Instead I decide to blog about food, cooking  and how to live well on a limited food budget and see how much exactly I lived on. There are three adults in the family and we eat together most of the time, so most meals are for three with leftovers usually for lunch the next day.

One way that helps is to work on economies of scale. I don’t buy one onion I buy a bag. The one above cost £1.69 from Asda and I guess there are 50 small onion in it, so I sometimes use 2 for a  meal at an approximate cost of 3p each.

Tonight dinner is toad in the hole.I will be using a recipe from this book.

The sausages were 2 packs of 6 for £4 which does not make them cheap, however cheap sausages are mainly water and rusk, these are 97% pork and gluten, wheat and dairy free and I would rather have high quality meat and less of it than eat mush.

Today I had tea first thing and accepted a croissant at a friends house for my late breakfast. Lunch was left over Chicken Macaroni from yesterday.

What it cost today.

Tea and milk 4p

Croissant 25p

Lunch nothing as it was left overs accounted for yesterday

Good quality sausages 66p

Egg 5p (from my chickens)

Milk 5p

Onion 3p as per yesterday

Courgette 11p

Carrot 3p as per yesterday

Potato 6p from an Aldi 69p bag

Mushroom 25p

Flour 5p

Total £1.58 as the pictured baked beans will not be on my plate. They cost 30p.

The Croissant was an unusual indulgence, and the mushroom was expensive at 25p, from  a pack of 4 for 99p I had bought to go with a meal last week. It will make me think twice about spending that much on a mushroom in the future!

Yet the purpose of this blog is too see how much I spend on food for myself,  rather than meeting the Live Below the Line challenge. My personal challenge is to see how cheaply can I can eat well without resorting to low quality ingredients, making real savings be made by buying fresh, seasonable food and using supermarket value lines such as tinned tomatoes and ketchup, instead of buying premium brands.

I realise I have a better life than those living in real poverty around the world, who have nowhere warm to sleep, no schools with young children forced into sweatshops and separated from family.   Yet with the rise of food banks in the UK are we, by giving away food without support to learn to cook meals that are nutritious, tasty and cheap,  just handing out the fish and not the fishing rod?

Not Living Below the Line

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Live Below the Line

This week is the start of Live Below the Line week. People all over the world will be feeding themselves on the equivalent of what many families in extreme poverty have to live on every day.

For the people participating and raising money for charity, living on £1 a day is a choice they are making. and I wish them well and hope a lot of money is raised.

I hope they do not forget that for many it is not a choice but a reality. And while scouring the supermarket for the cheapest sausages they remember that they have the choice of pasta or rice and beans or spaghetti while for others there is no choice. It is rice, or rice. They don’t have the opportunity to see if pasta is cheaper in Tesco or Asda. And have never seen a tea bag.

So I am not participating, fully. I am going to track what I spend and am going to feed three adults on as little as possible. I am going back to an old favourite cook book published in 1987 called How to Feed Your Family For £5 a Day, by Bernadine Lawrence. Not for her plastic bargain bread at 47p or cheap frozen veg and a jar of pasta sauce. She advocates baking your own bread and cooking fresh, seasonable ingredients, providing healthy home cooked food.£5 book

My view is that at a time where more food banks are springing up to help more and more people who are having to choose to eat or heat, or believe that fast food is cheaper than shopping and cooking, the real issue in the UK is that so many people do not know how to cook. And I worry that this campaign is encouraging unhealthy eating by providing menus based around cheap sausages and plastic bread.

So I’m costing up my meals, cooking from scratch, using left overs, but I’m not taking part in the campaign.