From 12th to 16th April I Lived Below The Line. My challenge – to raise awareness and funds for world poverty by living below the line, like 1 in 7 people who live in poverty. I lived on just £5 over 5 days. That’s £1 a day, just 33p per meal.
It’s been a couple of days since I finished the challenge and I’ve since had the time to reflect on some thoughts on my personal challenge as well as what this was all about – world poverty. I hope I did the best I could do with such a challenging list of ingredients, both in terms of nutrition and in meal enjoyment. I did this challenge because I wanted to show that even in challenged times there are better decisions to be made that will have a positive effect on our health. Not the best, of course, but better. That’s all we can try to do. On the whole, each meal tasted good, and was initially satisfying, thought it’s clear that essential nutrients were missing, particularly those from fresh fruit and vegetables. Not all of my meals gave me supreme amounts of energy or kept me full till it was time for the next meal, but then that’s the whole point right? Experiencing true hunger is something we (I?) don’t force upon myself as often as I should. What’s more judging by the amount of you who’ve been reading my blog posts and following my progress I’ve also helped to raise some interest in this fantastic challenge which in turn will help to raise money and awareness of those less financially fortunate than us.
I collaborated with Live Below The Line on my challenge and my resource pack containing the meal plans, shopping list and all recipes is available to download from their website (as well as below). This resource pack was beautifully designed by the talented illustrator Zoë Kelland. As a result I hope more people will be inspired to take on this challenge following a ‘whole foods’ mantra.
I enjoyed the challenge, mostly because I felt inspired to be doing something for a great cause (it also helped that London had some glorious blue-sky weather last week which always helps to put a smile on my face). I’m lucky that I love cooking, and I have trained as a chef, so find the budgeting, meal planning and cooking from scratch aspect – though time consuming – an absolute breeze. I can see now why people choose processed foods for a quick fix – for example during my shopping trip I couldn’t help notice that a packet of value ready mix cake was 22p. That, plus a caged egg at 8p would get you a victoria sponge for 30p. Why, when this is so cheap would anyone on a low budget have the incentive of buying flour, eggs, milk, sugar which would come to far more? Same goes for 15p cans of rice pudding. I’m fully aware this ‘privileged knowledge’ is not a normality for many. Throughout my challenge I was continually aware that when it was over I would be going back to my ‘normal’ diet – something to look forward to. If £1-a-day was my reality I don’t think my outlook would be so sunny.
What was the hardest bit? I had expected that not having a morning coffee, enough fresh food or satiating fats would be my low spots. Other than a few headaches on the final days, as well as a little fatigue (I suspected dehydration to be the culprit) it turned out the hardest bit was being thrown from my usual routine. I stayed away from my feel-good yoga classes (usually £10-12 a pop), and basically spent the rest of the 5 days as a social hermit as I figured that would be easier. This essentially got a little depressing since social interaction is a huge factor in personal wellbeing. Before the challenge I’d been so focussed on the food & nutrition aspect of living below the line, I’d not even entertained any thoughts that having no money could potentially lead to social isolation.
Was it all bad? Well no actually. Restricting myself to 3 meals a day because that’s all I had planned was incredibly liberating. No brain space used up fighting the urge to snack on something naughty or have a greedy second helping because there was none. It made me realise at times I probably eat too much. I also found myself consciously eating my meals more mindfully because I knew I had to savour them. This is something I am continually trying to be better at. I also went 5 days without coffee without as much withdrawal as I thought I would experience. Finally, apart from the white carb bomb (= sugar) rice I consumed on the challenge this was essentially a sugar free diet for me. I can’t remember the last time I went 5 days without a honey/date/coconut sugar sweetened treat or other. These observations are of course based on my personal ‘whole foods’ approach to this challenge, observations I wasn’t expecting to uncover. Perhaps I could learn a thing or two about simplicity in this indulgent world.
My favourite meal? A toss up between the curry – which I was happy to eat 3 times – and the mezze meal. I also really enjoyed the shakshuka (though it didn’t keep me that full), the last minute addition of kedgeree and the pancakes.
My least favourite meal? The white bean soup. It tasted just fine, but really wasn’t sustaining enough and having this for lunch on the first day was not my wisest idea. I also had a few issues with my oat flat breads crumbling on occasions. Not the end of the world, but could be better if dough made fresh for each bread.
How did it fit with my every day life? I work partly from home on freelance projects at the moment, so I had easy access to my kitchen most days. This made meal prep incredibly easy, but then I guess I’d planned my menu knowing this. If I’d been preparing packed lunches for an office job you would have seen more cold rice, and hard boiled egg options for sure. I already mentioned my dire social life.
Will it change me? I’d like to think yes. I’d like to think I’ll become more aware of the way I spend money on little treats in life. Spending any money in the days after the challenge felt torturous, and with each penny spent I felt guilty, instantly comparing the amount spent with how many days that would fund below the line. I’m not talking about cutting out essential things like good quality food to prepare and cook at home, but the coffees here and there, the impulsive health food shop new fangled ingredient purchases, the occasional pedicures that can easily be done at home. The challenge made me very aware how fortunate I am, and that sadly so very many people just aren’t.
What would I change next time? I’d possibly rethink the way I planned my meals. For example soup probably better in the evening rather than at lunch, when it just wasn’t enough to keep me going. Stew & rice on the other hand was just perfect, maybe an additional stew instead of 2 soups? Boring but then I’d rather be nourished than bored. I’m sure the classic staples would remain in my shopping basket, but I am certain there are other tricks that can be done to shake things up a bit. Did I need rice and oats as carbs? Could I have swapped one for a bag of protein-rich lentils of even thriftier split peas. Did I really need 12 cheap eggs? Also, because I did the challenge on my own – rather than as, say a family of 4 – the £5 was a little restricting in choice. It would be really interesting to plan a 5-day meal plan for a family of 4 on just £20. Very different demands I’m sure. It also made me wonder about, say a £10 or £15 a week challenge and how much more nutrients you could get in for just a little more money. Perhaps we’ll see some budget menus on the blog in future? If so, be warned as 50p tins of omega3 rich sardines will feature! To keep the ideas flowing I took the liberty of setting up a pinterest board with lots more suggestions for recipes based on these frugal ingredients – So do check it out!
Would I do it again? I used ‘next time’ in the sentence above so I guess that’s a yes!
In case you missed any of my posts here’s a recap
- Intro & what’s in my healthy shopping basket
- Healthy meal plan
- Thrifty Preparations
- Day 1 eats & recipes
- Day 2 eats & recipes
- Day 3 eats & recipes
- Day 4 eats & recipes
- Day 5 eats & recipes
Thank you so much for following my story, and a special thank you to those who sponsored me. I’ve enjoyed every tweet, comment and conversation I’ve had with you all. Also a huge thanks to Live Below The line for working with me on this project. It’s be enlightening and inspiring to say the least.
The official dates of the challenge are 28th April – 2nd May. Now you’ve a tested and proven meal plan to follow there is no excuse not to go ahead! There is so much useful info on the Live Below The Line website or just search the hashtag #belowtheline on twitter/facebook/instagram to find tonnes of other people enduring the challenge. Best of luck if that’s you!
If you’ve also done the challenge or are thinking of I’d love to hear from you. If you’re a blogger make sure to leave a link to your live below the line in the comments below, I’d love to read your stories!0