About a week before the challenge was to begin, my boyfriend, Alex, and I sat down with some pen and paper and planned our spending for the full 5 days. We didn’t plan every meal down to the letter, but close to that. I’m gluten intolerant, and gluten free bread is much more expensive than wheat bread, so immediately we crossed that off our shopping list. No bread for 5 days.

5 days of living off £2 a day. I’m sure there have been times in my life when I’ve lived off the same or less, but I can’t say that it’s been a common experience for me. I asked my colleagues what they’d done and was told when they’d taken part in the challenge with their partners in the past, they took it as £2 each per day. This immediately put the budget for Alex and me up to £20 for the 5 days.

We decided to calculate our spending based on what we used. For example, we bought a 500g bag of rice because that is cheaper per 100g than a small bag of rice. We carefully calculated how much enough rice for one meal would cost and weighed out the exact amount per meal so we weren’t going ‘over budget’. We also used oils and spices we already had in the house, and carefully calculated the equivalent cost of the small amount we used for one meal. Of course, some people would see this as a bit of a cheat, as to actually buy the herbs, spices, oil, rice etc. in bigger quantities costs more than the allotted 5 day budget. We decided that doing it this way was enough of a challenge for us. And a key word there is ‘decided’. We didn’t have to live on this budget, it was our choice, as part of the Appetite for Change challenge, but it really brought home the reality that for many people it is not a choice. I can’t emphasise enough how much this helped me put myself in the shoes of those I was raising this money towards supporting. Until you experience it you don’t really know.

What did we eat?

I don’t think I still have the sheet we used to record our meals and our spending, otherwise I could be more precise.

Fruit and veg is not too pricey so we were able to get in some good budget options which we mixed in with all our meals.

Mornings:

We had porridge every morning. This was new to us – we weren’t in the habit of eating porridge, but we found it the most cost effective yet filling morning meal for us. We got a bag of pears and chopped them up onto our porridge.

Alex and I are big on our cup of coffee in the morning, so we bought the cheapest bag of ground coffee we could find in Lidl, and calculated the cost of how much we would use per day. Also, the coffee was good.

Lunches:

These mostly involved rice or pasta with tinned kidney beans or chickpeas and some carrot, onion, spices, herbs, tomato. We may have had it with a tin of tuna mixed in for one or two of the meals, if I’m remembering correctly. We were both working that week so we had to make sure we had our lunches ready and packed for the day. There was no room in our budget for shop bought sandwiches or anything like that. One time, there was a bag of crisps in the office that no one liked. It was already open and no one else wanted it. In the name of preventing food waste, I ate them. I didn’t want to tell anyone in case they accused me of cheating the challenge. But now you all know.

Snacks (other than guilty crisps):

Snacks are difficult on such a limited budget, however I wasn’t prepared to go through the week without something for my sweet cravings. I made a basic pear cobbler based on a recipe I found online, with tinned pear, and cocoa powder. Using cocoa powder instead of chocolate was a cheaper option.

Tea time:

OK, I made a mistake with this one. I remembered that liver is a very cheap product to buy, and so I bought some within our budget so we could enjoy it for one or two of our dinners during the challenge. I haven’t prepared liver before. I remembered the lovely liver stews my aunt makes for me; the meat being very rich but balanced well with the flavours and got some suggestions from her for cooking it.

I got myself into a right tiswas cleaning the liver, and picking the sinew out of the raw liver, as the packet instructed. I was making a mess and feeling like this was all way too much trouble than it was worth. I started getting frustrated and stressed and by the time we finally sat down to eat I was not in a good mood. I could hardly face the meal – there was too much liver on my plate and it is a rich flavour – it was too rich for me to have more than a couple of bites. We had a rethink. I froze the rest of the liver meal which, by the way, Alex happily ate another time, but it didn’t feature again in our Appetite for Change week (or in any of my future meals). Luckily, we’d been frugal enough to have a little bit of the budget unspoken for, which made up for the liver disaster.

Our other dinners were much the same as our lunches, if I remember correctly. Starch based to fill us up – with pasta or rice. Getting in as much veggies as we could. Protein in the form of tinned pulses and some animal protein when we could manage it within our budget.

I later found out that my aunt doesn’t bother cleaning the liver and picking out the sinew before she cooks it, and it turns out beautifully. If I had known I may have saved myself a bit of trouble!

What did I take away from it?

Alex and I both like the kinds of meals we ate during the challenge, so it didn’t feel like we were missing out too much. I liked everything we ate. Except for the liver. Overall, I felt like we ate really well that week, but to do so required a lot of forward planning, crunching numbers, and teamwork.

Appetite for Change was a bonding experience for us where we developed our skills in teamwork and communication. We had to plan for a week or two in the run up to the challenge and review our budget every day during the challenge. Even though we were pretty sure we had done our calculations well, there was quite a lot of checking and double checking.

Appetite for Change also helped me learn what good friends I have and how lucky I am to have them if I was in any kind of trouble. A couple of friends contacted me that week asking if I wanted to have a drink or a meal. I replied back and said I can’t, I’m on a tight budget this week. I didn’t expect them to think much more of it, but I had replies back offering to come round with food and a bottle of wine! I was touched by their gestures. I had to let people know, it’s OK, and explain the challenge to them. One friend dropped a bag of broccoli off at my door, she’d written on it ‘From the Broccoli Fairy’, which was just adorable. We did allow ourselves to eat that broccoli during the challenge. I mean, technically free food is within the rules right? But we didn’t want to go too far with that as it was an important part of the challenge for us to eat what the budget allowed us.

The challenge inspired us to change the way we spend money on food shops. We now allocate a set budget that we both contribute to each week. This started after Appetite for Change 2020, and a year on we are keeping that up. Meals out, takeaways or bottles of wine are not included in the budget, if we want those things we use our own personal budgets. But we do sometimes find we have enough left in the food shop budget at the end of a week to treat ourselves to a takeaway from the money left. That’s pretty cool, and it feels good that we’re not spending excessively on our food shops.

We also continued eating porridge with fruit for breakfast all through Autumn and Winter, as we realised it is a pretty decent hot breakfast for the cold winter mornings.

We bonded, we had fun, we got frustrated, and we tried new things. It was good to feel part of a community of people taking on the challenge together, sharing experiences, and raising money for a shared cause. For anyone thinking about trying the Appetite for Change Challenge, I would say go for it.

Funds raised

I raised £36 towards CFINE’s work tackling food poverty. A small drop in the ocean, but I’m proud to have contributed to the impressive £11,642 raised by participants in the challenge in 2020.