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Food for thought: Can you eat off £1 a day?

By Eric Brain Nov 17, 2017
Photo by Asa Aaberge.Eric in "distress" on his 7th day. Photo: Asa Aaberge.

Despite being a ‘hard-up’ student, I love great food. In the kitchen I get all Nigella with the white wine and decadent risotto, good cheese and fresh herbs. I am a sucker for quality and adventurous cooking.

However, according to Natwest’s Student Living Index 2017, the average UK student spends £78 a month on their supermarket shop, and another £62 a month on eating out and drinking. At a time where we are rinsing £205 a month from the bank of mum and dad, can we really be spending £112 a month on food?

That is why I have been set the challenge of living off £1 a day, cutting my typical food bill in more than half. £7 a week is less than my monthly Netflix subscription. I honestly thought my editor was having a laugh.

Clearly, I am not that hard-up.

Disclaimer: This was no easy task, and I did end up spending closer to £9. I’m a sucker for quality cheese and some nearly out of date tortellini.

The challenge begins 

For day one I tackled the classic Carbonara. Usually I make it with half a block of parmesan, then some cheddar, double cream – the lot. I found out that going back to basics, using an egg, milk and just a small amount of cheese and flour, combined with bacon and mushrooms, was completely ‘fine’. I even had it for lunch the next day.

Day two was harder. I really did not want to conform to the ways of many budgeting students by eating pasta religiously, but tortellini from Sainsbury’s reduced aisle at just 40p tempted me.

Day three and I was absolutely, incredibly and completely starving. Surviving from Wednesday mornings coffee until 6pm that evening was a real challenge. When I got home I made possibly the biggest portion of chicken fajitas there has ever been, consumed nearly all of it and laid in bed from the sheer pain I was now in. That, and the fact I just realised that I am only three days into my challenge and I have already used quite a bit of spaghetti, nearly all my chicken and mushrooms and most of my wraps.

Thursday was worse. I had the tiniest portion of last nights fajitas for lunch, which only made me hungrier. I went to town, the lunch spots I usually give my cash to are calling my name (we are on a first name basis now at Kokoro in Kingston because that is my spot), and I never knew I had such a power in me to turn that down. Spending £6.50 at Kokoro would be nearly as much as my weekly spend so far. A friend of mine stepped in that night offering Pizza. Free pizza. And even though they were not the best pizzas after sitting there for half an hour, I scoffed six slices easily, with free beer, which I downed about two or three of.

Because I had limited myself to chicken and rice, I used the most basic of curry spices from my cupboard and made a tandoor style chicken for Friday’s dinner. So yet again I had not eaten all day, mainly because I was working in London but also because I am doing this bloody challenge. I picked up some yoghurt (my only additional spend that was not from the reduced section), and again it was a good meal, but I always felt like I was wanting more food, flavour and complexity to my meal.

I took a weekend break to Portsmouth and, low and behold, there is decent food everywhere I turn. My girlfriend bought my lunch (which never, ever happens), and then we cooked a quorn bolognese together, using ingredients I actually had at my place, which obviously did not get used. She did go a little OTT with the extras, thankfully. I missed parmesan and olive oil and flavour so much.

Sunday does not count. Somehow my girlfriend found the money to take us out for dinner, again. It does go to show that £7 is not that great and we should try and utilise who and what is around us. Because for three nights (and two days) I had to be fed. I gave up on Sunday, treating myself to a fantastic cornish pasty and a coffee, three Krispy Kreme donuts and quite a few glasses of white – unfortunately not all at once.

What I did find though is that if you head down to Sainsbury’s at 6pm, everything is dead cheap. Which might make the slightest difference to my monthly food budget of £80. Here’s hoping.

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