My ‘Live Below The Line’ challenge 2013

I’ve just done my Monday to Friday shop for this weeks Live Below The Line challenge.

I live and eat on a very small budget already, and several of my friends have asked me what would be so ‘challenging’ about taking part in Live Below The Line for me.

Well, most of my recipes are built around a 1.25kg vegetable bag I find in my local supermarket for £1. First hurdle this morning – they haven’t got any in stock. So I find myself in my supermarket, thinking on my feet with my fiver in my hand. Mentally rewriting my meal plan for the week, I picked up an onion and headed for the frozen department.

I also normally build my meals around the herbs growing on my window ledge, and the spices I have accumulated one at a time over the past year. I won’t be using those this week at all.

In fact for the next five days, I will only be eating anything I manage to buy for five pounds in total, from today until friday. No store cupboard essentials that I have built up over time, even on my stringent budget.

I’m going back to where I started from, just under a year ago. No cumin, no garam masala, and although I had the chilli plant back then, I won’t be using it this week.

Those of you who have read ‘Hunger Hurts’ on my blog know where my story began. For five days, fifteen meals, five pounds, I’m going back to the start.


Total food for the week:

1kg frozen mixed veg, 75p
411g lemon curd, 22p
White medium loaf, 50p
1l unsweetened soya drink, 59p
1kg white rice, 40p
500g corn flakes, 31p
400g chopped tomatoes, 31p
400g chopped tomatoes, 31p
400g kidney beans, 21p
13g mixed herbs, 30p
500g spaghetti, 39p
1 onion (125g), 11p


To donate to Live Below The Line, a global poverty project, click here:

If you are taking part in this years Live Below The Line challenge and want to share your experience, get in touch at

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe


    • I don’t know, I was going to work that out next! But I’m not sure the point is to have a ‘perfect’ diet. I’ve tried to get carbs, protein and veg in but haven’t done the nitty gritty sums yet, I was going to do them day by day…

    • Recommended. When I follow them guidelines I put on weight. 🙁 Which is a shame because I love eating. more like 12,000 a week for me, but I’m only 5″3 so it might be that…

  1. I would love to do the challenge but already have fresh food in that will go off if I start from scratch tomorrow! But I’ll be with you in spirit. Incidentally, Sainsbury’s sell 400 grams of chicken livers for 99p. Excellent source of protein and vitamins A and D plus iron. Also, why don’t you have a Nectar card? You’d get something back! PS: I don’t for Sainsbury’s! But I’m also a huge fan of the store. Good luck with it.

  2. Wow! All this is beyond my imagination. What an impact this blog has had on me. Seeing what you expect to eat this week in the photo above makes me think you are crazy. Then I realise that it’s me that’s got the problem. My knee-jerk, negative reaction to ‘all that nasty cheap food’ needs some thinking about!! Firstly I’m thinking ‘rather you than me’, then ‘OMG do people really eat that stuff?’ then ‘I suppose that’s one way of going on a diet’ and finally ‘I don’t realise how lucky I am!’ I’m glad I caught you on telly yesterday and found your blog. I’d better keep watching and learning.

  3. OK – I’ve been on the Sainsbury’s site, got all the relevant calorific data – and it comes out like this –
    1.25 kgs frozen veg @ 48 cals per 100g = 600 cals
    411g Basic Lemon Curd @ 234 cals per 100g = 962 cals
    800g Value White Bread @ 235cals per 100g = 1880 cals
    1 lt soya milk @ 28 cals per 100g = 280cals
    1kg white rice @ 116cals per 100g = 1160 cals
    500g basics cornflakes @ 377cals per 100g = 1885 cals
    800g (2 tins) chopped tomatoes @ 18cals per 100g = 144 cals
    400g Kindey Beans @ 93cals per 100g = 372 cals
    13g mixed herbs – no calorific content given on the Sainsbury’s site (also was 95p – couldn’t find a 30 pence variety) – calorific content probably extremely low anyway.
    500g Spaghetti @ 346 cals per 100g = 1730 cals
    One Onion (estimate weight 100g) @ 39 cals per 100g = 39 cals

    TOTAL – 9052 Calories

  4. PS What are you going to drink? Don’t tell me … having typed the question I know the answer. It’s water isn’t it. And of course now I realise how lucky we are to have fresh supplies of that coming out of the tap.

    • It’s a 5 day challenge… not seven, otherwise you’d have a point. That its not what is recommended although those eating substantially more than that exist and those with less. I may use your suggestions as my guide for a week though.

      • So, sorry, I didn’t realise – but that still makes it 1800 calories per day – 200 less than the recommended amount for an adult woman. For 5 days, that’s fine I suppose – trying eating like that for 6 months, a year. I feel this is an intellectual exercise for self important middle class people. Try actually living on a tenner or less a week for food (and what about electricity for the fridge/freezer/cooker and water and TV licence and phone and broadband.) Try doing that on £71 a week for a year – then tell me about affordable living,

      • PS thanks for the nutrition calculations. 1800 calories for £1 is pretty good, actually. And more calories than I’ve been eating all year! (currently around 1500, haven’t lost any weight in the last 4 months so it’s obviously all I need. Walk 2 hours a day to/from Small Boys school and have a generally active job. 5’2″, BMI 21.6).

    • Unless the doctor is going to write out a prescription for the additional food needed to bulk up the calories he/she is probably not got to be much help are they? People who are having to live on £1 a day are just trying to survive. Being critical of them seems a lot like kicking someone when they’re down to me.

    • It’s a five day challenge but in any case Jack says she’s only 5’2″. I’m around the same height and slightly built; 1,300 calories is about the right daily amount for me unless I’m doing a lot of exercise. Much more than that and I put on weight. The guidelines are based on averages and a small-boned woman of 5’2″ isn’t anywhere near the average.

  5. How the heck did you manage to come in 12% under budget? Not only that, you avoided animal products which is great too! I drink soy and almond milk and didn’t know Sainsbury’s had that value soy drink – I’ll check that out the next time I’m there.

    • I think the lemon curd has eggs in it – I’m sure they were listed on the ingredients of the Basics one last time I looked. I eat a plant based diet, originally for health reasons, but it helps me to keep to my budget of £100 per month for food, toiletries and household items for 3.5 adults. The Basics soy milk is great – I use it in my porridge and homemade rice pudding.

  6. Were you tempted to buy something else with the 60p you had left over? It would have allowed for an extra tin of beans or a fresh chilli pepper (for example) to give you another meal option to help you through the week. Best wishes in your endeavours this week 🙂

  7. This is the real deal – all the other examples I have seen involve calculating the cost of a *portion* of ingredients.

    Will be interesting to see what you cook up!


  8. You are an inspiration and its reassuring to know there are others who have been in the same situation I find myself in now. Illness has caused my situation and I am worrying and struggling but reading your blog and watching you on bbc has given me a new found hope and strength. I can’t wait to try your recipes and thanks for putting yourself out there. It couldn’t have been an easy thing to do at a vulnerable time but you have helped me and I thank you.

  9. I’ve been blogging about this too this morning after a reader asked me a very good question. I wish you all the very best for the coming five days. I usually do this Challenge but am unable to this year, so I am following the progress of others with lots of interest. I love that you thought so well on your feet and adapted your menu plan for the week when your usual veggie bag was unavailable (it’s NEVER available in our Sainsburys :-(), only someone that’s ‘been there and done that’ would have been able to cope with the curved ball you have my utmost admiration.

    I’ll add you to my sidebar again for the LBTL week which is linked to the main LBTL webpage, you’re already in the ‘Blogs I Love’ column 🙂

    Hope it goes well for you, you’re in an ideal position this year to get the Challenge lots of publicity.

  10. I did this challenge last year and blogged about it too. For some reason it kicks off a week later in Australia this year, which is a bit annoying as I would’ve liked the global camaraderie. I’m still thinking about whether to do it for this year – I know it is possible as I have succeeded before, but it really was tough.

  11. thanks very much for the provision of a receipt – i hope you can do this more often so that we can see the actual prices and quantities
    it’s interesting to know how different people cope around the world eating lo-cost food
    where i live, the same kind of products you list above arent available so cheaply, but we have our own frugal food (foraged, garden supplies, etc) that we can supplement with store bought staples
    good luck with the challenge – i am looking forward to seeing what you are going to cook

  12. I can’t find the large veg bag for £1 online or in store 🙁
    You really are an inspiration and your appearance on BBC came at the right time for my husband and I.

    • Worryingly, the little ticket for it has entirely vanished from my local store, replaced with a £2 butternut squash.

      There’s a huge bag of carrots for 69p and a bag of cooking onions for 80p, I might have to buy one every other week if they don’t bring it back. Which is actually more veg for my buck, but then loose potatoes would be more. Grr!

      • Yes, we went shopping today and did the self serve, got 4 big sized baking potatoes for about 80p but at first we put the wrong type of potato when you search for your item and almost got charged about £2.40….

        One tip I am going to do is any herbs I buy, chop a serving up and put it in oil and freeze in an ice tray. That way I’m not wasting all the herbs if I don’t use them in time and they will be ready to go in the oil. I am going to look at growing my own in the kitchen too. Such a better idea.

  13. Looking forward to the diversity of what you make from this plus the two bags of vegetables from your later shop.

    In a couple of future weeks in different seasons, when you can get the mixed vegetable bags, would you be willing to share a sample week’s menu showing how you build the menu around the vegetables in that bag?

    What herbs were in the mixed herbs?


  14. Yes, we went shopping today and did the self serve, got 4 big sized baking potatoes for about 80p but at first we put the wrong type of potato when you search for your item and almost got charged about £2.40….

    One tip I am going to do is any herbs I buy, chop a serving up and put it in oil and freeze in an ice tray. That way I’m not wasting all the herbs if I don’t use them in time and they will be ready to go in the oil. I am going to look at growing my own in the kitchen too. Such a better idea.

  15. For what its worth, Sainsburys basic range fairtrade 40 teabags, taste as good as branded “Yorkshire Tea”, and for 27-30p is a bargain

  16. Wow this brings back memories for me! It was 20 years ago now but i spent well over a year as a single mum with a shopping budget of around £8 a week (and that was ALL of my shopping not just food). I ate a lot of jam sandwiches especially on days when i had bought extra fruit for my toddler!
    For those who say this isnt healthy tbh it isnt really about being healthy (although when in the circumstances you try to do the best you can) it is actually about being able to eat something rather than nothing which is a real possibility when you are living below the poverty line.
    I shall remember today to be extra thankful for all that i have now and with an extra prayer for all those who are currently living that reality <3

  17. I believe some people above might be missing the point, no-one should have to live of £5 per week if I’ve read the blog correctely Jack + SB survived on £10 per week. This is a 5 day challenge to highlight the extreme measures some people in this country are being forced to take in order to survive.
    It’s all very well pointing out specific daily dietary requirments for women, but also please remember people in other parts of the world are forced to live on a lot less for a lot longer.
    Jack’s blogs has inspired me to change my eating habits completly so once I finish the fresh produce that will spoil I will be moving to a more restrained diet based on Jack’s reciepies.

  18. I’m doing this too but didn’t feel ‘creative’ this week. I’ve gone for bulk:

    Description Qty Cost

    Value carrots 1.5kg £0.70
    Onions 1Kg £0.63
    Value stock cubes 10 £0.15
    Lentils 500g £1.09
    Tinned toms 400g £0.31
    Oats 500g (Lidl) £0.37
    Value tea bags 80 £0.27
    Value Soya milk 1 litre £0.59
    Bread – Value wholemeal Loaf £0.50
    Garden Peas Tin £0.20
    New potatoes Tin £0.15

    Total £4.96

    Basically it means porridge with water and soya milk for breakfast,

    Soup made with carrots, lentils, tinned tomatoes and onions for lunch with wholemeal bread.

    Black tea and water throughout the day and something made out of the rest of the carrots, onions and tinned veg for supper, or porridge – again!

    I put mine into ‘FitDay’ and it’s about 1500 kcals. I’m only 5’3″ and BMI of 25.2 so it wont do me any harm.

    I’m raising money for schistomiasis.:

    Well done Jack x

  19. Your recipes got me through day 1, Jack, but it certainly hasn’t been easy; I ate my Sunshine Breakfast Bun (minus the sultanas and pineapple as I had to count coffee granules in my £) mid-afternoon when it should’ve been my mixed bean, carrot and cumin burger bun! Having a fifth of a pineapple for 10p (courtesy of Morrison’s special offer) was most welcome. Glad I have your budget recipes to help me through the next 4 days; this event certainly brings it home how awful it must be to stare long term shortages in the face. You are an inspiration!

    • Really interesting reading, thanks for sharing. I must investigate these chicken livers when the challenge is over, someone else keeps pointing me to them too.

      I’d be interested to know what 670g of cooking bacon would equate to in calories and protein. I usually buy it from Sainsburys for £1.09

    • A good point about the calories, thanks for the link. As a vegan, my food yesterday wasn’t that much different to my usual except for much less fresh fruit and soya milk. However, my calorie intake was just 1300ish. What I found most difficult was knowing, after dinner, that there was no more food until today. Humbling indeed.

  20. Great effort Jack, on a number of levels. Of course, this is invaluable to those who HAVE to get by on this amount – it’s about survival not maintaining an ideal BMI.

    The sceptics miss the point that perhaps someone may be able to get by for say 3 weeks on a half decent diet, but then need to strip right down to survive the last week of a month when an unexpected bill comes in etc. For me, it’s also about showing snobby shoppers a thing or two. I keep seeing pieces on the Breakfast shows about how Mrs and Mrs X are struggling to pay their mortgage – but then it cuts to the kitchen which is rammed with Heinz, Hovis and Coca Cola rather than the value equivalents.

    for the pdants going on about calories – knock yourselves out and try it on £7 a week – buy a pack of muller rice on offer and have one a day. Some people.

    For me, as a dad, it shows what can be done in the extreme if necessary. Luckily I can afford things at the moment, but this shows me that if I am down to my last tenner, it’s not the end of the world.


  21. Jack, just noticed you don’t have a nectar card. Is there a reason for that? The points do add up slowly, but better than nothing 🙂

  22. Reblogged this on thelondonesque and commented:
    I saw A Girl Called Jack on BBC Breakfast and found her story inspiring. Sad, heartbreaking, but inspiring. In her blog she tells how she’s fed her and her young son for £1 a day, but also speaks to the extreme hardship she faced when out of work, out of money, and (almost) out of hope. She puts a face to poverty and those living on government assistance that I dare any ‘let them eat cake’ conservative dare to de-humanize. Now that she is being heard by so many, she’s using her voice to raise money for charity by taking the ‘Live Below the Line’ challenge. Thats line as in poverty line. Read more about Jack and her life here.

  23. Read about you in the Independent today. I am mightily impressed..We need passionate, articulate, voices like yours to highlight the injustices and scandalous cruelty that the current political elite are visiting on the poorest in the UK. It’s bordering on the medieval in places like Deptford. Did you ever consider using one of the many foodbanks that have sprung up yourself? Very best wishes to you and your son.

  24. Hi, where do you find your 1.25kg of vegetables? I can’t find anything similar, other than in the frozen isle, but they’re all really awkward, little chunks of veg that you have to sift through!

    • It was Sainsburys, but they stopped stocking it in early June this year. You can get a large bag (1.5kg I think) of carrots for 92p (price keeps changing!) from Sainsburys, or morrisons have big bags of carrots and onions for around 70p each. Hope this helps!

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