Live Below The Line: What Would I Do Differently?

I’ve been asked a few times by different people what I would do differently if I could do Live Below The Line again. (Which could be a serious consideration, as it runs until June, so plenty of time for a second crack at it!)

Firstly, in the first five days I only used up half of my food budget, with around four small meals each day. But, as it was pointed out to me by both well wishers and my own plummeting energy levels, the meals that I had were high in cheap carbs and very low in protein.

So what would I do differently?

Firstly, I think I’d lose the cornflakes and have toast for breakfast instead, but I’d trade the white bread for whole meal, to get more whole grains and fibre. When you’re eating such a limited diet, it’s important to maximise the ‘goodness’ wherever possible. I wanted white bread, because I thought it would be a ‘treat’, but I found myself peaking and crashing with inadequate nutrition and far too much starch. (50p)

Secondly, I’d buy some meat. I did some swift calculations and the value sausages provide 6g of protein each, at 7p each (8 for 58p). The 670g bacon for £1.09 provides an average of 19g protein per day if split over 5 days, and the 650g turkey drumstick for £1.75 is the highest in protein at 44g per day if split over the 5 days. Unfortunately the budget doesn’t stretch to all 3, so I’d choose the sausages and bacon at a total cost of £1.67, for versatility as well as additional protein.

Thirdly, I’d skip the pasta. I only ended up using it because I felt obliged to, and the same with the onion. I’d keep the rice, as I could do different things with it, and even considered a rice pudding at one point! (Rice 40p)

I’d keep the kidney beans and mixed veg, as I think the burgers (a rehash of my kidney bean and carrot and cumin burgers) were a good source of protein during the week, which is another 96p of my budget gone. I could also combine the sausage meat with mashed beans to make burgers that stretch just a little bit further..

I’d keep the chopped tomatoes, at 31p.

With my last 54 pennies, I’d scour the fruit and veg department to see what else I could pick up.

From the list above, I could have whole meal toast with peanut butter for breakfast – far healthier than the white toast with lemon curd, but more expensive at around 12p for breakfast instead of the 3 – 6p I was averaging last week. I could also stretch to a sausage sandwich if I planned carefully enough – but without butter or ketchup it wouldn’t be brilliant…

For lunches and dinners I could have a bacon and bean casserole, or cold tomato and vegetable rice with chunks of bacon, or kidney bean and vegetable burgers with rice, or sausage and bean burgers, with a yoghurt for a snack.

I haven’t worked out the nutrition calculations, but it looks higher in protein and whole grains than my previous attempt. I think I’ll let my body recover before I consider attempting it again, however…

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

Categories: Blog, Live Below The Line


  1. That sounds a whole lot more nourishing, Jack – wholefoods are the way to go. They’re not only more filling, but also more nourishing. When the kids were little I built our diet around a home made multi grain and bean loaf, baked in batches. Very solid and hearty. When desperate, it could be toasted, cut into cubes, put in a bowl with milk and eaten like cereal. Really. Kids thought it was fun. Glad to know you’re eating properly and regaining your strength.

    Brown rice – takes longer to cook, but much more nourishing. Leftovers can be added to bread dough, as can leftover soup. Bread is so useful.

    • Ha! My mom used to bake her own bread (half white/half whole wheat flour mix), slice, toast, and tear it up into a bowl of milk for our breakfast. It was soooo good, too!

  2. Eggs are highly nutritious if you like them: excellent protein, very versatile and help you feel fuller because protein takes longer to digest, whereas high GI starches like bread and cornflakes take you on a blood-sugar roller coaster that is neither pleasant nor healthy. You can get half a dozen medium eggs for £1,and have one per day. One fifth of your allowance, but an egg packs a lot of nutritional punch. You can make an omelette with only one egg and a few of your frozen veg, or mix with a stirfry or rice or have an egg sandwich.

    • I do agree with you, eggs are essential to a balanced diet when you can’t afford meat.

      And if you like tinned sardines, they are a cheap source of Vitamin D (essential to bone health).

  3. I think you are right about wholemeal bread-definitely much better than white when every bite counts.What about something like chicken wings–they can be had very cheaply and the bones would make a bit of stock for soup. I’d be tempted to make a biggish pot of soup. And I’d definitely buy tea bags: there’s nothing like the comfort of a cuppa when things get tough. Flour is very handy too–chapattis can be made without fat and can make a filling meal when wrapped around just about anything. Wholemeal of course! Another cheap buy would be basic oats.Healthy and low GI-so a slower release of energy.

  4. I did the ‘Below the Line’ thingy too last week. I had porridge everyday for breakfast (39p for 500g bag in Lidl), wholemeal value bread (50p loaf) with lentil, carrot, onion and tomato soup for lunch and whatever I could cobble together from my tinned veg for supper – or just more soup and a bit more porridge if hungry. I bought value tea bags too but tea was vile with soya milk and not much better black so i wouldn’t bother next time.
    Well done on all the money you raised xx

  5. I agree on the eggs. I think they’re a good value for the quality of protein, and vitamins and minerals they contain. I also like bean burger patties (beans mashed with bread crumbs, egg and seasonings) for a cheap, but protein-filled breakfast.

    By yogurt, if you mean the commercial stuff, that’s expensive here in the US. For the same price, here, I could have a glass of milk and an inexpensive (like marked down/clearance banana) piece of fruit, and still have a few pennies left over.

    I think you’re right. When you are on a severely restricted budget, you have to focus on nutrition first. If at the end of the week you can squeeze out a bit of spare cash, then a treat.

  6. I just also want to add that even though I came from a household where money was tight and economizing food was a necessity, I have been spending an ungodly amount of money on food because I can throw stuff away and still live well enough. I know how to cook from scratch for cheap, but I got tired of the pressure and the little voice in my head NOT TO WASTE ANYTHING. It made me feel “poor.”

    I found this blog by accident, and I am ashamed of my throw-away behavior, when I was clearly raised better. I am in the process of moving house, and I have been eating up as much as I can of my perishables. I discovered I have enough dry goods in my pantry to last me 3 months or longer, and when I am in the new place, I will only buy fresh dairy and veggies until I clear the cupboards. I cooked the work week’s worth of breakfast and lunch and brought it to work on Monday just so I don’t have to unnecessarily dirty up any dishes that are meant to be packed, and also to save money because eating out every day is easily $10-$20 just for two meals, never mind dinner. Besides, huevos rancheros are the quickest, tastiest, and easiest dinner you can make and simultaneously respect your health and wallet.

    I am really glad I found you. I have forgotten just how good I have it and, also, how easy it is to lose it all. I am glad that despite your circumstances, you are not bitter, and from your suffering you have discovered a new purpose as a writer and an educator. Very few people can do that. (To paraphrase Rahm Emanuel, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”)

    Thanks for the recipes, and God bless you and your little one! The best is yet to come.

  7. Have been brainstorming some possibilities with the new potential grocery list. Here’s what I can think of so far:

    Sausage and Tomato Pizza Toasts
    Toast with Bacon Butter
    Toast with Sausage Gravy
    Toast sticks with bacon dip
    Peanut Butter and Bacon Sandwich
    Peanut Butter and Carrot Sandwich
    Peanut Butter and carrot pinwheels (cut like sushi)
    Indonesian Peanut-Bacon Sauce over Vegetable Rice
    Sausage Vegetable Rice Soup
    Bean and Bacon Soup
    Tomato and Bacon Soup
    Tomato Soup with Bacon Toasts
    Virginia style peanut soup
    Italian Wedding soup if you wind up with some greens among the vegetables
    Broccoli soup
    Soup of various sorts with croutons
    Bacon and bean casserole with bread crumb topping
    Italian style Rice Balls/Arancini
    Bacon fried rice
    Stirfried broccoli or other vegetables

    If anyone is thinking of swapping out the bread for 1.5 kg of plain flour (plus a bit of sourdough starter) or self raising flour for 45p(Tesco), there are some different things which could be made such as rolls, pizza, bacon scones, pasta, tortillas, sauces, thickened soups. Could be more specific depending on what vegetables you find.

    Vegan loafs are very frugal and nutritious, but most likely not frugal enough for this challenge unless several people are doing it together. You can also use the recipe to make bean burgers instead. Here’s a site that generates recipes for vegan loafs based on your choice of ingredients.
    (close space)


  8. I haven’t done the LIve Below The Line Challenge yet, but I have a great recipe with almost free protein for you.

    The chicken vendor at our local farmers market always has lots of chicken carcasses left, which he gives me for free to make chicken soup. There is still plenty of meat left on the bones, which can also be added to the soup.

    For vegetables I use carrot and parsnip peels and any bits of vegetables (celery, celeriac, onion skins, dark green parts of leeks, parsley stalks, etc.), which would normally end up on the compost. I keep a container in my freezer, in which I collect this vegetable “waste” over the week to use it for soup stock. I boil these vegetable bits together with the chicken and some herbs from my garden for about two hours.

    You can find a longer description of the recipe with some pictures on my blog (

    I really love your blog and will try out some of your recipes soon.


  9. I WAS surprised at your picking the white loaf over the brown version, but as you said it was a treat.

    I did exactly this after I finished my first go at Live Below the Line 2 years ago, reviewed what I had eaten and how I had felt. I kept notes and blogged so the records were there ready for the next round a year later, as yours now are if you decide to do it again.

    So last year my breakfasts each day were two rounds of toast with peanut butter, it did help keep me satisfied for longer. As I am a vegetarian I had eggs for extra protein (I have my own hens and was able to buy off myself so this worked out ideal and I managed a few more than if I had had to buy them froom a shop). Something I noted as you did, is that you don’t need pasta AND rice for just five days, so this year in answer to a question I was posed on the Blog I built a menu around one or the other (and with NO eggs) so again the problem of protein arises, although I recently found out that protein is actually in virtually ALL the foods we eat not just the ones we expect it to be in.

    It’s always good to look back and re-plan.

  10. hi, i’ve been following you since you were on bbc breakfast, and was completely inspired. i’ve been a fan of money saving recipes for years, using the wartime recipes that have been republished in the last few years.
    but was still spending alot of money on food to feed 4 people (3 of them male). a couple of years ago i invested in a pressure cooker, which enables me to cook potatoes, rice, dried pulses, stocks in a fraction of the time, so cutting down on fuel costs and makes cheaper meals quicker. if you’re just cooking for one you can cook a whole meal at the same time in the pressure cooker. another way to cut down on the time it takes to prepare dried beans and pulses is instead of soaking them in cold water for hours, soak them for 1 hour in boiling water, drain, and cook in the pressure cooker as directed. canellini beans take 10 mins to cook
    also i make mince go further by using an equal quantity of green/brown lentils (again dried), and make two meals from one quantity and freeze one.

    • I love the lentils and mince idea, it’s how I ended up doing a lentil bolognese as I was just adding more and more lentils to the mince before cutting it out completely! I like mixing mashed kidney beans with squeezed-out meat from cheap sausages to make burgers too. 🙂

      • When you squeeze out the meat from cheap sausages, are there some things you make from the leftover casings?


  11. I would seriously consider not using cheap sausages for anything if I were you, better off making your own or buying a high meat content (85%+) sausage, as the stuff they put in the cheap ones….(shudders). If this works out to be too expensive & you can only afford the cheap ones, I would recommend not eating them at all.

    • Worth reading the ingredients list on the side of the pack to see exactly how much meat – and “meat” includes protein AND fat – there is in a value pork sausage. By law, a ‘Pork Sausage’ must have at last 42% meat content..That pork ‘meat’ can legally comprise up to 30 per cent fat and 25 per cent connective tissue.” Value sausages often contain as much fat as they do protein. But if it helps you feel full, and it’s only for a week..

      • is there a reason not to eat connective tissue though, apart from the ick factor? Is it less nutritious than what we normally think of as meat?

  12. Thanks so much, your post and the replies have been really helpful with preparing for Live Below the Line (I’ll only be starting on Monday due to various circs). I’d been looking at value bacon and eggs alongside chickpeas and kidney beans for protein, and then oats and wholemeal bread as slow-release carbs to supplement the rice. Have the luxury of a £10 budget as my husband’s doing LBTL with me, but even so hardly room for waste. Currently weighing up whether to opt for yogurt or apples with the last of the money…

  13. It feels all wrong to be critical when you are just trying to do the best with limited resources, but a lack of protein wasn’t your problem – refined sugars and starches were: white bread, white rice, lemon curd etc. Spiking your blood sugar several times a day probably made the challenge more difficult for you. A single, large meal using wholegrain breads and pastas might have worked better for you. An on protein – animal proteins are a very poor source of protein that compromise the immune system and do more for feeding tumours than providing essential nutrients. It’s not practical for me to explain why here in these comments – so my offer of a copy of The China Study still stands if you want to learn more.

    • I agree re: the China Study. It’s very enlightening, if dense, reading. Great cheap sources of protein are beans, soy milk and whole grain bread.

    • Animal protein does not feed tumors, although that is a popular misconception. Meat does provide nutrients which other foods simply do not offer; vitamin B-12 is one well-known example of this. As a former vegan, I’ve read a lot about nutrition, and have been astonished to see how much misinformation is put about as fact. There is also a lot of half-true “information.”
      It is a good idea to read many kinds of information, not just that provided by one camp or the other. This allows for comparison and contrast. For example, it isn’t the elimination of meat which is beneficial to people, it is the increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, pulses and marrows.
      If meat fed tumors, there would be no cancerous tumors among vegans, but a quick visit to vegetarian and vegan families in India will confirm this is not the case.

  14. I make meat loaf sometimes with cereal base ( I often use rice crispies since they seem to be the most left-over cereal to use up around here ) ground meat, chopped onion, an egg and black pepper, bit of milk or water if it’s too dry. Mix, top with ketchup and bake in a greased loaf pan. Does not hold its taste well in the fridge or freezer, I would freeze the individual ingredients and make one meat loaf at a time for 1-2 days.

    Stuffing mix ( tesco 37 pence 170 g ) goes in well as an ingredient ( often on sale after holidays ) I’ve used it as a tasty addition to loads of meals too. I cooked our holiday roast in a mix of stuffing mix and apple sauce ( tesco value brand 40 pence for 280g.) and it was lovely.

    Ketchup is well worth the expense- it’s 28 pence for 590g tesco everyday value brand- and it makes so many bland things palatable. Same with mustard 28 pence for 190g tesco value brand and brown sauce 29 pence tesco everyday value brand 550g.

    568 ml of vinegar is 49 pence at tesco, we grew up on a diet of ‘chips’- fried potatoes ( tesco frozen 3-way cook value brand 1.5 kg 93 pence ) doused in vinegar and/or salt- served with a fried egg or a sausage or fish when it was available ( can people still catch fresh fish in the UK rivers/seas? That’s common here in the US as a hobby/sport )

    Tuina chunks in brine are 59 pence tesco value brand 185g, tesco value eggs are just under three pounds for 30 eggs…I use tesco as an example because it was consistently the best value supermarket in my area when lived in England. There may be cheaper alternatives now.

    In Staffordshire we ate Staffordshire Oatcakes ( only served in the Potteries ) a yeasted pancake….often served with cheese and tomato or bacon….but any pancakes/ crepes are a really cheap and easy base for loads of sweet and savoury fillings. On Shrove Tuesday we always had pancake day with a squeeze of lemon ( tesco Jif lemon=20 pence ) and sprinkle of granulated sugar ( tesco 500g 79 pence ) on the pancakes- still my favourite!

    Oatmeal ( tesco 75 pence 1 kg ) was another staple. In porridge, biscuits, cakes.

    I still have a soft spot for fish fingers with baked beans ( tesco value fish fingers 60 pence for 10 & 25 pence for a 425g can value baked beans in tomato sauce )

    Good luck all LBTL candidates!!!

  15. Hello Jack,

    I haven’t done the full challenge yet, but have to economise food and watch nutrition for health reasons. I found that the macrobiotic cookbooks have a lot of great ideas to offer.

    Not the part that concerns Japanese sauces, spices and condiments that would be expensive to buy; but the part that forms the meals around the whole grains and savoury whole vegetables, used to the max (roots, leaves etc.)

    This food is really more filling and nutritious than toast and spread, or rice and veg, and some tips on how it’s prepared may give you an inspiration for your recipes.

    I am now eating porridge or polenta for breakfast nearly every day, but I toast the flakes or grains first (stirring dry on low heat before adding the liquid) with a tiny spoonful of sesame or hemp seeds, almond flakes or any other seed that you might purchase and keep in the fridge for that purpose. Goes a long way.

    It starts smelling really nicely and tastes so much better then when I used to dump it all with some water straight from the kettle! Towards the end of cooking (cca 8-10 mins – sounds long but polenta does need a decent time to cook and soften, and it’s more digestible that way), I add a small spoon of white miso (for salt) and a sprinkling of herbs & spring onion on top. I eat it alongside cup of miso soup or tea, and one sliced apple. This keeps me happy well into the day. Sliced carrot as a snack serves me better than carbs.

    Polenta may not be your usual breakfast fare, but it was typical for when I was growing up. My mum cooked it rather dry, then scooped bits with teaspoon and dropped in warm milk. I preferred it softer in a bowl, with a dollop of soft cheese in the middle, so it warms up and flavours it.

    With porridge, I found that the value kind is mostly dust, which tastes rather bad and stimulates a lot of mucus. Slightly better quality, sturdier oat grain will last longer (it cooks slower but it almost doubles in size when cooked!).

    Lastly, I may have a solution for your onions in the future. You may be familiar with ‘prebranac’, the mediterranean oven-cooked beans with onions and paprika? Delightful. For cca 300 g of dry white beans you’ll need 5-6 onions or leeks and a spoon of sweet paprika. This will last you a while, and it freezes well.

    Beans are soaked overnight, then the water is thrown out. Put fresh water in, bring it to boil, then throw that water out as well. Place beans in a pressure cooker with 3 chopped onions and around 2 inches of water on top, and cook for 45 mins. Slice the remaining onions thinly and cook in some oil till nice and golden. Add the paprika and stir (burns easily). When it’s all lovely and cooked, put it aside. In an oven-proof casserole place one layer of beans, one layer of paprika onions till you use them all up. At this point you can add bay leaf, whole peppercorns, dry sausages, or some dry tomatoes or peppers (look them up in Turkish market) that have been previously soaked in hot water for a few minutes. Season, cover with water or soup stock, put a lid or tin foil on top and set to slow bake for 3 – 3.5 hours on 150C, till the beans are creamy. You can give it an occasional stir and taste. Can be eaten hot or cold.

    It’s incredibly filling, very affordable dish and uses up all the unwanted onions. Paprika gives it a lovely smokey aroma.

    Good luck with everything,

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