HOW MANY CALORIES FOR A FIVER?

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Last night I decided to work out the nutritional value of my Live Below The Line challenge. In previous years, I have felt in turn tired, lethargic, bloated, hungry and had carb spikes followed by huge crashes. My blood sugar is a bit bonkers at the best of times – I avoid lactose and too many unprocessed white carbs – and have been tested for diabetes and hypoglycaemia several times since I was a teen, always returning ‘borderline’ with advice to ‘eat regularly and keep an eye on it’. Anyway…

With this in mind – and also curiosity – I punched in the contents of my £5 shop to a website called My Net Diary, to calculate the nutritional value for the week.

The results were surprising:

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Across 5 days, and provided I eat everything from the shop, which might be a bit of a challenge for an entire jar of lemon curd (!), my stats are:

Weekly total:
Calories: 9079
Fat: 161g
Carbohydrates: 1614g
Protein: 276g

Daily average:
Calories: 1815
Fat: 32g
Carbohydrates: 322g
Protein: 55g

Recommended for a woman my age, height, build and activity level:
Calories: 1851
Fat: 56g
Carbohydrates: 262g
Protein: 88g

So, I KNOW that I’m not getting the greatest diet while I’m on this challenge, but it’s a lot higher in protein and calories – and a lot closer to my recommended daily amounts – than I thought it would be. I consciously shopped for cheap sources of protein, and ideally would have had a can of kidney beans, baked beans or sardines on top of the eggs, yoghurt, chicken paste, chickpeas and vegetables, but the extra 25p for the frozen mixed veg priced the 21p kidney beans out of my shopping basket. Again, my fiver felt a lot smaller this year than it did this time last year – and the value ranges are exactly where things don’t need to be increasing in price. Stick an extra 25p on top of a £7 macaroni cheese meal (Charles Bigham, I’m looking at you) and I doubt the consumer would notice. Stick a 33% hike on a value bag of mixed frozen vegetables, and the consumer definitely notices.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share in case anyone was curious. It’s a bit high in carbs (!) but I’m fairly happy with the stats as they stand. And before anyone flies off the handle about an imperfect diet, take a fiver out of your wallet, go to the shop, buy enough food for 21 meals across 5 days out of it, punch it all into My Net Diary to calculate the nutrition, and see what you come up with. It’s harder than it looks!!

To sponsor me (raising money for Oxfam), visit http://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/agirlcalledjack

Jack Monroe
Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

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53 Comments »

    • I feel your pain. This must be so hard with food prices so ridiculously high, and value foods not really being “cheap” at all. I remember living below the line about 10-15 years ago, with a toddler, and pregnant with my second child. It was hell, but I have no idea how it feels now, thankfully. Top notch work here Jack. You are an inspiration. Thank you. xxx a girl named frank;)

      • This is where my life is presently with two teenagers. I struggle with the practically and discipline and hope to achieve it so my life can move forward. Has this is no way for a human to live to keep a roof over their heads.

      • It is tough, my two are teenagers now, and it makes living on a budget so much harder with the demands of modern live, and not wanting them to go without. We are still on a budget, it can be a struggle, but it does make us stronger, and I’m sure you life will move forward. The one constant is change.

  1. Agree ‘value range’ items have virtually disappeared from all major supermarkets over past year. Really hard to find any and those that do exist have risen more in price than other food. It gets harder and harder to exist on low budget. I know supermarkets are there to make money rather than provide a service but basic food is a basic necessity

  2. The co op still do a decent dance of value stuff, and to be honest I find Lidl or Also own brand as cheap as most supermarket value, their rice is only 40p, I buy loads of it! The pricing of value goods seriously needs looking at, already a vulnerable section of society that need them, don’t make it harder for them.

  3. I think this is fascinating. What you are doing is very inspirational! I think I may just give this a go; keep it up 🙂

  4. The Australian version of this challenge involves feeding yourself for just $2 a day. Which is roughly equivalent to your one pound a day challenge. Im curious as to what that particular amount of money is derived from? I know its meant to represent the money some people have to live on – but how was the particular figure arrived at, as opposed to a dollar higher or lower etc. Sorry if you have covered this in earlier posts.

    • It’s because the global poverty line works out to that amount – people are judged to be living in extreme poverty if they have to live on this amount or less. (For everything, not just food.) 1.2 billion people are living like this.

  5. for somebody avoiding “unprocessed” (may be you where trying to say “processed”) white carbs you got a lot of rice and oats on your basket, and if those are not carbs… (especially the rice, virtually all starch).
    White rice is not very good for somebody with a “bonkers” sugar metabolism, diabetes is not uncommon in populations that have a rice based diet…but I understand that cooking brown rice might increase your costs for energy as it takes a lot longer to cook.
    http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/819304

    • Brown rice is also more expensive (often twice the price) than white rice, and I don’t think any supermarkets in Britain even offer it as part of their budget ranges. Agreed on the low-health aspects though!

      • Yes – you can’t afford brown rice when you’re doing “Live Below The Line”. I did it last year and lived mainly off “value” white rice, oats & split peas. The value rice was disgusting – however much you cooked it, it stayed “gritty” in the middle and tasted of nothing. One doesn’t factor cooking costs into LBTL, just food purchase costs, so if brown rice was affordable within the £5, it wouldn’t matter that it took longer to cook. Basically it’s very hard to eat healthily on £5 for five days, but you don’t go hungry, because you CAN afford enough starchy foods to fill you up. What you can’t afford is much fresh fruit & veg – I had a few bananas and some reduced-price stir-fry veg, which lasted a few days. And of course I couldn’t afford coffee! That was the worst thing…

    • Oats are very good for everybody–especially diabetics. And they ARE UNprocessed. They fill you up and take a long time to digest–very low on the Glycaemic Index. Thus an excellent buy for Jack.

  6. for somebody avoiding “unprocessed” (may be you where trying to say “processed”) white carbs you got a lot of rice and oats on your basket, and if those are not carbs… (especially the rice, virtually all starch).

    White rice is not very good for somebody with a “bonkers” sugar metabolism, diabetes is not uncommon in populations that have a rice based diet…but I understand that cooking brown rice might increase your costs for energy as it takes a lot longer to cook.
    http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/819304

    • unfortunately for some reason brown rice, flour etc are about 3 times the cost of the basic ranges – which seems illogical if they are supposed to be less processed. Just trying to cash in on those trying to eat healthily but you are right “whole” grains (or Low GI foods) give a slower carbohydrate release and are therefore better for keeping blood sugars stable

    • It’s not just the cooking time for brown rice, it’s the price for a pack as it’s not going to be in the value range as it’s seen as a wholefood and that commands higher prices (even though its less processed). Eg sainsbury’s website have 1kg of brown rice at £1.50, over twice what Jack paid for a kg of cheap white rice. So what would you leave out from that meagre haul to get healthier brown rice? The eggs? The beans?
      Of course, I have the luxury of being able to buy 10kg+ sacks of rice at Asian supermarkets, but for someone on £5 budget that is not an option, you can’t bulk buy. That’s the point of this challenge, highlighting how impossible to enough calories to feel full on such a meagre budget, let alone getting good nutrition.
      Well done Jack for taking the challenge, you’re braver than me.

    • I think oats are actually meant to be quite good – slow release carbs if made into porridge.
      I agree about the rice though and probably not good for blood sugar, even though I sometimes use it myself. Would bulgar wheat might be an alternative? More expensive perhaps. Or maybe a vegetable like carrots mashed up, and maybe add some cinnamon to it.
      I like the frozen vegetables.

    • you must not have read the entire post because Jack explains why her purchases may not be considered “healthy.” Try eating healthy on a fiver, go ahead.

      • I don’t think Nick Jones is being critical of Jack, I think the point both are making is that it is next to impossible to eat a considered healthy diet on £1 a day (unless you grow your own and don’t count labour or material costs or some kind of similar semantics where you count food as practically free) and the link backs that up.

      • Yes, exactly – thank you Susie. I was just pointing out that this is exactly what you’d expect and that there is a body of academic literature which bolsters Jack’s point.

  7. the “orange one” has recently opened a “local” near me and I have already noticed that they are more expensive for identical items than the main store. An idea for your next campaign maybe???

  8. I have spent my whole life feeling that way and it was only until a period of ill health and a history neurological disease in my family made me look at my diet. Which is an extreme way to get there, but I feel 100 x better than I have my entire life and now eat healthy low GI carbs, (sweet potatoes, butternut squash, chick peas etc). I found Lidl the best on a restricted budget to shop for non processed carbs, fruit and veg (in season), olive oil chick peas etc. Kale chips, lettuce wrap sandwhiches, ‘pasta’ made out of butternut squash and courgettes are all very cheap and low carb/GI and unrefined, unprocessed and delicious!

  9. I am definitely going to enter my weekly food onto this to find out the nutrional values, thank you Jack for sharing this. If I am hungry I get snappy, so filling up with rice and lentils seems the obvious answere, yet long term nutritionally maybe not.

      • This certainly made me shop with new eyes this morning. Haven’t really thought of mushrooms as a luxury item. I just had a quick search and people recommend hot and cold oats with lemon curd, so that could be worth a try.

  10. Hey Jack! Not to get too personal, but would consider documenting whether you lose or gain any weight during this week? Obviously we wouldn’t be able to draw any sweeping conclusions from it, but it would be interesting with the way being overweight can be linked to food poverty due to high carb diets. Not asking for your actual weight, just any changes.

  11. Of course using dried chick peas would be cheaper in he long run, I now only buy dried chickpeas., lentils etc, Tesco Indus range is very good.
    Of course don’t forget to soak overnight (I always soak Chick peas for 24hours), I also use a pressure cooker (great investment save tons on energy) cooks the little devils in about 20 – 30 mins
    This might seem more expensive but don’t forget that you kinda get three times the dry weight!

    http://www.tesco.com/groceries/Product/Details/?id=267753304

  12. Great post thankyou. This is something I have started to think about more recently. We try to stick to a budget of around £30 per weekly shop but now that I have started thinking about shifting the extra stone I’ve been carrying since Christmas I am struggling a little I must say! I am still finding ways to incorporate seafood by using stronger flavours like smoked haddock and salmon and making it go further in rice dishes but other proteins are expensive. Glad I found this as it will be very useful. Thanks again.

  13. I think perhaps I would manage to eat an entire jar of lemon curd in a week. 🙂 I should have worked out the nutritional values of the thing sin my LBTL basket just out of interest, in fact I might go off and do just that.

  14. Sure you have LOADS of ideas – but here are a couple : 1/4 tin chick pea – half cup oats (soaked first) with few broccoli and carrots (cooked) and ;half a stock cube and fistful of cooked rice to make nice veg. burger with peas. . And for a stew: bit if all veg except peas, stock cube tablespoon tom. pure,e handful rice, half cup oats to thicken, salt pepper etc (garlic from fridge if allowed) and simmer, (tiny bit chilli powder from cupboard if you’re allowed) whizz then add some chick peas at end for bit of crunch. And a rice and veg dish – Good luck

  15. I am doing the challenge this week. I thought I’d sneak a peek at what you have… I have rice, lemon curd, tomato puree and salmon paste. I think I may have been influenced by your blog somewhat, as I have made lots of the recipes! The lemon curd is just soooo cheap, and it gives a bit of flavour and sugar. Good luck Jack 🙂

  16. What is this fiver challenge is this for a week or a day to eat the foods mentioned. I am new on here and I am interested on feeding a family of 3 for 15 pound. Any suggestions please

  17. That’s really interesting, I thought it would be significantly worse nutritionally. Particularly heartening to see the calorie content given the contents of your shop….I’m really intrigued about what on earth you’re going to do with lemon curd though! #goodluck

  18. Hi, Jack!

    The analyst in me had to go and run the numbers on your choices, and I have a question / comment…

    The chicken paste doesn’t seem to be pulling it’s weight, nutritionally: It is giving you 7 calories and .4 grams of protein per pence. The stock cubes give you 7.5 calories and .45 grams protein, for comparison. Is it in your basket for anything other than meaty flavor and protein (which the stock cubes also seem to manage)? Would it make sense to return it for the beans, or for some peanut butter (complete proteins with your oats, as an added bonus)?

    B.

  19. Quick comment about the eggs. Free range eggs must have blown a big part of your budget, and I’m glad you didn’t compromise on that… We manage to get through 30 eggs a week – and for free. I’m friends with a local farmer who gives me the eggs that she is not allowed by law to sell (either too mucky, too big, too small, or with irregular shells) I help move them for her and the proceeds go to charity (£1 per tray of 30). I wonder how many farmers are forced to throw away similar eggs? Apparently she isn’t even allowed to give them the pigs and they are the best and freshest eggs I’ve tasted…

  20. I remember a few years ago when Sainsbos launched their basics or relaunched, but they did a huge ad campaign about the 49p pack of 10 fishfingers. And I bought it, and it was really good. 3 weeks later, they quietly hoiked the price to 69p! The other places all do it, and we are powerless. And it is no coinicidence that the big offers are on junk food.
    I’ve said before how much I admire you. I can barely spend a day (out and about) on under a fiver. Good on you!

  21. Those everyday value mixed veg have been taken off our shelves and replaced by £1.80 variety. Tesco also stopped selling their 39p branflakes and 20p curry sauce. I think they must have been selling too many of these items and not their more expensive varieties, so took them off the shelves, so annoying.

  22. Value range carton of chopped tomatoes in big green store was only 7p cheaper than the store brand. not a massive saving. It was only one I paid attention to, as was really only in for those and cat food, but will be looking more closely from now on, as run out of savings and not well enough to work. With Atos on go slow or stop, no assessment (fine line between relief at not having to see the bar stewards and not having enough money to eat really healthily) so no extra few pounds a week to help out.
    So thankful I have no spare room,.

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