Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Meals to feed 2 people for 5 days on £10

Meal planning on Live Below the Line makes the difference between regular (if limited meals) and a last day with only rice and bread left. And maybe not the bread.

With just a few pounds to spend, using a whole onion in recipes for the first couple of days means there is nothing left for the last couple.

I crammed a 19p lemon into the budget desperate for flavour in a mass of beige blandness, but had to remember to use it sparingly over 5 meals (juice for 2 days’ of pancakes and a pea & chickpea spread, juice & zest for lemon chicken risotto and the remaining skin chucked into the stock).

In celebration after finding the £1.50 chicken, I splashed out on a £1 pack of butter that made pastry possible. I’d intended to use it for frying food, and spread liberally on Smartprice bread.

Then I did the meal plan, realised I could only afford half a pack, and retrieved the chicken skin and fat from the top of the food recycling caddy to render it down for chicken fat to cook with. Not a good moment.

So, after tweaks, switches, bonus reduced price purchases and many calculations, this is the meal plan for my husband and I for Live Below the Line 2014:

Pancakes with lemon and banana
Cheese sandwiches with carrot sticks
Chickpea, potato and tomato curry with rice

Boiled egg with a piece of toast
Egg fried rice with mixed vegetables
Grilled herby chicken drumsticks with Yorkshire puddings, peas and carrots

Home-made bread and jam
Chicken sandwiches with pea & chickpea spread
Lemon chicken risotto with peas

Porridge with banana
Frittata of onion, peas and potatoes with bread and grated carrot
Cheese and tomato pizza

Apple pancakes
Leftover lunch: soup, bit of chickpea curry & rice or egg sandwich
Celebratory chicken & sweetcorn pie with green beans

Chicken stock with Scotch broth mix
Curried carrot and tomato soup.
Slice of bread each day, to accompany the soup or eat with jam.

The snacks should stave off the mid-afternoon slump if needed, and help stop me hovering up the children’s leftovers.

Half a fishfinger has never looked so appetising as when I’m doing Live Below the Line.

Sponsor us on our Live Below the Line challenge by donating to UNICEF, the global poverty project, here:

Making many meals out of a single chicken

The chicken before...

Buying a whole chicken has been the cornerstone of my meal planning for Live Below the Line.

Thanks to the inspiration from Koj, Ceri and Miss South, I reckoned one chicken could stretch over a whole load of meals.

I started off with the mega bargain chicken for £1.50 (cheers again to the reduced section in the Iceland chiller cabinet).  

...and afterwards...
Next I carved all the meat off the chicken, which was fairly gruesome but produced a lot of stuff to eat: 
  • two drumsticks
  • a pile of fat and chicken skin
  • two wings
  • two breasts
  • some odd scraps of meat
  • two mini breast fillets
  • the carcass itself
  • a couple of thighs and the thigh bones

In fact, every lunch and dinner for five days, except for the cheese sandwich, will benefit from a single 1.1kg bird.

It will be the main component of four meals, whether grilled chicken drumsticks, chicken sandwiches, chicken risotto and chicken & sweetcorn pie.

I’ve also boiled up the chicken carcass and wings to make stock, which I’ll use to make two soups, one with Scotch Broth mix and one with carrots. Extra stock will add flavour to the chicken risotto and chicken & sweetcorn pie.

Rendered chicken fat. Gold dust, I tell you.
Finally, I also followed Ceri’s careful instructions here, and rendered chicken fat from chicken skin. This meant that even though I couldn’t afford to buy a bottle of oil or use much butter, I still had fat to cook with. 

Plus my husband got to eat the crispy skin, which was pretty much the chicken equivalent of pork crackling.

The chicken fat will be an enormous help with softening onions and garlic for at least 6 meals:
  • -          chickpea & tomato curry
  • -          egg fried rice
  • -          cheese & tomato pizza
  • -          frittata with cheese and potatoes
  • -          chicken risotto
  • -          chicken & sweetcorn pie

I fear a £1.50 chicken did not live a long and happy life. 

But it’s certainly increased our quality of life on a £10 budget.

Sponsor Josh and me on our Live Below the Line challenge by donating to UNICEF here: 

If you liked this post, you might also like posts on:
- Stretching pork across multiple meals
- Stretching sausages
- Stretching mince with smuggled veg

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Finally - the food

You know you're on Live Below the Line when you swap an apple for more milk to put in your tea, and the chance to buy value tea bags to make it.

So, finally, here’s a pic of my Live Below the Line shopping for 2014, after much planning, head scratching and staring at a spreadsheet.

Food for the next five days. Apart from one of the apples, swapped for extra milk.

The shopping list in full:

£1.50     1.1kg whole chicken, reduced at Iceland
£1.00     12 eggs, Iceland
35p         400g can East End chickpeas, Iceland
45p         125g Great Scott Scotch Broth Mix, ASDA
9p           540g tin of potatoes, reduced Sainsbury’s Basics
40p         1kg rice, ASDA Smartprice
45p         800g loaf brown bread, ASDA Smartprice
45p         1.5kg plain flour, ASDA Smartprice
24p         400g peeled tomatoes, reduced Sainsbury’s Basics
29p         70g tin De Rica tomato puree, local supermarket
£1.00     900g frozen mixed veg, Iceland
19p         1 lemon, local supermarket
11p         1 bulb of garlic, local supermarket
42p         5 onions, Iceland (9 for 75p)
20p         4 carrots (300g), Iceland (1.5kg for £1)
28p         2 bananas, Iceland (5 for 68p)
17p         1 apple, ASDA (6 for £1)
14p         40 tea bags, ASDA Smartprice (80 for 27p)
15p         Half a jar of strawberry jam, ASDA Smartprice (29p for 454g)
66p         1.5 litres semi skimmed milk, Iceland (2.272 litre bottle for £1)
25p         10 cheese singles, ASDA (half a 400g pack for 50p)
50p         125g butter, Iceland (£1 for 250g)
12p         75g lard, Sainsbury’s Basics (40p for 250g)
10p         80g porridge oats, Sainsbury’s (65p for 500g)
34p         2 x 7g sachets Hovis fast action yeast, Sainsburys (6 sachets for £1)
7p           5g dried mixed herbs, ASDA Smartprice (18g tub for 25p)
3p           5g TKS garam masala, 100g for 60p
1p           teaspoon sugar, Sainsbury’s (1kg for 85p)

TOTAL: £9.96

I was keen to try some different recipes this year, but when your budget is restricted to £10 to feed 2 people for 5 days, I discovered I still had to rely on many of the same cheap staples.

The biggest changes were buying the chicken, the flour and a bit of butter.

The other new elements are a lemon, a couple of bananas, a couple of sachets of yeast, a bit of lard and a tiny tin of tomato puree for pizza topping, along with some Scotch Broth Mix for soup purposes.

Otherwise frozen mixed vegetables, carrots, onions, tinned potatoes, tinned tomatoes and apples remain some of the cheapest fruit and vegetables at this time of year.

Eggs and chickpeas return as sources of protein, plus cheese and milk.

Wholemeal bread, cheap white rice and a few oats again provide staple carbohydrates, while tea bags and jam were regarded as essential for morale and made the cut.

I was still keen to insert some flavour to the blandness, which accounts including a few pence of dried mixed herbs along with the garlic and a couple of teaspoons of garam masala, plus a teaspoon of sugar for breadmaking.

The few remaining pence in the budget also mean I can justify adding some salt and pepper, which were sadly missed before.

To make room, I ditched mushrooms, kidney beans, Red Leicester cheese, tinned pineapple, stock cubes and (reluctantly) cooking bacon.

Next steps: the meal plan and the recipes!

Sponsor us on our Live Below the Line challenge by donating to UNICEF here:

Stretching the budget: part packs and store cupboards

The eagle-eyed and mathematical geniuses may have noticed that I spent more than £10 for the two of us during my Live Below the Line shopping trips.

One part of the Live Below the Line rules I found contradictory last year was that on the one hand you’re meant to budget for whole packs of food items such as rice, pasta, noodles and eggs. 

Yet on the other hand you’re allowed to share ingredients as a team, and for items such as salt, pepper, herbs and spices you can work out the cost of each item per gram and then budget proportionately.

I already have the relative luxury of spending £10 to feed 2 people, rather than just a fiver for one.

Last year I took a really hard line and only included the entire costs of packs of everything, even store cupboard ingredients like the 60p for a 100g pack of curry powder.

This year, I decided to stretch my cash by buying bigger packs of several ingredients, but only budgeting for the parts I plan on eating. The remainder will be devoured by my offspring, or by the whole family after LBTL.

This means I could get cheaper onions, carrots, bananas and apples than buying them individually. It brought the dairy products within reach: half a pack of cheese singles, most of a large container of cheap milk and half a pack of butter.

I also raided my store cupboard, and included a few pence worth of dried mixed herbs, the elusive yeast sachets, some of the garam masala left over from last year, a teaspoon of sugar and a bit of Sainsbury’s Basics lard.

Finally, I only budgeted for the jam, oats and tea bags I thought we might use, after we had loads left over when Living Below the Line last year.

Spending extra money, and having some food left over to eat after 5 days, isn’t possible for many millions of people living in extreme food poverty worldwide.

However, one of the things Live Below the Line taught me last year was to be much more aware of the cost per kilo. Where there is some (any) extra cash, it usually makes sense to buy bigger packs to last longer, even if it’s only buying a bag of 9 onions for a £1 rather than 5 individually.

Only on Live Below the Line could budgeting for one apple from a pack of 6, rather than a whole bag, become a moral dilemma. 

Sponsor Josh and me on our Live Below the Line challenge by donating to UNICEF here:

Winning the chicken lottery

Feels like I won the chicken lottery when shopping for Live Below the Line this year.

After struggling to balance a £10 budget to feed 2 people for 5 days last year, the actual shopping was much quicker this time, even though I still spent ages working out what on earth to buy.

I stalked the stickered section in Sainsbury’s on a couple of visits, and carried off dented and hence reduced tins of Sainsbury’s Basics potatoes (down to 9p) and peeled tomatoes (down to 24p).

I already knew Iceland was likely to sell the cheapest eggs, so it was my first stop the day before starting Live Below the Line, and boy did it turn up trumps.

Faced with spending £1 on either 6 free range eggs or 12 caged eggs, I sold any principles down the river and bought a dozen.

Canned chickpeas were a whole 2p cheaper than elsewhere at 35p, and Iceland also seemed to do the cheapest bags of onions, carrots and bananas, so I could use part of the contents for less than buying them individually.

Chickentastic: £1.50 for the whole bird.
However, I nearly danced in the aisles when I discovered a chicken in the chiller cabinet reduced to half price at £1.50, rather than the £3 I’d expected. Suddenly visions of value tea bags, jam and fresh milk became a possibility.

I decided to blow a whole pound on a 900g bag of Iceland frozen mixed vegetables, over excited at this luxurious version which added sweetcorn and green beans to all the carrots and peas, rather than boring cauliflower in the cheapo 75p alternatives.

Iceland also seemed to match pretty much the lowest prices for butter (£1 for 250g) and fresh milk (£1 for 2.272 litres).

The local supermarket a few doors down sold garlic by weight (whole bulb for 11p, rather than 30p for a single bulb at Sainsburys/Tesco/ASDA), plus 19p for a lemon and the tiniest 70g tin of tomato puree for pizza topping at 29p.

The rest of the food specifically for Live Below the Line came from a late night trip to ASDA, driven entirely by the desire to buy Allinson Easy Bake Yeast at 28p for two 7g sachets. Everywhere else only seems to sell bigger packs for more money.

Otherwise, ASDA Smartprice food prices basically match the Tesco Value range for anything else I wanted to buy, and both are cheaper than Sainsbury’s Basics.

So I made a pilgrimage to the Stamford Hill ASDA, only to find they didn’t sell the 28p yeast sachets and the cheapest was 64p for 125g. Bugger.

However, I plodded round the rest of the deserted aisles, and scrabbled around on the floor to reach the back of the bottom shelves for Smartprice brown bread (45p for 800g), plain flour (45p for 1.5kg), rice (40p for 1kg), tea bags (27p for 80), dried mixed herbs (25p for 18g) and morale-boosting strawberry jam (29p for 454g). 

There weren’t any Smartprice apples left, but I got a cheap bag of Braeburns instead (6 for £1, would need to work out later how many I could lever into the budget). 

I also recklessly spent 45p on a little 125g packet of Great Scott Scotch broth mix, with pearl barley, split peas and red lentils.

Cheese singles with more than a passing acquaintance with a cow
Weirdly, a pack of 10 ASDA Smartprice cheese singles was 63p for 170g, while the normal ASDA pack of 20 next to it was labelled as 50p for more than twice as much, at 400g.

The man at the till couldn’t believe it either when he checked the prices, but it still came up as 50p for 400g so I triumphantly carried off actual ASDA cheese slices, rather than the Smartprice version.

This was a great relief in more ways than one, as I discovered that Smartprice cheese singles only actually contain 11% cheese and even the normal ASDA version only claims to be 60% cheese. 

After yeast disappointment and cheese confusion I headed home, and decided to raid my store cupboard for the odd few additions, and deduct the relevant money from the Live Below the Line budget.

Sponsor us on our Live Below the Line challenge by donating to UNICEF here: 

Monday, 28 April 2014

Frugal meal planning

A chicken and a bag of flour drove my planning for Live Below the Line this year.

Inspired by several other budget cooks, I wanted to see just how far a single small chicken would stretch to feed two people. With just £10 to feed us both for five days, I’m hoping it’s going to stretch very far indeed.

Chickentastic inspiration was provided by the Live Below the Line extravaganzas of Koj, from Masterchef 2012, and Ceri from Natural Kitchen Adventures, along with Miss South’s eye-opening Observer article about cooking on benefits, with recipes here. Jack Monroe remains a great inspiration on budget cooking in both her book and blog.

In addition, a bag of cheap flour seemed to offer a myriad of possibilities such as pizza, bread, pancakes, Yorkshire pudding, pastry and scones – so long as I also add some eggs, milk, fat and yeast.

Two of the things I found hardest on Live Below the Line last year were watery UHT skimmed milk and attempting to cook without oil, so the flour helped provide an excuse to lash out on some fresh semi-skimmed milk and half a pack of butter.

Last year taught me that it’s possible to have too much carrot, especially when you’re doubling up between fresh carrots and frozen pieces in a bag of mixed veg.

It’s also possible to have too much carbohydrate, so I thought we’d stick to the cheap white rice and value wholemeal bread, and ditch the unappetising and little-used spaghetti. 

When money for food is pared to the bone however, there’s limited choice of the cheapest foods.  Despite poring over frugal recipes, and scrutinising the value ranges across different supermarkets I still ended up with substantially the same shopping list. 

Now I just needed to buy it.

Sponsor Josh and me on our Live Below the Line challenge by donating to UNICEF here: 

Sunday, 27 April 2014

It's baaaack: Live Below the Line in 2014

Another year, and we're going to have another go at Live Below the Line
Food poverty, particularly for thousands and thousands of people in the UK, is only increasing.
£1 a day to feed yourself for 5 days. Gulp.
Less time for preparation this year, more chicken. Off we go.