After spending a week on the Ration Challenge, eating the same rations as a Syrian refugee in a camp and fundraising for Concern Worldwide, here is my meal plan.
The Ration Challenge is an extreme example, but meal plans can be useful whenever you have limited food or want to limit food waste. Meal planning can definitely help stretch ingredients, cut costs and stop throwing food in the bin.
A meal plan is particularly crucial on the Ration Challenge, faced with spreading limited ingredients over seven days – that’s 21 meals plus any snacks.
Find out which meals I made!
Here’s my sponsorship page, if you can spare anything
Ingredients on the Ration Challenge
As with any meal planning, start by looking at the stuff you already have in the house.
For the Ration Challenge, that’s a pretty short list!
The basic rations are:
170g dried lentils
85g dried chickpeas
400g tin of kidney beans
120g tin of sardines
300ml vegetable oil
1.92kg rice (this is A LOT)
It’s also possible to earn further items by hitting fundraising targets. Again, the rewards don’t come in huge quantities, but believe me, you’ll be glad if you get any.
Sponsor yourself: a single dried spice
Join a team: 210ml milk and share spices (max 6 spices)
Special reward pre-Challenge, raising £39 on one day: 2 teaspoons of either instant coffee or sugar
£250: 170g of vegetable
£400: 120g protein
£600: 330ml of a hot or cold drink
£850: a bonus food item up to £3, to be eaten in one sitting
You can also earn one teabag for every five people you ask individually to sponsor you, via individual messages (max 10 teabags)
My extra items, earned at different points as the week went on, were:
2 teaspoons of sugar
540ml milk, for joining a team and hitting the fund raising target
Tips for a Ration Challenge meal plan
Once you know what you’ve got, a meal plan will help make sure you don’t run out of food. That’s crucial on the Ration Challenge, when everything except rice is quite so limited.
I ended up with a grand total of 13 (count ’em) ingredients to get through an entire week. When four of those are oil, salt, chilli flakes and a teeny bit of sugar, that doesn’t leave much room for manoeuvre.
Here are my top meal planning tips:
- Do make a meal plan, so you can eke out ingredients rather than being left with plain rice for several days
- Check out the Ration Challenge resources, specifically the recipe book and example meal plan
- Join the Ration Challenge Facebook page for more ideas and recipes
- Maintain motivation by starting with the boring stuff before moving on to more interesting meals
- Shrink your expectations of portion sizes for everything except rice, so you can include a bit of protein with most meals
- Vary your meals where possible: I planned for at least one rice-free meal each day #flatbreadsforthewin
- Use different textures to liven up your meals, such as rice crackers, falafel and bean & lentil burgers
- If in doubt, fry it
- Don’t waste anything. Even the sardine oil and bean juice can help flavour meals, when food is so limited
- Remember stuff like kidney beans, sardines and soaked chickpeas will go off after a few days, so either plan meals using them close together, or freeze portions
- Allow time for all the prep, cooking and cleaning up, such as soaking dried chickpeas overnight or cooking (and then cooling) rice the day before making fried rice
- Batch cook to shrink cooking time slightly. For example, I cooked two days’ worth of rice pudding and three days’ worth of lentil stew and flatbreads in one go. Planning ahead really helped on days I was particularly busy
- Review your meal plan part way through, to check your quantities and include any food rewards via fundraising. For example, you might end up with less flour than expected, after adding a bit to falafel and bean burgers, and using it roll out flatbreads
Previous post: Meals on the Ration Challenge last year
My meals on the Ration Challenge 2020
Meals on Day 1
As described in my post about starting the Ration Challenge, I opted for fairly plain meals on the first day:
Breakfast: Cup of hot water and fried rice
Lunch: Fried rice with a few kidney beans
Dinner: Flatbreads with spicy lentils
I made double portions of flatbreads and spicy lentils, so I could eat half today and cut down on cooking time tomorrow.
Did not enjoy headaches, but boy was I glad when I hit the fundraising target needed to add salt to my food!
Meals on Day 2
One day down, and I’d already realised that I couldn’t face starting the day with plain rice, and I needed some snacks.
Breakfast: Flatbreads with lentils
I actually fancied rice pudding for breakfast, but with a 90 minute cooking time, I switched to the leftover lentils and flatbreads instead.
Lunch: Rice pudding
Yes, it was finally ready! Used 30ml rice, 100ml of my milk from joining a team, 200ml water and a scant teaspoon of sugar. Meant to only eat half of it, but couldn’t resist nipping back for a bit more.
Snack: Shards of fried rice
I experimented with making crunchy rice cakes as a snack, by frying boiled rice for a long time over a low heat. Foul. Ate them anyway (this may become a bit of a theme).
Dinner: Fried rice with kidney beans and peas
My fundraising ticked up to qualify for a vegetable (cheers cheers cheers) just in time for dinner, so I was able to add a peas to my fried rice with kidney beans. Result!
I chose frozen peas because it’s easy to divvy out smaller quantities across multiple meals, and they won’t go off. Tried to suppress the guilt that refugees won’t have access to a handy freezer in the camps.
Meals on Day 3
I was keen to crank up some more varied options by the third day. Luckily, I’d remembered to leave some dry chickpeas soaking overnight, so I boiled them up to make basic hummus combined with oil and chilli flakes.
Breakfast: Crepe with peas and hummus
Epic fail. I’d planned to eat a flour-and-water crepe with a few peas mixed in to make it more interesting with my watery hummus.
Normally, I’d have chucked the doughy mass with burnt peas in the bin. However, I couldn’t afford to waste any of the limited ingredients on the Ration Challenge. So I ate it anyway.
Lunch: Rice cakes and hummus
Today’s attempt at rice cakes was slightly more successful, after boiling rice until it was soft enough to mash up with a potato masher, shaping the mush into circles, brushing them with oil and baking them for about. 20 minutes at 180 degree fan in the oven.
Made a change from plain rice and went pretty well with a second portion of hummus.
Snack: Leftover rice pudding
Dinner: Fried rice with peas and a single sardine
In normal life, I can be profligate with sardines, and even consider mashing up a whole tin for a single meal on toast.
Not so during the Ration Challenge.
With one tin for a whole week, I divided it into three, and even hoarded the oil to add flavour to future fried rice.
So effectively I ate one sardine tonight, with fried rice and peas, bunged one in the fridge and froze a third, so it wouldn’t go off before the week ended.
Meals on Day 4
Breakfast: Flatbread stuffed with kidney bean paste
Thankfully, this morning’s flatbread stuffed with kidney bean paste, then fried, was a distinct improvement on the previous day’s doughy crepe with burnt peas. I made 4 other flatbreads at the same time, to store in a biscuit tin and pop in the toaster when needed.
Snack: Rice cakes and hoummus
Scarfed the remains of yesterday’s rice cakes with the last of the hummus, as a morale boosting snack. The Ration Challenge provides so much rice, you can chuck it around experimenting with rice crackers, rice milk (I failed last year) or rice flour (didn’t want to burn out my blender).
Lunch: Fried rice with chorizo
Many cheers. I was delighted I’d hit the fundraising target to earn 120g protein in time for lunch. I chose chorizo, which worked out as half a small ring, on the basis that teeny slices, chopped and fried in oil, would cheer up multiple meals.
So lunch was chorizo with chilli flakes and fried (slightly pink) rice.
Dinner: Fried rice with chorizo, peas and lentils
Yup, I pretty much ate my lunch all over again, only with added peas and a few boiled lentils. I threw caution to the wind and cooked all my remaining lentils, to eke out over three meals.
It did actually taste a bit better than it looks.
Meals on Day 5
Happy wedding anniversary to me!
Not ideal timing, for a celebratory meal with my other half.
When I clocked the dates, I did think of maybe shifting the week I did the Ration Challenge.
But then I recognised that millions of refugees have to celebrate wedding anniversaries, birthdays, high days and holidays on these rations in camps. They can’t choose the timing of wars, conflict or persecution that force them to flee their homes.
So rice it is.
Breakfast: Rice pudding
I got out of bed super early, at 5.45pm, to bung rice pudding in the oven so it would be ready for breakfast. I’d raised enough money to earn 330ml of a hot or cold drink, and chose milk so I could continue with rice pudding breakfasts and even attempt some pancakes.
With the extra milk, I could make double the previous quantity (so 60ml rice, 200ml milk, 400ml water and that crucial single spoonful of sugar) so I could enjoy a couple of bumper breakfasts.
Lunch: Bean and lentil burgers with flatbreads
For lunch, I attempted veggie burgers using a portion of the lentil stew from the day before, squidged together with a few kidney beans and a bit of flour, and then fried. The resulting burgers were still a bit sloppy and tricky to handle, but made a welcome change from yet more fried rice.
Snack: Rice cakes
Check out the action shot, mashing up over cooked rice before squishing balls on a baking tray, brushing with oil and and baking into rice cakes.
Slightly more appetising than ceiling tiles.
Dinner: Fried rice with chorizo, peas and a sardine
Ringing the changes of fried-rice-with-chorizo-and-peas, by adding the excitement of a second sardine.
Meals on Day 6
I started Day 6 feeling quite cheerful, knowing there was an end in sight.
Breakfast: Leftover rice pudding
Even better, I had leftover rice pudding to zap in the microwave.
Snack: Rectangular rice crackers
I’d got into a routine of cooking rice cakes at breakfast time, only this time I tried spreading out a large rectangle, and scoring it part way through the baking time.
Lunch: Lentil and chorizo soup with flatbreads
Believe it or not, the brown depths of the bowl in the photo above contain the watered down remnants of my lentil stew, some teeny tiny fried cubes of chorizo and kidney bean juice. Yup, when I drained the can of kidney beans, I kept all the juice to liven up fried rice and this soup. Who knows if that’s normally a good idea, but hey, I’m not dead yet.
Vaguely fun dipping flatbreads and rice crackers into the soup, but don’t think Heinz will be launching this as a new range any time soon.
Dinner: Fried rice with falafel
I threw caution to the wind and blew all my remaining chickpeas on this meal.
Did require some advance planning – had to soak the dried chickpeas over night and boil them for 10 minutes, before chucking them in a blender with a tablespoon of my dwindling flour and some oil. This meal could have ended in disaster, as I misread the recipe as 4 tablespoons of oil instead of 4 teaspoons. Luckily, 4 tablespoons seemed a bit too much, even with my rice-addled concentration, so at the last minute I only put in two.
I decided to make burger shapes rather than small balls, so they’d be easier to flip over and fry. Made a slightly dry meal, with plain boiled rice, but I appreciated the different taste and texture.
Meals on Day 7
Huge feeling of relief to have reached the last day of my week on the Ration Challenge, mixed with guilt that the refugees have no end in sight. I was also glad to have held back small quantities of my rations – an ounce here, a single sardine there – so I didn’t face a whole day of rice.
Oh dear. My hopes for a light airy crepe for breakfast, using the last of my flour and milk, turned out as a lightly charred milky stodgy mess. Still ate it.
Lunch: ‘Taco’ with rice, peas, beans and chorizo
Oh dear. I’d planned ahead for a burrito lunch, by whipping up some lovely soft tortillas on Day 6, to stuff with a beans/chorizo/peas/rice combo. Think I added too much oil to the limited flour, before mixing in some water, rolling out and dry frying – and ended up with pastry circles instead.
I tried to curve one round to make a pretend taco. It broke.
So lunch on the last day was fried rice served between pastry circles. Ate it anyway.
Snack: Pastry circle
Yup, this was the other half of my failed tortilla wraps.
Trust me, after 5 days with rice crackers as your only snack, then even plain pastry becomes appealing.
Dinner: Fried rice with chorizo, peas and the last sardine
I had vaguely thought of whipping up some rice flour, then battering and deep frying my defrosted sardine, as a final flourish.
But after today’s dodgy pancakes and failed tortillas, I wasn’t up for another ‘ate it anyway’ meal.
So I played it safe, and my celebratory last supper was fried rice with the last of the sardines, chorizo and peas.
My husband reckoned the combination sounded ‘weird’.
So I told him it was paella, Ration Challenge style, and laughed hysterically.
Can you help?
I completed my week on the Ration Challenge from 13 to 19 September, but my fundraising page remains open until the end of the year.
If you can spare anything, the money goes on food, hygiene packs and emergency support for refugees, and Concern Worldwide’s wider work combatting poverty and hunger.
I’ve been blown away at the support from family, friends and readers, and have raised enough to feed six refugees for a year. It’s made all the rice and frantic meal planning worthwhile.
I only need £50 odd to make that seven. Can you help? https://www.rationchallenge.org.uk/faith-archer
Now – over to you. Any tips to add for a Ration Challenge meal plan? Do share in the comments – I’d love to hear!