A friend of mine is currently taking part in the Live Below the Line challenge. It is an admirable idea: you have to live on a £1 for groceries per day per person for 5 days and donate what you would usually have spent on your shopping to the cause while at the same time experiencing how those who live in poverty exist on a daily basis.
It got me thinking whether we should be taking part and what it would entail. Could we do it as a family? Would my children be able to live on that little food without becoming hungry rampaging monsters? For that matter: would my husband pack his bags for the week and ship out untIl it was over?
I sat down to chat with the Hubby and we discussed the matter. He was not totally against the idea: we decided that it was a good cause and that we should definitely sponsor this friend and continue giving to our usual charities but it would be a more effective exercise for when the children are a bit older. With older children they could actually understand why they were being deprived and we could discuss what help we could think of to give those in need as a family.
In the meanwhile I did a calculation as to what our budget would actually be for a day. It is not a simple matter of typing £1 into xe.com you have to take Purchasing power parity (PPP) into account. I found out that on the US site you were allocated $1.50 a day. As per The World Bank website $1.5 are needed to purchase $1 worth of good in Switzerland. $1.5 with the current exchange rate gives me 2CHF as my daily budget.
So I sat down to work out a weeks worth of meals on a 56CHF budget and quickly saw how much of a challenge it was going to be. I wanted to be as sustainable as possible. We can all live unhealthily for a week on junk and then go back to normal but you aren’t getting a true experience of someone in poverty’s daily struggle.
To remain healthy the kids needed a litre worth of milk to get their calcium requirements every day and we would need some too. Since we were packing in calories on our budget there would be no more skimmed milk and instead we would all go for the whole milk especially as it is higher in vitamins and minerals. We need 10.5 litres a week for the family which represented 27.5% of our budget.
Looking at breakfast the clear winner on cost was porridge. A kilo bag of oats was half the price of most packaged cereals and we could cut some of the milk with some water to cook it and make it go further. We could feast like kings on porridge in the mornings and cut back on the other meals during the day.
Next I looked at fruit and vegetables. The cheapest veg I could find were tinned tomatoes 800g were a mere 90 centimes so I got 3 tins. Carrots were the cheapest fresh vegetable I could find at 2.95CHF for a bag of 2.5kg, onions were the next cheapest at 3.50CHF for 2.5kg (unfortunately you also get a lot more waste on onions than carrots) and 3.80CHF for a bag for of 2.5kg apples. All the other fresh produce was totally out of budget and I was surprised at how expensive the frozen options were too. Finally for our greens I opted for an 800g bag of frozen spinach for 2.60CHF. There went another 27.5% of my budget.
With over half my budget gone I looked at my meal options. Was I going to go with rice, flour or potatoes as my filler for the week? I opted for flour as I could think of many more basic recipes I could adapt for my budget. With flour we could live on pizza, pasta, bread, biscuits and batter-based dishes which all fill you up on very few ingredients. The cheapest I could find flour was for 90 centimes a kilo and 3 kilos would do for my week’s meal plan.
I would need some oil or fat for cooking and I opted for Olive oil as a luxury I prefer the taste and sometimes we would be having pasta with oil and cheese so it had to be tasty.
The biggest luxury item was the sugar that I needed for baking bread. Since I had splashed out on it we would make some biscuits too as snacks for the kids but even so we used less than a quarter of the kilo bag so I guess that would be an extra for the following week giving us more to spend on meat if we were truly living on this budget every day.
As I couldn’t afford a big box of salt I bought a box of 6 vegetable stock cubes to flavour our food. A box came to 1.50CHF and maybe over a period I could save for a box of bouillon powder which could be stretched further but maybe we would prefer to spend the extra on meat.
Yes, I keep mentioning meat as protein was the toughest thing to squeeze into our budget. I opted for a large 800g block on mozzarella for 3.75CHF which would be carefully rationed, 20 eggs for 4.80CHF and a 400g bag of mixed mince for 3.80CHF. That was the best I could do and hoped that the extra protein in the milk would be enough for my growing kids. This all came to a mere 26g protein per person per day if divided equally (not including the low values you would find in the other food stuffs).
The CDC recommends the following to give you an idea on what we should be eating.
|Recommended Dietary Allowance for Protein|
|Grams of protein
needed each day
|Children ages 1 – 3||13|
|Children ages 4 – 8||19|
|Children ages 9 – 13||34|
|Girls ages 14 – 18||46|
|Boys ages 14 – 18||52|
|Women ages 19 – 70+||46|
|Men ages 19 – 70+||56|
So let me give you our very basic but hopefully filling meal plan:
|Day 1||Day 2||Day 3||Day 4||Day 5||Day 6||Day 7|
|Tomato Soup||Eggy Bread||Onion Soup||Tomato Soup||Burger sandwich||Carrot soup||Onion Soup|
|1/2 loaf||1/2 loaf||1/2 loaf||1/2 loaf||1/2 loaf||1/2 loaf||1/2 loaf|
|Spinach||Tomato Sauce||Spinach & Egg||Tomato Sauce||(Margherita)||Spinach white sauce||Spinach|
|Milk for kids||Milk for kids||Milk for kids||Milk for kids||Milk for kids||Milk for kids||Milk for kids|
I stretched the meat and veggies as far as I could but I had to allow 20% of my vegetables to be waste (trimmings). Here are some example of the stretched recipes.
2 days worth of Tomato Soup
- 800g tinned tomatoes
- 150g carrots
- 160 onions
- 1 stock cube
- 600g onions
- 30ml olive oil
- 10g sugar
- 1 stock cube
1 loaf of Bread
- 225g flour
- 10g fresh yeast
- 5g sugar
- 30ml olive oil
- 150ml water
Yorkshire Pudding with mini meatballs
- 200g mince
- 200g carrots
- 100g onions
- 110g flour
- 2 eggs
- 290ml milk
- 30ml oil
- 360g oats
- 240g flour
- 160g sugar
- 450g milk
- 40g oil
- 200g flour
- 3 eggs
- 250g flour
- 15g fresh yeast
- 5g sugar
- 800g tinned tomatoes
- 150g onions
- 200g carrots
- 30 ml olive oil
- 1 cube vegetable stock
Despite the high calorie foods listed I think we would definitely start shedding the extra pounds fairly rapidly if we followed a 56CHF budget diet. The lack of wine, meat and cheese not to mention cups of tea would be very hard to adjust to. While we generally waste very little the exercise of planning for such a challenge has made me reevaluate what we consume.
I do spend a lot more than 56CHF a week but I buy locally and bypass supermarkets avoiding imported or non fair-trade products whenever possible which brings our costs up. I believe that in this way we are helping to support the social system and doing our bit. This was another stopping point for me as if I were to do the living below the line challenge I would want to do it sustainably and would have to compare with the local farmers’ direct prices.
What are your thoughts on this latest campaign? Is it creating the right sort of awareness? Does it encourage less waste or rather does it encourage people to spend on cheaper less sustainable products?
If you wish to donate to one of the charities associated with living below the line please do so here: https://www.livebelowtheline.com/uk/charity_donation