How to eat healthily on £1 a day

OMG Oh My God Dinner: one of several main dishes that costs as little as 37p a serving
mushroom and pea risotto Mushroom and pea risotto: 37p a serving
kidney bean burger Carrot, kidney bean and cumin burger: 42p a serving
curry Lentil and tomato curry with pitta: 42p a serving
White bean, kale and pasta soup White bean, kale and pasta soup: 41p a serving

Starting on Monday 29 April, 5,000 Britons will be challenging themselves to live on just £1 a day for five days, as part of a campaign by the Global Poverty Project.

But is it possible not just to survive, but also to eat a balanced and healthy diet on that sort of budget?

Over five days, I set out to see if it was possible to include sufficient fruit, vegetables, protein and carbohydrates in my food to do that, spending no more than £1 a day - while trying not to lose sight of the fact that eating should be a pleasure, not just a necessity.

Coffee, alcohol, cakes and even salad are just too expensive. But there are plenty of surprising goodies that are very much on the menu.

Day 1: Amount spent 97p

Did you know you can buy an egg for just 8.7p? It may not be an ethical egg, and of course you have to buy 30 to get that price.

A girl called Jack

Jack Monroe
  • Until two months ago, Jack Monroe was unemployed, and unable to claim all her benefits. She struggled to feed herself and her young son on a budget of £10 a week. Often she ate just a single meal a day.
  • She started a blog on how to eat cheaply. In February she became a trainee reporter on her local paper, The Southend Echo. She has just been offered an advance of £25,000 to produce a cookbook for Penguin.

But when you are on a real budget, it still gives you valuable protein and great vitamins.

So including one piece of toast, with margarine and a cup of tea, my breakfast costs me 14p.

Lunch is a ham sandwich, at a cost of 29p. Good protein, but that is nearly a third of my daily budget gone in just a few bites.

And come 3pm, a nasty thought is already beginning to insinuate itself. At first just a question mark, it develops more and more into a certainty. To start with it is mere peckishness. Then, undeniably, it reclassifies itself as hunger.

So I gorge on a value scone (5p) with jam (1p), and feel better. And I eat an apple.

Contemplating dinner, it is time to consult an expert.

Jack Monroe spent a year and a half out of work, and learnt to survive on next to nothing.

According to her blog, Oh My God Dinner is the result of surprise discoveries of anything left in the bottom of the fridge.

With cubes of melting Brie on top and scraps of bacon, it is full of varied flavours. We added peppers for extra colour and texture.

Oh My God Dinner

Ingredients Cost/serving Source

37p a serving

1/4 large courgette


eg £1.60/6 Tesco

1/4 red/yellow pepper


£1.51/6 Sainsburys

35g cooking bacon


£0.81/500g Morrisons

100g spaghetti


£0.19/500g Morrisons



£0.48/13g Asda



£0.74/17g Asda

5ml lemon juice


£0.50/250ml Tesco

50g peas


£0.89/900g Tesco

10g value Brie


£1.09/200g Sainsburys

1 garlic clove


£0.46/2 bulbs Sainsburys

Day 2: Amount spent £1

Breakfast, with porridge and two slices of bread and jam, comes to 18p.

So I splash out at lunchtime, and make myself a morale-boosting BLT. This is only possible with the price of cooking bacon (see above).

But lettuce at 4p for a single leaf, and a tomato at 5p, are real luxuries in this sort of diet, making lunch 26p.

And even more indulgent is a banana. All 14p of it.

Dinner is a true belly-filler, but with three vegetables, pretty healthy too.

Mushroom and pea risotto

Ingredients Cost/serving Source

37p a serving

75g mushrooms


£0.75/375g Morrisons

1 small onion


£0.49/1kg Morrisons

1 garlic clove


£0.46/2 bulbs Sainsburys



£1.39/litre Morrisons



£0.74/17g Asda



£0.74/11g Asda

50g plain rice


£0.40/kilo Morrisons

1 stock cube


£0.15/12 Tesco

hard cheese shavings


£2.30/200g Sainsburys

Day 3: Amount spent 94p

nettle soup Spring is the perfect time for nettle soup

Today, while walking the dog in our local woods, my wife and I have a brainwave.

The blackthorn is blooming, and everywhere bright green stinging nettles are pushing up through the undergrowth.

It is the perfect time of year for nettle soup.

Not quite free food though: the recipe has potatoes, butter and cream.

And you need plenty of patience to strip each plant of its leaves.

With two slices of value bread and margarine to go with it, lunch comes in at a below-average 17p.

And with dinner of carrot, kidney bean and cumin burger, I can almost believe I am eating meat.

Carrot, kidney bean and cumin burgers

Ingredients Cost/serving Source

42p a serving (makes two)

1/2 medium carrot


£0.49/6 Morrisons

1 small onion


£0.49/ 1kg Morrisons

2 sprigs coriander


£0.50/large bunch Tesco

1/2tsp ground cumin


£1.69/400g Tesco

1/4 can kidney beans


£0.21/ 400g Sainsburys



£1.39/ litre Morrisons

1/2tbsp flour


£0.65/1.5kg Sainsburys

For garnish

2tbsp mayo


£1.40/730g Tesco

1/2 iceberg lettuce leaf


£0.89/ 1 Tesco

1tbsp mango chutney


Neesa £1/400g Asda

2 buns


£1.20/12 Tesco

Day 4: Amount spent 91p

Start Quote

Custard creams

For a Brit, there can be no greater comfort food than a custard cream. With a cuppa.”

End Quote

Did I mention biscuits?

They are not only a significant morale booster, but cheap as well. A packet of value digestives costs 30p, and contains 30 biscuits.

And for a Brit, there can be no greater comfort food than a custard cream. With a cuppa.

Tea with three value custard creams will cost in the region of 4p (31p buys you 36 biscuits).

For anyone on a budget, this is surely a piece of heaven.

Jack Monroe's little tip is even cheaper. Have a lemon curd sandwich, for around 3p.

And talking of national favourites, what Brit wouldn't look forward to a curry?

Lentil and tomato curry, with a healthy dollop of Greek yoghurt and chopped coriander, is a delight to the taste buds as well as to the tummy.

Lentil and tomato curry

Ingredients Cost/serving Source

42p a serving

45g lentils


£1.99/kg Tesco

1/4 tin chopped tomatoes


£0.31/400g Asda

1/2 Maris Piper potato


£2.40/2.5kg Tesco



£1.39/litre Morrisons

1/2 small onion


£0.49/kg (c 20) Morrisons

celery stick


£0.89 bunch Tesco

1/2tbsp curry powder


£1.69/400g Tesco

1/2tsp cumin


£1.69/400g Tesco

stock cube


£0.15/12 Tesco

1 garlic clove


£0.46/2 bulbs Sainsburys

1 pitta


£0.22/6 Morrisons

4tbsp Greek yoghurt


£1.00/500g Asda

2tbsp coriander


£0.50 large bunch Tesco

Day 5: Amount spent £1

The strains show when someone arrives in the office with several large boxes of free crisps. The expensive hand-made kind too. While I tuck into a cream-cheese sandwich, with four slivers of cucumber.

Top tips in the supermarket

  • Look on the bottom shelves
  • Special offers are rarely the best value
  • Avoid branded goods
  • Don't be afraid to do some maths

But my mission is to eat healthily, so I need to find cheaper fruit.

After scouring the supermarkets, the cheapest apple I have come across is 10.3p; the cheapest banana is 14p. Salad is out of the question.

I go to my local market an hour before closing time, where fruit and veg is sold by the £1 tub.

Surely they will be giving it away? No. Despite an attempt at bargaining, the cheapest apple is 14p.

"Fixed prices!" explains the vendor.

Time for a bowl of hearty but nourishing soup.

Italian white bean, kale and pasta soup

Ingredients Cost/serving Source

41p a serving

50g white beans


£1.09/500g Morrisons

25g kale


£0.75/200g Sainsburys

25g conchiglie pasta


£0.98/1kg Asda

10g anchovies


£0.79/50g Tesco

1 stock cube


£0.15/12 Tesco



£0.67/27g Asda

So after five days I have spent just £4.93.

I consult a dietician to see how well I've done. She is impressed by the variety of food I've eaten.

"Those dinners looked great," says Alison Hornby, of the British Dietetic Association. "But I would say they may have been slightly smaller than you required. You may have felt hungry at the end of a meal."

After some quick calculations, she confirms that I am well short on my calorie intake.

"You could have done with something a bit more substantial," she says.

While I end up feeling a little virtuous, this has, of course, been an entirely artificial exercise.

"You're doing this as an experiment for five days," says Jack Monroe. "But when it is your way of life, and you haven't got any choice over it, it's not a fun experiment."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 346.

    Some good recipes there, thank you. It is possible to eat cheaply and healthily- step1-cut out fatty fast foods- they aren't even cheap. I know someone who has saved $3K+ in six months by eating in more, walking *past* Starbucks rather than through the door, and giving up bottled water for home filtered. He's taking himself to Italy for 14 days next month. Nice one!

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    I am taking part in the living below the line challenge starting on Monday. The rules are that you have to buy everything that you use, so you can't calculate how much an individual item costs, you have to buy the whole packet. So you have £5 to spend for the week. Much, much harder than the article. You end up eating porridge, bread and rice with only a few other things to break the monotony!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    The days have gone where folk should feel embarrased to buy cheap brands. I felt the ideas within Jacks Blog were useful. They won't suit everyones needs but personally I would feel a lot better feeding my kids on these ideas than processed chicken dippers. I am veggie. I also don't need to cut costs on food but do to prevent wastage. Im trying the kidney bean burgers this afternoon :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    Just a quick tot up of the ingredients would cost over £30 to buy, yes what was actually used may have cost £1 but you cant buy a tablespoon of mayonnaise or 2ozs of pasta at a time and cost of visiting several supermarkets just to compare prices should also be taken into account.
    To use up all the ingredients brought would be the same meals for 6 weeks.
    I admire anyone whose trying to do this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    If an individual can live on £1 per day then why do we have food banks?

    Some of these foodstuffs may be nutritious but their calorific value is extremely low thus the provision of energy is not sufficient to be sustainable over a long period of time.


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