How low can you go?

4 May

Hey people!

Over the past years when I’ve challenged myself to live on just a pound per day, I’ve relied heavily on discounted foods. One could argue that this means that living on such a tight budget doesn’t scale, since there are only so many discounted foods available. And one would probably be right. On the other hand, I’ve managed to stay well within the one pound budget last year – ending up spending a mere 80p per day and swearing a good bit along the way.

Other than doing my bit for charity, I’ve also tried to convey a second message – if you know how to cook, you’ll be able to eat a reasonably varied, reasonably healthy diet for less than you think.

But it made me think. What is the minimum cost at which we could still sustain ourselves reasonably well?

So I’ve done some number crunching and realized… even without depending on discounts, it’s possible to push things quite a bit further. I wouldn’t be doing anything much that you haven’t seen me do before though, so here’s the “magic formula” I came up with (prices as at the time of this writing):

  • Carbohydrate (Flour is cheapest – 45p for 1.5 kg at ASDA)
  • Fat (Lard is cheapest – 39p for 250g at ASDA)
  • Protein (Lentils are cheapest – 100p for 500g at ASDA)
  • And some budget frozen veg (1kg for 77p at ASDA)
    Total cost: 261p.

On a day-to-day basis, nutritionally this would provide you with the following (WARNING! Rough estimates):

50 grams fat, of which (approx 19.5 grams saturated fats); approx. 450 kcal
300g flour of which approx. 30g protein; approx. 1100 kcal
100g dried lentils of which 25-28g protein; approx 360 kcal
200g mixed veg, approx 134 kcal


Calories: 2044 kcal (recommended daily intake for an adult: 2000 – 2200)
Fats: 50 grams, (NHS reference intake: “Max. 70g”)
of which saturated: 20 grams (NHS reference intake: “Not over 20 g”)
Protein: Approx. 60 grams (NHS reference intake: 50 grams)
Carbohydrate: Approx. 300 grams (NHS reference intake: 260 grams)
Salt: See below* (NHS reference intake: <2400mg sodium or 6g salt per day)

* Unlike a normal diet where salt is a problem, I’d be worried about not getting enough sodium… but self-raising flour contains raising agents. For the above flour it accounts for the equivalent of .7 grams of salt worth of sodium per 100 grams of flour, keeping your sodium intake nicely in the recommended range between 500mg and 2400mg per day.

By the way, your food is going to be pretty bland.

So, nutritionally, at first glance, we can do pretty OK – unless you pay very close attention to what you eat, most of us do a lot worse than that! Even in terms of your five-a-days, you’re getting close – I’m not sure if preparing the lentils (which doubles their weight) counts in full.

I wouldn’t recommend doing this long-term, of course. It would probably kill you for lack of certain nutrients. In other words, DO NOT TAKE NUTRITIONAL ADVICE FROM THIS PAGE. But if you’re next to broke, at £2.61 for five days, you’re unlikely to go hungry… while still eating a fairly balanced diet.

Get a few more people together, and economies of scale start to apply. I reckon 50p per day is possible.


7 Responses to “How low can you go?”

  1. dropscone May 5, 2015 at 10:23 am #

    I’ve found split peas are cheaper than lentils – 53p for 500g at Morrisons and Tesco, 55p at Sainsburys, 64p in Asda. Raw they’re 25% protein, so you get 125g for that price (although if you get 10g protein per 100g flour that means the flour is actually a better value source of protein if you can eat that much – 150g for 45p!). If you dislike split peas and can scale up, you can by 5kg chickpeas at larger Tesco branches for £4.99. For smaller stomachs, 62p gets you 340g value peanut butter with 88g protein overall.

    • kleinebre May 5, 2015 at 6:12 pm #

      In terms of protein that puts split peas roughly on par with lentils – and for less.

      You’ve just broken the 50p per day barrier!!!

  2. Arno Brevoort May 5, 2015 at 5:41 pm #

    Ingredientswise this sounds like chapatis with lentil dahl. You’d need to spice it up though 🙂

    • Arno Brevoort May 5, 2015 at 5:46 pm #

      Alternatively — “bacon”/lentil soup with crusty bread.
      You *could* spread the lard on bread as you would butter.
      Split pea soup with veg + bread isn’t far off either.

      Hearty peasant food of the middle ages.

      • kleinebre May 5, 2015 at 6:05 pm #

        In a “bacon”/lentil soup, I’d expect a smoky flavour. That’s certainly something that’s within reach at even the slimmest of budgets?

  3. Arno Brevoort May 5, 2015 at 8:46 pm #

    Sure — here you go: bacon trimmings are 80p for 500gram at Tesco:

    • kleinebre May 5, 2015 at 8:59 pm #

      I was thinking of home-smoking, but… Oh wow, didn’t expect bacon to fit inside a one pound per day budget. That’s pretty awesome.

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