Food for thought: How to survive on £1 a day

Food for thought: From the left, Ilona Alcock, Hannah Bailey and Fiona Silvester.
Food for thought: From the left, Ilona Alcock, Hannah Bailey and Fiona Silvester.
Have your say

COULD you live on just £1 day for food and drink for a week, asks Jo Davison?

Thousands in the UK have to; circumstance forces them to live below the breadline.

Three Sheffield women have just found out what it’s like to go through such hardship, living on just £1 a day for a week in the name of charity.

They were among Junior Chamber International members around the country taking part in Save The Children’s Pound A Day challenge.

The money they saved on their weekly food bills was donated to Save the Children – and the experience has changed their food habits forever...

For more information on the challenge, go to

PROFESSIONAL nutritionist Hannah Bailey was determined to use her knowledge to be able to carry out the £1 a day challenge on an economical but healthy diet.

The 24-year-old usually manages to spend just £15 a week on food and didn’t think halving her budget would have too much impact.

“But it was really hard. I couldn’t have my usual healthy snacks of fruit, seeds and nuts because they cost too much and I couldn’t afford meat either,” says Hannah, who runs her own business, Wise Choice Nutrition. “I added as many vegetables as I could to things to bulk them up, but there were still times when I was hungry.

“And it got boring. To get any variety in your diet on such a low budget would take such a lot of organisation. You would need to spend a lot of time looking for bulk buys and special offers.”

Hannah did her shopping bit by bit, hunting for bargains. She bought tins of beans and pulses, found Quorn vegetarian mince and a vegetable stew pack at the Co-op for £1 each and a kilo of porridge oats at Asda for 75p.

She made batches of carrot and pearl barley soup, chilli and Bolognese sauce and portioned them up so she had enough to last her the week – and managed to persuade her mum to join in when she went home for tea.

“My week made me realise that the healthy eating messages we give out are very difficult for people on low budgets to follow.

“Your main focus is on making meals that are filling. You’re not going to spend 20p on an apple when you only have £1 for the entire day.”

CAFE owner and cake-maker Fiona Silvester managed to avoid temptation and stick to her pound-a-day basics.

She and husband James even managed to stage a dinner party without going over budget.

“On the last night, we pooled our resources with JCI Sheffield president Dan Senter and his wife Kate, the deputy national president, who had also taken the challenge.

“We had beef stew and vegetables followed by rice pudding for dessert and drank tap water.

“We had a surprisingly good night and didn’t go away hungry, which made a lovely change.”

The boss of Alexandra’s Cafe in Parkgate, Rotherham, who also runs the Very Delicious Cheesecake Company, had volunteered for the challenge after reading about the amount of food wasted in the world.

“People in America and Europe throw away enough to feed every starving person in the world. I thought that was obscene and wanted to do something to reduce what we waste at home,” says Fiona. “I went to Tesco armed with a calculator and tried to eke out our £14. It took an hour and a half and most of that time was spent taking things back to the shelves,” says Fiona, of Waterthorpe. “It was embarrassing; I felt a huge wave of sympathy for people who have to do that all the time.”

The couple breakfasted daily on porridge and had either home-made vegetable soup, egg or beans on toast for lunch. Thanks to her bargain-hunting skills, they were able to eat meat most evenings.

She found pasta for 17p, stock cubes for just 10p, a pack of five chicken breasts on offer for £3, a large pack of value mince for £2.34 and eked it out to make pasta sauces and burgers.

“I had worried I wouldn’t have enough energy to get through my working day; I’m on my feet from 6.30am to 4pm, but I was fine. We got hungry before meals and we ate far more starchy foods than normal and no fruit or cheese, which we missed the most. Our only luxury was a 33p packet of gingernut biscuits, so no wonder I lost four pounds in weight in a week,” she says.

“It taught us a lot and opened our eyes to the way some people have to live. We buy and eat a lot more than we need and that is going to change from now on.”

OPTIMISM, principles and vegetables – Ilona Alcock and husband James had them in bag-fuls when they blithely started out on their seven-day challenge.

But they were only half-way through when they realised how rash they had been.

“We had thought that after all the Christmas excess, it would be really healthy to live on little more than breakfast cereal and vegetable soup for a week. I’d thought I’d lose a bit of weight too,” says the 30-year-old former lawyer.

She and IT specialist James, who run their business Diced Software together, pooled their money and spent almost £10 of it on Aldi vegetables, porridge oats and Shreddies at Tesco.

“All went well for the first few days. Then we realised we hadn’t actually considered how many calories we needed to live on. We were so hungry. We went to bed fantasising about what we would eat when the challenge was over and steeling ourselves not to cheat and dip into our fully-stocked freezer.”

With £4 left, they went back to the supermarket.

“We had worked out that to get 2,000 calories a day, every 10p spent had to equate to 200 calories. That shopping trip was a huge eye-opener; we realised processed food is so much cheaper than fresh food and fruit and veg,” says Ilona, of Walkley.

“We bought six eggs, a tin of baked beans and an economy loaf. We couldn’t afford potatoes.

“That night we had eggs and beans on toast for tea – it was wonderful. The rest of the loaf was used to bulk up the soup each day. We couldn’t waste a thing.’’ The couple, who normally spend around £60 a week at the supermarket and eat out a couple of times a week, donated £46 to Save The Children.

Says Ilona, who lost 3lbs: “It made me realise how much I take for granted and I now plan meals before we go shopping and turn leftovers into a spaghetti sauce the next day.”