‘I lived on 30p meals and it was exhausting and horrendous after just three days’

Budget meal-tester starts out with a red lentil curry recipe that estimates it should be 26p for a meal for four servings, containing items including chopped tomatoes and garlic puree

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Lee Anderson says food bank users need ‘cooking education’

A Tory MP who claimed that “generation after generation” of people in his constituency could not budget and there was no need for a massive of foodbanks has had his views put to the test.

Nottinghamshire MP Lee Anderson hit the headlines earlier this month after claiming in the House of Commons that a nutritious meal could be cooked for just 30p.

The Ashfield MP’s comments came as food prices skyrocketed as a result of the energy crisis, and also the cost of living increases, having a huge impact on families and individuals.

What extreme measures have you gone to to save save during the cost of living crisis? Email [email protected]

Tory MP Lee Anderson said people use foodbanks because they can’t cook or budget

Tester Caroline Barry, of NottinghamshireLiveput it to the test and here is her diary:

Day one

Today is my planning day so I spend ages poring over the internet to find decent cheap recipes to make. It’s harder than it looks because a lot of recipes are so out of touch with reality suggesting expensive or hard-to-find ingredients.

I ironically settle on a red lentil curry from Jack Monroe that estimates out at 26p a meal for four servings, containing items including chopped tomatoes and garlic puree.

I have to admit if it wasn’t for Monroe’s meticulous maths I would have had to spend hours more figuring out what to make. I find my first issue with 30p meals almost immediately – time.

To make this work, you need to have all the energy to spare to get creative with your cooking and budgeting.

You need to have quiet time free from childcare to concentrate on the maths involved and this is also not great if you are struggling with your mental health either.

The ingredients are the cheapest that can be bought

I have ADHD (Attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder) and anxiety so this was never going to go well for me. I get increasingly stressed out and upset as I try to work out the numbers in the supermarket, often putting things back that I cannot afford.

Several of the items were out of stock which also affected my maths, but I managed to get a few of the exact items listed in the recipe, which had been created in 2018.

I should stress here that I am a single person cooking for just me. This would be even more stressful and impossible if I had a family to provide food for or if I had dietary requirements that meant I needed special ingredients. In the end, the meal worked out at 87p per meal and that was with half the items missing that I needed.

Day two

I have the lentils again for my lunch which gives me enough to get through the day but there is very little in the way of fruit and vegetables in the meal.

The food does not always look appetising

My day has been consumed thinking about food – and not in a good way.

I’ve had to plan every spare penny to make sure I’m not wasting anything. No-one should have to live like this or be told that it’s down to their bad budgeting.

I can honestly say that there is not a cent unaccounted for when you are this close to not being able to afford to eat.

I get home from work and I am absolutely ready for my dinner but my stomach rolls at the thought of yet more lentil curry. It’s all I have thought and I’ve annoyingly gone through the four portions for three meals so I’m stuck.

I heat up the lentil mush and prepare to enjoy another bowl of it. Enjoy is too strong a word for something that looks like red wallpaper paste.

Day three

I start the day with meal preparation again which means getting up early so I can do this before work. The energy that this takes is horrendous as I prepare to make the longer walk to Tesco as I only have a comparatively more expensive small Co-op near my house. I’ve also exhausted myself mentally before working with the meal planning, too, so I’m tired before I even start.

I decided to invest in Tesco Farfalle bows at 75p per packet which I estimate will give me six servings at 12p each. I add a jar of Tesco vegetable pasta sauce to my basket for 70p. If I get the same servings out of that then it’s 12p per dish which means I’m now at 24p for this meal. This will mean I am fed but there is nothing spare for any vegetables to go into the meal so where is this alleged nutrition coming from?

After three days of this, I honestly say it’s not feasible to prepare nutritious meals for 30p. You can choose nutritious or filling thanks to the cost of pasta vs the price of vegetables. Not to mention, no-one should have to live with the level of planning and energy expenditure that it takes to produce these meals.

Food banks are doing essential work in our communities but they can’t do it alone. If you are considering food banks or on 30p meals then there is literally nothing left to waste, so how are you supposed to better your budgeting when you have nothing left?

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