Lentils, eggs and crapples: living below the line.

Living below the line. It’s just like the 40h famine. Except there are no sleepovers, no sneaking of junk food bought with the intention of feasting post-famine, and no continual supply of Heard’s Barley Sugars and orange juice to keep you on a constant sugar high. The premise is to live on a food budget average of $2.25 per day for 5 days – the NZ equivalent of the extreme poverty line. Caryn and I had an additional challenge of not relying on foods such as bread and pasta to fill us up. Not only was it good to have the camaraderie of a friend to be able to share the experience, the buying power of greater than one could go a long way towards getting a decent food supply. Darren pointed out on the blog last week that his whole flat was able to eat meat, seasonal vegetables and eggs – which sounded luxurious compared to what Caryn and I were able to buy together.

So, what could 11.25 buy us? After an hour of scouring four different Asian fruit and vegetable shops (and Pak and Save) we were able to procure the foods below.

The food and cost

Food Cost per person Amount per day (avg)
½ Pumpkin 74c 150g
½ cabbage 85c 100g
250g lentils 1.34 50g
12 eggs 2.99 2 eggs
840g apples 65c 200g
1.1 kg carrots 84c 200g
bunch silverbeet 75c 80g
Coffee, tea, spices, etc 1.00
250g Butter 1.50 50g
TOTAL 10.66

We were stoked to be able to get a decent amount of vegetables as part of our allowance, and while others would have swapped out some of that for another source of carbohydrate, we just love vegetables. It goes without saying that the quality of the vegetables left a lot to be desired. And that it took time (and petrol) to source out vegetables at this price. The apples were…. crapples basically. Anything on the slightly soft side of crisp usually gets dealt to with a grater or baked in the oven. But price overruled all other factors. And lentils. Something I’ve not eaten pretty much all year. But they are a source of protein and pretty cheap. It was funny explaining to people what I was eating that week and the most common response was ‘lentils?! But that’s not paleo.’ Err, no – not paleo but equally, not the evil pulse that staunch paleo zealots consider it to be. If you’ve got metabolic issues (i.e. problems controlling blood glucose or insulin levels), if you’re overweight or you have any kind of digestive issue then lentils are not your friend. More recently proponents in the paleo space are more along the lines of ‘legumes? Well… why would you bother when you could get your protein from animal meat which is far more nutrient dense (in terms of availability of minerals, vitamins D and K, and higher in digestable protein).

The meals 

Breakfast: A poor man’s version of bulletproof coffee: butter in (instant) coffee. I know what you’re thinking – wtf?! It was surprisingly palatable. Or we had low expectations. Regardless, it is basically one step further than cream in coffee (which is certainly palatable), and a lot of people in the paleo-space have jumped on the bulletproof coffee bandwagon. Suffice to say I didn’t really feel bulletproof after drinking it – though many people claim the mental clarity comes through prolonged consumption. I’m happy to take their word for it.

Lunches: Lentil soup made with lentils, grated carrot, stock, pepper, cumin and chilli. And a crapple. This was filling enough, but I didn’t feel particularly satisfied.

Dinner: Vegetables along with an omelette of some sort, pan-fried in butter. I really looked forward to the omelette, as it’s my favourite egg meal. At the start of the week I also made a pumpkin bake (simplified version to one in the recipe section to the left) and baked one of the apples as a ‘dessert’ after dinner – I definitely looked forward to it.


Not much variety in colour, texture, flavours

I chucked the average day’s food into FoodWorks to see what the overall energy (in kJ) and nutrient content was (below).

Nutrient average per day: Amount % Total Energy
Energy (kJ) 3380kJ
Protein 23.7g 11.38
Fat 56.3 58.75
Saturated fat 31 32.23
Carbohydrate 71.3 24.65
Fibre 20.9g
Calcium 321 mg
Iron 5.3 mg
Vit D 4.8 ug
Vit C 101 mg

It goes without saying that it is massively deficient in overall kilojoules, being less than half the normal amount of what I would usually consume. The protein content was slashed too. Typically my diet would consist of around 30% protein, but you can see that 23.7 g equated to just over 11% of overall energy intake – the amount of protein you might find in 100g of a grilled steak. Interestingly I didn’t notice that I was lacking in energy throughout the week. Indeed, there were times I felt hungry but my appetite diminished somewhat over the week. The food, largely, satisfied my hunger, but not my appetite for eating and I imagine that had something to do with it. It wasn’t until Friday when I woke up feeling like I had nothing left in the tank (rather than hungry) that I really noticed it. Equally, today (Sunday), a day and a half since going back to a normal diet, I noticed an overall lack of strength on my longer training run – Cam totally kicked my butt on our run this morning. To be fair, that usually happens, but it’s not quite so definitive. (I was quite glad Belinda wasn’t there also). I put some of the lack of strength down to lack of good nutrition during the week, having lost around 800g over five days. Don’t go thinking I would recommend this type of approach for quick weight loss. First, it just took a few good meals to bump that back up 500g. And, if you were to continue on this path then muscle loss, illness and injury (for athletes) would inevitably follow. If you don’t break physically first, the psychological breaking point of eating this food day in and out would certainly drive most people to the closest shop to make up for lost food. It really is no wonder that, when people don’t eat nourishing whole food, the drive to consume junk food is far greater. By the end of the week the smell of Subway located in the bottom of my building at work was almost appealing.

What I missed

  • Real coffee in my Katmandhu plunger.
  • Animal protein and dairy – I hadn’t eaten vegetarian for so many meals in a row for as long as I could remember. I missed having my sardines or salmon at lunch, and I’d recently gotten into slow cooking meat to go along with mash and vegetables or salad at night, or a roast chicken. That type of food is just far more satisfying
  • Good, crisp, fresh apples
  • My soda stream sparkling water from my soda stream machine.
  • Almond butter
  • Variety: I missed the variety of food I typically eat – and it occurred to me that I didn’t chew as much as I normally did – usually a salad at lunch, and some crunchy vegetables at dinner, with fruit alongside breakfast made for a nice, crisp, colourful diet. I didn’t have that this week. So while I wasn’t hungry – I wasn’t necessarily satisfied.
  • Texture of foods

More than anything, I missed the freedom to eat what I want. It was a novelty for us but, for some, it’s a reality. So while I missed all of these things, I was safe in the knowledge that it was for a very short period of time. What I gained was a very small insight into what it could be like to live below the line, and a reminder of how lucky I am.

Thanks to Trish, Dani, Deb and Glenn, Judith, Hels and Claire for donating too!

7 thoughts on “Lentils, eggs and crapples: living below the line.

  1. I enjoyed reading this. At home I cook lentils into a paste, towards the end add a chopped onion and lots of butter, and some masala mix, cook a bit more. This makes it satisfying as well as filling.
    Cheap, fatty pork mince from a Chinese supermarket (<$5 Kg) might make my shopping list.

    • Hi George, thanks for your comment. I am not sure where you are based but definitely i agree you can find good cheaper cuts of meat etc from Asian supermarkets etc in the bigger centres that would help stretch the grocery budget. 🙂

    • Thanks Julianne 🙂 I used to have lentils all the time, and particularly liked a recipe from HFG that included coconut milk, grated carrot, lentils and tomatoes. On kumara it was delicious. 🙂 And they are definitely cost effective. These are certainly a good alternative for vegetarians IMO, just difficult within the constraint of the challenge.

  2. Pingback: Living (and running) Below The Line | runningtuff

  3. I love the idea behind the challenge but don’t know how well I would cope on it at all! I would get frustrated at eating the same foods all the time. It’s refreshing to know it can be done on such a budget (although not refreshing for those that have no other option but to live like that).

    • Hi Amanda, the only saving grace was that it was 5 days! I wonder what $5 a day would afford, and whether it would be sustainable. It has certainly made me more aware of the money I spend on food on a weekly basis – but I recommend people try it 🙂

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