A cause for optimism?

Stories of environmental disaster are rarely out of the news these days, and it’s difficult not to see the future of our planet as a bleak one. Food waste is a huge contributor to this. In 2015, we threw away 7.3 million tonnes of perfectly edible food. This is the equivalent in carbon emissions terms of 1 in 4 cars on UK roads.

One in four. Just let that sink in for a minute.

And yet progress on cutting food waste remains painfully slow. Countries such as France have outlawed food waste but few have followed their example. Like we said, it can be difficult to remain optimistic especially when, week after week, we’re collecting bags and bags of fruit and veg – some of which has clocked up a frightening number of food miles.

That’s why events such as the recent Earth Optimism Day are so necessary.

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Our local event, organised by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, was packed full of hopeful stories and talks from inspiring figures such as Jane Goodall and David Attenborough.

We were delighted to be asked to take part in the Solutions Fair, a key part of the day that highlighted the practical steps people are taking to minimise the effects of climate change. The fair was organised around four themes; buying smart, going wild, bright ideas and eating well. A perfect opportunity for us to showcase the work of FoodCycle hubs across the country! And we were in great company with Hotel Chocolat, Cambridge Sustainable Food, Hodmedods, the Sustainable Fish Campaign and Cambridge Carbon Footprint.

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The David Attenborough Building was busy from the minute the doors opened at 11 until the fair shut at 4. Our volunteers had an absolute blast talking to so many people about food waste, its environmental impact and how projects like ours, that try and work towards a more sustainable food system, can make a real difference.  We handed out plate after plate of food waste tasters, including Cajun spiced kale chips, crostini with roasted peppers, walnuts and goats cheese, and kiwi fruit salsa.

The highlight of the day had to be when the day’s main speaker stopped by our stall, grimacing as he asked for something to take away the taste of the 100% cocoa chocolate he’d just eaten.

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Once we’d recovered the power of speech, we had a great chat with Sir David about where all the fruit we were offering visitors had come from; bananas from Colombia, a Jamaican papaya – even the apples weren’t local. As he stood there, casually eating our grapes, he was outraged to hear that everything on our trays had been destined for the supermarket’s bins just one day earlier – especially when it had come from so far afield.

A truly amazing day, and one we won’t forget for a long time. Not only did we meet an all time hero, we saw and spoke to hundreds of engaged, motivated people (especially children) who are ready for change.

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Reason to be optimistic indeed.


Khosh amadid to FoodCycle, Persian style! 

The Cambridge food scene continues to go from strength to strength, and there seems to have been a lot of interest recently in Persian food. Pomegranates, walnuts, herbs and aubergines – I mean, what’s not to like?! We’re always looking for new fundraising ideas and hadn’t organised any big events for a while – so when Saba, one of our new volunteers, got in touch earlier this year with a proposal to put on a Persian feast, FoodCycle-style, of course we said yes straight away.  Saba, who has run similar events before at Cambridge Cookery School, came up with an absolutely mouthwatering four course vegetarian menu.


Of course, our aim was (as always) to source as much of this as possible from surplus and donated food.  Eventually around 70 per cent of what we served was made with ingredients gleaned from our regular food collections, and with the support of our community partners Waterland Organics, Cambridge Organic Food Company and Radmore Farm Shop any last minute menu changes were (thankfully) kept to a minimum.

The congregation at our regular Saturday venue, Wesley Methodist Church, also kindly offered to let us use their building for free – so we were all systems go for April 8th once Saba had finished celebrating Nowruz.  Our team of seven volunteer cooks worked their socks off in the kitchen (once we’d served our regular weekly lunch), with delicious smells of cardamom and rose soon filling the air.

Meanwhile, the front of house volunteers were busy transforming the refectory at Wesley. By 7 p.m. the cocktails – a pomegranate fizz or a glass of sekahnjebin, an Iranian mint syrup served with soda and grated cucumber – were poured and ready, and the tables were soon filling up…

We were really pleased to welcome some of our community partners (Waterland Organics and Cambridge Organic Food Company) too, as a way of saying thank you for all their support.  This is Paul and Doreen Robinson from Waterland, with Ann Mitchell of Cambridge Sustainable Food – they supplied the spinach that went into one of the main course dishes.


It was lovely to see our 70 guests tucking into each course, particularly the 20 or so people who’d never heard of us or been to a FoodCycle meal before – all in all, a fantastic opportunity to show people just what you can do with surplus food and to raise awareness of what we do.

With all the changes and upheaval last year due to moving venues, it was great to be able to run a big event like this again. So much so that we’re already planning another for late summer/early autumn – watch this space for more detail and snap up your ticket when they go on sale!

Thank you once again to all our guests, who helped raise a fantastic total of £1007.14 that will go towards helping provide even more meals to our local community. And thank you to the amazing volunteers without whom it wouldn’t have been possible!


Cambridge Half Marathon – update

In our last post we introduced you to one of our volunteers, Jafarr, who was running the half marathon in aid of FoodCycle – and we’re delighted to say he’s back again to let you know how he got on (proud faces).  Over to you again, Jaf… 

Training – the final push!

On the 26th I decided to run the race circuit, just to make sure I was actually  capable of running the distance.

I met up with my colleague Sasha, who was also planning to run the half, on Midsummer Common. The weather was perfect – slightly chilly and dry. We started running from Midsummer Common toward Chesterton and, about a mile in, a fellow runner asks if we are running a full marathon! Trying to disguise our looks of horror, we explained that no, we were *just* running a half in preparation for a race the following weekend.

His name was Michael and he was from Croydon. Apparently there was a group running a full marathon that day and he didn’t manage to get to Cambridge early enough for the start – so he decided to run with us! His conversation helped to pass the distance, and before we knew it we had run past King’s, through Trumpington and were already in Grantchester.

Around this point my feet began to hurt, which I had anticipated. Running is much more of a mental challenge than it is a physical one, so I pushed on.  Weirdly, my feet were going slightly numb, which at least relieved the pain from my blisters. I made a mental note to make sure to tie my shoes tight on race day.

Running the final leg through Chesterton, I pictured the finish, dug deep and ran hard. We all finished it in roughly 2 hours 10 minutes! Michael noted that I hadn’t run to my full potential, as I wasn’t overly exhausted, and reinforced his belief that I could run it under 2 hours. I wasn’t so confident, but I guess we will see.

After I high fived the crew, I hobbled home, happy knowing I was well capable of running the distance, showered and had a well deserved nap.

Race day dawns…

The day of the race finally arrived and what terrible weather – wet, windy and cold! Still, I guess that’s what you get for signing up for a race in March.

The first hour was spent waiting for the start. Standing idle, with only a thin t-shirt on, I was soon soaked through and shivering. Very soon, we runners were huddling together for warmth, just like penguins!

Once the race got underway I soon warmed up and forgot about the poor weather conditions. There was a large turnout of supporters – I ran past many children offering high fives and gummy bears!

Remember that practice run I did? Well, it turns out we had not followed the route exactly and in fact the actual route was a little longer! After chatting with other runners I was happy that my pace was good though. 

Five or so kilometres from the finish, I spotted an old flatmate, Ruben, in the crowd. We high fived, and that started a wave of people wanting to high five me! 20 or so high fives in I had to stop – it was slowing me down!

The last few kilometres were tough. My legs were slowing, no matter how much my brain was screaming at them not to, and admittedly, at times, I had shamefully thought about walking!

I finished with a time of 1:50:13 – sub 2 hours and importantly also faster than what my work colleague Sasha ran!

Next, a full marathon? Probably not, but I’d still be up for running another half – maybe in autumn, when the weather is likely to be drier.

Much love to those who supported me and donated on my fundraising page. There’s still time to donate here until June – all three charities are such worthy causes, and every penny is going to make a real difference to lots of people both here in Cambridge and across the world.

Volunteer of the month – Jafarr

Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing our volunteers’ personal stories – how they got involved in FoodCycle, what motivates them, and the different challenges they’ve taken on to raise awareness of food waste and food poverty. So, without further ado here’s the first in our new series. Jafarr joined FoodCycle about 4 months ago, and has been a regular fixture in the kitchen ever since. This weekend he took on the Cambridge Half Marathon to raise money for FoodCycle. Over to you, Jaf…

Brief intro – I’m Jafarr (pronounced, “Jaffa” as in Jaffa Cakes). I moved to Cambridge just over a year ago to start a graduate job. I started volunteering for FoodCycle back in November. The idea of collecting and cooking food that would otherwise be wasted to help feed those at risk of food poverty struck a chord.

Even though I’m a complete amateur, I’m a huge fan of cooking and I try and cook something I’ve never tried every weekend. So, volunteering a few hours on Saturday mornings (which would have otherwise been spent sleeping) was a no brainer!

I have learnt many skills during my time volunteering for FoodCycle – I mean, aren’t we all forever students? The art of conjuring up a meal from a random selection of ingredients is a something I had previously little confidence in doing. A special thanks to Alex and the other hub leaders who have inspired me to occasionally try cooking like this myself.

Being part of the cooking team has also honed my food preparation skills – “pro Brussel sprout peeler” is now going on to my CV.

Somewhat stupidly, I let a work colleague convince me to run the Cambridge Half Marathon this weekend. Only a half marathon, mind you, because I’m only half stupid!

I decided to raise money for three charities, including FoodCycle – and I’ve already reached over £640 thanks to generous donations by friends, family and work colleagues. I’d still like to raise a bit more if possible, so please goto my online fundraising page here. Donations of any size are very welcome, and will go to support some fantastic charities.


Jaf (Brussels sprout peeler and custard maker extraordinaire)

Reflections on the Breadline Challenge

Finally we’ve got to the last day of the 2016 Breadline Challenge – thank goodness.

I felt like I’d planned a lot better than last year, and was able to draw on some of those lessons.  I’d even saved some treats in the form of cheese for the weekend, which can be pretty grim if your budget restricts you from doing anything much.  I’ve also eaten pretty well today, but I’m still glad it’s (almost) over. Just like last year, I’m acutely aware how lucky I am that I can just go back to *normal* tomorrow morning and help myself to a steaming cup of that coffee I’ve been eyeing balefully all week. Not everyone’s that lucky, and it’s essential – even more so than last year, with food poverty figures on the rise again – that we keep this on the public and political agenda. Let’s keep the pressure up, keep telling these stories and keep doing what we can to help.

Breakfast: Menemen (51.2 p per portion)

Turkish eggs (menemen) today, made with the last egg that I’d been hoarding since Thursday and about a fifth of what was by now a rather shrivelled and sad looking red pepper. I found half a chilli left at the back of the fridge too, and half an onion which I sliced up and fried everything together, adding half a tin of tomatoes and letting it reduce for a bit.  Then you crack the egg into a nest in the middle and cook until it’s just set before drizzling over some yoghurt mixed with minced garlic (my last clove of the week). Absolutely delicious – like a shakshuka, basically.  The yoghurt really made it though. Definitely making this one again.

I skipped lunch because breakfast was so late it was basically brunch, and was pretty filling. Plus I knew dinner was going to more than make up for it.

Dinner: Two cheese scone base pizza with mushrooms and spinach (48.3p per half a pizza)

I’d made an extra one of these yesterday, ready to go into the oven for a quick dinner as I had tickets to a Cam Lit Fest event that I’d bought weeks before the challenge. This pizza is just gorgeous (I’ve had mad pizza envy since Thursday when I saw the one Beckie at FoodCycle Lewisham had made). And much quicker than making a proper pizza base – I just knocked up a batch of the yoghurt scone dough and then spread that with all the pizza toppings. 20 minutes in the oven and it’s ready with a lovely crispy base and lots of melted cheese. Cue the Homer Simpson drooling noises as I took it out of the oven.

So…was it worth it?

Absolutely. I’m not kidding that I’ve changed anything much.  But I do know that we’ve at least raised a bit of awareness – and that’s what’s needed.  And I’ve learned a huge amount – more probably than last year.  Here are my three main things I’ll be taking away from the challenge;

  1. My body really doesn’t like sugar. I basically ate none all week until Friday afternoon when I decided to splash 30p of my precious contingency on a snack ‘bought’ from our M&S food pick up. I thought long and hard about which to choose, and went for the flapjack because it had pumpkin seeds and dried fruit and I though it would be a good energy boost, right? Wrong. It was so sweet I had an almost immediate reaction, becoming quite hyper and then a bit queasy. I don’t eat that many sweet things usually, but the processed foods that I’d foregone for the week must have more sugar in than I thought. My body had adjusted to the lack of sugar over the week so that when I had quite a hit of it all in one go, the effect was really strong.  Time to start watching out for those hidden sugars.
  2. I really value having a bit of choice in what I eat. My income’s not that high but I can at least afford to buy organic if I want, meat from my local farm shop or try a couple of new cheeses.  If you’re living on the breadline, your choices are severely limited to say the least.
  3. Food = mood.  I’ve been pretty grumpy and downbeat for most of the week, and it’s taken a lot of effort to drag myself out of that grey gloom.  We all know about the impact that food can have on your mental health, but this week’s really brought it home to me.  Especially when you factor in the importance of eating together, which I talked about a bit yesterday.  Food is – or should be – a social thing, a pleasure rather than purely functional.


But what really makes it worthwhile…

We’ve raised a whopping £525 between us (actually £619.38 with Gift Aid), thanks to some amazingly generous donors. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU. Every penny will go to help a charity we feel passionately about. I can’t explain it any better than this, from a guest that came to us recently via the food bank.

“It’s just nice to get such a warm welcome. We weren’t going to come because we didn’t really know what to expect, but it’s been brilliant – especially the food. And you’ve treated us like we matter for once.”

There’s still time to sponsor us online here (the fundraising page closes on Tuesday).

So, how about next year – fancy giving it a go? Get in touch!

Day 7 guest blog

FoodCycle Lewisham is one of the newer hubs, set up as a partnership with Rushey Green Time Bank. Since they opened in May 2016, they’ve already served an amazing 712 meals, dishing up Saturday lunches at the Calabash Centre on George Lane. We visited a couple of months ago to take them some olive oil, and it was lovely to sit down and chat to some of their guests – not to mention tucking into some delicious food. They’re a really friendly bunch, so if you’re local you should pop in for lunch or sign up to volunteer!

One of their hub leaders, Beckie Wingrove (who coordinates their PR, marketing and communications) is also doing the Breadline Challenge and has very kindly written a guest blog for us.  That’s her in the bottom right hand picture, wearing one of our fetching turquoise hub leader t shirts.

Over to you, Beckie…

You are what you eat…

Now, this may be a saying that is a tad over-used, but essentially – it’s true. And most importantly, what we eat not only affects our body shape, it heavily affect our mood.

Food poverty – which is defined as the inability to afford or access healthy food – not only restricts low-income groups with regards to lack of sustenance, it can also heavily affect one’s mental state, putting people at a higher risk for depression.

Food makes me happy. Sourcing it, cooking it, eating it – alongside family and friends – is most definitely very near the top of my favourite things to do. For those less fortunate, the pleasure of enjoying a simple meal is a luxury both physically and psychologically that I admittedly take for granted. It’s also safe to say that for those affected by food poverty, the lack of a decent meal is not the sole concern, with other financial and social pressures affecting how day to day priorities are juggled.

Along with sticking to the £2.50 a day budget set by FoodCycle for the Breadline Challenge, I also set myself the following challenges to ensure my diet was varied, healthy and nutritious – and left me upbeat and excited for my next meal!

  • Aside from breakfasts, not to repeat the same meal for lunch/dinners more than twice. After all, keeping costs low would be a lot easier if I were to make a large bulk meal and eat that for all of my lunches and dinners for a week. However, I feel strongly that to ensure that mealtimes are still enjoyable and not only seen as a time to refuel, variety is required not only to ensure you’re getting a range of nutrients, but to keep you upbeat and engaged with your diet.
  • Aim to eat a nutritious, balanced diet based on recommended daily values, as well as the NHS’ EatWell guideline of 5 portions of fruit and veg a day. Education on nutrition is essential, as research shows socially-disadvantaged households likely to be affected by food poverty consume less nutritionally-balanced diets and suffer from higher rates of diet-related chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and certain cancers at a younger age.

So, how’s it going for me so far? Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Planning – To stick to £2.50 a day for all 3 meals, the secret is most definitely in the planning. In total, I must have spent nearly two hours planning the week’s meals, researching how I could make the most out of a relatively limited collection of ingredients. For those affected by food poverty, I appreciate that this amount of planning time may not be feasible alongside everyday life (as well as a potential lack of knowledge/confidence). I found the internet a great source of inspiration for low-cost meals, and enjoyed following @onepoundmeals on Instagram for cheap meal ideas.
  • Shop Around – the ability to shop around could be a challenge for many affected by food poverty, depending on where you live. Trips to the cheapest supermarket are limited by car ownership or poor provision of public transport, with people on lower incomes generally shopping locally (and more regularly) at small retailers that offer a limited range of foods and fewer fresh fruits and vegetables. I used the price comparison website mysupermarket.com to assess which supermarket had the lowest prices/offers – and ended up doing my week’s shop at 2 supermarkets: Morrisons and Lidl, which luckily for me were both local.
  • Grow your Own – Herbs add bucketloads of flavour, yet are relatively expensive when buying freshly cut and often end up going to waste. I have had a herb garden for nearly 2 years now which I’ve kept alive at zero cost (except for watering) – seeds can be picked up at very low cost and it’s a great family activity for those with young children.
  • Flavour – To ensure your food still packs a punch, ensure that you choose a small number of foods that deliver strongly on flavour, double up as seasoning and require relatively small amounts per meal. I opted for chorizo (smoky and packed full of spicy flavour, as well as full of fantastic oil when cooking), feta cheese (great for a salty, tangy flavour), sun dried tomatoes (a nice punch of tomato flavour, plus you can use the flavoured oil for cooking) and fresh chilies (for that spicy kick!).
  • Go full fat! The belief that fat isn’t a health villain has been gaining traction over the last few years. Scientists have revealed people who consume full-fat milk – as opposed to low-fat milk – have a 46 per cent lower risk of developing diabetes, in addition to a lower risk of being obese or overweight. So I’ve opted for full fat whole milk, mozzarella and butter instead of margarine.
  • Eat Happy – Choose foods that scientifically make you happier! I opted for fresh chilis (release natural endorphins + kill pathogens so you’ll be happier and cold-free), cabbage (endorphin-boosting properties and vitamin B6 which fights stress hormones), tomatoes (contains the antioxidant lycopene), bananas (contains tryptophan, a protein that the body converts into serotonin, known to make you relax, improve your mood and generally make you feel happier), eggs (They’re a great source of zinc, which helps you to feel more alert and energised by regulating your metabolism and blood sugar levels – plus are packed with L-tryptophan, known to boost those happy hormones) and yogurt ( rich in calcium, a mineral which can ease mood swings, depression and anxiety).
  • Zero Waste – use every part of every ingredient. For example: I roasted a chicken, then used the carcass to make chicken stock for my chicken & sweetcorn soup, don’t peel your root vegetables – just give them a good scrub, the peel is added fibre and extra crispy when roasted, and last but not least – buy canned plum tomatoes (and not chopped) as they’re the same price but contain fleshier tomatoes with less watery seeds – so more flavour!
  • Tupperware – Make sure you’ve got a relatively decent collection of plastic Tupperware to store your food in, as you’ll need to ensure nothing spoils when using ingredients for multiple meals.


If you’d like to follow Beckie’s blog you can find it here


Breadline Challenge Day 6

FoodCycle Saturday

When I signed up to lead today’s cooking session weeks ago, I’d totally forgotten it’d still be the Breadline Challenge – the one mistake I told myself I wouldn’t make again after last year.


Cooking at FoodCycle during the challenge is always tricky, and today was no exception. Especially with all the cookies and doughnuts we picked up yesterday.

Here’s a glimpse of what I didn’t eat – smoky roast squash, pepper and tomato soup with garlic croutons, Pip’s veggie tagine with swede and potato mash, spinach salad and winter slaw, and to finish St Clement’s pudding with cardamom baked clementines. Not exactly what I’ve been eating all week, nice as most of it’s been.

If I was living on this sort of budget long-term, having the option to come to somewhere like FoodCycle would be even more important.  Most weeks I see our guests taking home second helpings in endless margarine tubs, or looking through the leftover bread, fruit and veg, but today’s really brought home to me how much a lot of people on low incomes can rely on it to fill in the gaps in their weekly shop.

What I did eat…

Breakfast was my prized second frittata from yesterday’s lunch swap.  I’d though long and hard about sacrificing some of my precious blue cheese, but compromised and added extra large (I’m using that term very loosely) chunks to the one I was saving for myself! I wasn’t feeling that altruistic yesterday ( especially not when it comes to cheese).  Lunch was a soup of broccoli stalks, spinach and white beans with the rest of the blue cheese crumbled on top.  Really, really tasty and only 38.3p per portion, although it didn’t quite make up for missing out on the tagine.

Dinner was one I’ve been waiting for all week – scone base pizza with that last bit of mozzarella I’ve had to stop myself eating as a snack.  I wanted to make it a florentine pizza but I’ve only got one egg left and wanted to treat myself to another baked egg for Sunday breakfast. Still tasted good though, with my last few mushrooms and some spinach and cost just 40.1p. And yes, I did eat the whole thing.  If it was earlier in the week and I didn’t know the challenge was finishing tomorrow I’d have probably felt like I had to save some.  I’ve been feeling like that all week – what if I run out? Shouldn’t I save that in case I need it?

After going back to buy the forgotten eggs, I’d left myself with a whopping contingency of 37p.  For the whole weekend.  No going out. Nothing. As I pointed out to Daniel Zeichner at our lunch swap yesterday, that’s the reality for many of his consituents who really are living on the breadline – this continual grind where you can’t afford to do many nice things like go out with your friends (not even for a coffee, let alone the pub or the cinema) or treat your kids.  You certainly can’t be spontaneous, not when every last penny is planned and budgeted for. You can’t get up on Saturday morning and think ‘I fancy a trip to London to see the Christmas lights’ or ‘Why don’t we go and see that film that you were telling me about’?  It simply not feasible for a lot of people, and that’s just not right.  People aren’t greedy, they don’t want hand outs.   They just want to be able to live well – and that includes being able to eat good food.

We collected an amazing 263 kg of food this week, an all-time record for us. We had all sorts – a whole tray of lemons, bags upon bags of clementines, two trolleys full of bread (don’t even get me started on the overproduction of bread).  Even four boxes of tea pigs and some coconuts (which we hollowed out and played Monty Python and the Holy Grail with).

I know that food waste isn’t the perfect long-term solution to the issue of food waste just the same as I know food waste can’t solve the problems underlying food poverty. But surely it’s just plain wrong not to use surplus food to help out people who need it. I mean, that’s just basic humanity and a good dose of common sense, right?

Of course, the real value of FoodCycle is its social side. As Mary, our CEO said when we launched this year’s social impact report,

“We don’t just hand out or redistribute food. Instead, we’re about volunteers and guests sitting down and eating together – and all the positive interactions that come from that experience. For many vulnerable people who come to us, a FoodCycle meal is the one chance a week they have to share a meal and a conversation with others.”

It’s just as important for volunteers too.  I really enjoyed seeing all the familiar faces today, some of whom I hadn’t seen for a while, and catch up over a plate of tagine (well, they had tagine at least).  And being in the kitchen was great fun too, with a really lovely atmosphere – not to mention some very interesting chats over the mountain of clementines, about a whole range of topics from double-yolkers to Iranian foreign policy.

Only one day left though, and I can’t say I’m sorry. I’m looking forward to that first cup of coffee!

Breadline Challenge Day 5

Hitting that mid week-slump

Okay, so it’s technically Friday but I really felt like I hit that famous mid-week slump today.  When I woke up this morning I had absolutely no energy whatsoever, and spent an hour procrastinating about getting up to make a cuppa.  I knew I had a busy day ahead of me, with two food pickups, the lunch swap at Wesley (more of that later) and various other things – but I just couldn’t make myself move.

Eventually tempted out from under the duvet by the prospect of some blue cheese at lunchtime, I still felt like I was moving 50% slower than normal.  I’ve found it really hard to concentrate over the past couple of days too (a bit tricky when you’re proofreading a friend’s PhD thesis). Imagine having to jobhunt, or work long hours, or attend DWP interviews when you feel like this – it’s hardly surprising that people living with food poverty long term can find it tough to keep going.

This week has been pretty full on, with catering and organising a couple of events, so I’ve handed over blogging duties to Jane and Amelia for the past couple of days.  But I’ve been plodding along with the challenge and still steering clear of the old porridge.

Day 3

Breakfast was berry bircher muesli (60p per portion) that would definitely have benefited from a bit of sweetness – in fact, at 6.30 that morning I’d have cheerfully sold my own grandmother for a teaspoon of honey.  Plus it was my most expensive breakfast of the week, so I felt a bit cheated.

Lunch was a good one – lentil fritters made with mashed potato left over from Tuesday’s cottage pie and Monday’s soup (42.1p for four huge fritters).  Add an egg, a bit of flour and voila! Great comfort food, and really set me up for the trip to London where we were catering for Grub Club at the ExCel.

After an evening ferrying brownies across town on the DLR and then rushing home, I was in no mood to deal with lentils – so I scarfed down the remaining two thirds of a tin of mandarins (23p).  Skipping meals on the challenge isn’t recommended, and I’ve certainly paid for it since in terms of low energy levels, but preparing and eating food this way just takes so much flipping time.  It’s easy to see why people struggle when they’ve got so many other things to worry about.

Day 4

A slow start to the day meant breakfast became brunch, but boy was it worth waiting for.  Sweetcorn and spring onion fritters (43.8p for four fritters), using up the remaining rice from Tuesday’s stuffed pepper, really hit the spot – even if there was a slight danger of fritter overload!

Lunch was the crowning glory of the week and my discovery of last year’s challenge, Jack Monroe’s mushroom bolognese recipe (28.3p per portion).  I swear, this stuff must have restorative powers because I’d perked right up by early afternoon.  Do yourselves a favour and try making it, because it’s really, really tasty – I helped run some family cookery workshops earlier this year and it was one of the things the kids there enjoyed cooking ( and eating) the most.  We make it a lot at Barnwell FoodCycle as well, and it always goes down a treat.

Unfortunately, come dinner time I was in the middle of proofreading duties again so downed another bowlful of the bolognese – no hardship, really!

Day 5 – coffee withdrawal really setting in…

After sulking in bed for an hour about the lack of coffee, I ended up having to make do with a cup of tea for breakfast.  Like I said, it was going to be a busy day though – starting with making my contribution to the lunch swap we organised.

I’d been talking to our local MP, Daniel Zeichner, at another event recently and when I mentioned the challenge to him he was keen to support us in some way.

We thought long and hard and came up with the idea of a lunch swap. The idea of the swap is that everyone brings a meal they’ve made for an absolute maximum of 83p (the daily £2.50 food budget divided by 3), and then swaps it with the person to their left.  It’s a great way of raising awareness, and confronting people with the reality of what eating on the breadline can be like (the monotony, the lack of choice, the endless planning) rather than reading a bunch of statistics.

There were some great contributions.  Courgette and tomato rice from Daniel, some butterbean and lentil slow cooker stew and my broccoli, red pepper and blue cheese spaghetti frittata (with a couple of yoghurt scones for good measure) – an idea I borrowed from Jane, our guest blogger on Day 3 (mine came in at 48.8p per portion with a second frittata left for breakfast tomorrow).
It was great to be able to actually show Daniel a bit of what it’s like for his constituents who live on the breadline – and there are plenty of them, as recent figures show.  We talked a lot about the benefit debates that have been going on in Parliament this week (the timing of the challenge couldn’t have been better, really) and I know Daniel felt that he’d got some really useful insight that he’d be able to share with colleagues, and which would help support the debate. Win win, I’d say.

Look out for us on Cambridge TV on Monday, and in the Cambridge Independent on (we think) Wednesday.

Oops – skipped dinner again!

Cups of tea (still not coffee): 3


Breadline Challenge Day 4

Doing the Breadline Challenge as a student 

Written by Amelia, our Student Liaison Coordinator

Going from a catered student diet supplemented with cereal bars, pasta and at least four cups of coffee a day to a £2.50 daily budget and an entirely self-catered menu was always bound to be a challenge, and so far the week has been a real eye-opener.

One thing that has particularly struck me during the first three days of the challenge is just how much planning and organisation is required to live on a limited budget.  It’s something I don’t usually have to think about. I’ve spent so much time worrying about whether I will have enough tinned tomatoes left by the end of the week or whether my milk will last for Sunday’s breakfast! Like Alex, I’ve had concerns about whether I’m eating too much for my budget or whether I’m eating too little or whether I will run out of food… and so it goes on.  While I’m only doing this for one week, this must be a constant nagging worry for people living on a low income and struggling to eat a satisfying and nutritious diet.

Students – including me – often lament the misery of a university budget, yet living on £2.50 a day in the long term calls for much more discipline.  People experiencing food poverty may not always have the time or energy to invest in such meticulous preparation for a week’s eating. When I’ve talked to friends about the challenge, they’ve come to realise that £2.50 is the amount they spent on that panini they bought for lunch or the hot chocolate they grabbed before heading to a lecture.  During a normal week I am can afford the same luxury of less careful spending.

But the challenge isn’t about feeling guilty or patronising individuals facing food poverty, but rather about raising awareness of the reality that 8 million people in the UK are living with.


So far I’ve managed to eat well, but I haven’t been that inventive with breakfast, going instead for the classic porridge with banana and skimmed milk – actually the same breakfast I have on a normal day. While it might be a little boring, porridge is a filling option and I’ve added almonds or cashews on some days for extra protein and some healthy fats.

While coffee wasn’t within my budget, I’m still drinking many cups of tea a day! Knowing that I wouldn’t have much fresh fruit this week, I decided to go with a fruit tea – Sainsbury’s Strawberry, Raspberry and Cranberry tea (20 tea bags for 75p) – which I’ve been drinking with my breakfast and throughout the day.


Lunch today is quinoa ‘chilli’ with cauliflower (I decided to buy more fibrous vegetables instead of salad vegetables to keep me full!) I fried some garlic, added tinned tomatoes, kidney beans and tomato puree, and it actually turned out to be quite tasty. Plus this meal has plenty of protein from the kidney beans and the quinoa.


My dinners have been very similar to my lunches, but tonight is a jacket potato (made in the microwave since my accommodation does not have an oven) with ratatouille. If I were to plan my week again, in hindsight I would vary my menu plan a little more for greater balance! Looking at the menus of others doing the Breadline Challenge has definitely inspired me to be a bit more creative the next time round.

The afternoon slump has definitely been hitting me hard during the last few days, and while I’m used to grabbing a coffee and something sweet to help me get through an evening’s session of essay writing, snacking is something my budget did not account for properly! I can easily get through 5 or 6 portions of fruit a day, yet this week I have been eating 1 or 2, and a limited budget does not allow for those days when you feel that big hungrier. I would have to agree with Alex that the week of the Breadline Challenge is not the best time to watch professionals on MasterChef prepare spaghetti carbonara.

Another thing I’ve missed the social environment that comes with eating with friends and sitting down for meals.  This week I’ve been preparing food for one and eating alone in my room. This has reminded me of just how significant the sharing of food can be to bring people and communities together in a warm and welcoming environment, something that FoodCycle emphasises so well.

The Breadline Challenge can in no way reproduce the experiences of individuals facing food poverty long-term, but it has highlighted some of the incredible difficulties that those living on low incomes experience.

Would you like to contribute to the fight against food poverty? You can donate here – even just the price of that cup of coffee can help!

Breadline Challenge Day 3 Guest Post

Yesterday was a bit of a busy one, with catering for an event at Food Matters Live (ferrying brownies across London on the DLR) so we didn’t have time to write our usual daily Breadline Challenge blog (days 3 & 4 will be covered in this evening’s post).

Instead, we have a brilliant guest post from Jane aka Foodologist Girl, on her top tips for budget eating.  Take a look at her blog (info below) and follow her on Twitter @foodologistgirl for some great ideas. We’re definitely trying that pasta frittata!

Over to Jane…

The reason we lived on £1 a day

I started this journey into low cost eating to find out how difficult it would be to only have £1 a day to spend on all of your food. This figure of a £1 a day was set by the charity ‘Live Below the Line’ to challenge individuals to exists on for 5 days to raise awareness of people living in poverty around the world. This challenge is similar to the Breadline Challenge that runs from 21st – 27th November, although that allows you £2.50 so could easily include a few drinks and snacks. I first did this challenge this summer so the prices could have gone up a bit, but with the extra money it should still be achievable.

I decided to give it a go, after my friend who helps out at our local food bank told me about people living on very little money and trying to feed their families. This could be for a variety of reasons, and everyone’s story is different.

I decided with my family to join our one pounds together and try to devise a shopping list that would feed us with a varied and healthy diet, trying to include our 5 a day of fruit and vegetables. I also decided to write a blog about our adventures so that if other people wanted to copy it they could, and since I put it online I’ve had people from all around the world looking at it, who knew?

This first menu plan led on to people asking me to try a vegetarian week, a 2 person week and a vegan week. I’m always up for a challenge so over the last year I’ve put my family through lots of £1 weeks. I guess I’m a bit obsessed about it now, although they too are keen to try new dishes.

I also decided to only use free range eggs even though they cost a little more, so although these meals may look expensive, If you check the ingredients in the budget it shows you don’t have to spend a lot to eat well.

I know in London we are very lucky to have a wide variety of supermarkets and I have used the cheapest to one of the premium ones and still managed to provide a healthy and interesting menus on one pound a day.

This blog isn’t intended to patronize anyone and everybody’s food needs are different. So none of the recipes should be too complicated, they just take a bit of effort. I myself couldn’t cook until a few years ago so I have tried to make them as simple as I can. I also work full time so I try to do as much prep work for the week ahead at the weekends as possible to save time midweek.

These recipes are ones I’ve collected from my favourite cookbooks or online over the years and a few new ones I’ve researched for the vegetarian and vegan weeks. There should be something for everyone to help you to save money whether you’re a poor student, struggling to feed a large family, or even if you are just trying to save some money towards a holiday there should be something for everyone here. If you don’t need to save money, how about giving the money you would have spent to a charity like FoodCycle.

If you want to take on one of the other £1 food challenges or make one of my leftover cakes, my blog is called eatnotspend.wordpress.com

Speaking to work colleagues about my £1 food blog, a lot of them say that although it’s a great idea, they feel they can’t give it a go as they are only a couple and wouldn’t need to have that much food. Therefore a lot of it would go to waste, which is exactly the opposite of what I’m trying to promote.

This £1 challenge is ideal for some of my friends that live in a shared house with other people so therefore can’t have a big surplus of food hanging around. Its also great for students or older retired couples.

I am aware that 4 people can eat cheaper than 2 so this budget does go a little bit above the £1 a day by 9p. But at only £15.35 for a weeks food for 2 people, that’s still cheaper than a round of drinks in my local pub.

As before I will give you a list of usual stock cupboard ingredients for the weeks meals to check before you go shopping that they haven’t run out.

The list of extra stock cupboard items to check on are, Ketchup, Mayonnaise, Olive Oil, salt, pepper, fresh Parmesan, Olives, Cumin, Tomato purée, Balsamic vinegar, Lemon juice, capers, gherkins, dried oregano, bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce, plain flour, tea, coffee and sugar. If there are any ingredients here you don’t like just leave them out.

Day 1

We did this dish first on the ASDA £1 challenge, and liked it so much I decided to half it and add it to the 2 people £1 menu. I also had enough ingredients to make a Greek salad and some home made tzatziki.

Toast or Porridge

Egg Roll

Potatoes Yiachni with Greek salad and tzatziki

Potatoes Yiachni
(Adapted from Jamie Oliver)

Makes 2 Servings


A small onion’s size of sliced pack onion
2 Cloves of garlic
250g baby potatoes
1 Tin of tomatoes
Handful of olives (optional)
4 tablespoons of olive oil, plus extra to serve
1 teaspoon dried oregano, plus extra to serve
3 fresh bay leaves
1 tablespoon tomato purée
feta cheese


Peel and finely slice the garlic and quarter the potatoes.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat and sauté the onion, oregano and garlic for 4 to 5 minutes, or until softened. Season generously.

Add the potatoes, tomatoes, bay leaves and tomato purée to the pan and stir well. Add enough water to just cover the mixture and then simmer, covered, over a low heat for 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove the lid, add the olives and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and the potatoes are tender.

Serve hot with a slab of feta and a sprinkling of oregano and a drizzle of oil.

serve with Tzatziki and a Greek salad.



3 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
1/4 cucumber
2 crushed garlic cloves
1/4 tablespoon olive oil
Few drops of lemon juice
Handful of fresh mint leaves from the garden, finely chopped
Pinch of salt and pepper


Cut the cucumber in half and scoop out the seeds and discard.

Grate the cucumber and pat the excess water off with a paper towel, then mix into the yogurt with the rest of the Ingredients.

Season to taste.

Day 2

This salad is one of our favourites which we often have it as it’s so quick and easy to make after you get in from work. Although as you’re preparing the vegetables, it may not look like much, as you start adding all the ingredients together, it really starts piling up. With the potatoes and croutons it’s also very filling.

You can also add other ingredients to this salad, like crispy bacon, Cheese, green beans, shredded chicken, we often make Turkey Schnitzels and slice these on top.

Toast or Porridge

Cheese on toast

Tuna Salad Nicoise

Tuna Salad Nicoise

Serves 2


2 eggs
Handful of baby potatoes
2 inches of cucumber sliced into chunks
1/2 tin of tuna
(Save the other half for sandwiches for lunch)
1 1/2 tomatoes diced
Handful of red onion
A few olives
The crusts from your loaf of bread
1/4 iceberg lettuce sliced


Boil your potatoes until soft but not mushy then cool in cold water, pat dry then slice them and arrange at the bottom of two plates.

While the potatoes are boiling, pop in the eggs to hard boil too.

Cut up your bread crusts and fry in a little olive oil and salt to make the croutons.

Built up your salad by piling the chopped lettuce on the potatoes then scatter the cucumber, onion and tomatoes, then the olives, tuna and eggs, lastly the croutons all drizzled with the homemade Caesar style dressing and some fresh pepper.

Caesar style dressing


1 clove of garlic
75g low-fat natural yogurt
2 tablespoons olive oil
A handful of Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
½ A teaspoon of lemon juice
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

To make the dressing, peel and finely chop the garlic. Whisk the yoghurt, olive oil, grated Parmesan, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and lemon juice together in a bowl.

Day 3

This is a delicious easy pasta dish that is so simple yet so tasty. Cook all the pasta from the packet, as this will be used for another recipe later in the week. If you don’t like olives or capers, just leave them out, It’ll still be lovely.

Egg on Toast

Cheese salad sandwich

Tuna and tomato spaghetti
Tuna and Tomato Spaghetti


Extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
1/2 tin of tuna
Half the packet of spaghetti, but cook it all for a later recipe
Tin of tomatoes
Handful of olives (optional)
Few capers (optional)


Get a large pan of salted water on to boil.

Pour a few drizzles of olive oil into a separate little pan and put it on a medium heat. Add the garlic with 1/2 teaspoon of dried mixed herbs and fry.

Then add the tin of tomatoes and heat gently.

Add the spaghetti to the pan of boiling water and cook according to the packet instructions.

When the dried spaghetti is nearly cooked add the tuna to the pasta sauce and some chopped olives and capers if using.

Drain the spaghetti and using half serve with the sauce as shown.

Day 4

Today we made one of our regular meals, Veggie Burgers with potato wedges and a side salad. Although you’re saving money and eating on a tight budget, it doesn’t mean you have to do without your favourite takeaways dishes. Even if you have to make them at home.

Although the burger is non-meat, with all the extras, you won’t feel deprived. I have yet to have a veggie burger as nice as this in a restaurant.

Toast or Porridge

Tuna sandwich

Veggie burger with chips and salad or peas

Ultimate Veggie Burgers

This recipe is courtesy of a mix of Jamie Oliver’s ultimate burger
and Jack Monroe’s Veggie burger
Serves 2-4

Burger Ingredients

400g tin of kidney beans
1 smallish onion peeled and finely chopped
1 large carrot grated
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Small bunch of parsley
1 tablespoon oil, plus 2 tablespoons to fry the burgers
1 heaped teaspoon flour, plus another to shape the burger

Burger Sauce Ingredients

Slice of Iceberg lettuce
2 tablespoons of ketchup and mayonnaise
A dash of Worcestershire sauce

Plus Extra burger Ingredients

1/2 a small red onion
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Handful of grated Cheddar
2 burger buns
Gherkins (optional)

Drain the kidney beans and rinse in cold water. Put into a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes to soften.

Put the onion, carrot, cumin and parsley into a medium frying pan. Add the splash of oil and cook on a low heat to soften. When the kidney beans have softened, drain well and add to the carrots and onion. Remove from the heat and mash together until you have a smooth puree, like a mashed potato. Stir in the flour to stiffen.

While the burger mix is cooling enough to handle, make the finishing touches to the burgers by finely slicing the red onion and putting it into a small bowl with a pinch of salt and some white wine vinegar. Leave this for about 10 minutes.

Next mix the ketchup and mayonnaise with a dash of Worcestershire sauce together. Then take a small slice of the iceberg lettuce and mix this in too.

Divide the burger mixture into 4 and roll in to balls, Heat the remaining oil in the frying pan on a medium heat, then place them in the pan and flatten gently to make the burger shape.

Cook for a few minutes on one side, before turning. The burgers need to be handled with care as they can be quite fragile before they’re done! When cooked and slightly crisp on both sides, put a little of the cheese on top of each one and carefully splash a tiny bit of water in the pan to create steam to melt the cheese. Quickly put a lid on the frying pan for 30 seconds.

Meanwhile prepare the buns by slicing them in half and lightly toasting the insides. Then start building the burgers by putting a layer of the mayonnaise lettuce on the bottom, then the burger, followed by the drained onions and then the bun top. They are now ready to eat.

Serve with some rosemary potato wedges and salad or peas.

The 2 extra cooked burgers can be saved as either hot or cold lunch for later in the week

Day 5

This dish is the reason that we cooked the whole packet of spaghetti earlier in the week. It sounds crazy to make a frittata with pasta, but it’s really tasty, and if you have any left after dinner, it’s great cold the next day for your lunch. We added peas this time we made it, but that’s optional.

Toast or Porridge

Cheese sandwich

Pasta Frittata and salad

Pasta frittata


5 eggs
40g cheese
Salt and Pepper
Half the packet of leftover cooked pasta
Olive oil
defrosted peas (optional)


Preheat the oven to 200°C or Gas Mark 6.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then add the grated cheese. Season with a little salt and a good twist of pepper. Whisk well, then stir in your pasta and/or peas.

To cook the frittata, heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a small non-stick ovenproof frying pan over a medium heat.

Add the frittata mixture and cook for about 5 minutes, or until crisp underneath, then place in the oven for another 5 minutes, or until firm.

Carefully flip the frittata onto a large plate, then slide it back into the pan and return it to the oven for a further 5 minutes, or until crisp underneath. Serve with a salad.

You can also add peas or similar vegetables to the mixture before you cook if you want to be a bit more healthy.

Day 6

Today as I get in late from an after work event. We’ve decided on a simple jacket potato with baked beans and cheese. This is a lovely comforting food that’s easy to make so I won’t need to give you a recipe. We often have simple dishes if we’re in late. I normally factor them in the weekly meal plan. Egg, chips and beans, or a simple fish finger sandwich is a favourite too.

A great way to save money and food wastage on your shopping, is to lightly plan the meals around your activities in the following week. that way you should only buy what you’ll need. Also never ever go shopping when you’re hungry or hungover. You’ll end up buying rubbish.


Day 7

Last day of the 1 week challenge today, and we have run out of most of the shopping now, although we still have plenty of carrots left. Instead of salad with this tortilla as we’ve run out of tomatoes and cucumber, I cook some of the frozen peas. As I have a little of the lettuce left over I decide to add it to the tortilla with some extra peas to help bulk it out.

It’s not been too bad surviving on just over £1 a day each, but it has been difficult, and without some of the common stock items in the larder and some herbs from the garden, it would have been a lot harder. I wouldn’t want to have to live like this day in day out, but to try it every once in a while to save money is a good idea. Just thinking about the fact that people spend more than this buying a round of drinks in a pub really puts it in perspective.

Toast or Porridge

Cheese sandwich

Spanish Tortilla with Peas or Salad

Spanish Tortilla with peas or salad

Serves 2


200g baby new potatoes
1 small red onion
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 cloves garlic
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary
4 free-range eggs
peas, Cooked cabbage or wilted lettuce (optional)


Chop the potatoes into 1cm chunks, and put them into the medium ovenproof frying pan with a glug of olive oil and toss.

Once the potatoes have a good colour, add the red onion to the pan along with the fennel seeds and mix well.

Once the potatoes are golden crush 2 unpeeled cloves of garlic into the pan.

Pick most of the rosemary leaves and toss into the pan and stir. Season with a good pinch of salt and pepper.

This is when you can add the peas, cooked cabbage or lettuce.

Whisk the eggs in a small bowl and add to the potatoes. Turn the heat up to medium. Once the eggs start to set around the sides, scatter the rest of the rosemary leaves on top and put under the grill on the top shelf for 3 to 5 minutes, or until set, golden and fluffy.