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A weekly food budget of £20 for the #Surviveon20 challenge

Sunday, January 14, 2018

I've been challenged by Wifi Refugees to take on this challenge to raise awareness of the hundreds of refugees in Northern Ireland who have no choice but to survive on a £20 weekly food budget.

When I was approached about this, my first thought was that it wouldn’t be too difficult. I’m a fan of vegetables and pulses which are cheap and versatile. What I hadn’t thought about was how much I actually spend on food, especially random snacks and drinks. I am a huge supporter of local artisan producers and incorporate their goodies into my cooking but they don’t come cheap. In addition, I cant tell you how many times I have been early for a meeting and have called into a café for a cup of tea to check emails and pass the time. It’s amazing how much this adds up!

Food poverty is a subject close to my heart. It is a major issue in Northern Ireland and affects a huge number of people. With that in mind, I couldn’t say no to the challenge.

I quickly realized that planning is the key to my success. I called into Lidl NI for some low cost essentials, tea, tins of chickpeas, kidney beans, vegetables etc. to get me started.  I’ve planned out a few options but it has realised how very unorganised I am when it comes to meal planning

I’m now really panicking as I have blown most of the budget on essentials and I’m only on day two!

I will keep updating my progress and fingers crossed, I can do this.

If you would like to take the #Surviveon20 challenge, please let me know and I will connect you with Wifi Refugees.

£ Weekly Budget


I haven’t thought this through and my eyes are truly opened.  I bought a load of ingredients without really thinking through a proper meal plan.  I have extra portions of my meals but don’t want to eat the same thing every day.  I pride myself on being creative in the kitchen but its definitely challenging.  I’ve created low cost recipes before but thats based on cooking a whole pot of it and then dividing the cost.  Its a different matter when its for one.  To make matters worse, Mr. Eating Ideas is tucking into all manner of delicious goodies and its making me very jealous!

I found some rosemary lurking in the garden and used some of it with my mushrooms to make a Rosemary and mushroom Socca ( a kind of pancake made from chickpea flour)  This was really tasty and I served it with some spinach leaves.


I actually could weep!  I found a bag of minced steak from the butcher that is well past it’s use by.  It’s not that I particularly want mince, its the sheer waste that is torturing me.  I really feel ashamed as I know how far that mince could stretch. It has made me aware of how much food is wasted.

I started today with some porridge with sliced banana.  Porridge every day is not the most inspired choice but it is both cheap and filling.  A great start to the day.

Lunch was another portion of the Butternut squash and butterbean stew that I made previously, served with rice.

I am well stocked with the basic carbs of rice, potatoes, oats and pasta but low on fruit and veg so popped into Lidl NI for some supplies.

I bought some onions, courgettes, cherry tomatoes, red pepper, Skipjack tuna, chestnut mushrooms, chickpeas, natural yoghurt and clementines.   Plenty of fresh stuff to go with my store cupboard staples.

For dinner, I made pasta with tomato, tuna (1/2 tin) courgette slices, mushroom and onion.  A spoonful of natural yoghurt gave it a lovely creamy consistency.

As my bananas were past their best, I made a very simple ice-cream,  I froze the banana slices and blitzed them in a food processor.  It may sound odd but its actually really nice.  I served it to Mr.Eating Ideas who is usually very sceptical about my ingredients but he didn’t bat an eyelid and declared it to be very nice!

 I have nearly depleted my budget now so really need to eke this out!


I’m nearing the end of the challenge.  I am feeling quite proud of my self for getting this far and having so far enjoyed a range of healthy, nutritious and tasty food.  Ok so I haven’t been able to socialise or drink coffee which isn’t ideal but I have been sticking to the budget.

For breakfast today, I had porridge with clementine orange on top.  Thankfully I really like porridge made with water and it really fills me up all day.

Lunch was Socca (a chickpea flour pancake) made with onion, courgette, mushroom and red pepper and served with a tomato yoghurt dressing.  This was surprisingly filling  and very tasty.

For dinner I used the 1/2 tin of tuna and 1/2 tin of tinned tomatoes left from last night to make a fish pie.  I fried onion, courgette and pepper in a spray of oil, added the tuna and tomato then topped with mashed potato.  I used some of the natural yoghurt to add to the mash as I had no budget for butter (made for a healthier option)  I actually really enjoyed it even if is was a far cry from my usual sunday roast!


The end is in sight.  I only have one more day of this.  I have to say that my love of porridge is waning.  It may be cheap but it would be nice to have a change!

Lunch was challenging as I was on a training course in Belfast city centre.  There was a sandwich lunch laid on and if I’m honest, I was dying to tuck in.  I refrained though as it felt like cheating as refugees are unlikely to have complimentary lunches laid on for them.  Instead I asked them to heat up my portion of home-made Moroccan sweet potato and lentil soup and followed it with a mandarin orange.  It was fine, as long as I didn’t look at any of the sandwiches or crisps that the other delegates were tucking into.

By the time I got home, I was famished.  I rummaged through the rest of my ingredients and  as I had blown 90p of my precious budget on gram (chickpea) flour, I thought I should use it.  I made healthy oven baked onion bhajis, based on a recipe I created a while back.  I didn’t have all the ingredients ( tomato puree) but adapted it to suit the ingredients I have.  I served it with rice, spinach leaves and a tomato yoghurt dressing.  Mando chutney would have been better but what can you do?


I’m on the home straight.  Just today to get through and I have met the challenge!

It was a cold and snowy start and for the first time, I was delighted have my warming porridge.  

For lunch it was a leftovers delight with healthy oven baked bhajis and roasted butternut squash with salad.  I cannot begin to tell you how happy I am that the spinach leaves from Lidl have thrived, way past their use by date!

What I have bought so far:

bananas- 99p

sweet potatoes- 49p

Milk 1.09

Teabags 1.00

Carrots- 45p

Onions- 59p

Celery 50p

Butternut Squash- 90p

Vegetable stock cubes 1.85

Chick peas 35p

Kidney beans 30p

Button mushrooms 90p

Penne pasta 45p

Rice 42p

Butterbeans 50p

Apple 40p

Gram flour 90p

Porridge 99p

Pear 20p

Spinach 69p

tin tomatoes 35p

Tangerines- 1.00

Low fat yoghurt 45p

Tuna chunks in brine- 69p

Tin tomatoes- 35p

tin chickpeas- 35p

Cherry tomatoes- 39p

Red pepper- 39p

Milk 52p

Spray oil £1.45

Total- £19.90

pennies remaining for the rest of the week

About Wifi Refugees

Wifi Refugees is a concept about helping others.

It’s about giving something back to the communities, the businesses and the people who make life so rich in our towns and cities.

It’s about giving to help the poorest people in our society too.

Those people who have had to flee their home and try and rebuild a life in a new town, a new country and often with a new language.

It’s about being human.

It works like this; a Wifi Refugees volunteer will set up a clinic in a locally run coffee shop. A business owner, or several, will show up with some marketing questions and partake in a free, mini consultation with one of our marketing experts. Hopefully, they will feel they have had some useful advice and will feel inspired to make a voluntary donation to the charities that are supported by Wifi Refugees, but that’s not compulsory. As a bonus the local coffee shop is supported too with a selection of new customers buying coffee and buns on the night.


What I have eaten:

Day one

  • Porridge with banana
  • skipped lunch as I forgot to make a packed lunch!
  • Veggie Chilli and rice

Day two

  • Porridge with grated pear and cinnamon
  • Moroccan sweet potato and lentil soup
  • Spicy Butternut Squash and butterbean stew

 Day three

Day four

  • Porridge with banana
  • butternut squash and butterbean stew with rice
  • Pasta with tuna, courgette, tomato, pepper and mushroom
  • 1 ingredient banana ice-cream

Day five

  • Porridge with orange
  • Socca (chick pea flour pancake) with onion, mushroom, courgette and red pepper
  • Fish pie with tuna

Day six

  • Porridge with orange
  • Moroccan sweet potato soup and mandarin
  • Onion bhajis, rice and spinach with a tomato yoghurt dressing

Day seven

  • Porridge with orange
  • Onion Bhajis with salad, roasted  butternut squash, chickpeas and yoghurt dressing

some low-cost recipes- easy veggie chilli, Moroccan sweet potato and lentil soup & 1 ingredient ice-cream

Food poverty in NI

This is an area of concern. It is estimated that the following statistics apply to Northern Ireland. **

  • 21% of the population of NI is living in poverty.
  • 4% of households have reported that there has been at lease one occasion when they had not eaten a substantial meal in the last fortnight due to a lack of money.
  • Over 115.000 adults and children (6.4% of the population) are not properly fed by today’s standards.
  • 29% of people have ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ skimped on food so that others in the household would have enough to eat.
  • 7% of households are unable to afford fresh fruit and vegetables every day
  • 2% of households (over 14,000) cannot afford two meals a day
  • Reliance on food banks has increased by 6,860% over a three-year period
**** Sources: Department for Social Development’ 2013/14 poverty bulletin, The Health survey for NI 2014/15, 2013 Poverty and Social Exclusion study in NI, EU Survey on Living Conditions, Advice NI data 2014,





  • I am rarely truly hungry.  I use statements like “I’m starving” but really I’m not.  Unlike the 21% of people in Northern Ireland who have skimped on food so that someone else in the home can eat!
  • I am very wasteful- I throw out more food than I should.
  • I can be quite pretentious about food, using some fancy ingredients in my dishes.  Good simple food should not be underrated! 
  • Eating on a budget is easy if you enjoy cooking but would be a nightmare otherwise.
  • I had the benefit of using this as a bit of a health kick with no eating out, coffee, alcohol or treats.  This is not sustainable.
  • I refused quite a few social invitations during the week as there was no way that the budget would stretch.  Again, for me, this is unsustainable.
  • I have a cupboard full of essential basic ingredients.  I tried not to use these but did dip into the spices.  Not everyone has this.
  • Lidl was a life saver.  Their stuff is low cost but great quality and the fresh fruit and veg keeps for a long time!
  • I am a very poor planner.  I need to start planning meals and buying accordingly rather than buying what I fancy and seeing what I can create.
  • Food poverty is a serious issue in Northern Ireland, affecting 21% of the population
  • I now need to rethink my approach to food including- planning, spend, creativity and waste! 

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7 responses to “A weekly food budget of £20 for the #Surviveon20 challenge”

  1. Well done for having a go. I often choose to cook an inexpensive good meal using cheaper cuts of meat etc but a great standby larder of ingredients, slowcooker etc isn’t something the average refugee or person on benefits has at their disposal. Having spent some time with Belfast Food Network on the subject of food hunger it is a very complex issue and so many of us are blessed that we have no idea what it is like to choose between food and fuel/mortgage/rent etc

    • thanks Claire- its a real eye opener. I think I ‘m good on a budget but I have so many stock cupboard items and equipment that I take for granted. I’m kind of loving and hating the experience and the same time!

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