How to eat healthily for £1 per day – version 0.2

In version 0.1, I laid out the aims of this project and put together a proof-of-concept £1-per-day diet that met most of the nutritional goals set by the UK government.

In this post, I’ll be focusing more on a meal plan, introducing a greater variety of foods, and trying to improve intangible factors like culinary enjoyment of the food.

(To avoid repeating myself I won’t go over the project goals, assumptions or rules again, so if you haven’t read version 0.1, it might be worth it to get up to speed.)

Variety

In version 0.1, we ranked foods by calories-per-£1. This was an acceptable first-order approximation of food cost, but we can do better. Calories turned out to be very cheap — white rice provides over 9000 calories per £1 — so it will be helpful to introduce some new metrics that are better attuned to other, more costly to satisfy, nutritional goals. If we want to eat 5 portions of vegetables per day, we don’t much care how many calories those vegetables provide; we can always add cheap calories by eating more rice. It makes more sense to measure the cost of each portion directly.

In version 0.1, the primary source of protein was yellow split peas alone. The primary sources of fruit and vegetables (FaVs) were bananas, carrots, onions, cabbage and tomatoes. These are the two areas in most need of more variety, so we’ll be using two new metrics – price-per-FaVs-serving and price-per-100g-protein.

Fruit and Vegetables (FaVs)

Food
Cost per kg (£s)
Cost per 80g serving (pence)
Onions (4kg)0.423.4
Onions (2kg)0.493.9
Bananas0.685.4
Tomatoes (tinned)0.786.2
Carrots0.806.4
Red cabbage0.806.4
Swede (rutabaga)0.957.6
Broccoli (frozen)1.008.0
Brussels sprouts (frozen)1.008.0
Butternut squash1.008.0
Cauliflower (frozen)1.008.0
Apples1.189.4
Oranges1.2510.0
Sweet potato1.2810.2
Aubgergine (eggplant) (approx)1.5012.0
Courgette (zuchini)1.6213.0
Pears1.8014.4
Turnip1.8014.4
Mushrooms1.9915.9
Tomatoes1.9915.9
Broccoli (fresh)2.0016.0
Radishes2.8022.4

As it turns out, the 5 cheapest-per-calorie FaVs are also the 5 cheapest-per-80g-serving FaVs. We can still use this table to identify the other most promising candidates to include in our diet1. I’m particularly drawn to butternut squash because it’s a popular soup ingredient. Version 0.1 of the diet lacked many practical options for a lunch dish, and soup could help fill this hole.

Protein

Food
Price per kg (£)
Protein per 100g (g)
Price per 100g protein (£)
Yellow split peas (dried)1.1624.60.47
Red kidney beans (dried)1.5623.60.66
Pigeon peas (gungo peas) (dried)1.5221.70.70
Pork liver (raw)1.5021.40.70
Green lentils (dried)2.0022.20.90
Chick peas (dried)1.9019.30.98
Red split lentils (dried)2.3022.21.04
White kidney beans (dried)2.7223.61.15
Milk0.443.41.29
Eggs (medium)1.7812.51.42
Soya milk (longlife, sweetened)0.693.32.09
Cottage cheese1.979.22.14
Chicken (raw, whole) (approximate)2.4811.22.22
White fish fillets (frozen)4.0012.23.28
Chicken breasts (raw, boneless, skinless)6.8919.83.49
Tofu (silken, firm)2.867.04.09

Split peas, the cheapest protein source per-calorie, are also the cheapest protein source per 100g protein. Two other popular legumes, kidney beans and pigeon peas, come in fairly close in price.

However, not only are split peas cheaper, they’re also much easier to cook because (unlike most dried legumes) they don’t need to be soaked before cooking and they cook fairly quickly. Dried kidney beans, on the other hand, need to be soaked and cooked fairly aggressively to tenderize the beans and break down the lectin phytohaemagglutinin.

My plan is to include 2 servings of kidney beans in the weekly meal plan, in which case the beans can be cooked just once per week (and reheated for the second portion).

The only animal protein that comes close to legumes in terms of price is liver. (Pork liver is included in the table, beef liver costs around the same.) However, it’s not really a practical option, because i) it’s sold only in 1kg packs and will spoil quickly, and ii) liver is such a rich source of vitamin A that it’s not recommended to eat it more than once per week in order to avoid vitamin A toxicity.

Carbohydrate

In version 0.1 of the diet, the primary sources of cheap carbohydrate were porridge oats (4960 kcal per £1) and white rice (9125 kcal per £1).

In version 0.2, I’m going to try to include brown (wholewheat) bread (3881 kcal per £1). That’s because i) it provides more convenient lunch options with some portability, and ii) it avoids the monotony of eating the same kinds of meals for lunch and dinner. Bread doesn’t have a terribly long shelf life, but it freezes very well and can defrosted (or mildly toasted) in a toaster or under a broiler.

Fat

In version 0.1, the large majority of dietary fat came from extra-virgin olive oil.

In version 0.2, I’m going to replace some of that fat with rapeseed (canola) oil because i) it’s less than 1/3 of the price by volume, and ii) it has a more neutral flavor and can be used for cooking at a higher temperature.

Olive oil was simply taking up too much of the budget. I’m not over the moon about including more canola oil, but the money saved can be used to partially fund the overall increase in food variety. Sacrifices have to be made.

I’m also trying to include some “treat” items in this version of the diet, so I’ll be attempting to include a small amount of peanut butter (3418 kcal per £1) as a snack.

Herbs and spices

Version 0.1 left around £0.50 per week for herbs, spices and other flavorings. In version 0.2, I’m going to attempt to include the cost of herbs and spices in the budget. In most cases, I anticipate the fractional cost to be very small. The hard part will be finding space to include the up-front cost.

There are so many herbs and spices, and the serving-sizes vary so much, that I don’t think it makes sense to analyze prices ahead of time. Instead, I’ll see what flavorings would naturally fit with the meal plan, then work out the costs and see if they fit into the budget.

Practicality

Version 0.2 is adjusted in a few places to try to make the plan more practical and realistic.

Firstly, all nutritional measures are now adjusted to assume a 10% loss of purchased food. This is intended to provide a buffer for food wastage. This applies not just to calories, but also to protein, fat, fiber, FaVs servings etc.

Secondly, because storing produce always carries some risk of spoilage, the budget is now weighted towards storing as little fresh food as possible. In the case where it’s only marginally cheaper to buy a much larger quantity, the smaller quantity is preferred.

For example, a 4kg package of onions is priced at £0.42 per kg and a 2kg package is priced at £0.49 per kg.

In ideal conditions, onions can be stored for months without spoiling. However, in reality, there is always risk. Because the price difference is relatively minor, we now buy onions in 2kg packages.

Recipe ideas

Breakfast

In version 0.2, I’m sticking  to the same breakfast option as in 0.1. Porridge (oatmeal), made with water. It’s not exciting but it’s cheap and healthy and, anecdotally, people are more willing to eat the same thing every day for breakfast than for any other daily meal.

However, I’m open to the addition of flavorings to improve the taste. Salt is traditional in Scotland, but I’m more inclined towards cinnamon. 

Lunch

Lunch was by far the biggest weakness in version 0.1, so it’s where the biggest changes are in 0.2.

The first lunch option is hummus sandwiches with grated carrot. 

I’m cheating a little – real hummus is expensive (£3.33 per kg, 970 kcal per £1). This recipe calls for a garlicy split-pea spread made without any tahini. Instead, the ingredients are split peas, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and black pepper. It’s served on brown bread with grated carrot.

The split pea “hummus” can be made a couple of times a week and kept in the fridge. The lemon juice is taken from whole lemons which can be kept in the freezer, then defrosted (either in the microwave for a few seconds or overnight) and juiced.

The second lunch option is butternut squash and swede (rutabaga) soup. 

This soup combines roasted butternut squash and rutabaga with a base of onion, carrot, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, salt, black pepper, dried mixed herbs and vegetable stock. It’s served with toast made from brown bread.

The soup can be made in a big batch and then frozen in individual portions. If we have hummus sandwiches and butternut squash soup on alternating days, we can make six portions of the soup at once and not have to make it again for 2 weeks.

Snack

In version 0.1, the only snack option was a daily banana.

I have tried every which way to include a wider variety of fruit in the diet, but it’s simply too expensive.

However, this is room for some other snacks: small servings of peanut butter and (occasionally) butternut squash seeds (the seeds left over from making the soup, roasted with extra virgin olive oil and a little salt). Each week there’s also half bar of dark chocolate for a special treat.

Dinner

Each dinner still needs to contain a full portion of legumes and a full portion of rice in order to meet our nutritional targets. However, now that we can use different types of legumes, there are three fairly different dinner options from different cuisines.

The first is split pea dal with rice. This budget version of the South-Asian dish is prepared with split peas, tinned tomatoes, garlic, onion, canola oil, garam masala, ginger, black pepper, salt and served with white rice.

This is the cheapest dinner and also the easiest to prepare because the split peas don’t need to be soaked before cooking. By my reckoning we need to eat dal three times per week.

The next option is vegetarian chili with rice. This is made from kidney beans, tinned tomatoes, garlic, onion, chili powder, olive oil, canola oil, cumin, black pepper, salt and served with white rice.

The kidney beans need to be soaked and cooked for quite a long time. I think the best plan is to eat it once on the night it’s made and again two nights later (i.e. having one other evening meal in between). This means we can leave the portion of cooked chili in the fridge and all we need to do for the second meal is cook some more rice.

Lastly is rice and peas, consisting of pigeon peas, white rice, onion, ginger, garlic, chili powder, olive oil, dried herbs and salt.

Again, the pigeon peas need to be soaked. We can cook and store this dish in the same manner as the chili.

The meal plan

Putting it all together, the meal plan looks like this:

 
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7
BreakfastPorridgePorridgePorridgePorridgePorridgePorridgePorridge
LunchSplit-pea hummus sandwich with carrotButternut squash soup with toastSplit-pea hummus sandwich with carrotButternut squash soup with toastSplit-pea hummus sandwich with carrotButternut squash soup with toastSplit-pea hummus sandwich with carrot
SnackBananaPeanut butterBananaButternut squash seedsBananaBananaBanana
DinnerSplit-pea dal with riceVegetarian chiliSplit-pea dal with riceVegetarian chiliRice and peasSplit-pea dal with riceRice and peas

It might not get your mouth watering, but it does have the virtue of (mostly) avoiding eating the same thing on consecutive days (with the exception of breakfast). It certainly has a lot more variety than version 0.1 of the £1-per-day-diet.

Nutrition and budget

Food
Price per kg (£s)
Calories per £1 (kcals)
Weekly amount (g)
Weekly Calories (kcals)
Weekly Cost (£)
Vegetable oil (rapeseed)1.00884042037130.42
Long Grain Rice (white)0.409125100036500.40
Oats0.75505356021220.42
Brown bread0.59388177017630.45
Yellow split peas (dried)1.16294045015350.52
Olive oil (extra virgin)3.33265514012380.47
Bananas0.6813096505790.44
Pigeon peas (gungo peas) (dried)1.5222571605490.24
Red kidney beans (dried)1.5621601605390.25
Peanut butter1.823231704120.13
Dark chocolate (50% cocoa mass)3.001820502730.15
Onions0.498166202480.30
Butternut Squash1.004505002250.50
Carrots0.805134801970.38
Tomatoes (chopped, tinned)0.782198001360.62
Swede (rutabaga)0.95389250930.24
Cinnamon (dried)4.9050414350.07
Garam masala (dried)7.2045110330.07
Extra Hot Chili Powder6.8041510280.07
Black pepper8.4029910250.08
Vegetable stock cubes6.505636220.04
Ginger2.1137920160.04
Garlic15.009910150.15
Lemons (fresh)0.9813383110.08
Salt0.3903500.01
Totals:158676.56
Target:157507.00
(Totals adjusted for 10% food loss)

25 ingredients in all, certainly a step up from the 9 ingredients of version 0.1. Things are looking good: even after adding a 10% buffer for our targets and radically increasing the diversity of foods in the diet, we still have just under 50 pence per week left over.

Digging a little deeper into the nutritional profile, things still look promising:

 
Daily amount (assuming 10% loss)
Target
Calories2267 kcals2250 kcals
Protein58.1g55g
Calories from protein10%15%
Fat89.5gN/A
Calories from fat35%35%
Carbohydrate314.4gN/A
Calories from carbohydrate55%50%
Fiber47.6g18g
Fruit and vegetables6.5 portions5 portions

The only target we undershoot slightly is calories-from-protein, but seeing as we’re still comfortably meeting the recommended intake of 55g per day, this seems acceptable. In fact, seeing as protein is by far the most expensive macronutrient to provide, it makes sense to get away with as little as we can (while still meeting the target).

Daily fiber, while still providing an extremely robust 47.6g per day, is down from 68g per day in v0.1. That’s good news for the tolerability of this diet — it’s less likely to cause gastrointestinal discomfort.

At this point, things are looking extremely promising — but unfortunately, there’s a sting in the tail.

Fractional costs and the monthly budget

Over the course of this project I’ve been adding to an increasingly complex spreadsheet to run a lot of the numbers automatically (download links at the end of the post). The spreadsheet can now simulate the shopping budget over multiple weeks, taking into account existing stocks of the various ingredients.

A monthly budget

Assuming we shop at Asda only once per week (in order to minimize travel costs), the first month of shopping currently looks likes this:

 
Cost
Week 1£18.88
Week 2£3.65
Week 3£5.20
Week 4£6.17
First 28 days£33.90

This is where greater food variety really takes its toll. Even if we assume our £1-per-day budget is monthly (i.e. we get £28 on day 1, and another £28 on day 29, etc.), we’re still over budget by almost an entire week in the first month.

One problem is that the minimum purchase size for flavorings — herbs, spices, etc. — is huge compared to the amounts we’re using. For fresh produce, the most we buy at once is around a 3 week supply (for onions). But for black pepper, chili powder or garam masala, we’re forced to buy a ten week supply at a time. For salt or vegetable stock cubes, we have to buy more than a 20 week supply on the very first shopping trip.

We’re also paying the price for greater variety in other areas — two types of oil, for instance.

This means the budget is very front-loaded. The first week is relatively expensive, and that expense is gradually recouped over the next few months. That’s not acceptable under the parameters we laid out at the start of the project.

In order to reach a budget that’s at all feasible, we need to make some pretty drastic changes. If we remove all of the herbs and spices (apart from salt), the peanut butter, the dark chocolate and the lemons, we reach an average weekly cost of £5.64 and a first-month cost under £28.

 
Cost
Week 1£13.55
Week 2£3.65
Week 3£4.50
Week 4£6.17
First 28 days£27.87

Nutritionally, this diet isn’t hugely different to the unadjusted v0.2. But from a culinary or quality-of-life perspective, the difference is extreme. I have to wonder: what value does increased food variety have if all the prepared dishes taste bland and unappealing? Meals like dal, chili, soup and rice and peas rely on herbs and spices to be appetizing. Without flavorings, it might make more sense to abandon variety as a goal and concentrate on eating the same thing every day (but at least having it taste good).

Of course, we can gradually re-introduce the herbs and spices after the first month. On this adjusted budget, every week after the first month we have around £1.30 left over to put towards these purchases. But those first 4 weeks will be pretty miserable, and it will take at least a couple more weeks to assemble a reasonably stocked spice cupboard.

A bi-weekly budget

If we assume we’re on a bi-weekly budget (i.e. £14 on day 1, another £14 on day 15, etc.), things become even bleaker. In addition to the changes above, we have to forgo olive oil (for an equal amount of vegetable oil) and bananas for the first two weeks, after which we can reintroduce them as normal.

Again, things improve fairly quickly after the first month as we can gradually purchase more herbs, spices and other flavorings. But in this version, the first month seems even more miserable than the monthly-budget version.

Goals for version 0.3

Clearly, there’s lots of work left to be done. If version 0.1 was too monotonous and impractical, version 0.2 is too lavish, resulting in an unworkable budget.

There are two options to resolve the budget problems:

  • 1) Reduce the overall variety in the diet somewhat, cutting down on the number of ingredients, especially different types of herbs and spices. Or,
  • 2) Increase the granularity of the simulation, allowing for a smaller range of dishes in early weeks and gradually increasing the variety of dishes as budget savings accumulate.

Option 2 is the most appealing, but also the more complicated to plan for. As my spreadsheet grows ever more sprawling, complex and muddled, I become less able to stay on top of things.

I’ll have to give some serious thought to the best way to move forward.

Other goals for the future

These might not all necessarily make it into v0.3, but more goals for the project:

  • Perform a more detailed micronutrient analysis (vitamins, minerals, etc.) I’m waiting until the rest of the diet is nailed down before tackling this. As the diet happens to be vegan, there’ll be some work to do to increase the amount of micronutrients like calcium.
  • Test and document the recipes in more detail. These are all foods I’ve made and eaten, but not with such precise quantities of ingredients. The palatability, cooking times, portion sizes, etc. should all be tested.

Use my data

I’ve collected a fair amount of data so far, and I’d be thrilled if anyone else would like to play around with them.

Below I’ve embedded a condensed version of my work-in-progress spreadsheet. You can play with the numbers and see how different amounts of the various foods affect the budget and nutritional breakdown.

To get started, just click or tap inside any of the blue cells and change the amount of that food eaten weekly.  To readers on phones or other small-format devices, apologies if the widget below doesn’t display correctly.

Please note: any changes will be lost when you close the window or refresh the page.

Download the data

You can also download a more complete set of the data. The zip file contains both the original Excel spreadsheet (with data and formulae) or a comma separated file (data only).

Download link

The formulae in the Excel spreadsheet are probably much more convoluted and less elegant than necessary. You have been warned.

The spreadsheet includes links to each Asda product and to the corresponding entry in the National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference 25 (where available).

Closing thoughts

Predictably (for me), this project has become something of an obsession and is sucking up increasing amounts of my time.

I’ve been half considering putting together a £0.99 (or $1.49) ebook at the end of this project to present everything in a cohesive, unified and easy-to-read format. If you think you might be interested, enter your email address here for updates. (No spam, no other topics, one-click unsubscribe.) If enough people sign up, I’ll probably follow through.

If you’d just like updates about new posts, you can follow me on Twitter, Google+ or via RSS.

Lastly, the deeper I get into this project, the more it feels like my squishy human brain is an inefficient engine to solve this particular problem.

Although food and cuisine seem deeply human, constructing a nutritionally complete diet with a limited budget is little more than a (fairly simple) combinatorics problem.

As such, it seems like a problem ripe for solving with an algorithmic approach. A computer program would have the advantage of being far more versatile than the approach I’m taking. It could be adjusted fairly trivially for different budgets or different nutritional goals.

In order to take such an approach, you would need a pool of food data that included nutritional information and price information. You could then define a set of recipes, and set your program to finding the optimal series of meals that met your goals.

I’m not a programmer but I’d be very interested in this kind of project. If it’s something you’re working on or considering, and you’d like to have a chat about it, shoot me an email.

Footnotes:
  1. N.B. – many of Asda’s fresh fruit and vegetables are sold per-item and no price is given by weight. Where possible, I’ve tried to make an educated guess as to the price per kg using average weights, but in many cases this is not possible and I’ve had to leave out that food from the table []

Hi! I blog about food and health for Supplement SOS. I like green vegetables, long walks on the beach and triple-blind placebo-controlled intervention studies with large sample sizes. Liked this post? Follow on Google+, Twitter or via RSS or email me!.

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40 comments on “How to eat healthily for £1 per day – version 0.2
  1. Anne Hodgson says:

    I’m going to sit down and digest this (pun) slowly. But I did wonder if you’d looked at mackerel as a cheap fish. It’s one of the cheapest in the UK although I believe it’s getting scarcer so the price will go up. It’s an oily fish too. Have to say I like it smoked but can’t stand it fresh.

    • Lena Zegher says:

      Thanks for the tip Anne! I’ll take a look

    • Nick says:

      Thought the price of mackerel had risen quite a bit recently?
      I personally get through a crazy amount of tuna and other high protein foods due to weight training.
      Tune is currently 59p a tin at Tesco. Has about 29g of protein per tin.
      A tin of mackerel is about 89p last time I checked for about 20g of protein.

  2. Stephen Gower says:

    The Sainsbury’s online groceries site gives an estimated cost-per-kilogram for items even if they are sold “per item”. This might help with the problem described in your footnote, even if you just use the data to work out the weight-per-item for use with Asda’s prices.

  3. Goh kok ming says:

    Wonderful Wonder Woman

  4. KB says:

    tried this with 1 EUR per month and a very limited plan
    sht didnt last that long in the end

  5. KB says:

    *per day

  6. Mark says:

    Hi Lena,

    I would certainly be interested in buying an ebook insofar as there is no drm involved at all. There is so much potential for an ebook like this to do good that you might want to raise a kickstarter for a creative commons licensed “One pound diet” ebook.

  7. Singh says:

    This is outstanding. Can’t wait for the £3 a day version. :)

  8. Steve B says:

    Have you considered budgeting in a multivitamin supplement purchased in bulk? Despite the issues of bio-availability and similar it would certainly provide a nutritional safety net in long term consumption of this diet.

  9. Thanks for making this research. Have you considered making a more realistic plan with an amount higher than 1 pound (how about 5?)? It seems only a very small UK minority would have a food budget that low, given that the average net wage is 1442 pounds.

  10. Mike says:

    I don’t know if I would consider this diet ‘healthy’. Sure it’s a practical way to eat on a very tight budget but many, myself included, would argue that eating 300g of carbohydrate a day cannot be considered healthy.

    I would recommend reading either “Good calories, Bad calories” (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Good-Calories-Bad-Controversial-Science/dp/1455116750)

    or “Fat change: The bitter truth about sugar” (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fat-Chance-bitter-truth-ebook/dp/B00A626UYW/)

    or “Pure, white and Deadly” (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Pure-White-And-Deadly-ebook/dp/B009CTYTCA/)

  11. smc says:

    Hi Lena,

    Great project. My major critique is that you decided not to account for special deals (BOGOFs etc – or just the reduced to clear shelf). I worked in supermarket logistics once apon a time and (at that time, at that chain) something like a third of the product was sold with some sort of discount deal. Anyone on really a tight budget will optimse around this, so any real world application that doesn’t take this into account is a little flawed. Sorry.

    As an experiment in the mid 1990s I lived on a £5 a week food budget for three months – admittedly not long term by your defintions. My main observation* was the trade off between time and money necessary – partly the time to search several supermarket chains for the best deals, partly the extra time for kitchen preparation. I did manage to get some tinned fish and even coffee** into the diet though, by ruthlessly scouring multiple supermarkets and buying the absolute lowest price available.

    Anyway, well done for bringing some rigour to this issue. An ebook that took a realistic view of strict, but healthly, food budgeting might do some real good.

    cheers

    * It also killed any notion of “the romance of poverty” in my mind. Being hungry sucks.

    ** Really really cheap coffee is okay once you get used to it, but doesn’t smell of anything, except when you first puncture the jar seal – then you just get a slight hint that quickly fades away.

    • yachris says:

      The problem, of course, is that stores don’t always run specials, and if you’re limited in spending (you’re out of something key), you can’t always take advantage.

      So I think planning without discounts is actually the better idea.

      For your ebook (YES! I’d support a kickstarted for that!) perhaps a section on basic discount strategies would be a big help.

      • smc says:

        All that’s really needed is a slight expansion of the analysis to answer the question of which foods drop into the buy-list if their prices are cut by 25% or 50% (say). Does cheap tinned fish then make the cut? Eggs?

        Bargins are variable and do add some complexity, but we can divide them into two basic types: bargins on buy-list items, which gives us free extra budget that we might keep as a reserve or spend on luxuries; and bargins on off-buy-list items which might allow other items into the buy-list (as paragraph above). That would add some nice variety to the diet.

  12. VSTN says:

    The problem you’re addressing and solution you’re providing actually has a mathematical background, I just found out:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stigler_diet

  13. Nick says:

    Hi Lena, Very interesting 0.2 version. I commented on the 0.1. I guess you considered eggs too expensive to include? What about tinned pilchards? (they’re like sardines really, we can’t tell much difference). The bread we make has a 1.5 kg bag of wholemeal flour (£1.39), 13g dried yeast, 10g muscavado sugar, level tablespoon salt, optional bit of sunflower oil optional seeds. That makes 3 big loaves for, say, £1.70 including electric. It must have vastly better nutrition than supermarket bread. Would people trying to live on £1 a day be best off baking their own bread? Probably takes 30 mins total weekly effort to make by hand from scratch.
    You’re making me wonder what we do actually spend on food each per day. Although the £1 a day seems a bit of a miserable diet so far, maybe for £2 everyone could be very happy.
    We recently visited the Southwell Workhouse which is preserved by the National Trust. An interesting link on workhouse food here : http://www.workhouses.org.uk/life/food.shtml

  14. swamp says:

    Look at this.
    Stigler diet – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stigler_diet
    IMHO it’s related to your project.

  15. Chris Smith says:

    Thanks for your work on this. I’ve been researching the same things, but have found that the only approach which doesn’t make you feel like gargling gruel Victorian style is to sacrifice a little time and grow a few higher priced items yourself.

    It also helps with the sanity issues of poverty.

    Find an older person ~ 85 and ask them how they eat. They have great insights on such things thanks to the war rationing.

  16. sean says:

    Does this diet include complete types of protein?
    (protein can be broken into different subgroups and you need different proteins)

  17. David Harris says:

    I’m a software engineer, and this seems to me exactly what the Simplex Algorithm is useful for. That algorithm can be worked out manually using a table format for all the calculated information (use Excel to calculate), and I think software like Mathematica and Matlab come with built-in Simplex routines. Google around some, and maybe this will help you. It’s a bit much to wrap your head around unless you’re a computer scientist or mathematician, but there might be some software out there that can similarly optimize for you.

    The strategy I would use is to use Simplex to give you 10-20 different lists of weekly foods that meet the constraints (both price and nutrition). From these lists, create recipes from the foods. This would allow you to easily see how, within a week, you might be able to reduce Rice by 10g, but add something else special.

    Also, I think a high upfront cost is reasonable, as most people will already have many of the spices and won’t need to spend that much upfront.

    • gergo says:

      Applying naive linear programming to this problem doesn’t yield much insight. I would know, I just did it ;-) Here’s the cheapest solution my program spit out (energy is in kcal, everything else in grams):

      — minimal cost: £ 0.753205 per day —
      energy: 2250.0
      protein: 84.375
      carbs: 289.7054869683674
      fat: 87.49999999999986
      fiber: 47.08947586297586
      bread: 563.0393912034316
      canned tomatoes: 399.99999999998397
      canola oil: 66.95061043708344
      spaghetti: 37.58741441070258

      (The 400 grams of tomatoes would count as 5 vegetable portions of 80 grams each.)

      If we arbitrarily limit bread consumption (I tried a maximum of 250 grams per day), we get something even less interesting:

      — minimal cost: £ 0.466103 per day —
      energy: 2250.0
      protein: 70.9307816711592
      carbs: 472.5594070080847
      fat: 9.028733153638901
      fiber: 26.73638814016185
      bananas: 400.0000000000001
      spaghetti: 510.51212938005176

      It gets a little better if we limit *all* ingredients to a maximum of 250 grams per day:

      — minimal cost: £ 0.600984 per day —
      energy: 2250.0
      protein: 84.37499999999999
      carbs: 448.52263233181185
      fat: 14.354647870714475
      fiber: 43.67288825041119
      bananas: 250.0
      bread: 250.0
      canned tomatoes: 150.00000000000117
      rice (white): 89.12981551194196
      spaghetti: 250.0
      split peas: 32.016473132373974

      Or even to, say, a maximum of 160 grams per day per ingredient:

      — minimal cost: £ 0.760386 per day —
      energy: 2250.0
      protein: 84.37499999999996
      carbs: 295.9800610293592
      fat: 87.49999999999967
      fiber: 50.29550027730088
      bananas: 159.9999999999999
      bread: 160.0
      canned tomatoes: 160.0
      canola oil: 45.460860805359246
      peas: 80.00000000000406
      salted peanuts: 61.25765104851483
      spaghetti: 160.00000000000045
      split peas: 69.55796501466779

      This still isn’t very useful, and note how it doesn’t include any spices yet…

      • gergo says:

        (Oh, I should add that the first, “cheapest” solution I posted above included constraints for “at least 15% of total calories from protein” and “at least 35% of total calories from fat”. I switched those off for some of the other runs, which is why they come out cheaper.)

  18. Karsten says:

    Great work. Doesn’t really apply to conditions in Germany, but it’s still very interesting and your iterative approach has elegance.

    I hope lentils make it into v0.3, that much peas and beans just don’t agree with my gut ;).

    I personally don’t like the idea that those that don’t have the means, have to pay for the information, while those that don’t need the information, have the means to pay for it. I say make it a PDF and add a Paypal/Flattr button. I have no problems to donate 10 Euros or so if it means someone else, who actually needs the information, can get it for free.

    Or, if you need to capitalize, just say how much you want. Say what it would cost to make it cost free for those that need the information and i’m sure the money can be collected (if it’s within reason).

    @KB: A 1€ per day budget would have to make too much sacrifices. For example, the diet as it is, doesn’t contain any vitamin B12 at all. Going even further down (1€ has less buying power than £1) it would be even harder to include B12 sources. However, 2€ per day would be just a little bit more (and account for the higher overall tax levels in for example Germany).

  19. Darxus says:

    I love this.

    The thing that concerns me most is the lack of addressing complete proteins. Proteins are of made up of amino acids, and basically protein only counts in proportion to the the amino acid you are shortest on. So if your yellow split peas only have 10% of one of the amino acids, *and* you’re not making up for that amino acid elsewhere, you effectively only get 10% of the protein from those split peas. Which could be bad. I think this page has good info on the subject: http://rense.com/general86/beans.htm
    I’m pretty sure I’ve seen data on which amino acids what foods are short on, but I’m not finding it right now.

    The comments about B12 also concern me.

    I am a programmer. If you can get me the input data, I expect I can come up with a program to calculate the output you want. This is a kind of thing I love playing with.

    This plan sounds like a *lot* of work. My diet is currently mostly microwavable diet meals, with a couple candy bars each day. Expensive and not great, but it works for me due to convenience. Maybe preparation videos would help? Clearly I’m not your target audience, but I’m definitely interested in eating more along these lines (global economic future concerns me). I also find it interesting that you aren’t *following* this diet.

    I agree with David Harris that it would be okay to not worry too much about the up front spice costs. I can easily see it not being worth exploding the complexity and killing your motivation. When a lot of people are going to either have some spices, or be able to figure out putting off buying them as necessary on their own (or handle the additional cost at the beginning).

    I’m in the US.

  20. Duncan says:

    I’ve been following v0.1 and v0.2 and think it’s an excellent piece of work, something I’ve thought about doing since first owning a copy of The Student’s Cookbook as an undergrad biochemist who also had nutrients tables in his text books. Sadly I’ve not got off my arse to do it (insert long list of excuses here). Selling the completed v1.0 as an e-book is a good idea for funding and I’d buy a copy or two and recommend it to others.

    You note that v0.2 is front-end loaded for costs and retain budgeting over a weekly basis as a key aim for v0.3 (“If version 0.1 was too monotonous and impractical, version 0.2 is too lavish, resulting in an unworkable budget”). You also suggest the possibility of including micro-nutrient analysis in v0.3, but qualify that by saying “I’m waiting until the rest of the diet is nailed down before tackling this”.

    I wonder if you’re setting yourself a high target unnecessarily? You’ve worked wonders to get v.0.2 to work on a monthly basis. The complexity of increasing the granularity of analysis to achieve weekly budgeting means the effort is great but the benefit is comparatively small. In reality, if you were genuinely needing to exist on £1 per day based on weekly budgeting and had a zero-balance starting position (for money and for ingredients) then you’d likely accept the need to have an uninteresting and poor diet in the first few weeks if you could see the possibility of a long-term sustainable diet thereafter… or you’d just shop-lift the spices and oil. Personally, I’d really rather see v0.3 concentrate on optimizing micro-nutrients, which are a real issue for the long-term sustainability of a diet, and relax your rules ever so slightly on budgeting.

    You might see this as cheating but surely the real prize is a £1 per day nutritionally-sustainable diet for the long-term, not a rigid exercise in personal accounting over the first few weeks?

    In conclusion, thank-you for getting this far, please keep going! :)

  21. Gardener says:

    As one other poster pointed out, if your budget is this tight, it’s worth growing some plants. Seeds are quite cheap; there are local gatherings to swap them for free, supermarkets have some cheaply, and you can order them online for surprisingly little. Then all you need is some dirt, containers, and a window with access to sunlight; if you have a bit of space outdoors, even better. This allows you to add things like coriander to your diet, which definitely improves flavor. (Alternatively, you can get live herb plants at tesco; when they have deals, you can sometimes get two for under 2 pounds. They’ll certainly last at least a month).

  22. Gardener says:

    Another type of seed worth growing, if your house isn’t too cold, is Moringa Oleifera. The leaves of this tree are being used to fight malnutrition, and are surprisingly nutritious.

  23. curious says:

    A crazy idea. What if you, like, DOUBLE the budget, or went for $1.50?

    I understand £1 a day is an interesting exercise and only that.

    From lessons learned on that and doubling the budget you could create a long-term sustainable and varied diet I would be actually willing to jump to!

  24. Richard T says:

    Pity this project seems to have died, really interesting stuff.

    A few recipe suggestions – stir fry with onion, cabbage, carrot, peanut butter, soy sauce and rice is very cheap and pretty tasty. Pate might be the cheapest option for cheap animal protein – pork liver pure can be frozen. Sardines / pilchards might also be worth a look for some of the other omega oils. Their flavour goes a long way if you fancy a tomato, bean and fish soup. Koshary might also be worth a look – a brilliant Egyptian food – rice, pasta, lentils, onion, tomato and chick peas. You may have to substitute the chick peas and lentils for beans and split peas…

    If you have an Asian shops near you they do spices much, much cheaper.

    On a slight note of concern I don’t see fuel costs. Beans cost a lot to cook (unless you have an expensive pressure cooker).

  25. Michael Mitchell says:

    Where have you gone?

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