Mastercheap Day 1: Measuring Up To The Task

Mastercheap Day 1: Measuring Up To The Task

The Mastercheap challenge kicks off with a frenzy of measurement and advance preparation. Here’s what I ate on day 1.

Saturday’s menu

Breakfast: 100g muesli, 100ml skim milk
Lunch: 2 scrambled eggs, 2 slices multi-grain toast with table spread, served with 150g mixed vegetables (microwaved) accompanied with 4tsp mustard
Dinner: 200g pasta spirals served with tomato and kidney bean sauce, 1 portion lime jelly
Snack: 35g peanuts
Totals Energy 9441kj: (target 9000kj), Protein 92.3g (target 55g), Sodium 1400mg (target 1500mg max), Fat 59.7g (target 90g max)
Total cups of black tea: 6
In summary: The first day is inevitably the easiest. But mustard matters.

The most notable event on today’s agenda was dividing and weighing a fair proportion of the goods which will sustain me for the week ahead. Preparing food in advance on the weekend is often recommended as a time-saving measure, but my motivation is a bit more basic.

Like many people, I’m used to roughly doling out whatever looks reasonable when it comes to preparing meals. That’s fine when you can always hit the cupboard (or the supermarket) for backup supplies, but it’s less sensible when you’ve got very restricted options. If I use too much pasta in today’s dinner, I’ll be running short come Friday. Pre-measuring eliminates that risk.

So I divide my supplies: the kilo of pasta spirals into five parcels of 200g; the muesli into six rounds of 100g (not seven as I’d already had breakfast when I did this task); the packet of peanuts into seven packets of 35g (my daily snack, which I consumed during the afternoon); and the frozen vegetables into half-a dozen 150g packages.

In the same spirit, I make up the lime jelly into four individual serving cups (dessert for four nights) before setting it. Doing all this in one hit reduces messing around with scales for the rest of the week, and makes it less likely that I’ll gorge myself on more than my daily entitlement at some point.

There’s relatively little danger of that happening on Day 1, because the menu truly isn’t that different to what I might eat on a normal Saturday anyway. The only difference is in the details. There’s a little less milk on the muesli than I’d normally have, though that has the arguable advantage of making me eat more slowly. The tea is black, but quite drinkable.

The scrambled eggs don’t have any added pepper, though the “table spread” doesn’t taste anywhere near as awful as I’d feared and the multi-grain bread is excellent. I miss having cheese on the pasta dish — a recipe promoted earlier this year by the Salvation Army as a cheap meal for families in crisis — but the beans make it so filling that I don’t feel the slightest bit deprived overall after eating two bowlfuls of it. (Half the sauce has been conserved for use later in the week, which is a meal I can already say I’m looking forward to.)

I’m very glad that I included the mustard to make the frozen vegetables more palatable, but that’s not to say that they taste awful simply because they’re cheap. They taste bland without seasoning because that’s what a mixture of potato, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, corn and peas will invariably taste like. But between them, the tomatoes and the beans, I’ve probably had more vegetables than I would on a regular Saturday.

Nutritionally, too, I’m pretty much on target, especially in terms of protein (punching above my weight) and fat (well under the maximum). Sodium is about 100mg under the limit. I’m slightly over the 9000 kilojoule target, but not by much. However, my calculations for Day 2 suggest a rather different story, as you’ll see in the next instalment.

Lifehacker’s Mastercheap experiment sees editor Angus Kidman trying to survive with a weekly food budget of just $25.


  • If you want to save money and still eat healthy and nutritious food, do as I do and steam your fresh veg in reasonable amounts before freezing it for quick easy meals that don’t scrimp on the vitamins and minerals you need. This also has the added benefit of not wasting veg that could not be used before it went bad. The secret is to use a salad spinner to get rid of as much water as you can after steaming and storing it in seal-able plastic bags with the air squeezed out. I’ve saved heaps doing this!!

    • That site hosting that project appears to be no more, but based on a quick glance at the Google cache he largely ate only rice and bread — so nutritional balance went right out the window. I think it’s obvious you can eat for very little if you eat the same carbohydates all the time. One aim here is to see how close you can hew to a properly healthy diet on that kind of budget.

      Also, he seems to have not started shopping until the project began — he didn’t do any advance research or budget planning. Not saying it’s not a notable effort, but I wouldn’t directly compare it.

    • There’s a more detailed discussion of this set for Day 2 — but the big culprits for Day 1 were the bread, mustard and kidney beans.

      That said, 1500 isn’t an unhealthy amount itself — you just don’t want it much higher.

      • What’s your source on over 1500mg of Sodium being unhealthy? I looked through all the Medical Archives while at University and could find no papers directly linking Sodium consumption and dangerous medical conditions. There is one genetic condition which has problems with Sodium excretion, but that’s a 1 in 30,000 people condition, primarily found in the Black population in the Southern states of the US.

        I did find studies showing up to 6000 mg of Sodium a day had no discernable effect and it seemed there is an assumption Sodium is bad in the medical profession for reasons which haven’t been shown to be true or because it’s confounded by other things we generally eat when also eating salt.

        If you do have something to cite, I’m very happy to change my stance, it’s just one of those things which seems to have been adopted as public health policy without people knowing why and I’m curious about those.

        • It’s certainly true that there’s a lot of variation in the figures. When researching, I found some suggestions as low as 900mg for an RDI, others as high as 3000mg — so the 1500mg is a compromise towards the lower end of the spectrum. It really wouldn’t be hard to hit 6000mg or more in a day — a single packet of flavoured 2 minute noodles contains 1450mg — which is why I picked a lower target, and there’s only a couple of days that exceed it (without exceeding even that 3000mg upper limit).

  • If you want to add some flavour and condiments, why not try an old student trick and get some ‘free’ satchels from ur local fast food restaurant. They have lots of ‘free’ sugar, salt, pepper, and sauce etc.

    • Fundamentally, I didn’t do this because I wanted to stick strictly to what’s possible on the budget. But I don’t think it’s a universal strategy you can use in any modern fast food restaurant: many of them now keep condiments behind the counter rather than on open display for anyone to pick up.

  • As a student on a budget I’ll be watching with interest. One thing is for sure your project is much more honest than the “feed your family for $10” – so many ingredients not costed, or you have to buy larger portions and THEY are costed proportionally. Good work!

  • I’m talking about buying things like herbs, which are expensive if you’re on a budget, and things like pasta which only come in a packet that serves, say 10 and then still proportionally pricing it. It almost borders on false advertising.

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