Mastercheap Day 2: Keeping Up The Energy

Mastercheap Day 2: Keeping Up The Energy

The Mastercheap challenge reaches its second day, and I’m faced head-on with the issue of getting enough energy.

Sunday’s menu

Breakfast: 100g muesli, 100ml skim milk
Lunch: 2 ‘poor man’s pizza’ toasted sandwiches (4 slices multi-grain toast with table spread and bottled pasta sauce)
Dinner: 2 hard-boiled eggs served with 150g mixed vegetables (microwaved) accompanied with 4tsp mustard, 1 slice (freshly-cooked) chocolate cake
Snack: 35g peanuts
Totals Energy 6573kj: (target 9000kj), Protein 58.4g (target 55g), Sodium 1675mg (target 1500mg max), Fat 49.4g (target 90g max)
Total cups of black tea: 6
In summary: In theory, this isn’t enough food, but I’m surviving.

The core of all my Mastercheap planning is an elaborate spreadsheet, containing details of bargain-priced food products (both those on the final list and those I considered but ultimately rejected for one reason or another). As well as the price, I’ve also gathered the relevant nutritional information, and that data informs a worksheet featuring my daily menu and the associated kilojoule, protein, fat and sodium totals.

I did a lot of playing around with these figures when planning the Mastercheap menu, and in the end I was satisfied that I’d done a reasonable job of getting variety into the list, mostly cooking stuff I actually like eating and hitting the nutritional targets. However, it became clear to me quite early on that while I could largely get the right numbers, given my food choices there was going to be one day where the kilojoule total was well below the designated 9000kj, and a few others where it was somewhat higher. (That wouldn’t happen if I’d planned to eat identical foods every day, but avoiding the tedium of that approach as much as possible was one of the key aims of the project.)

I decided Sunday would be the best point to put that ‘light’ day in the schedule. I’m not working, so a slight lack of energy wouldn’t put me in such a bad mood. And it’s early in the process, so I shouldn’t yet have become entirely bitter and cynical.

Hence we have a none-too-stupendous daily kilojoule total — 6573 — that’s nearly 2500 below the target 9000. If there was ever going to be a day to feel hungry, this would be it, but at the end of Sunday, I can’t say that was a big issue. Having hit the protein target even on this more minimal allowance probably helped.

Breakfast — muesli and not quite enough milk — is the one meal that’s remaining constant all week (along with my daily snack allowance of peanuts). Lunch was a pretty basic toasted pair of toasted sandwiches, spread with a little of the pasta sauce, that I’ve dubbed ‘poor man’s pizza’. Dinner was the already-familiar steamed mixed vegetables and mustard, accompanied by two hard-boiled eggs.

Eggs are a big source of protein in the Mastercheap universe. I’ve had scrambled eggs once already this week, and will do so again later in the week. Even if I’d wanted a third serving, though, I wouldn’t have enough milk to do them.

Given that I’m also going to be eating boiled eggs on sandwiches a few times this week, having a third approach might have helped. However, I lack confidence when it comes to poaching, and if I’d wrecked an egg while attempting that, I’d have had no spares to fall back on. Fried eggs just didn’t seem appealing in context, though they’d have upped the kilojoules (along with the fat).

The Home Brand packet cake came up nicely when cooked in the microwave (consuming yet another egg and some more milk — all the milk remaining is now for breakfasts). I had a hot slice of it for dessert, and it will serve as part of another five meals before I’m done.

The other emerging issue: I’ve developed a very slight headache which I’m figuring is likely due to caffeine withdrawal from not consuming any coffee. That’ll be a nuisance if it gets worse, but for now it suggests to me that my tea consumption isn’t too over-the-top.

Come Monday, caffeine consumption is the least of my worries. It’s a regular working day, which for me means going to a lavish press launch which has promised a “sumptuous high tea of sandwiches, scones and desserts” which I’ll have to resist. I’ve adjusted my food strategy as a result; tune in tomorrow to find out how.

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


  • In terms of health and energy use it makes more sense to have a larger meal at lunchtime when your body needs it instead of at dinner time when you’re about to wind down for the night not using much energy at all, so I’d have switched the lunch & dinner above around.

    That said, it would be rather unsatisfying to only have poor man’s pizza for dinner =/

    • Good point — and I am adopting that strategy on a couple of days this week. However, my working life normally means dinner is the cooked meal of the day, so I’ve generally stuck with that even on weekends when it’s not strategically necessary.

    • Microwaving cakes isn’t a new technique (or one restricted to packet stuff) — you just need a special kind of plastic ring pan. The cakes come out extremely moist and crumbly — wouldn’t work if you wanted to make a cake for decorating, but produces a yummy result and uses far less power. I’m not consciously reducing power usage for this project, but as my aunt reminded me last week, if you were on a strict budget then having the oven on for extended periods wouldn’t always be desirable.

  • I feel for you with the caffeine withdrawal. I kicked coffee a few months ago, and it was painful – two weeks of nasty headaches.

    You’d have to drink a lot of tea to make up for the caffeine from coffee. Also, don’t underestimate the power of the smell of someone else’s coffee to test your willpower.

    On the plus side, now that I don’t pay for espresso, I can afford Foxtel! It’s amazing how much $3 a cup actually costs when you think about it over a week or a month.

    • They certainly wouldn’t — but my job involves rather more potential free meals than the average. And eating free food would muddy the whole issue of “how healthily can you eat on this kind of budget?”

  • Another way to use the eggs could be to make an omelet?? an egg or two whisked with a dash of water and maybe even add some of the vegies in. A pretty satisfying option I think…

  • Did you consider using more basic ingredients? I suspect someone on such a huge budget restriction would be time-rich. So, you could consider making your own bread and pasta. A bag of flour is cheap; with some water and a rolling pin, you have pasta. Add some yeast (or even use naturally occuring yeasts from outside if you don’t want to buy yeast) and you have bread.

    • More DIY would be an option, but a few thoughts: Basic flour is pretty cheap ($0.95 a kilo), but my own experience is that pasta made just with water and a rolling pin is nowhere as good as pasta made with a pasta machine (and with eggs rather than water) — which is obviously more expensive. Ditto bread (this has been discussed elsewhere on the site) — you need other ingredients to make even basic bread (yeast isn’t cheap, and most bread recipes use at least salt for flavouring ), and the comparison here is with multi-grain. With bread there’s also a serious question of how much the power would cost to cook those loaves, which would be a real consideration for someone with lots of time on their hands.

      In practical terms, I’m not time-rich, which is one reason I avoided these strategies. But I’m still not sure that I’d have come out dramatically ahead if I did, and (as ever) I suspect there’d have been even less variety.

  • I think there is nothing wrong with accepting free food.. The Reality of surviving on a limited budget will most likely end up with you experimenting with dumpster diving, which can be a great source of free food if you are willing to rescue rubbish from bins. If you target fruit/veg markets @ the end of the day you’ll get cosmetically damaged but otherwise perfect food. I did this in europe & will admit to sometimes eating better than I would If i had to buy the food myself.

    • Yeah, I know this homeless guy who is friends with some of the local fruit market people. They give him the old or damaged fruit and he makes it into smoothies and ice cream and stuff. He uses an old deepfreezer and blender from the Salvo’s in my garage. He’s a cool guy 🙂

  • This is a very interesting project – but perhaps you might consider checking through a few vegetarian websites which would give you lots of recipes which would probably be healthier than such a restricted food plan as yours.
    Lentils are cheap, so is rice and so is pasta – you can buy very large pakets under $1 and these all would make quite a few meals – I would add veggies and fruit as well and perhaps (unless you ARE wanting to try eating meatless) you could also add mince – mince goes a long way especially mixed with baked beans, lentils, chickpeas, pasta, rice or sweet potatoes or English potatoes.Chopped cabbage and grated carrot would also give it more taste and bulk (and extra food value)
    A few sprigs of parsley, a bit of garlic and you have many tasty meals for your budget.
    You could also make pancakes plain/ savoury or sweet with plain flour and egg and water or Self Raising Flour and water (nicer with egg)
    And I WOULD NOT TURN DOWN ANY FREE MEALS – nobody on $25 per week would seriously consider doing so. It just means you could just have so much less at dinner at night time.
    I will be watching with interest to see how you get on and for how long!

    • If you check the list, you’ll see pasta is one of my staples. But the cheapest pasta (in quantities that suit a single person) I’ve found is $1.15 a kilogram. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I’m not personally fond of lentils or rice — which doesn’t mean they’re not good options, but I’ve got a better chance of sticking this out for the week with food that I’m keener on.

      All those other options are viable ways of eating (relatively) cheaply, but in reality trying to assemble a _varied_ budget that doesn’t either go over $25 or stay consistently under kilojoule levels is a bit more challenging, and I’m pretty sure it can’t be done for one person with much mince included.

  • You really shouldn’t have any trouble doing this. I’ve been living on $20 a week for groceries since the beginning of the year and have never eaten so well. It isn’t hard as long as you’re prepared to give it a bit of thought and plan well. In fact, there have been quite a few weeks when I haven’t spent the full $20 because I haven’t needed to.

    • Joan is being very modest – she not only manages to survive and eat very well on $20 a week (sometimes less as she has said), but for that amount she manages to bake and fill her freezers 🙂 She is an inspiration on the Simple Savings forum where she shares all her tips on eating well on little $.

      • Sounds like a strategy that involves bulk purchase and preparation and storing for later — which is eminently sensible, but, as I’ve noted in the FAQ, not the approach I’m exploring here.

      • Before you go and assume, what someone does, please know that Joan has heaps of followers in the Simple Savings Forums, and has inspired many people to look at their way of living. Not only does she save money in her groceries, but her way of life. We are blessed to have Joan show us her ways. I understand it is a one week experiment, but I challenge you, could you do it for a year, $25 max per week? You might inspire others to stop the merry-go-round of consumerism.

        • All power to Joan — but her number of followers doesn’t necessarily mean she’s not advocating bulk buying, and I’d honestly be surprised to learn that she wasn’t at least some of the time — it’s the most obvious strategy for long-term savings, but that’s not, as you note, what Mastercheap is about. (I haven’t had time to go forum-searching on Simple Savings to check.)

          In practice, I travel far too much to make setting any kind of year-long food budget practical. That’s just me. But having set one for a week, I imagine I could set one for a year more easily.

      • Oh ye of little faith, I am not sure why you would presume Joan would have to be bulk buying to be able to survive? If this is something you haven’t done before then how can you have any idea of how it would work? I haven’t seen Joan recommend bulk buy, she buys organic meat and stretches her meals and $ in every way she can.

        Going back to basics and cooking meals from scratch using fresh ingredients, cuts out chemicals from processed food and immediately saves money. Also buying own brand products (which are likely the same as the branded ones but packaged differently) makes huge savings.

        I haven’t had a chance to read your first posts with your shopping list, but will be watching with interest to see how you manage.

        • As the shopping list indicates, store brand products are a huge part of the Mastercheap equation. It also indicates that I did a fair amount of research before I started this project, so I did have a fair idea how it would work even before I began. And that’s also why I assumed buying in bulk was likely — because that’s the oft-recommended strategy, and it’s self-evident that many goods are cheaper purchased in large quantities.

  • Good Luck on the project. I have been reading the days so far. Initially just to see what your thought were but am actually now finding them interesting on the strategies employed. Keep it up.

  • You need to take some lessons from Joan. Do you call that “poor man’s pizza” healthy? It has nothing but carbohydrate in it. It would have been better if you had made some of your “snack” into peanut butter and used that.
    Maybe you should have taken some cooking lessons before you start sneering at others.

    • I wasn’t sneering — just pointing out that the approach is different. Without a detailed budget and menu, it’s not possible for me to make a direction comparison.

      As for the poor man’s pizza: while it certainly isn’t the healthiest thing on my menu, it has a small amount of fat, a fair amount of fibre, and a small amount of vegetables (the pasta sauce isn’t made from carbs!) And of curse whether I eat the peanuts as a separate snack or as a sandwich topping, the nutritonal profile for the day wouldn’t change at all.

  • Good on you for figuring out the nutritional requirements. Anyone can eat badly for cheap! The challenge for me is to cook interesting and nutritional meals for cheap so I will be interested to see what else you come up with. Doing this challenge long term would require much creativity.
    You should try fried eggs, I have heard they are actually recommended for diets even tho fatty because something about the combo of protein and fat fills you up for longer. I’ve tried it and it really works.
    I also admire how restrained you have been in your responses to the friends of this Joan woman! I see no way that you attacked her and yet they are being extremely defensive and aggressive. Strange.

    • Interesting thought re the fried eggs — I’ve got one more eggs+toast lunch to come on Thursday, so I’ll do that as fried instead of boiled (the lazy man’s option) and see how it goes.

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