Breakfast: 100g muesli, 100ml skim milk Lunch: 2 sandwiches (one with boiled egg, one with cucumber),1 slice chocolate cake Dinner: 200g pasta spirals served with 300ml pasta sauce and 150g mixed vegetables, 1 portion lime jelly Snack: 35g peanuts Totals Energy 10045kj: (target 9000kj), Protein 77.9g (target 55g), Sodium 1893mg (target 1288mg max), Fat 57.2g (target 90g max) Total cups of black tea: 6 (I'm being remarkably consistent with this!) In summary: No, I don't want to steal your chocolate.
There's a standard and quite understandable reaction whenever people hear about Mastercheap and then read over what I've got to work with: that I'm going to spend the week starving. I've had friends and colleagues speculate that I'll be found passed out at home, threaten to surreptitiously deposit hot chips on my doorstep, and suggest to others that mentioning food in front of me would be dangerous. The underlying implication of all of this is that I must be suffering from massive hunger pangs.
As we cross the halfway line, I'm happy to report that it's simply not true. I'm spending much more time thinking about what I'm eating than normal, but I've yet to experience anything other than the same "it's 6pm, I could go some dinner about now" sensations that I feel pretty much every day around that time.
One reason for that is (as I've tried to emphasise throughout this project) I've ensured that I'm getting enough kilojoules each day. There's a little variation day to day, but I am hitting those targets in pure energy terms, and eating food that in itself is filling (lots of pasta, lots of vegetables). But I think the psychology of the menu is equally important, and it's a point I find myself hammering again and again when I respond to the many and varied comments Mastercheap is inspiring (and do keep them coming, folks!)
The first key element is that I've chosen foods that I actually enjoy. That might seem like the most obvious advice, but I genuinely don't think anyone will make an effort to stick to any kind of food budget if it involves regularly buying things which they don't actually like. That doesn't mean you can buy everything you like — I can't buy cheese or fresh tomatoes or pepper or couscous or wine this week — but there's more than enough cheap food available in Australia to make it possible, and desirable, to match your own preferences as much as possible.
So to the people suggesting lentils: Yes, they're cheap. Yes, they're full of protein. But they're utterly dull without a lot of flavouring elements (which I can't afford), and still not that great even when those get added. So I've skipped them without regrets.
The second key strategy is that while there a lot of recurring elements in these meals, I'm not eating exactly the same food at every single sitting. Making a big pot of something (soup, stew, or similar) and dividing it up for dinner over seven nights is a really popular suggestion, but I think it's a self-defeating strategy. It's much easier to get dissatisfied with your food if it never changes, and it seems evident that you can vary your meals much more than that without suffering financially or nutritionally.
The final way to make food enjoyable — and it's a point which national culinary TV obsession MasterChef makes again and again — is to take some effort in serving it and eating it. Like many people, I don't think I'd ever heard the term '"plating" in common use before MasterChef took off, and I certainly haven't been having to try and make elaborate presentations of my meals (I don't have any garnishes, for a start).
But I have been putting more effort into serving them up than normal — I'm normally a "slap it anywhere on the dish" kind of guy. More importantly, I've been sitting myself at a table and savouring the food, rather than wolfing it down in front of the TV. That's very basic food psychology, but it's working for me. And no matter what your shopping list contains or what your budget is, it's well worth a shot.
Today's lunch menu sees me downing two sandwiches, one filled with a boiled egg and the other with one-third of my sole fresh vegetable for the week, a Lebanese cucumber. I always planned to incorporate three sandwich meals into the menu, with the idea of eating them in the Allure offices (where Lifehacker is produced).
Lots of people need to eat at their workplace every day, so I figured that should be part of my planning if possible. As it happens, my schedule meant I ended up working at home over the lunch hour after an early start, but the sandwiches were still very satisfying, and they'll have their office journey later in the week. Getting multi-grain bread was definitely sensible.
Dinner was another pasta variation, this time combining the pasta and mixed vegetables with the pre-made pasta sauce that first appeared on Sunday. This made a flavourful and filling combination, but it was also largely responsible for blowing out my sodium total. Buying a pre-made pasta sauce got me more flavour than if I'd just used a plain tin of tomatoes, with added onions and garlic that wouldn't have fitted in the budget, but it does come at a cost, salt-wise.
Lifehacker's Mastercheap experiment sees editor Angus Kidman trying to survive with a weekly food budget of just $25.