Mastercheap Day 5: Keeping It Simple

Mastercheap Day 5: Keeping It Simple

One of Mastercheap’s less obvious lessons is that eating cheaply doesn’t necessarily mean putting in more time in the kitchen.

Wednesday’s menu

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 tomato and kidney bean sauce, 1 portion lime jelly
Snack: 35g peanuts
Totals Energy 10423kj: (target 9000kj), Protein 93.4g (target 55g), Sodium 1452mg (target 1288mg max), Fat 57g (target 90g max)
Total cups of black tea: 5
In summary: Who says eating cheaply was hard work?

I’ve been meaning to say something in praise of jelly, which is popping up as a dessert for me every second day or so. One packet of lime jelly (there’s four flavours available in store-brand jelly world if that doesn’t appeal) cost me 39 cents and made four individuals servings, coming out at less than 10 cents each. “It can’t be very filling, can it?” Allure’s boss asked me yesterday.

No, it doesn’t fill you up massively, but as I’ve noted already, I’m not wandering around in a state of abject hunger. It’s also a completely different texture than most of the other things I’m consuming this week, which adds to its appeal. It’s a lousy option for vegetarians, but it’s one of the things I’ve taken up for Mastercheap that I imagine I’ll stick with once the project is over.

The other useful thing about jelly is that it requires very little work to prepare. Boil a jug of water, mix it together, pour it into four cups, whack it in the fridge and you’re done. That approach is actually pretty typical of most of the Mastercheap meals: they don’t involve massive amounts of time in the kitchen. And that is also a good thing.

A recurring theme in the comments has been that making things from scratch would be cheaper and healthier. This isn’t always true (bread being the most obvious example), and it’s really not feasible when dealing with a single-week budget rather than a longer time frame.

But quite aside from that, it also presumes that everyone is happy to spend lots of time in the kitchen, and that’s not true either. Some people just don’t like cooking; others prefer to dedicate their time to other commitments. I sit somewhere towards the “would rather spend time on other stuff” end of the equation.

And I’m clearly not alone. The modern supermarket is a paean to convenience foods. Whether frozen, pre-cooked, pre-sliced or otherwise “made earlier”, it’s pretty obvious that for lots of people, having an option that requires less work is clearly important. Even Aldi, which rather prides itself on a back-to-basics approach, has plenty of ready-to-heat stuff in its freezers.

It’s often said that buying convenience foods involves paying a massive premium, and that’s frequently true. If you grab yourself a ready-made stir fry from the deli, it will cost more than buying the meat and doing it yourself. However, there’s absolutely a middle ground between “make everything from scratch using a massively stocked larder” and “buy everything pre-prepared and pay a fortune”.

The Mastercheap plan I’ve been working with sits clearly in that middle ground. It doesn’t involve spending a long time preparing any given meal, but it certainly doesn’t require spending a fortune for that convenience. Nor does it necessarily involve massive amounts of sodium and other nasties, though that does require a bit more time in the planning and selection.

As promised, on Wednesday I took my sandwiches (and a teabag or two) to the Allure offices to see how well they worked as a packed lunch. I’d been a tad nervous that the egg sandwich might suffer from sogginess after being prepared some hours earlier, but in the end I had nothing to worry about.

Dinner was round 2 of the kidney beans-and-tomatoes sauce which I’d first had way back on Saturday. It’s also the one day this week I haven’t had a serve of mixed vegetables, which get a day off before returning in their default steamed-with-mustard combination tomorrow. I’d decided in planning that six larger serves of vegetables worked better than seven small ones, and with the kidney beans present, figure I’m not suffering too badly. All the nutritional targets have lined up nicely.

Tomorrow I make my one excursion into totally-prepared food land, and also into red meat, as the Home Brand Meat Pie makes its appearance for dinner. Hit the site Friday to see how that goes.

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


  • Bread does not take that long to prepare. Yes you need to wait for it to rise, but the preparation of the dough is around 10 minutes. It is the waiting for the rise that takes time – but you can do other things while that is happening :).

    • yes but it isnt always cheaper particularly if you are going for a healthy multigrain bread. And when it is cheaper I wouldnt consider the time and electricity cost worth it.

      • Yeast and oil too. Initial set up for bread is at least $20-
        $8 for olive oil, $4 for yeast, $6 for various grains ($3 if you just want linseed), $2 for salt.

        From that you can make about 30 loaves, you just need half a kilo of flour for each (approx 48c, or 90c for wholegrain flour). These loaves are not supermarket sized though, they are about 3/4 of the length-but are quite dense and grainy.

        I make bread because I love doing it, and it is a saving in the long term, but it is a chore too, and if you don’t have the oven on to cook something else then the energy is another cost to add. It also takes a while to get your bread mojo working, at least it did for me, so it definitely wouldn’t have worked for this experiment.

  • With bread your typical coles brand, or homebrand bread is cheaper than making your own but this stuff is full of sugar, salt and preservatives. I buy 1kg of wholemeal flour for $2-$3 and this makes 3 small loaves that last me a week and which contain nothing but flour, yeast and a small amount of salt. This is definitely cheaper than buying a non store brand loaf of bread and is far more tastier.

  • There is something to be said for flatbreads and quickbreads. Scones are wonderful, cheap, fast and easy, for example. Flour tortillas are pretty easy (and ultra cheap) too.

    I’d like to see a two week and a four week Mastercheap experiment here — and no, I’m not willing to undertake it. I’m more like Journeymancheap: $50/wk on a 4wk rotation. I reckon that’s as good as I could handle. 😉

    • As I’ve noted a couple of times, the first stumbling block to doing a longer Mastercheap experiment is that I travel frequently, so it’s not practical to do anything that would be representative/useful for the vast majority of people who don’t. (I might do Mastercheap-On-The-Road for its own sake, but that’s a different exercise and would have, I think, different parameters.) Indeed, that’s why I did one week rather than two (which would reflect how often a lot of people get paid).

      Having lived (quite easily) through one week, I’m also not sure how much I’d prove by doing the same thing repeatedly, especially since that would actually introduce more variety into the diet anyway. As an exercise, I might work up a suggested one-person, start-from-scratch $100 budget (based on what I’ve learnt here and the useful suggestions that others have made) for a month, but I seriously doubt I’ll actually live through the whole thing.

      • It wasn’t your primary intent, I know, but one of the results of your experiment, Angus, is that I’m re-evaluating how my wife and I spend money on food. I can’t help but feel a little… ridiculous when I contemplate how much we spend on food for just two people.

  • I think it would be interesting enough just to see that $100 budget without you actually living it Angus. Call it a collation and extension of your learning from doing this $25 week.

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