‘GastroNoughts’ Anja Madhvani and her partner are skint... and hungry

A few weeks ago my boyfriend and I went to the market with a five pound note. We’d come back from holiday and realised just how skint we were. In a month we’d spent upwards of £400 on food. Our penchant for dining out was out of control, and even when cooking at home we'd splurge on expensive ingredients from the likes of M&S. 

So, we got to thinking ‘how cheaply could we actually eat?’.

It was time for a challenge.

...living like students won’t motivate us, frankly it’s miserable

The rules were simple: 

1. We would restrict ourselves to a £20 food budget for the week, for both of us.

2. We would only buy from Kirkgate Market.

3. We’d allow ourselves a basic larder of oils, herbs and spices, but everything else had to be bought.

4. Try not to fall out and eat each other.

170125 Kirkgate Market Header Copy
Founded in the 1857, Kirkgate Market houses dozens of stalls selling fresh produce.

We dubbed our project 'The GastoNoughts' - for people who love to eat out but have very little to spend. 

But could a city centre couple with busy work lives organise themselves and budget tightly, whilst eating fresh, healthy and satisfying food? 

Here’s what we learned in our first week:

Market Shopping: the pros and cons

Pick your time carefully - We made our first trip to the market at 4pm on a Saturday. This worked in our favour in that we snaffled some fantastic bargains, such as 24 bananas for £1. However, it also had its problems. Shopping at this time means that most stalls are running low on stock, especially fresh fruit and vegetables. There can also a tendency for stall holders to ‘hide’ things, for example the peaches at the top of our punnet were beautiful, but those underneath looked a little worse for wear.

Some ingredients are hard to find - Usually we cook a lot of tofu, ramen, noodles etc. but there doesn’t seem to be anywhere in the market stocking Asian essentials such as soy sauce, miso or noodles. We also struggled to find affordable canned items such as tomatoes and beans, as well as bread.

My love affair with Parmesan has suddenly been cut short... this is not good for happiness

Bring your own There is a lot of single use plastic being used at the market. It’s clear that vendors are trying to reduce this, and shoppers could further assist by taking their own bags and tupperwares.

Prepare to be grumpy - Our money didn’t stretch quite as far as we thought it would, and, for at least the first week, we'd be eating totally vegetarian food. The aim is to find a sustainable way to eat healthily and save money, but we also need to feel motivated to change our habits. But living like students doesn't motivate, frankly it’s miserable. My love affair with Parmesan has suddenly been cut short and savoury snacks like crisps and dips are now absent from my diet, which is great for health but not necessarily for happiness. There’s a difficult balance to strike here between saving money, being healthier, but still enjoying food.

2018 09 10 Anja Budget Produce
Anja's haul - "our money didn’t stretch quite as far as we thought it would."

What can you actually buy with £20?

Shopping List - spaghetti, rice, chana daal, atta flour (for making rotli), oats, pearl barley, tomatoes, onions, celery, carrot, courgette, sweet red peppers, red cabbage, peaches, bananas *bargain of the day, lemons, strawberries, buttermilk, garlic, chilli.

Recipes - So could we make anything tasty and satisfying with such a limited shopping list? Luckily my family on my dad’s side are from Gujarat, and my auntie is an absolute wizard in the kitchen. She shared some great recipes with us including chana daal with rotli, rice and accompaniments such as quick onion pickle and cabbage kachumba. Chickpea and lentil daals are full of protein and flavour, and a great staple if you’re on a budget. So find someone better than yourself in the kitchen and beg them to give you some tips. Cry if you need to.

Other meals throughout the week- We didn’t have any snacks and I may be going through some sort of crisp withdrawal. Here is an idea of what we made from our ingredients this week:

Overnight oats - oats soaked overnight in buttermilk with strawberries

Banana peach and strawberry smoothies - we froze all our fruit at the start of the week for morning smoothies

Tomato and red pepper soup

Pasta aglio e olio - chilli and garlic pasta with oil and parsley

Simple tomato sauce with pasta

Wholegrain salads with mixed veg (lemon to dress)

2018 25 06 Cheap Leeds Cafe Moor  Kirkgate
Kirkgate is packed full of fruit n veg sellers

Week summary (the end?):

By the end of our first week we are ready to quit. It’s become apparent that my snack habits are out of control, and we are both missing luxury items - most notably parmesan. We are also missing dining out, which we tend to do at least once a week, even if it’s street food. At this point the project does not feel sustainable. Fail. 

Though we have been impressed by the quality of produce at the market and the shopping has been fun. but the lack of naughty treats has impacted morale and it’s clear that we need to plan a lot more if we are going to enjoy eating on a budget. Mealtimes have become a little more stressful, and our time cooking together has not been as, er, friendly as usual. I’m hoping that with better planning next time will be easier and more sustainable.

20172610 Million Pound Menu Cheese Wheel
Oh parmesan, how we love you.

But will there be a part two? We can't say. But in the meantime, get this woman some Wotsits...