Financial challenge: can I live on my store cupboard leftovers?

Financial challenge: can I live on my store cupboard leftovers?

With the issue of food waste once again on the table, I attempted to go a week without visiting the supermarket. Here’s how I got on.

Katy Ward

Saving and Making Money

Katy Ward
Updated on 24 April 2019

Happy Stop Food Waste Day!

What do you mean you don’t have it down in your calendar?

The annual event falls on April 24 this year and, while it may not have the mass appeal of Christmas or Easter, it’s a fantastic cause that raises awareness of global food wastage.

According to its campaigners, 33% of food produced worldwide is wasted, while Love Food Hate Waste estimates families of four could save £70 per month by not throwing away unused groceries.

As a financial journalist, I’ve made a career out of hunting down supermarket’s most competitive deals.

While this is one of the most interesting aspects of my job, it leads to temptation since I can never resist a bargain, which means my store cupboard is full of soups, noodles and condiments I often waste.

So, I decided on a challenge: to mark Stop Food Waste Day, I’d attempt to go a week living solely on leftovers and items in my store cupboard.

Here's how I got on...

Katy Ward tried not going to the supermarket for a week (Image: Katy Ward)

Day one

At the start of my challenge, I’m full of enthusiasm and it helps my store cupboard is relatively robust at this stage.

For breakfast, there's Kellogg's Crusty Nut Cereal. It's been hanging around for a while, but technically in date and I still have fresh milk at this point.

For dinner, I raid the store cupboard.

I discover dried pasta, pesto and tuna, which makes a perfectly adequate supper... perhaps not the greatest meal of my life, but certainly not the worst.

This challenge will be breeze, I tell myself.

Spoiler alert: I soon become far more curmudgeonly.

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Day two

Lunch is supermarket own-brand noodles.

These soon become a regular (and eventually somewhat depressing) fixture of my week.

Katy Ward tried not going to the supermarket for a week (Image: Katy Ward)

At forty-odd pence per pack, I often pop them in my trolley, which means we have an ample supply in our household.

For my evening meal, I go into modern hunter-gather mode and poke around in the deepest, darkest recesses of my freezer.

I encounter pork chops I’d frozen a fortnight ago, which I combine with leftover rice from the previous evening.

Dessert is the culinary highlight of my week.

The night before my challenge I'd made profiteroles for a family occasion.

I'd prepared two sets (despite knowing we'd only eat one).

A pretty appalling example of food wastage and, in other weeks, I may have casually thrown these away.

Want to live a zero waste lifestyle? Read more on our sister site loveFOOD

Day three

I cheat...

I’m seeing a friend this evening. I’d forgotten it was his birthday a few weeks ago so I pop to Tesco to buy a bottle of whiskey as a gift.

The only problem being I have a full day at work so need to shop at seven am. I can’t imagine what the staff thought of me.

In all seriousness, I'm tempted during my trip. I strolled by the deli and see staff putting out fresh sausage rolls.

I also wander through the yellow sticker section and spied bargains I’d normally snap up.

What I have used these items? I'm not sure.

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Day four

The milk has run out. Luckily, we have the powdered variety.

I've never used powdered milk before. It always had a faint wartime rationing air about it to me.

It turns out to be a lifesaver for my morning cereal. 

With the store cupboard running dry, lunch consists of a tin of hot dogs I'd been putting off eating until I got desperate.

It isn’t horrible, but I'm starting to yearn for fruit and veg.

Katy Ward tried not going to the supermarket for a week (Image: Katy Ward)

Day five

Dinner is Lidl tomato and basil soup, which is delicious.

I'm now more convinced than ever that discounter supermarkets should be a fixture of my weekly shop.

I add black pepper and Worcester sauce and voila. It's gourmet or as close as I get.

Day six

I'm alone in the house as my boyfriend visits relatives.

Thank goodness, since his patience with my endless stream of personal finance experiments is running thin.

Tuna and dried pasta, it is. 

Tonight, I binge. With Easter eggs on offer a few weeks ago, I’d decided to treat myself and ended up with way too many – I did admit earlier that I couldn’t resist a bargain!

With a night to myself, I dig into the largest and most luxurious – though this overindulgence was inevitable (challenge or no).

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Day seven

I meet a friend for morning coffee.

My biggest concern (in relation to my experiment, at least) is that my food totally lacks flavour so I help myself to a few sachets of ketchup and mustard in the cafe.

My companion tells me she thinks it’s stealing.

Somehow, I’m not expecting a call from the police.

For dinner, I use the eggs in my fridge to make an omelette.

Also, I wonder if it’s possible to use powdered milk in an omelette.

If not, this article may be the last thing I ever write.

Read: how to spend less on food using yellow stickers and other tactics

The final verdict

Despite its more comical moments, this week proved an education (and telegraphed things I ought to already have known).

From a financial perspective, I saved around £80 by banning myself from buying food for seven days.

While I’m no health guru, the lack of fruit and veg proved most difficult.

I missed colour in my meals, which often felt dull and dreary – made even sadder by the fact the Stop Food Waste Day campaign estimates 45% of fruit and vegetables produced globally is wasted.

This week almost made me feel ashamed of the amount of food my family wastes – especially when 25% of wasted food could feed 795 million undernourished people.

Perhaps it's not possible to live on your store cupboard and leftovers alone, but the past seven days focused my attention on the amount of food (and money) I shamefully waste.

In the future, I'll definitely investigate our leftovers before I head to the supermarket.

How to learn more

If you'd like to cut down on wastage, a number of online resources can help.

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