It's been a long week. Nothing compared to really living below the world's absolute poverty line, I know, but still a serious lifestyle adjustment for a snack-happy, middle-class Auckland family (me, my wife Heather, and our children Megan, 17, Joanna, 14, and David, 12).
We decided to have a go at Tear Fund's annual Live Below the Line challenge after contemplating it for a couple of years. The cause was a good one - raising money to fight human trafficking of young women and children, the same age as our kids or even younger.
The only question was whether we could get through it. Several commentators predicted that Dad would be the weak link. Here's how we did.
I spent Sunday afternoon planning a menu for the five days of the challenge. Then I headed to the fruit and vege shop, where I felt quite pleased to come out with two bags of fruit and vegetables for $17. At the supermarket I had my calculator out, carefully making sure that what I bought did not exceed the $39.25 I had left in our budget. I left with one bag of groceries and a tray of eggs. At home I made some things to keep us going through the week - banana bread, pikelets and date scones. The breadmaker will be working overtime, too.
At the end of day one, everyone says they feel okay. My big worry as a mum is how to keep the family fed well and keep them from being hungry.
Tuesday: David (12)
So far, living below the line hasn't been too hard, although now I always get hungry about three-quarters of an hour before I eat. One of the hard parts is not being able to accept any food from your friends. Even when you're really hungry and they offer you a bit of their nice food, you have to say no. It doesn't help when they come out of cooking class with mountains of fudge balls.
The biggest changes to my diet have been the lack of dairy and meat, and not having crackers in my lunchbox. It's quite shocking that a large number of people in the world live like this, or worse, all the time. I think that we'll be fine for a week, though (famous last words).
Wednesday: Joanna (14)
By this morning I was feeling hungry enough that I didn't complain about the same boring jam on a piece of toast for breakfast. I just ate it and hoped it would keep me going till 11 o'clock. A girl in my class was celebrating her birthday today, and she'd been gifted lots of chocolate, some of which she offered me. I didn't know the true meaning of hardship until I had to politely decline.
By morning tea a couple of people had commented on my growling stomach, and I tried to eat my banana bread at a more sedate pace than the previous days. I found it was more filling if I didn't scoff it. Lunch was somewhat the same. Bread with jam. Yum.
Jason, the Herald photographer, arrived just in time for our dinner of corn and tuna fritters with beans and potato wedges. It was quite difficult for everyone to hold up their plates and smile when there was food right in front of us, so he got what he needed and then left us to it. I can't believe we still have two more days of this.
Thursday: Megan (17)
I woke up hungry and gulped down breakfast in under two minutes, which was easy because there wasn't much to eat. If running low on energy from the past couple of days wasn't enough, I had a really busy day at school ahead of me, which left me physically and mentally drained. I usually feel like falling asleep in class, however I don't usually feel like falling asleep at break, lunch, in class and after school. To the nice people who offered me food today and throughout the week, I will take up those offers at a later date. For now I will remain hungry, even after finishing dinner.
Friday: AndrewHeather was (understandably) worried I would get grumpy, so she manipulated the amounts to let me have a poached egg on toast each morning. It seems to have worked but now David grumbles that some people are living further below the line than others.
Today we had a treat; pancakes for breakfast, made with watered-down milk, half a teaspoon of sugar each and unlimited juice from the lemons in our garden. Lunch is a ham sandwich with leftover pieces of pancake and a kiwifruit. Dinner at work tonight will be the leftovers of last night's Brown Rice and Pumpkin Stodge Surprise, rescued from complete tastelessness by a generous splash of sweet chilli sauce.
I've been relieved to find that I haven't been constantly ravenous. The hunger is more like a dull ache, which makes me avoid mental and physical exertion where possible and sends me to bed at 9.30pm because it's better than sitting up feeling vaguely unsatisfied.
Roll on tomorrow morning.
Corn and Tuna Fritters
• 1 tin creamed corn
• 1 small tin of tuna in brine
• 1 grated carrot
• 1 egg
• 1 ½ cups flour
• 1 tspn baking powder
• ½ tspn salt
Mix together, heat small amount of oil in a frying pan and place spoonfuls of mixture into pan. Turn when browned and cook the other side.
Cost: $2.75 per serve