'I was starting to look like penne pasta': Woman reveals reality of surviving off food bank parcels

Foodbanks are a lifeline for many in some of their darkest days.
They provide essentials like bread and milk that some of us take for granted.
Coventry Foodbank is one of the largest in the UK and handed out more than 20,200 emergency food packages to people in the city during 2017/18 - more than 55 every day.
And even more worryingly, 8,000 of those went to families with children who would have otherwise gone hungry.
Coventry Live chief reporter Katy Hallam decided to live off the same package handed out to people in the city.
She also discovered what life is really like when you have no food in the fridge and the cupboards are bare.
Here Katy reveals how she go on...

What's in the parcel?

Katy's shopping 
The following is what a single person is given as an emergency food supply for three days.
The items will vary because 90 per cent of the food is donated by the public.
  • A small box of cereal
  • Two cans of soup
  • Two cans of beans or spaghetti
  • Two cans of tomatoes or pasta sauce
  • Two cans of vegetables
  • Two cans of meat
  • Two small pieces of fruit
  • One can of rice pudding or custard
  • A small packet of biscuits
  • 500g of pasta, rice or noodles
  • Tea/coffee - 40 bags or a small jar
  • One litre of long-life juice
  • One litre of UHT milk
I chose to do my shop at Tesco, as the supermarket has the most drop-off points for the foodbank in Coventry.

Day One

Katy's first breakfast from the foodbank parcel filled her up, but it wasn't tasty 

I wasn't much looking forward to breakfast on day one of my foodbank challenge - oats and UHT milk.
I have to confess I've never actually eaten oats before and I doubt I will again.
They were pretty flavourless.
The main thing is they did the job of keeping me full until lunchtime which is the most important thing. And at least I had orange juice to wash them down.
By the time I'd finished my vegetable soup and lonely apple for lunch, I was still hungry.
Katy's lunch - which she wished she'd had some bread and butter to go with the soup

Despite cups of tea to fill me up, my stomach was rumbling as I drove home from work.
After my lunch, I was getting quietly confident that this challenge wouldn't be as bad as I thought.
My first evening meal was an unappealing concoction of pasta, chopped tomatoes and fried spam.
I even had to wash out my frying pan and start again when I realised I shouldn't have used oil!
The finished product looked bad and tasted worse, so I used up my rice pudding on my first night to take the taste away.
I went to bed miserably awaiting my breakfast the next morning.

Day Two

It was a second morning of oats 

I almost considered skipping breakfast completely because I really wasn't looking forward to my second morning of oats and UHT milk.
But I knew that without them, I'd really struggle to get through my day at work.
If I'd had some sugar, life would have been a million times better.
The only plus was, again, the glass of orange juice afterwards that washed away the taste of the oats.
Day two's lunch consisted of a can of chicken and mushroom soup (I'd already eaten the apple I'd allocated as I was really hungry by 10am).
The soup was devoured 
You're probably noticing quite a lot of repetition already - and this was the hardest part of the challenge, not the low quality of the food.
My body was craving something - anything - different.
And by this point the sugar craving had really kicked in. I don't normally drink fizzy drinks but suddenly I had the biggest thirst for Coca-Cola.
After yesterday's spam concoction, I wasn't in a rush to make my dinner - even though I was really hungry.
But I soon gave in to the pangs and poured out my pasta. This time, I added some sweetcorn and corned beef and mixed away.
Sweetcorn and corned beef pasta was on the cards for dinner 

This was probably my lowest point of the whole challenge.
Corned beef looks like dog food and although I've never eaten pet food I imagine it tastes worse, especially when it's all mushed up into a big pink goo.
I also realised that I'd nearly made it to the age of 30 without knowing what the little stick on the top of the corned beef tin is for (don't worry, I YouTubed it).

Day Three

Oats with water for Katy's third day breakfast 
One good thing about my disastrous dinner the night before was that I was actually quite looking forward to my bland, tasteless oats.
Or I was until I realised I had about a tablespoon of UHT milk left.
There was nothing to do but add water to the tiny amount of milk.
This was not setting me up for a good final day of the challenge.
By day three, I'd already consumed my two cans of soup and two apples. What was I going to do for lunch?
I still had pasta, so I decided to split that between lunch and dinner.
Katy's favourite meal of the challenge - pasta and spam with beans 
I added in a tin of beans, and the leftover spam I had thankfully saved from day one.
It sounds awful, but it was actually my favourite meal of the challenge! Things were looking up...
By now, I fear I was starting to look a bit like a piece of penne pasta.
But when you have no choice, you're grateful for what you've got so I was quite happy to dig into the carbs again after a fairly successful lunch.
The final meal 
And then I started making dinner.
Even though I had no meat left, after my corned beef disaster I wasn't going to add any anyway.
So I used my tin of peas and some of the leftover chopped tomatoes to bulk out my pasta.
I think looking back this would have been the better option throughout! The tinned meat probably would have been better cold and as a side dish.


The food might not have been exciting but I was so relieved I had something to come home to.
I struggled with concentration even after my first day on my minimal diet and when I worked out my calories at around 1900 a day (100 less than a woman needs and 600 less than a man needs) I wasn't surprisied.
The foodbank parcel isn't meant to be a long-term solution and relies on the goodwill of the public - more than 90 per cent of donations come from you.
It's more than a shame that we even have the need for them in this country but they do an amazing job of getting you through those dire moments.
The parcel tries to include a range of the different vitamins and minerals you need, albeit in a simple way.
A lot of people were surprised the package included biscuits, but there were just four a day to spread over the challenge and I think I genuinely might have cracked without a tiny bit of sugar - especially after a depressing dinner.
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