Top to bottom, from left to right, are Helena van den Heever, Khathu Mathavha, Andries Smal, Annah Mavunga and Sarie Lee. Photos supplied.

How far can you stretch a R350 food budget?

Date: 24 May 2020 By: Pétria de Vaal

Viewed: 1610

A special Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant of R350 a month for the next six months will be paid to individuals who are currently unemployed and do not receive any other form of social grant or UIF payment.

The question arises: If you are the sole breadwinner and you must cater for a family of four people, how do you spend the R350? This is especially challenging if you have to ensure that each family member is not only fed for a month but needs to have an intake of the necessary nutrients.

The Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror challenged a few individuals across different cultures to compile a grocery list with the bare necessities. However, before we look at these lists, taking a look at what is in the food parcels that government also started to distribute at provincial level to vulnerable households might be worthwhile. Are these food parcels nutritionally adequate?

Government’s food parcel

Each food aid parcel includes: starch-rich foods (10kg maize meal and 5kg rice), protein-source foods (1kg soya, two tins of baked beans, two tins of fish and 880g peanut butter), two litres of cooking oil, one packet of tea bags, 2.5kg sugar, 1kg salt and three non-food items (one bottle of dishwashing liquid, one bottle of all-purpose cleaner and two bars of laundry washing soap). This parcel has a value of approximately R507 (based on current online retail prices).

The Conversation ( investigated the contents of these parcels with the objective to determine whether the nutritional value met the requirements of what is generally accepted as a balanced diet.

What was found is that the weekly food parcel relies heavily on starch-rich staple foods (maize meal and rice) and could potentially provide a four-member family with enough servings for a two-week period. It could also provide the same family with enough protein-source foods and oil for approximately 1.5 weeks and 2 weeks respectively. What is lacking, however, is dietary diversity in terms of items such as dairy, eggs, fruits and vegetables.

Iron, zinc and vitamin A are the three micro-nutrients essential for an optimally functional immune system and immune cell growth. Both iron and vitamin A are essential in fighting off respiratory infections. The food parcel provides a sufficient amount of zinc and iron but not enough vitamin A. In addition, the lack of fresh produce causes a shocking 98% deficit in daily recommended allowance for vitamin C.

What do local charities provide?

In the Louis Trichardt town area, some charity organisations are currently feeding some households in need.  Helena van den Heever runs one of these and she shared the basic list with us of what is in these food parcels. “Feed the Hungry” prepares food parcels once a week at a retail cost of approximately R700 for two people per household, or R1 000 for four people.

On a weekly basis, a family of two receives the following:

* 1 x 2kg sugar
* 1 x 2kg rice
* 1 x 250g salt
* 2 x 500g pasta
* 1 x box of powdered milk
* 1 x tea (100 teabags)
* 2 x soya mince
* 2 x tinned food (e.g. baked beans) per person
* 1 x bread per person
* 1 x 500g margarine

The same family receives a 12.5kg bag of mealie meal, as well as some toiletries.

Apart from the above, one crate of vegetables is given for a family of two, with two crates for more people. These could include cabbage, patty pans, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, butternuts, gem squash, beans, and mealies.

Bergcare, an umbrella organisation that provides relief to almost 90 families, delivers parcels to identified people (mainly the aged) on a bi-weekly basis. Andries Smal says that the cost of the contents thereof varies between R650 to R780 per individual. At Bergcare, they call these parcels (usually items fitting into an apple box) a “compassionate parcel” – consisting of groceries and toiletries. A bag full of vegetables is added to this.

Upon the question “what would you put in a box for R350 per month for a family of four?” Andries replied that this was not possible, looking at current costs. His immediate thought was: How many loaves of bread can you buy? He did, however, come up with a list of suggested items as well as a few clever ideas.

His list comprises the following:

* Salt (for him priority before anything else)
* Mealie meal
* Imana – Toppers (Soy mince)
* Spinach (he suggests planting them – they grow everywhere and can be cut in six weeks’ time after planting)
* Tea
* Dried vegetables
* Sugar – optional (expensive)

A few more ideas include the picking of maroho and the eating of pumpkin leaves. He feels that beans and dairy products are too expensive.

Annah Mavunga

Annah Mavunga has been the chef at the Ultimate Guest Lodge since 2016. She is an expert in food and cooking and has to feed family members herself in the village of Mamvuka behind the Soutpansberg. If she were given the R350, she would compile the following list:

* 1 x Mealie meal (12.5kg @ R60) (Although they prefer the fine mealie meal, the “coarser” one is cheaper and many families buy this.
* 6 x tins of pilchards in tomato sauce (@ R100) – between the first and the eighth of a month, these tins are cheaper than usual at their local shop.
* 30 x eggs (@ ± R53)
* Chicken heads and feet (R120 for 10 packets. One packet is enough for four people and can be stretched over two days)
* 1 x 500g salt (±R10)
Total amount: ± R343

She shared more ideas and said that, should the budget be slightly more, they would need cooking oil, brown onion soup, two tins of baked beans in tomato sauce, one packet of fresh green beans, tomatoes and onions. She mentioned that her people liked butternut, cabbage and spinach as well. In their village, maroho can be bought from street vendors at R10 per bunch.

Zaheeda Omar

For Zaheeda Omar, the list was quite easy to compile. Hers consists of the following:

* Mealie meal (10kg @ R55)
* Flour (2.5kg @ R20)
* Eggs (R50)
* Lentils (R20)
* Rice 5kg (R60)
* Dry beans (2kg @ R40)
* Samp (2kg @ R25)
* Soya mince (2kg @ R25)
* Oil (R10)
* Peanut butter (@ R20)
* Heads and feet (@R10)
Approximate total: R335

She is suggesting a nice recipe to feed a family of four and recommends buying these ingredients, should enough of the budget be left:

* ½ cup rice
* ½ cup lentils
* ½ cup soya mince
* 1 stock cube
Just add to a pot of boiling water (2,5 cups) and cook. This is full of protein and carbohydrates. Some soup powder could be added for extra flavour

She also mentions that a bowl of mealie meal porridge with a spoon full of peanut butter has enough protein and carbs and vitamins to nourish!

Zaheeda believes one should not exclude the community’s willingness to assist when looking at crisis situations. The Muslim community is currently celebrating the month of Ramadan, which is a time when the faithful are expected to abstain from food and drink from dawn till dusk. “This period is also a golden opportunity to purify your heart and soul. It is a time to increase our good deeds and to connect with those who regularly go without food and water. This year, we should also reach out to those at greater risk of the Covid-19 pandemic who may not have access to adequate protection and healthcare,” she says.

She says that many forms of charity exist, but filling an empty stomach is by far the most fulfilling. Despite this time’s being one of uncertainty, it has created a great opportunity for the givers of charity. Whether through organisations or as individuals, every effort is made to feed those in need either with hot meals or grocery hampers.

Khathu Mathavha

Khathu Mathavha is one of the small farmers under the mentorship of Braam Cronjé. Braam works for Buhle Farmers’ Academy from Delmas. This project to train and mentor 10 small-scale farmers in our area is being funded by Nedbank. Khathu is farming in the Vuwani area, at Schielfarm village, Tshimbupfe. He deals in cash crops, e.g. mustard, okra, spinach, tomatoes, green peppers, cabbage, and butternuts.

Mukondeleli Mulaudzi is an entrepreneur who sells snacks from home in the local community of Mashawana village, 10km outside Thohoyandou. Normally, she also sells snacks at the local primary school.

Khathu and Mukondeleli put their heads together for the compilation of a list. It includes the following:

* 25kg mealie meal (@R140)
* 2,5kg sugar (@32)
* Tea bags (@ R30)
* Chicken feet (@R50)
* 1 x packet soup (@R5)
* Tomatoes (@R10)
* Onions (@10)
* 2l cooking oil (@R32)
* Potatoes (@25)
* 500g salt (@R11)
* Packet of sugar beans (@R16)
* Macaroni (@10)
Approximate total: R371

Khathu says most households have a small garden. They plant vegetables such as mustard (like spinach) and maroho. A small bunch of these costs only R10. He also mentions that a 50kg mealie meal cost R280 before Covid-19 but now costs R320.

Mystery Chef

A person in our area who prefers to remain anonymous did not give a list but made some interesting general comments. She said that one should not underestimate the fact that many people lived from day-to-day and spent the little money they had on a daily basis. Street vendors and spaza shops focus on what the buyers want in the mornings and then again on products that they prefer in the afternoons.

In some informal settlements and even squatter camps, small amounts of products are for sale, e.g. teaspoons of sugar or a slice or two of bread.

She said that if one had nothing, one’s mindset should be right and be focused on doing the best with what one can. Many people do not have the facilities to store food for a long time, e.g. deep freezers.

Her advice was: Apart from fortified mealie meal (added vitamin A and D), the cheaper protein options should be considered. She mentioned that a slice of polony on two slices of brown bread was a popular and affordable meal. The same with brown bread and peanut butter. Soya mince, eggs and dairy products such as yoghurt are affordable and nutritious.

A dietician’s advice

Sarie Lee is a dietician from Musina. She is currently making final adjustments to her PhD in dietetics. The title of the PhD is: “Changes in dietary intakes and cardiovascular disease risk factors in black South Africans from 2005 to 2015: The PURE-SA-NW study”.  In this study, she investigates the changes in the dietary intake of rural and urban South Africans over a period of 10 years, as well as the effects these changes have had on the cardiovascular disease risk of the participants.

The lists were given to her for evaluation.

Regarding the first list (Helena van den Heever), she commented that she would leave out the sugar – it frees up space for other, more nutritious products. She would not include salt either as it costs a full R10 that could be spent better. In her opinion, one would use that much salt in a month. She would take out the Toppers because of the high salt content, and dried vegetables should rather be replaced with fresh vegetables. She fully agrees with spinach! Some nutritional grounds exist for the inclusion of tea, but only if the budget allows.

When working with the lists of Zaheeda and Annah respectively, Lee had the following comments: She liked the idea of Zaheeda’s soup but would recommend that the soya mince be omitted. The soya mince is ultra-processed and therefore has a high salt content – not good for high blood pressure. Choosing between either soup powder OR a stock cube and not both – once again because of the high salt content – would be better. Either one would supply more than enough flavour to a dish.

Lee says that the peanut butter in the mealie-meal porridge gives some energy and a little bit of protein but could rather be left out, and the money could be spent on something different.

One could presume that a household has some cooking oil, salt, and other flavouring agents e.g. spices. Sunflower oil will always be a healthier option than a hard brick of margarine because it contains unsaturated fat as opposed to the saturated fats present in hard margarine.

The fact that Annah chose the coarser mealie meal makes very little difference to the nutritional value, as all mealie meal is fortified with extra vitamins and minerals. The price of this mealie meal is cheaper.

Maltabella is not a better choice in terms of nutrition and is also more expensive than mealie meal.

Less mealie meal could free up the budget for more nutritious foods such as fruit and vegetables. These could be bought from street vendors and other informal places.

Lee examined street vendors’ prices in Musina and found that a packet of tomatoes costs R10 and a bunch of spinach, pumpkin leaves and cabbage leaves is priced at R5 each. Bulk packets of vegetables, e.g. carrots (R50 for 5 kg), can be shared between families.

On Khathu and Mukondeleli’s list, Lee comments as follows:

She would once again take out the sugar; less cooking oil – R32 is a lot of money on something that is not “food” per se. She recommends less mealie meal and adding additional starch sources, such as samp, rice, macaroni, and potatoes.

She says one makes the mistake of trying to focus on filling empty stomachs when dealing with food parcels. However, research shows that, within many South African communities where poverty has been present over many years, the risk of cardiovascular diseases is increasing. Covid-19 is prone to manifest in those with secondary conditions, e.g. heart disease. Considering the nutritional value of all food parcels and purchases, even when working with a low budget, is therefore essential.

Her suggested list includes the following:

* 10kg mealie meal (R55)
* 4 x tins pilchards in tomato sauce (R80)
* 18 eggs (R40)
* 4 packets of chicken heads and feet (R48)
* Lentils (R20)
* 1kg dry beans (R20)
* 2kg samp (R25)
* Vegetables (R30)
* 2,5kg cake flour (R20)
* 12 Stock cubes (R12)
Approximate total: R350





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