Living on this meagre amount of food for a week in the Ration Challenge.
Living on this meagre amount of food for a week in the Ration Challenge.

Could you live on this?

YEP, I'm hungry.

But not as hungry as I thought I'd be. It's not quantity I'm craving. It's flavour.

A week of not much more than rice, flatbread and water is soul-destroyingly boring. I'm finding myself hanging out for a few kidney beans with my dinner each night, or "treating" myself to my meagre vegetable allocation.

When I signed up for the Ration Challenge, run by charity Act For Peace, I thought I'd raise a bit of money for a great cause and lose a few kilos in the process.

It's a simple enough concept. For seven days, you have to eat the same rations that a Syrian refugee receives. You get sponsorship for the challenge, with the money going to help refugees around the world.

I was more concerned about caffeine withdrawal than anything else, really. And sugar withdrawal. But it seems I'm not addicted to caffeine or sugar after all. I'm addicted to flavour.


It has to be said, the box was smaller than I expected. My week's worth of food fit into a container about the size of two tissue boxes. And it wasn't even packed full. Right. Deep breaths.

So for seven days, three meals a day, I had to eat a pretty meagre amount of rice, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, kidney beans, flour and vegetable oil.

Well this is going to be fun …
Well this is going to be fun …

Then as I raised more money, I reached milestones which got me some extra "treats". As I ended up reaching over $931 in sponsorship, my extras included a little sugar, milk, a spice, a small portion of a vegetable and a protein.


I didn't get off to the best start. Day one was a Sunday, our family day, when we go out, see friends - Sunday Funday. But so much of this revolves around food. My husband and I went through our options.

"We could go for coffee? Oh no. Well, I need a couple of things from Bunnings. But no sausage sizzle. That's depressing."

In the end, my husband decided we needed to go to the supermarket to buy something for him and our son for dinner. He started debating what would be good.

"Oh, maybe I could get a hot chicken - and some lettuce, and bread rolls. Yum!"

Thanks, dear.


Ignoring the smell of cooked chook, I began to sort through my own ingredients.

I love to cook. The kitchen is my happy place. "I've got this in the bag," I thought. But then I was confronted with the amount of extra things I normally throw into meals. This was seriously back to basics.

I made some flatbreads with the flour, some water and my chosen spice - fennel seeds - which helped a huge amount in the flavour stakes. I figured this would do for breakfast, served with some hummus made from the chickpeas whizzed up with some water and oil.

I worked out I could have around two flatbreads a day, which meant one for breakfast and one with dinner.

They were surprisingly yummy, and if I've gained any cooking skills from this experience, my flatbread game is now on point.

But they weren't very filling. By 10am each day, my tummy was grumbling again.

So on Thursday, I tried something else. I cooked some rice and mixed it with a little of my milk and sugar allocation to make a kind of rice porridge.

It was absolutely delicious - for about four mouthfuls. Then it was the worst thing on Earth, turning to concrete in my stomach. By the end of the week, I was doing a combination of flatbread and a very small portion of the rice porridge, which worked better.


Lunches were largely rice. Rice with lentils, rice with tofu, rice with broccoli (my chosen "treat" vegetable) that I cut paper thin.

My work colleagues are hugely sympathetic. They even wait until I go to fill up my water bottle before they open the packet of mini Crunchies next to my desk. Thanks guys!

It’s food, but it’s no burger Friday.
It’s food, but it’s no burger Friday.

For dinners, I pushed the boat out a bit. Which, to be honest, wasn't far. I had a revelation when I tried frying "smashed" kidney beans, rolled into a flatbread, spread with hummus kind of like a burrito.

The first night I made it, it looked so awful I was almost sick. But it tasted amazing. I never realised kidney beans were so sweet and luscious. I'd serve my bean flatbread with a small spoonful of the fried rice I'd made for my lunches. Who needs smashed avo, anyway?

And then, there was water. Nothing to drink but water. I'd have hot water instead of tea in the morning. Apart from the one time I cheated (or, to be correct, my husband cheated) by putting a squeeze of lemon in my hot water.


And speaking of other family members, during the challenge I was still cooking for my two-year-old, watching him chow down on chicken, meatballs, corn, broccoli, toast, strawberries, apples and bananas - and becoming despondent when I had to throw out what he didn't eat.

That's another thing the week taught me. I make too much food for myself. And I throw out too much food. There's a Woolies at the end of my road, and barely a day goes by that I'm not popping in there to pick up something. But I don't need to. Clearly it's possible to feed myself for a week without buying food.


Dinner on my final day looks pretty … brown.
Dinner on my final day looks pretty … brown.


Which looks tastier?
Which looks tastier?



By Saturday, the last day of the challenge, I'd lost a few kilos, and never wanted to see rice again. Planning ahead for the following day, I found myself cooking a beef casserole and a batch of cupcakes while also rolling out my last flatbread.

The tofu and broccoli was used up, though I managed to stretch the kidney beans with a little mince which I qualified for towards the end of the week as my sponsorship hit another milestone. Dinner was, well, brown. Rice, flatbread, the last of the hummus. Eating wasn't fun anymore. It was perfunctory.


At the moment, there are more refugees and displaced people globally than at any other time since World War II - 65.5 million according to UNHCR.

And that number is growing. Every day, 28,000 more people make the desperate decision to flee their homes due to danger caused by conflicts, natural disasters and persecution.

Currently, the majority of refugees come from three countries - Syria (5.4 million), Afghanistan (2.5 million) and South Sudan (1.4 million).

Lilia, 32, lives in a tent with her husband Ahed, and their three sons, aged 10, 7 and 5. They left Syria, fearing for their safety because of constant bombardment. Picture: Act For Peace
Lilia, 32, lives in a tent with her husband Ahed, and their three sons, aged 10, 7 and 5. They left Syria, fearing for their safety because of constant bombardment. Picture: Act For Peace

In Syria in particular, seven years of internal conflict has seen ordinary people face unimaginable horror, including chemical weapon attacks and missile strikes so powerful they have registered on the Richter scale.

"Life is a daily struggle for these people. Few are able to find work to meet even their basic needs. As a result, huge numbers are dependent on humanitarian aid - food, medicines, shelter, clothing - for their very survival," an Act for Peace statement said.

"Despite their struggle and the trauma they've lived through, refugees show amazing strength and resilience and will do whatever they can to build a safe and dignified future for themselves and their families."

This year, 35,000 people took part in the Ration Challenge, raising over $2.7 million. The money raised will help provide food, medical aid and education to people in conflict and disaster-affected communities around the world.