Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016: An Honest Look At My Year Running 2016

An honest look at my active year 2016- last year I posted an honest review of my year of running (click if you missed it), having completed a major challenge I wanted to look back on the highs of the year but also the realities. I figured since 2016 is nearly over and out, I wanted to take a look at my 2016 filled with just as many undulations that I wouldn't want to airbrush out.

In early 2016, the PB bug really set in deep. Going from complete newbie to a marathon in 2015 gave me many many opportunities to see large chunks of time come off my 10k PB and I rounded off NYE 2015 with 10km PB of around 1:02 (it wasn't chip timed), and determined to see sub 60 in 2016. I didn't quite make it on Jan 31st 2016 and began to understand how much harder it is to knock whole minutes off your time as you build experience as a runner.

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NYE 2015 vs 31st Jan 2016

My PB drive continued through the late winter and early spring. Nothing like having a goal to get you running in the rain, and rain it did. I managed to get my 5km under 30 mins for the very first time at the beginning of March and then enjoyed the opportunity to run in a truly stunning setting when we spent the end of March and half of April in Vietnam. I boarded our flight with every intention of running 2-3 times per week whilst away, stressing a great deal as to whether having some down time would screw up my plans for my next shot at 10km sub 60m glory in May. Yeah. I was that person.

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Turns out I needed the down time. I ran less than 5 times through my entire holiday. Had a complete blast, got engaged, lost a kilo in weight and got the tan dreams are made of. Running and sports are great and everything, they really are. But if you're not a professional athlete, then take a step back when you find yourself wondering if it's ok to run with jetlag. Does it really matter that much? Is it really that important? The answer is probably a resounding no.

Having kicked back, gotten some perspective and cooled my heels on the whole PB mania, I was bitterly disappointed and highly frustrated when a spur of the moment 5 mile race on May Day bank holiday Monday did not go at all to plan. 5 miles is pretty much exactly 8km and I was aiming to see the time at around 48 mins (hopefully just less) to give me an average pace of 6min/km. At 49:27, all the frustration came flooding back and the bit of my personality that allows me to spend days obsessing over something I think I should have done better came out in full force.

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I hit training hard through the rest of May and I'm the first person to admit that it wasn't very healthy. I started to become anxious if I missed or had to alter my workouts, I was completely obsessive about nutrition, and changes to simple things my meal planning. This is amateur running and fitness at it's absolute worst. It's not fun, it makes you miserable, it promotes a terrible attitude to looking after your body and it encourages restrictive behaviour which can lead to all kinds of problems. My wake up call came when it was pointed out to me that I was displaying several characteristics that are warning signs for eating disorders, and that I'd be unable to continue some of my group and class based training if some of these issues weren't resolved before they spiralled completely out of control.

The only plus side to all this? I finally, finally achieved my sub 60m 10km on May 30th at the London 10000. An amazing through through central London on closed roads, well organised and with a frankly incredible goody bag. I came in at 56:27 and the day previous also managed a new 1 mile time almost 2 mins quicker than the previous year. Achieving this major goal also marked the final race of my challenge to run 100km of races before my birthday on June 3rd for Cancer Research. In fact it was just over 143km, not bad for someone who struggled with a 1 mile race 12 months before- if you want to know a bit more about the challenge I undertook including the marathon I ran in 2015, I posted about it here

And then, it all went a bit crazy. In June my parents sold their house which also includes the office we all work from, and although we had a likely completion date set for July, we didn't have anywhere new lined up. I ran a very enjoyable and friendly 10km with running club but otherwise reduced my running significantly and focused on strength training I could do anywhere. And it was nice, because a new challenge dropped into my lap to keep me out of trouble through the midsummer- I was already gearing up to cycle 100km in July for the #RaphaWomens100 - it's a tradition I love and my bike doesn't get as much love as it used to, so the offer of a place to do Ride London- a 100 mile cycle through London & Surrey following some of the 2012 Olympic route, with Skoda no less.

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I treated myself to a new Garmin (it's a Forerunner 620) which measured my cycling data a bit better (and my running data to be fair), managed to give myself stripes riding to Southend and ran purely for the joy that I could do something for fun which this time last year would have been a struggle. In other words- I got my shit together.

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So July. My parents became homeless, we moved into a temporary office which I could only use for some of the time because there wasn't always somewhere for me to stay. Running our business through the busies part of the year on a dodgy internet connection through a VPN made me grateful that strength training had become a joy. Being able to do a workout in our garden meant I was in reach of the phones and kept me sane on some of those crazy days. It also helped tremendously with Ride London- I've previously had back pain and shoulder issues when riding my bike for long periods of time- despite having my bike fitted and choosing my spec carefully, but I finished on a very sunny but not unbearably hot July Sunday with a massive smile on my face and made a beeline for the hospitality tent that came with my sponsored entry. Ride London was not only a great privilege to have been offered a place for, it was yet another reminder that sports and being active should be fun, it's ok to have a goal and to push yourself, but there is a fine line between motivation and obsession. If you want to check out the day, I posted a Photodiary covering it all...

August and September were spent plodding along with occasional runs and at home strength training here and there. After 13 months of one to one weekly personal training, my weekly slot was no longer available and I decided it was a good time to take a break, and drift for a while. It was strange to think in September that it was a whole 12 months since I'd run a marathon and here I was with no real goals and nothing much doing. We finally moved into our new office and my parents into their house as Autumn came our way and I finally felt settled enough to make fitness a bigger part of my life again. I approached a new PT in October and it's helped me to form some new plans, especially since we've turned the garage at my parents' house (where I spend most of my weekdays) into a gym. Strength and weight training are something I've come to look forward to and I'm also signed up for my first ever (yes, really. I've run a full marathon, more 10ks than I can count, but never a...) half marathon in March 2017- I'll be running the Cambridge half marathon with the primary goal of finishing feeling proud of myself, and a secondary goal of finishing in 1:59:59 ot less.

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Now we're into Winter I posted my now annual shot of my in the same Helly Hansen kit- 2014 as a beginner. 2015 marathon finisher. And 2016- finding some balance. 2016 has been a year of extremes- smashing through barriers and achieving some big goals that I set for myself. It's also been a year of understanding that being driven and pushing myself to achieve things can lead me down a difficult pathway, one which has a point of no return on it that I wouldn't have to go to far to find.

The vast majority of the images in the body of this post have come from Instagram, workouts, before and after pictures, weight loss articles and training plans pop up regularly on my suggested Pinterest pins, there are hundreds of Twitter accounts dedicated to running, cycling, weight lifting, HIIT style workouts- think BBG or Joe Wickes, Facebook pages for Personal Trainers who have become online celebrities or magazines post sometimes hourly, fitness has exploded into our digital lives and for me it's been an interesting representation of my 2016- I love that I was able to find a dozen half-marathon training plans to look at and find one that suits my ability and training, I love that we can connect with other people who love our sport as much as we do from across the country or the world, and movements such as This Girl Can have inspired thousands of women to lace up their trainers or shuffle their swimming cap. But for every smiling selfie, you have a responsibility as a part of the social community to remember that there's a story behind every smiling medal selfie, every weight loss journey and every meal planning Monday. It's not a crime to show the world the highlights and celebrate the good, but we can only appreciate the dedication and the hard work behind it when we acknowledge it and enjoy it for what it is.

And with that, I close my honest review of my year running, the year that was 2016. Happy New Year 2017, I wish you all the very best for your own goals.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

I Hate Christmas, Don't Take It Personally.

I do. I hate Christmas. I've spent the last couple of years kidding myself that I don't hate it, I just don't love it either. This year I realised that's all I'm doing- kidding myself. And for some reason, people seem to take this very personally- strangers, friends, family... It's a bit wearing after a while.

There are a lot of reasons I don't feel the festive love, I have a whole heap of emotional baggage attached to Christmas, I find the obligation to spend my precious, precious time off travelling to visit people who wouldn't ever think to come to me instead frustrating because I work away all week, as the organised one of the two of us, it usually falls to me to do all of the Christmas shopping for mine and Tom's families as well as send all the Christmas cards to the relevant people- without missing anyone lest they be offended, I'm also allergic to evergreens- that means Christmas trees- I wish I was kidding, the list goes on. Christmas for me is synonymous with obligation.

Despite my dislike for the time, I wouldn't say I'm a scrooge- if you want to put up Christmas decorations, make wrapping gifts into a party or drink warm spiced wine for an entire month, go for your life. If roasted turkey & pigs in blankets is the meal of the year for you, enjoy. You don't get to judge me for not owning a single bauble or string of tinsel any more than I get to shame you for being excited about mince pies or jumpers with reindeer on them.

This year, for the first time in 6 years, Tom and I are doing our own thing for Christmas. We'll be spending it in our home, just us, doing things the way we want to. We'll probably go for a run, I'm cooking a duck pasta dish for lunch and there's every chance a bottle of wine will be open before 2pm. We will exchange gifts, we have given gifts to the children in our family and some close family members but instead of the previous volume we've made donations to a charity each that's important to us- Cancer Research UK & The Army Benevolent Fund. We probably won't watch much of the Christmas TV- to be fair we're already 2/3 of the way through the Harry Potter movies anyway, we are unlikely to dress up much, and we don't own Christmas pyjamas.

So as we wind down for the weekend and head towards the 'big day' itself,  yes, I'm one of *those* people, and inevitably I'll be told daily- I should just enjoy myself or to stop putting a downer on someone else's plans, and to them I remind them: you do you, I'll do me- I'm not stopping you, I just don't want to join you.

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With love from the single Christmas decoration I own- a tealight holder from my time in Leipzig

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

5 Awesome Training Plans for 5k, 10k & Half Marathon

I am a planner. I likes lists and calendars and the highlight of January 1st for me is opening my new, fresh, clean diary and putting away my stickered, highlighted, bookmarked one from the previous year. So it won't surprise you to know that I am big into training plans for running too.

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I'm now on the countdown to the Cambridge Half Marathon (5th March 2017) which is a new distance to me, and I have a handful of 10k events I've bookmarked as well. If you're reading this and you're not sure you could ever manage to run a mile, let alone a 5k, 10k or beyond, then there's something here for you too. This is a round up of some of my favourite training plans- beginners, PB chasers, distance transitioners... I got you!

1. The beginner plan- Run/Walk

I'll kick right off with this beginner plan that is based on the principle of run:walk. It's how I began my running journey and understanding that it's ok to walk, and that running continuously takes time to build up to was a key to getting me out of the door a couple of years ago. Click here for 5k & 10k plans.

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2. The 5k improver plan- Sub-30mins
Once you've mastered 5k, especially if it's a distance you run regularly at Parkrun or other events, maybe the PB bug is setting in? My first big time goal was to get my 5k under 30 mins. Click here for the (US) Womens Running sub-30min 5k plan and they also have sub-25 mins & sub-20 mins for the ambitious runner out there.

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3. The Transition Plan- 5k to 10k

Mastered 5k, and looking for a new distance challenge? Or perhaps you signed yourself up for a 10k but your training has been a bit lacklustre? This plan is designed to get you from 5k to 10k in 4 weeks and is great if you like to mix up your workouts as it is based on 3 runs per week combined with cross training. I couldn't find a credit for this plan but you can find it on my Training Plans board on Pinterest.

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4. Another Transition Plan- 10k to Half Marathon 13.1

You got 5k down, you are owning 10k and perhaps like I was, you're wondering what all the fuss is for when it comes to half marathons. The 13.1 distance is fast becoming one of the most popular distance events and this is another great transition plan. It's based on 4 runs per week and is a good starting point if you are struggling to work out how much mileage you need to build for a half. Again, no credit for this one but you can find this 10k to half marathon transition on my Training Plans board on Pinterest.

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5. The PB or bust Half Marathon plan

And last but not least, my personal favourite. Not least because it's the plan I'm currently using with a few tweaks here and there. This plan is set out for those trying to go sub-2 hours in their half marathon, but I'd suggest I'm highly unlikely to manage that given this is my first event. So why this plan? Well, it covers cross training as well as running- I am really enjoying spending time in our home gym this winter, getting to grips with weights and strength training has been a major part of keeping myself injury free. Not only cross training but this plan has guidance on speed work, hill training and technical elements within runs such as strong finishes and race pace running. These are things I try to keep in my schedule, race training or not and the intensity & frequency of these extras match my needs perfectly. Click here for the 12 Weeks to Half Marathon PR plan & the whole article.

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Whatever your goal is, there's a plan out there for you and the internet is a great resource for it. You can check out my Training Plan board on Pinterest which covers everything from C25K to Ultra plans and try having a search for a specific distance or time goal. Go forth and conquer.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Do You Really Want Socks For Christmas?

This site does not contain any affiliate links and neither have I been compensated to link to any product or website. 

Confession time, I never normally write gift guides and as December pushes on, I get increasingly sick of being told to buy hugely stereotypical gifts for family members and friends, not least because the tend to be so gender oriented, yawn. So instead of complaining every time I see one this year, I thought I'd create one of my own. Less of a guide, and more a few suggestions for the active person in your life- runner, swimmer, cyclist, gym aficionado, triathlete, rower, glutton for punishment...

Xmas gifts for active people

The gift you'll only understand if you are a runner too...

Joke though many do about receiving socks for Christmas, ask any athlete about the importance of footwear and socks and you are likely to be there some time. As our feet are usually rammed into trainers, and especially sports like running where your feet are the first point of impact, socks are essential to keeping your feet happy and healthy. These Thorlo socks are specially cushioned in key areas and are designed to pull moisture away from the kin. Keep your beloved runner blister free with socks they'll be genuinely excited to receive.

Buy Thorlos socks from your local independent sport shop to get advice on sizing. They start at around £10.

The extravagant gift...

Fitness trackers and sports watches come with a whole host of functions and price tags. I'd strongly recommend paying attention to what your intended giftee has their eye on (and it won't be hard to get them started talking about fitness tech) if you're looking for something sport specific, but lots of the active people in your life are probably a bit data obsessed- how far, how fast, how many, how high... Fitness trackers give them even more data to get excited about.

The Fitbit flex is a good budget version that monitors activity, sleep & recognises exercise automatically from around £70. It's straightforward and immensely popular. I'm told their app is easy to use as well.

I recently bought a Garmin Vivosmart HR to keep track of my heart rate when I'm doing non running/cycling training. It tracks some exercise, your daily steps and activity, sleep and connects with your smartphone if you want it to for notifications (I was reassured to find it's incredibly easy to turn off the notifications because I don't not want Instagram alerts whilst half way through my mountain climbers set, thank you!). I am pleasantly surprised at how much it can do and based on the data I already have from a more traditional heart rate monitor attached to my Garmin Forerunner 620, the inbuilt HR monitor on the Vivosmart seems accurate enough for my needs. It starts at approx £120 new, but check out eBay for many deals on new and unused Garmins as mine only cost around £30 from someone who had received it as an unwanted raffle prize.

Garmin watches & Fitbits are available to buy from major sports retailers online & instore as well as electricals websites & online department stores. Check out eBay for new, unused items at discount prices too.

The edible gift...

I have friends and family who are always a little horrified by the volume of food I get through in a day, let alone a week or a month (and until last week I haven't really been training big distance or endurance...). I know I'd thrilled to discover a box full of my favourite treats to tide me through my long run days, hungry days... any day with a 'y' in it... Check out Aldi & Lidl or Ikea for Christmas tins & boxes and hit up online grocery orders, Amazon or their favourite site for a selection of their favorites or give them something new to try...

Clif bars are available to buy in cases of 6 or 12 from Amazon and websites such as Proteinpickandmix are great for a selection of individual packs or sample sized portions. MyProtein also sell single samples of their products and regularly do deals such as 10 samples for £10.

The gift that keeps on giving... 

Has your favourite athlete got their eye on an event that they're hoping they can still get a place for come payday? Race or event entries will give them joy on opening and keep them busy right up until race day. If you've always harboured a secret dream to do what they do, why not sign both of you up and train with them for twice the fun? Personally, I'm holding out for entries to the Paris RunDisney half in September  and the Yorkshire Festival of Cycling has been on my hitlist for a while. Other ideas include tickets to exhibitions- for the active woman in your life BeFIT tickets for April 2017 are already on sale.

BeFIT tickets available to HERE

The gift for the one who is always on the go... 

I think we all know one of these, whether they're in your closest family circle or the person from 2 desks down at work. The one who is attending a different class every day of the week and has a gym bag permanently attached to their shoulder. Well they might just appreciate the brilliance that is keeping a drink cold for 24 hours or hot for 12. Chilly's bottles come in 3 sizes (260ml, 500ml & 750ml) and a myriad of colours. Not just great for water but morning coffee,lemon water, soup or your favourite smoothie.

So whether it's your significant other, your bestie or your mum (for real, I buy my mum work out clothes as a gift regularly), this should give you a few starting point ideas.

Chilly's Bottles from around £15 on their website


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Skincare for Active Women - Oily & Acne Prone Skin

When you read about workouts and running and fitness on the internet (or anywhere else) occasionally you'll see posts about remembering to wash your kit immediately or how to stay hygienic in the gym, which is fine, but there's another less glamorous element that doesn't seem to be talked about so often, and that's looking after your skin if you're active- be that sports or fitness or maybe your job.

Yup, it might not be the first thing you think of when you you're planning your training or hitting up the gym, however if you struggle with sensitive or problem skin (which I do), then keeping your skin healthy and happy can be really challenging if you find yourself showering more regularly, wearing specific kit items or equipment, needing to wash your hair more regularly, and generally getting sweaty and owning being active.

I've talked about seasonal favourites before but this is my ultimate favourites list- Skincare for active women with acne prone or oily skin.

1. I'm no stranger to Dermalogica products and have talked about the Dermal Clay cleanser in my summer skincare for active women round up. The Dermalogica Charcoal Rescue Masque is a more recent addition that I use once-twice per week and helps to drag all the nasty congestion out of your skin. It's tough on the cleansing front but never leaves my skin feeling dry or or tight and at the end of a few training days when my forehead in particular can start to look and feel congested, this helps to clear things up fairly instantly.

2. Serozinc is a bit of a cult product and something that's a returner to my skincare posts. Zinc is a well known healing & antibacterial ingredient which you can find in acne medications as often as over the counter remedies and beauty products. Spray lightly over face, back & chest before a workout to freshen up, keep it in your bag if you have to travel home from a class or training session before you can shower to help keep nasties at bay and also to help with healing.

3. This is a cheap and cheerful cleanser/toner that is more often than not available on a 3 for 2 offer in Boots as one of their own ranges- Tea Tree & Witch Hazel Cleansing Lotion. It makes it's way onto my list for a number of reasons- it's more effective than face wipes for cleansing before a workout- yes I cleanse my face (whether or not I've been wearing make-up), back/shoulders & chest before I train- helps if you at least start with a clean base rather than adding to any pollutants, grime, dead skin or other joys you may have accrued through the course of your day. It's dead simple to use- dab onto cotton pads, wipe over face, repeat. And it's a cost effective product. Is it a replacement for washing your face? No. Is it useful to have in your gym back for pre-class, in between sessions or to freshen up if you have to travel home before showering? Yes, and for £3.89 (or £2.50 a go on 3 for 2 as it is now), it's easy to have a couple dotted about the bathroom, your gym bag, locker or desk drawer.

4. Lastly, Dermalogica Active Moist, no I'm not writing a sponsored post here but an oil free moisturiser that really works is tough to find. Double bonus, this one doesn't leave a nasty grainy or sticky residue, and for those of you like me, who prefer more neutral scents in skin care products, this is a joy.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Steak or Beans: Payday Millionaire Beans

Whilst Black Friday in the US is geared around the day after Thanksgiving, being the last Friday of November it is also for many people the last payday before Christmas and us Brits sure know how to spend. Today being December 1st, that means most of us have at least 22 days, but possible 27 more days until we next get paid.

But it's not just November/December where many of us are counting the meals left to cook before payday.... Paymentsense reckon over one third, yes, one in three of us, change our eating habits as the month draws on because we've spent up to quickly, if you're female (and the magic of analytics tells me that about 80% of my readers are ladies) then your TWICE as likely to be a payday millionaire. That's scary stuff- want to know more? Here's 10 things you should know about the rise and inevitable (and what goes up, must come down) fall of the payday millionaire.

With that in mind, they asked me to come up with a cheap eats recipe for the 'scraping the barrel' moment at the end of the month, so here goes with the beans...

4 meals for £5... let's do this!

Mexican Mixed Beans recipe photo B47A13C7-4905-4B5C-9B92-86683D639EB7_zpsaonm6n5k.jpg

2 x Mixed bean salad 44p each
1 x tinned tomato 25p
1 x Onion approx 25p
Garlic 30p
Peri Peri or fajita seasoning 50p
Cherry tomatoes 89p for a pack
Peppers 90p for 3

Total: £3.72
I bought my ingredients from an Aldi store, prices are correct from late November 2016

Technically the cost per per portion: £0.93 but I'd say this recipe yields more like 6 portions

In the meantime, today is ALL about my Mexican mixed bean stew- if you want to make this in the slow cooker, add tomatoes, one pack of peri peri seasoning, one slice onion and the entire bulb of garlic sliced or crushed for approx 4h on low, and add the beans, peppers & tomatoes for approx 30 mins more on low.

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1. Slice onion & slice thinly or crush garlic, add to a pan- make it a large one as you have a lot more ingredients to add, with a splash of oil on medium heat & allow to soften slightly before adding one pack of the Peri Peri seasoning- yes, I'm aware this isn't Mexican, but it adds lots of flavours which are local to that neck of the woods if you don't tend to have many spices or other ingredients. Give the whole lot a good stir through, it'll seem a bit dry, but that's ok.

2. Add the tinned tomatoes to the mix and stir well. Bring the whole lot to a gentle simmer and leave for 20-30 mins.

3. Whilst the the sauce base is cooking, slice on of the peppers into strips, and cut a handful of tomatoes into halves. Drain the mixed bean salad into a colander, give them a quick rinse and leave them to dry off a bit.

4. Give your tomato sauce a good stir through, if it's still looking a bit thin, you could add a touch of tomato puree if you have some, if not a half teaspoon of flour (preferably cornflour) let down slow into a thick liquid and stirred in will help. Check for seasoning, I'd normally add a generous helping of black pepper and maybe a splash of tabasco or chilli sauce to your own taste.

5. Add the mixed beans and stir thoroughly. You could add the peppers to the whole batch if you wanted to, but keep in mind that they'll be a bit soft if you reheat the mix later on (and you really should because the flavours develop).

6. If you haven't already added your peppers, heat them through by adding them all to a dry, non-stick frying pan on a high heat for a few minutes, stir regularly to prevent burning.

To serve, put the vegetables into a bowl and ditch a large spoonful of the bean stew over the top. Enjoy a warming well balanced meal that is also suitable for vegetarians (and depending on the spice mix you use, may also be Vegan- always check ingredients if you are catering for a vegan).

Approximate nutrition based on 4 servings: 268 calories, 35g Carbohydrate, 12g Protein, 8g Fat, 10g Fibre
Calculated using MyFitnessPal recipe import. Values not verified.

Mexican Bean Stew NOV 2016 2 photo Med beans 2_zpszoq5mfyj.jpg

So, you could repeat this 4 times over, and it would feed you well. but I know I would be bored. So here's a few more ideas on what to do with the remain 3 portions by adding one low cost add on...

Sweet potato -  pour the bean stew over a baked sweet potato for a warming, carb loaded meal.
Sweet potatoes £1/kilo which should give you 4-5 medium potatoes, so should give you 4 meals
Total cost £4.72

Burrito Bowls -Shredded lettuce & cooked rice or grains, dig your hand down the back of the sofa for some change to add some sliced or mashed avocado
Lettuce 45p, Instant savoury rice 30p, Avocado approx 30p. Should yield at least 2 bowls.
Total cost £4.77

Enchiladas- roll your bean stew up in flour tortillas and bake in an oven proof dish for 20 mins for soft in the middle, crisp on the outside enchiladas. A topping of cheese before baking isn't a bad add on if you've got some!
Tortillas 65p for 8, Mozzarella ball 49p. Should yield 2-3 large portions.
Total cost £4.86

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P.S. Keen eyes will notice the pictures were taken across 2 meals, because I too had a whole lot of leftovers to get through!