My attachment to Greggs began when I was 16, working weekends in a shoe shop with only the thought of a chicken bake to get me through the day.
The beige, lukewarm square was the ideal antidote to the customers’ hot tempers and physical fights over Ugg boots.
So I’ve watched Greggs’ journey from a high street bakery to a country-conquering convenience food powerhouse with interest.
Price-wise at least, it blows chains Pret a Manger out of the water – especially since it started selling very similar products for half the price (granola pot, anyone?).
It has more UK branches than either McDonalds or Starbucks.
So when Greggs emailed me about its new healthy range and ‘Minimise Me’ campaign, in which some mums lost weight by eating a Greggs-only diet, I made then an offer they couldn’t (well, didn’t, for some reason) refuse: I would spend a whole week eating only Greggs. Greggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Greggs snacks. And, heaven forbid, Greggs coffee.
To make sure I didn’t give myself scurvy (as the person at Vice who had the same idea seems likely to have done) Greggs put me in touch with their on-call dietician, Laura Clark.
I told her I didn’t want to lose weight, but could maybe do with eating more fruit, which turned out to be a lucky call as Greggs doesn’t seem to sell many vegetables.
She sent over an eating plan, but not before acknowledging that this was neither a normal gig for a dietitian, nor a long-term option for me.
It’s all just a bit of fun, she reminded me warily, perhaps sensing there was a danger I would go on eating only Greggs for the rest of my life. But she did mention something she called the “headspace factor”.
The Minimise Me participants told her they really enjoyed most not making any decisions about food for a week, and felt it freed up their mind for other things.
Convenience, comfort, mindlessness: could Greggs’s salads and granola offer me at 25 what its baked goods gave me at 16?
Breakfast: Original porridge, fruit pot
Lunch: Falafel salad, yoghurt pot, fresh fruit, bag nuts
Dinner: Chargrilled chicken and sun blush tomato baguette
Snacks: Popcorn, 2 fruit pots.
I made my first morning pilgrimage to the Earls Court Greggs, a swanky joint with a dark faux-wood interior and the mysterious appellation ‘cafe’ to the traditional Greggs name.
Thanks to a mysterious lack of Greggs in West London (compared to Glasgow and Manchester, whose city centres boast approximately one Greggs per square metre), I would be collecting the day’s meals in one go.
My first observation, as I clutched a salad, sandwich, and an unfeasible number of ‘fruit pots’ to my chest, was that Greggs needs to provide baskets.
But then, as the glances of my fellow shoppers implied, it probably wasn’t standard practice to buy an entire day’s worth of food at once there.
Breakfast went off without a hitch, as I tend to have porridge in the morning anyway.
I met a friend for lunch, who confirmed that the falafel salad looked pretty nice and “Not like it was from Greggs”, which I took as a compliment.
Breakfast: Red berry porridge, fruit medley
Lunch: Honey roast ham and egg salad sandwich, bag of crisps, fresh fruit
Dinner: Coconut lime and chicken salad, bag nuts
Snacks: Fruit pot x 2, Popcorn
I took the plunge and got my first latte during my morning Greggs trip.
It was surprisingly good – somewhere above Pret, but below Nero and Costa, and for around £1.50 (Greggs prices vary from city to city).
An ex-colleague swears by Greggs coffee, and I now have to concede he had a point. Disaster struck when I couldn’t find the right sandwich for lunch, and ended up with a rather depressing looking egg sandwich salad and plain crisps.
A mean colleague reflected that she “wouldn’t eat that lunch if you paid me”.
Dinner was better – the chicken salad was tasty, with a sharp lime favour.
I was beginning to wonder, though, if I had been vastly overeating for my whole life, if eating only salads and sandwiches was meant to somehow keep me full all day.
Breakfast: Original porridge, fruit pot
Lunch: Chicken coconut lime wrap, superseeds pack, fresh fruit
Dinner: Egg, spinach and tomato baguette
Snacks: Fruit medley x2, popcorn, bag nuts
There is something quite comforting, albeit tragic, about carrying round all your food for the day in a plastic bag.
The dietician was right – not making any decisions about food is freeing up bits of my brain I didn’t realise I was using.
The downside is that the established norms of mealtimes blur, which means that I eat everything about three hours earlier than I am meant to.
By 5:30pm I am staring down the barrel of an evening spent eating a fruit pot, two fruit medleys, and a piece of fresh fruit all evening.
This experiment is proving to me that I really am not that keen on fruit.
I was a little worried about the egg baguette after the fiasco yesterday, but actually when I tear into it (at about 4pm) it’s great.
The sundried tomatoes, spinach, and egg mayonnaise were a good combination and the bread, as you’d hope from what is still technically a bakery, was crusty and fresh.
Breakfast: Golden syrup porridge, fruit pot
Lunch: Chargrilled chicken oval bite, fruit medley, fresh fruit
Dinner: Falafel salad, bag nuts
Snacks: Fresh fruit x2, popcorn, yoghurt granola pot
By now the staff at Greggs smile at me with wary recognition every morning as I heap my arms high with their produce.
The lack of variation is beginning to get to me, though – nuts and popcorn, and falafel salad number two – but then, I should have expected that: I am only eating from one shop for an entire week.
Breakfast: Original porridge, dried mango
Lunch: Chargrilled roast chicken salad, superseeds pack, fruity roots cold pressed drink, fresh fruit
Dinner; Tuna crunch baguette
Snacks: Fruit pot x2, packet of crisps
Eating only Greggs at the weekend is proving harder and more depressing than while at work.
Even carrying around my trusty carrier bag of food is beginning to feel less comforting, more a cause for pity and concern from passerby.
On the plus side, as it’s a Saturday, my meal plan includes the special treat of a “cold pressed drink”, which seems to mean “juice”.
The tuna baguette for dinner is also very good (the “crunch” comes from red onions, which work better than the traditional cucumber), and I spot a label on it saying Greggs has won some sort of sandwich award.
I feel oddly validated, as though I am riding the wave of a larger movement.
The people around me at the dinner party, who are eating a normal dinner, seem unlikely to agree.
Breakfast: Bacon roll, fruit medley
Lunch: Ham, egg salad and potato salad, Zesty Greens cold pressed juice, fresh fruit
Dinner: Prawn baguette
Snacks: Milk chocolate cookie, fresh fruit x2
The big news today in the world of Greggs is that it is rolling out drive-throughs across the UK, after a successful pilot in Manchester.
I wonder if the Greggs staff will be excited when I make my daily trip, but they seem unbothered and unflappable, as usual.
It is very likely that by this stage I am more invested in the future of Greggs than they are.
Meanwhile, I am pathetically excited by the introduction of bacon and a cookie to my diet of seeds, fruit pots and salads.
The prawn baguette the least inspiring sandwich choice yet, though it does emphasise that the others have all had a nice twist – sundried tomatoes with eggs, red onions with tuna – on a standard sandwich recipe.
Breakfast: Red berry porridge, fresh fruit
Lunch: Coconut lime and chicken salad, superseeds pack, fresh fruit
inner: Cheese, tomato and basil pasta, bag nuts
Snacks: Fruit medleyx2, yoghurt pot
The above menu is a lie. I cracked and bought a chicken bake.
I was looking from the seeds to the fruit to the salad and I felt like the true spirit of Greggs was missing from my overflowing arms.
It may sound mean to say the bake was the best thing I’d eaten all week, but then it was also the best thing I’ve eaten all year.
I contentedly ate my tomato basil pasta for dinner, which featured the kind of ketchupy red sauce and comforting bright orange cheese you’d be served as a child, and thus the experiment was over.
Would I recommend you eat only Greggs for the rest of your life?
That would be a bad idea.
But I was surprised by the quality of the sandwiches and salads. Most of what I ate managed to be uncomplicated, healthy, tasty, and cheaper than almost any other chain cafe – my food bill for each day was between £10 and £14, which isn’t cheap, but also isn’t expensive for eating out every single meal.
A Greggs lunch is worth trying, especially if you’re on a budget but want a salad or nice sandwich – but for the love of god, get yourself a bake on the way out.
• This story first appeared on our sister site iNews