Healthy Eating on a Budget
Good food does not have to break the bank, blow the budget and leave you out of pocket. There are plenty of economical ways to eat healthy even when money is tight. With just a little imagination and a few carefully selected ingredients, your store cupboard can contain all the basics for a range of nutritious and delicious meals. A little planning goes a long way when healthy eating on a budget.
Often three for two deals or buy one get one free offers are on foods and drinks that are not going to do your health any favours. Be a savvy shopper and make some careful choices to make the most of your food budget.
If you do most of your shopping in bigger supermarkets they often do price comparisons with each other so you know who has the best deal. There are a few good websites that do the maths for you, so you can work out the best place to do your weekly shop.
Buy supermarket own brands – you’ll save on the pennies and often be buying the same stuff as you find in branded packets.
If you are flexible on when you can do your shopping, it’s a good idea to go towards the end of the day as that is when a lot of foods with a short use by date go on special offer. Be careful not to buy lots of stuff that you won’t use though as its more than likely to end up in the bin – costing you money rather than saving it.
I would highly recommend seeking out your local Asian supermarket for sourcing some of the key ingredients of a healthy diet for a fraction of the cost in a supermarket. Herbs and spices, tinned pulses and coconut milk as well as healthy fats and oils – olive, ghee and coconut, can be found in these shops at a greatly reduced price. Buy non-perishable items in bulk – if you spot an offer on tinned foods like pulses, tomatoes or fish, take advantage of the deal and buy a few.
Check out your local area too – do you have a fruit and veg shop or a local market. Sometimes they offer a more competitive price on fresh produce than the supermarkets. Although farmer’s markets can charge a premium for foods, town markets are a great place to source your fruit and veg as well as fresh fish.
Shop two or three times a week for perishable items like fruit and vegetables. This way you will have less food waste and just use what you buy, rather than throwing lots of stuff away. It is estimated that the average UK household throws away a third of the food we buy. Just think what you could do if your food bill was cut by one third every week!
Although the vast majority of us shop in supermarkets, sometimes the best bargains can be found in your local community. Make friends with your local shopkeepers – if you have a butcher, fishmonger and greengrocer in your area, make the effort to buy from them. Often they sell the same produce at a cheaper price and from a more local source than you will find in the large supermarkets. If we all got back into the habit of supporting our local shops, prices are likely to reduce even more, making it more affordable to shop local. The more local our food has been produced, the more nutrients end up on our plate.
Do you have a food cooperative or box scheme in your area? You can find out by asking around – they usually advertise in local health food shops or on notice boards in community centres and cafes. Follow them on facebook to get an idea of the type of foods they supply and when the next delivery is. You are likely to get really good quality ingredients at a fraction of the price as a not-for-profit food cooperative can buy in bulk and usually get foods close to cost price.
Buy frozen foods
If frozen food brings to mind images of soggy carrots and fish fingers, think again! A quick turn around this section of your local supermarket will provide you with a selection of nutritious ingredients for your eating well on a budget. Frozen berries are a fraction of the price of the fresh versions, you’ll find a variety of vegetables for steaming, stirfrying or roasting to add variety to your meals and frozen fish makes an ideal standby for an economical curry or quick stirfry.
Make in bulk
Make friends with your freezer. Make a bit more than what you are going to eat and freeze the leftovers in portion sizes for a healthy lunch or a quick dinner on another day. Containers you get from Chinese or Indian takeaways make an ideal container to freeze these meals in – not that you’ll be wasting your money on this unhealthy food once you are motivated and raring to go with the Vital Nutrition plan of course…..
Make the most of your ingredients
The most expensive ingredients on our plate tend to be meat and chicken. By using meat as a condiment, rather than the main event of your meals, you will dramatically cut the cost of your food bill. Bulk out Bolognese with a cupful of lentils, eek out a curry with the addition of a tin of chickpeas and make your casserole go further by adding in a cupful of red lentils.
Peas, beans and lentils are a valuable source of fibre and protein – keeping you feeling fuller for longer, but they are also very cheap ingredients. I would suggest using dried lentils (puy, green, red or yellow) as these don’t have to be soaked before cooking. On the other hand, beans do need soaking, so buy these tinned – again, check out your local Asian supermarket for a bargain on these key ingredients. They may not be the brands you are used to, but as long as they are tinned in water only (without salt or sugar added), they are a cheap and healthy addition to your diet.
Store Cupboard Essentials
Stock your store cupboard with key ingredients that you can rely on to make a healthy meal. Oats, eggs, tinned pulses, herbs and spices, tinned fish, tinned tomatoes or passata and some coconut milk will form the basis of a good meal.
Pack a lunch
Rather than spend five or six quid every day on your lunch, it makes sense to take something to work with you. Not only will you save money, but it’s also likely that you will be eating something healthier than is on sale in your local cafe or sandwich bar. Why not try some of these ideas for a budget-cutting lunchbox:
• Homemade soups – include beans or lentils for your protein hit and make a big pot so you can freeze it in portion sizes for another day. If you use low stock salt cubes you will also be eating less salt than you would be if you bought a tinned soup or the version that’s on sale in the local sandwich shops.
• Filled pitta pockets – a pack of six wholemeal pitta pockets cost just 80p – that’s 13.3p each! Buy a pack and have different fillings each day of the week for a tasty lunch on the cheap. Fill with tinned fish, houmous, cottage cheese or chicken for protein and bulk out with grated carrot, celery, salad leaves, tomatoes and peppers for your veg portion.
• Leftovers – invest in a food flask – they range in price, but you should be able to pick one up for less than a tenner – just two meals if you were buying lunch out every day. Pack your food flask with leftovers or fill it with soup for a warming lunch on the cheap.
• A pack of oatcakes, some chopped raw vegetables – think carrot sticks, celery, peppers, sugar snap peas, with some houmous or cheese makes a tasty and cheap alternative to a sandwich at lunchtime.
• You can also save a fortune on drinks – take your own water bottle and set it on your desk instead of sugary fizzy drinks or expensive bottled water. If you usually spend a couple of quid on your morning cuppa from the local barista, why not invest in a mini cafetiere and make a posh coffee at work. As long as you are not guzzling gallons of the stuff, and limiting your coffee intake to one or two good cups every day, it won’t deplete your energy levels too much. Even better – if you want to make a really positive lifestyle change and save yourself some dosh, why not swap your morning cappuccino to a cup of green or herbal tea instead?
Eat more fish
Make the right choice with the fish you eat and you’ll save a fortune. Ignore the expensive cod, monkfish and salmon and instead opt for Pollack or coley, mackerel and sardines. These are widely available – if you have a fish counter in your supermarket or a local fishmonger, it is worth asking for ideas on cooking. That way you’ll learn a bit more about the fish you are eating and widen your repertoire of weekly recipes.
Plan your weekly menu. Most families have a few firm favourites on their weekly menu – spaghetti Bolognese or chicken curry spring to mind. Plan what you are going to eat over the next two weeks and work out what ingredients you will need for this before you make a trip to the shops. This will help you make healthier choices, and will ensure you just buy what you need, rather than what looks good at the time. Check what’s in your cupboards and plan ideas around this – for example, if you have three tins of tomatoes and a jar of curry paste, then you’ve got a good idea that at least one of your meals for the week or fortnight will be based on these ingredients.
Planning ahead also means you are less likely to throw food out – use up what you’ve got in the fridge or cupboard before buying new stuff. If you have some fruit that is getting past its best, why not use it to make a smoothie or lightly poach in spices and agave syrup for a healthy dessert.