How To Eat Well On A Budget
With the plethora of celebrities and influencers promoting expensive powders and plans, you could be forgiven for thinking that eating well or having a healthy diet must be expensive. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. It is possible to eat a nutritionally balanced diet, which will support your health and fitness goals, without spending vast sums of money. Here are our top tips on how to eat well on a budget.
Before you head to the shops, do a stock take to see what you have in your cupboards and fridge. Use this to help you make a meal plan for your meals and snacks for the week ahead – focus on using up any perishable foods you already have first. Next, write a shopping list with only the ingredients you need – and be disciplined about sticking to it. If you are cooking for family members or housemates, ask for their input so that you plan meals that everyone will enjoy and avoid food waste. As you decide on your meals, try to make sure they are balanced and consist of healthy foods. You want to include:
Carbohydrate for energy – opt for wholegrain or higher fibre versions of staples, e.g brown rice, wholewheat pasta, wholegrain or seeded bread, and oats.
Protein for growth and repair – opt for lean meat, fish, beans and pulses, nuts (and nut butters) and eggs.
Fruits and vegetables – aim for at least 5 portions a day. We like to include at least 2 portions per meal. For example:
Breakfast – porridge with mixed berries / poached egg on wholemeal toast with spinach and tomatoes.
Lunch – homemade vegetable dal with flatbread / jacket potato topped with smoky paprika butter beans in a tomato and pepper sauce / wrap or sandwich with a vegetable in the filling, side salad and a piece of fruit.
Supper – mixed bean chilli with brown rice / chicken or vegetable stir fry / hidden vegetable bolognese with spaghetti.
Dairy or dairy alternatives – aim for small amounts of dairy such as milk, cheese and yoghurt (if opting for dairy alternatives, choose calcium-fortified, unsweetened, varieties).
Healthy fats – oils and fat should be consumed in moderation. Opt for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which have been shown to boost HDL and lower LDL levels and reduce heart disease  . Examples include vegetable oils (e.g. olive and sunflower), nuts, seeds and oily fish.
If you have the storage space, invest in larger quantities of foods with a long shelf-life as these often work out cheaper per kg – thus saving you money in the long run. This works well for ambient and frozen foods – and chilled foods if you plan on batch cooking (see below).
Whether you choose to designate a set time to prepare food for the week ahead, or simply scale up your recipes to make extra portions for a later date, batch cooking is a great way to save time and money. It also encourages healthy eating habits as you will have a nutritious meal ready to reheat instead of opting for a supermarket ready meal (which is often high in saturated fat and salt) , expensive takeaway, or mindlessly snacking when you feel hungry.
Remember to store and label foods correctly, in suitable sealed containers, and check you have enough freezer space to avoid wastage (this also prevents your meals from feeling repetitive as you won’t have to have the same meal every day). There are plenty of batch-cooking friendly meals to choose from – our favourites include: seasonal soups, curries, stews (like our spiced Middle Eastern Chicken & Chickpea Stew), chilli, pies and pasta sauces.
Batch cooking can also help you make the most of your lunch hour, giving you time to do a 15-minute workout or yoga stretch (if you work from home), or go for a short walk. It will also save you a small fortune on expensive shop-bought sandwiches and help you resist the temptation of a supermarket sandwich, snack and drink meal deal (research shows that over 70% are high in salt, fat and sugar ).
With clever marketing techniques and promises of health and happiness, it can be hard to spot and resist the temptation of, fad diets. However, imposing unnecessary restrictions on your diet by cutting out food groups can harm your health and bank account. In recent years there has been a growing belief that it is healthier to follow a gluten-free diet. Yet, unless you have a medical condition diagnosed by a healthcare professional (e.g. coeliac disease), there is no reason to remove gluten from your diet.
In fact, a recent study found that gluten-free products were 159% more expensive compared to their gluten-containing counterparts. They were also more likely to be lower in fibre and protein, but higher in fat, salt and sugar . Another study found that the cheapest low-carbohydrate diet is almost 3 x the cost of the cheapest diet with no carbohydrate limits  – despite studies suggesting that low-carb diets may not be beneficial for long-term health . Eating healthy food on a budget is possible, but fad diets are not the answer.
Although meat and fish are good sources of nutrients, they can be expensive. Try to introduce more plant-based protein sources – perhaps even have a meat-free day each week. Our favourites include:
Lentils and pulses (e.g. butter beans and chickpeas) (vegan) – these can be made into nutritious, high-fibre meals like our 3 Bean Chilli.
Milk, cheese and yoghurt (vegetarian – if opting for vegan alternatives, ensure they are fortified) – homemade granola with yoghurt and berries is a great budget-friendly breakfast for at home or on the go.
Eggs (vegetarian) – a nutrient powerhouse and delicious in everything from a tuna nicoise to a hearty veg-packed shakshuka (we also love boiled eggs for a healthy snack).
You don’t have to give up meat and fish altogether; you can go half-and-half by replacing some of the meat and bulking out with pulses, e.g. mince for lentils in a cottage pie, chilli, bolognese or lasagne, or adding chickpeas or butter beans to a casserole. You could also try more affordable meat and fish proteins including:
Tinned fish /canned fish (e.g. tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines) – these can be added to salads or pasta dishes and have a longer shelf life.
Frozen fish & frozen meat – often much cheaper than fresh, can still be used in lots of nutritious recipes and have a longer shelf life.
Lean turkey mince – lower in saturated fat and often cheaper than beef and lamb options. We love making turkey meatballs in a homemade tomato sauce.
Fresh food is often more expensive than canned and frozen – but did you know that the latter can be just as nutritious? . Once picked, fruits and vegetables start breaking down their nutrients to keep their cells alive – although refrigeration slows down this process. For example, spinach loses 100% of its vitamin C content in 7 days if stored at a room temperature of 20C or 75% if refrigerated.
What’s more, due to advanced technological freezing methods, frozen foods are often fresher once you factor in the time to harvest, pack, grade, ship and purchase their fresh counterparts . Any fresh, tinned and/or frozen fruits and vegetables count towards your 5-a-day (apart from potatoes, plantains and yams which are starchy carbohydrates) – as do tinned beans and pulses.
Try to have as much variety as possible and remember to choose vegetables canned in water without extra salt and fruit canned in natural juice, rather than syrup . Frozen and tinned fruits and vegetables are excellent time savers, helping you enjoy quick, nutritious meals with little prep. We love using tinned tomatoes and cannellini beans to make a fuss-free nourishing soup or stirring frozen fruit through porridge for a warming breakfast bowl.
Shop around and compare prices online to make sure you get the best deals (always compare prices by weight per 100g) before heading to the shops – and don’t forget to sign-up for the various loyalty schemes to earn points/receive vouchers. Also, be flexible with your choice of brands – often own brand foods are cheaper and can be just as good. Finally, look out for ‘reduced foods’ that are near their ‘sell-by’ or ‘use-by’ date – although they might alter your meal plan, it is a great way to pick up a bargain. Over time, you should be able to gauge when your local shop reduces their products (or ask a member of staff) so you can time your shops accordingly. Make sure you only buy items you will eat (or batch cook) before they go off or have room for in your freezer.
Research suggests that UK households waste 6.6 million tonnes of food each year . By taking steps to reduce food waste, not only do we help the environment, but our wallets too. Here are our top tips:
Meal plan – as mentioned above, a meal plan with healthy meals not only helps you stay on track with your health goals, it also saves money and reduces food waste. Schedule a ‘use-up day’ before you go shopping to make the most of any foods which need to be eaten soon. Almost any vegetable can be turned into a hearty soup (add a tin of beans for extra fibre and protein) whilst fruit can be whizzed into a smoothie or, in the case of apples, plums, pears and peaches, gently roasted and served with yoghurt. Tired-looking herbs can be blitzed into a homemade pesto (swap pine nuts for almonds for a cheaper alternative) and frozen in ice cube trays ready to add flavour to your recipes at a later date.
Love your leftovers – look for ways to include leftovers in other meals. For example, leftover pasta can be turned into a pasta salad, leftover roasted vegetables can be served as part of a mezze meal or added to a wrap, and leftover roast chicken can be added to risottos, pasta bakes or turned into our warming Leftover Roast Chicken, Rice and Vegetable Soup. Stir fries can also be a great way to use up any vegetables (and meat/fish) that need to be eaten soon. Check out the Love Food Hate Waste website for some excellent leftover tips and recipe ideas.
Save your scraps – use as many of your ingredients as possible. For example, keep your Parmesan rind and add it to risotto, soup, bolognese and/or stock for an added depth of flavour (remember to remove before serving). When it comes to fruits and vegetables, adopt a ‘root to shoot’ approach by using all edible parts (e.g. keep the peel on for extra fibre, whizz up a carrot top pesto, add your broccoli stalks to your dish with the florets, use cauliflower leaves in a stir fry – or roast until lightly charred).
Tap into tech – apps such as Too Good To Go and Olio are helping fight food waste one meal at a time. The former connects customers to pubs, cafes, restaurants and shops in their local area that have unsold surplus food, giving them the opportunity to pick up random ‘magic bags’ at a fraction of the original price. Meanwhile, Olio connects members of the local community who have surplus ingredients and want to donate them to others. Both are available to download from the app store.
Food waste is a major issue in the UK. However, by taking some simple steps we can all do our bit to reduce this figure. In this article, we’ve shared our top tips on how to eat healthy on a budget to save money and fight food waste at the same time. We hope you find them useful!
DISCLAIMER: All health and nutrition content on The Fitting Rooms is for general information only, and should not be viewed as a substitute for the medical advice of your doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any health concerns, you should contact your local health care provider.
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