This lockdown has had a huge financial impact all over the world. People have lost jobs, small businesses have shut, people have lost income streams and yet I am still here telling you all you need to eat healthfully. I realise that eating healthfully has a reputation for being expensive but I am here today to, hopefully, dispel that myth. It does not have to be expensive to eat healthfully. It really doesn’t. There are ways of getting in the fats, proteins and carbohydrates as well as all of our micronutrients without breaking the bank. For those of you that find yourself trying to make ends meet in this challenging time, I have 10 money saving tips to help you cut your food costs without cutting your nutrients. I have also come up with and priced a full day’s menu for a family of 4 to eat for £10.
First the money saving tips:
1) Menu plan and stick to it
This will allow you to properly budget for your weekly meals, plan to make sure you are getting all the food groups you need in the week and stop you from ‘browsing’ in the grocery store. Menu plan all meals and snacks, write your shopping list based on that menu and stick to it. Also, with a menu plan you can get organised the night before and/or prep dinner items in the morning. This allows you to utilise some of the other tips below.
You may want to check what is on special before planning your weekly menu to incorporate the cheapest healthful foods possible.
2) Buy foods that are higher in nutrients rather than full of ‘empty calories’
This can be achieved by staying away from processed foods. If money is tight this is the time to cut out the potato chips and store bought biscuits, anything that does not look close to how nature created it. They may be cheap but they will not add any nutrients into your diet. In fact, they will steal micronutrients in order to process them in the body leaving you at a nutrient deficit.
3) Buy in larger quantities if you have storage space
Shops often sell foods for less if you buy them in greater quantities. If you have a cupboard somewhere that will fit a large bag of brown rice or lentils and beans buy them and store them.
If produce is on sale buy it and freeze it or process it is some other way. For example, in the autumn when apples are cheap buy loads and make stewed apples.
4) Buy dried beans, lentils and pulses
This is a cheaper way to buy them, will allow you to buy in greater quantities (see 3) and they will last ages so you can buy once and have them last for many weeks. If you stagger the weeks that you buy your bulk dried goods you can spread the cost to avoid overspending your budget. If you have planned your menu for the week you can add soaking beans to your prep list and they will be ready and waiting to be cooked for your recipes.
5) Can’t afford to keep to only organic? Buy organic for the dirty dozen and not organic for the clean 15.
This graphic is the dirty dozen and clean 15 for the UK based on data from 2012 - 2017:
These graphics are the American equivalent:
6) Use organic animal products (if you eat them) but eat a lot less of them.
An organic chicken will cost you around £7.50 per kg in the UK (which is less than half the cost of skinless, boneless breasts) so you can get a nice bird for around £11. This is enough for three meals for a family of four — for example, roast the whole bird and share out a portion each of meat for 4 people, use the leftovers in a fried rice dish the following day with a scrambled egg or two then pick the carcass clean of meat (and reserve the scraps of meat) then cover the bones with water and boil along with veg, herbs, salt and apple cider vinegar to create a nutrient dense broth. Strain the boiled bones and veg, and use the broth to make chicken soup with the leftover scraps you pulled off the bones before boiling.
I save vegetable scraps (celery tops, carrot tops and peels, onion skins etc) in a container in my freezer and when we have a chicken I throw all of the vegetable scraps in with the bones when I am making broth.
Bulk out what would usually be a meaty dish with pulses — make spaghetti sauce with a little ground beef, green lentils and a bunch of vegetables (chopped in the food processor this will look and feel like ground beef in your sauce) add a beef stock cube and they won’t even know they are not eating beef.
7) Add more vegetarian meals to the menu
Pulses and beans are cheaper than meat, they are full of fibre and they count toward your 8-10 per day of fruit and vegetables as well as giving you a protein boost. You can bulk out what would usually be meaty meals with more vegetable portions or you can simply swap the meat based meals for vegetarian ones. Use meat more as a condiment rather than the main event. This way you get the goodness and flavour from it but do not have the cost, for example, one fillet of smoked fish can flavour a whole pot full of chowder.
8) Don’t be afraid of frozen veg
Frozen vegetables are picked and then flash frozen, preserving the nutrients in the vegetable. Frozen veg can often have more nutrients than the fresh veg at supermarkets, depending on how long ago the fresh vegetables were picked. Also, frozen vegetables are already prepped so they just require a quick cooking, saving you time and money. They can be added straight to soups, stews, casseroles and stir fries without any prep time.
Frozen berries are a go to in our house. They can be as low as a 1/4 of the price of fresh berries, are full of antioxidants and buying them frozen means you can reap their benefits all year round.
9) Shop around
With all major supermarkets now having an online presence it is easy to do price comparisons. If you are menu planning and sticking to your plan you should be able to (from the comfort of your home) see who is offering the best price on the foods you require. There are a couple of supermarket price comparison apps that you can use to look for the best deals on brand name products but I am not sure they would include all the supermarket own brand products (which are often cheaper). One is Latest Deals — they have now added a supermarket comparison tool to their app. Another is called Comparasaurus and both are free. You could also fill a shopping cart on two different supermarket websites to see where you would be better off shopping this week based on your menu plan.
10) Don’t scrimp when it comes to fat
You do not want to neglect your fats. This is one area you do not want to scrimp on. Still use good quality oils to cook with and eat oily fish but choose differently. For example, you can get responsibly harvested tinned mackerel for a fraction of the cost of tinned or fresh salmon. Buy a good bottle of olive oil and store it in the fridge to be used in salad dressings and still use coconut oil or butter to cook with. If you are using these appropriately they will last a long time. Storing them in the fridge keeps the oils fresh for longer and therefore healthier for you.
Feed your whole family for £10
For this exercise I am using Ocado to determine my cost and am using the tips above by shopping for what is on special, buying organic for the dirty dozen and ignoring organic for the clean fifteen. I am only looking at the organic animal products (meat, cheese, eggs etc) so you could bring the cost down by not using organic here. For argument’s sake, I am rounding up for each calculation.
1 cup oats (31p)
1 cup plant milk (38p)
4 teaspoons ground flaxseed (6p)
1 cup frozen blueberries (54p)
15g desiccated coconut (8p)
Breakfast total cost = £1.37
4 sticks of celery (31p)
4 tablespoons peanut butter (19p)
Morning snack total = 50p
Black Bean Corn and Tomato Soup
This recipe will make six portions of soup so you will have leftovers I have only included the cost of four of the portions in my lunch total cost.
1 tablespoon coconut oil (5p)
1 onion (14p)
1 tablespoon mild chilli powder (4p)
1 tin black beans (55p)
2 tins chopped tomatoes (70p)
1 cup frozen corn (27p)
500mL veg or chicken stock (20p)
1 tablespoon cilantro (4p)
4 slices of bread (40p)
8 slices of cheese (55p)
Green Side Salad
4 small bowls of salad leaves (66p)
4 shaved radish (13p)
Sliced cucumber (17p)
2 teaspoons olive oil (5p)
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (6p)
Lunch total cost = £3.17
Carrot sticks (17p)
Afternoon snack total = 67p
Butter Bean, Pepper and Spinach Pesto Pasta
1 bag of whole grain pasta (£1.46)
1 tin of butter beans (67p)
1 onion (14p)
2 peppers (one orange one yellow) (48p)
1 tablespoon basil (6p)
4 portions of pesto sauce (£1.56 see below)
This makes 12 portions so you will have leftovers. I have only included the cost of 4 of the portions in the dinner total cost.
200g spinach (£2.50)
2 cloves garlic (4p)
80g hard cheese (£1.28)
150mL olive oil (80p)
30mL lemon juice (7p)
Salt to taste
Dinner Total = £4.37
Day’s food total = £10.08
I hope that this helps you to see that healthy food does not need to be limiting or expensive. It can be expensive but there are certainly ways of doing it cheaply. It requires planning, prep and research but good, nutrient rich food should be available to all of us.