UPDATE: This article was published in November 2015. Make sure you’re up to...
Eating well for less money
Eating healthy food has obvious benefits, such as of keeping cholesterol low and maintaining a healthy weight.
However, healthy food isn’t always cheap, and it goes off like…really quickly? We all know the heartache of finding the salad we bought yesterday is now a mushy shadow of its former self.
If you’ve ever asked the eternal question, “Can I master the art of eating well while living on a budget?”, here’s our answer: heck yes, you can.
You may even cut down on waste and save yourself a bit of cash!
Without further ado, check out our tips for tasty, nutritious and cost-effective meals.
The three golden rules for eating well on a budget
There are many ways to get some goodness into your diet for cheap, and these three rules provide the foundation:
- Prep before you shop. Look at what’s in the cupboard, the fridge and if anything needs eating quickly. If you’ve got food that’s not going to last, consider freezing them. Bread is always good to freeze as you can defrost and toast it all in one go.
- Plan your meals and write a shopping list. I’m an old-fashioned kind of gal and write my shopping list but, there are free apps like Yummly or Mealime that are meal planners and shopping lists all in one.
- Cook from scratch as it’s usually cheaper and healthier than ready-made alternatives.
Vegetables, pulses, beans, and everything in between
When you’re shopping for veggies make sure you check if it’s cheaper to buy them fresh, loose, packaged or frozen. Recent studies have shown that frozen veggies have just as many nutrients as fresh veggies, if not more (source: Frozen Food Foundation).
Newly-harvested veggies produce enzymes that cause loss of colour, flavour, and nutrients. The reaction can be stopped by freezing the vegetable, which happens almost immediately after it’s been harvested.
Veggies add bulk to your meal. Also, because they’re often packed with water, they can help you stay hydrated. Seeing as we’re 70% water, this is pretty important!
So now onto the thrifty part: packing out your meals with beans, pulses and other veggie staples will:
- Increase your nutrient intake and keep your overall calories low
- Be friendly on your purse/wallet
- Make your meals go further so you can freeze leftovers or take them into work for lunch
Here are three easy ways to get more vegetables in your cooking:
- Cook tomato sauces from scratch with onions, celery and carrots for the base. If it suits the recipe pack it out further with mushrooms and peppers, peas and sweetcorn. You can batch cook this and freeze it.
- Add a heap of spinach. It takes a couple of minutes for the leaves to wilt down but goes great in a homemade curry or creamy pasta recipes. You’ll be surprised how much you can fit in.
- For picky eaters, mix your sauce with lots of veggies in a blender. This will hide all the extra healthy bits you’ve added.
Beans, pulses and lentils are incredibly cheap and, in my opinion, seriously underrated. To make my meals go further, I like to add a tin of mixed beans or chickpeas to chillis, curries and salads.
If you’re not sure where to start with lentils, try the microwavable pouches. They’re available in most supermarkets, mixed with other veg and flavours and show what to eat with them. Or, try shepherd’s pie with lentils instead of mince. I promise you’ll not be disappointed with this wintery comfort food.
Is cutting meat from our diet a big missed steak?
Terrible puns aside, meat is expensive so reducing the amount of meat you eat, even for one day (#meatfreeMonday), can bring costs down. Try adding halloumi and peaches to salads or paneer cheese and sweet potato to a curry instead of chicken.
Alternatively, use cheaper cuts of meat. Chicken breasts are expensive, but a whole chicken is usually cheaper. Plus, you get leftovers for the week and can make broth with the bones.
Chicken thighs are considerably cheaper and contain natural, healthy fats, so you don’t need to add extra oil when cooking them. They also have a deeper flavour than the white breast meat, just like turkey (another cheaper alternative to chicken).
Bring more flavour to your meals and replace minced beef with:
- Turkey in bolognese or chilli
- Pork for meatballs
- Lamb for greek koftas and pittas, or
- Pulled pork for sandwiches (instead of burgers)
For cheaper cuts of meat with higher fat content, the trick is to cook them slowly. A slow cooker will do all the work for you and makes batch cooking easy.
The art of eating well, for babies and toddlers
Invest in a hand blender and make baby food by experimenting with different fruits and veggies. You’ll know everything your baby’s eating while encouraging them to try new foods.
As they get older, start to make their food chunkier. For toddlers, if you’re cooking from scratch give them what you’re eating by blending it in smaller portions.
I’m sick of seeing food go to waste! What should I do?
Do you have any recipes that are low in cost and high in flavour? Let us know in the comments section?