How to Eat Healthily on a Limited Budget

Eating healthily seems like the more expensive option when you can buy a bag of chips and a box of breaded chicken for a couple of pounds, but what is the cost to our health of eating that way?  With healthy foods continually rising in price and factory-led food staying the same, or even dropping, is it any wonder we face such horrendous levels of obesity, diabetes and other disease? But it is possible to eat healthily on a limited budget.

Here are our top tips to minimise budget but maximise health:

  • Make a meal plan and write a shopping list, then stick to them!  If you don't know how to meal plan or want to make yours better, follow our Meal Planning Masterclass.

  • Never shop when you're hungry.  And always have quick healthy snacks or meals on hand so you don't reach for the take-away menus or the freezer when you walk through the door starving.

  • Shop from your cupboards and your freezer once a month to use up what you have in excess, and just supplement with fresh fruit and vegetables.

  • Eat more grains such as buckwheat, bulgur wheat, couscous, quinoa etc.  Add a few handfuls of fresh, frozen and preserved vegetables and you have a meal.  'Ancient grains' particularly are cheap and nutritious.

  • Don't buy pre-packaged and prepared foods, they are over-priced and full of added salt, sugar and additives.

  • Buy as much as you can from local farms or farm shops, or sign up to a weekly box scheme.  Start using your local greengrocer, bakery and other local shops.  They will be cheaper on some things, and better quality on many, plus you can usually buy exactly the quantity you want, rather than a big multipack or bulk buy.

  • Grow your own fruit and vegetables, however much space you have.  Even a window box or a balcony can produce salad leaves, tomatoes, herbs, carrots or strawberries.  Just see what we cram into a 4m x 1m balcony!

  • Buy fruit and veg when it's in season.  Bulk buy and freeze, or make meals up, if you can too.

  • This also applies to the reduced sections at the supermarkets.  Always check them and see if there's something you can whizz up into a meal for now or later, or something you can freeze to use later.

  • Forage for wild food, such as blackberries, apples, nettles, dandelion leaves, hazelnuts, etc.  Avoid mushroom harvesting unless with an expert - or take a course and become one yourself.

  • Buy frozen fruit, berries and vegetables, and embrace canned food.  It is cheaper and often as nutritious as fresh.  Whilst you won't want to abandon fresh completely, a combination of all three can save you money.

  • Incorporate more vegetarian or vegan dishes into your weekly meal plan.  When you do cook meat, bulk dishes out with lentils and beans to add nutrients and cut down on how much meat you need, saving you money and boosting your health.

  • Keep any leftovers for the next day and eat them for lunch or re-purpose them into a new meal.  make sure you eat them, don't just use the fridge as a waiting room for the bin!

  • If you want to be really organised, cook extra portions of each meal for your freezer or for lunch the next day.  Have a batch cooking day once a month to stock up your freezer with home-made 'ready meals'.

  • Don't throw anything away.  With the average family chucking out nearly £60 of food a month, be strict about what you buy, and the order in which you use things.  For example, carrots are going to last longer than salad leaves or spinach, broccoli will be somewhere in between.

  • Store fresh produce in date order, so you use the quickest to go out of date first.  But ignore best before dates on fruit and veg, and some other products, use your eyes, nose and taste-buds instead.

  • Use your freezer.  Freeze rolls and sliced bread, then defrost as needed, or make toast straight from the freezer.  Go fruit picking in summer and freeze your produce.  Here's how to freeze fresh summer fruit.  If you use milk, buy large containers then freeze down into single pint sizes.

  • Try the next brand level down or the supermarket's own products.  If they're ghastly you never have to buy them again, but you may be pleasantly surprised.  Let your taste buds be the judge, not the adverts or the fancy labels!

  • If you haven't tried a discount retailer yet, do.  You may be pleasantly surprised.  At the very least, you'll find some things you can stock up on there but still use your usual supermarket for the items you prefer.

  • Be savvy at the supermarket by comparing pre-packed and loose prices, comparing large sizes with small, and not picking up the first special offer you see.  Shop in the 'ethnic foods' sections and compare, compare, compare prices.  If you have the time, shop around.  Read our guide to how to save money at the supermarket for more tips.

  • Just ditch the bad for you stuff.  Do you really need fizzy drinks, crisps, snack foods, biscuits, cakes etc etc?  Take up baking and make one or two sweet treats a week.  It's cheaper, usually tastier, and at least you know what's going in them!

  • Change to real snacks like crudites with hummus, home-made granola bars, fruit, crackers, malt loaf, fruit toast, toast with peanut butter, instead of junk.

  • Stop buying bottled water and invest in a water filter at home.  And don't even get me started on fancy coffees!!

  • Breastfeed babies and toddlers to term (years not months) and avoid buying pricey and unhealthy formulas, follow on milks etc.

  • Don't buy wildly over-priced foods aimed at babies and toddlers.  Embrace baby-led weaning and let them eat real foods, or make your own purees if you can't get away from the idea.  Toddlers should be eating real food, not packets of this and that.  Give them whatever you're eating, as long as it's healthy.  And yes, they can cope with curry, chilli etc, just introduce it slowly and make sure it isn't too spicy.

Follow these tips and you can eat well on a limited budget, saving money, eating great food and staying healthy.

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  1. Great suggestions, some familiar to me, other new. All sensible. What I would really like is a mobile Greengrocers to come to our flats. We already have a fresh fish van, and a chap who comes to sell farm fresh eggs. Fruit and vegetables are delicious and nutritious. I would love them to be very accessible for us and others.

    Rachel Craig

    1. That sounds like a great idea, a kind of extension of the veg box schemes perhaps.

  2. Some good advice but I really would not call it 'eating healthy', just on a budget. Shop frozen fruit and veg are bathed in chlorine solution before being frozen. Canned food has chemicals seeping into it from the stuff they use for lining the cans inside to preserve the food. And I am yet to find a local grocer or butcher or farmer's market that can beat Aldi's prices. As I said, some good suggestions but some show poor research into what is really 'healthy'

    1. Thank you for your comment, although you do seem to have fixated almost solely on point 11 of 25. In an age and a country where most people struggle to meet the 5 portions of fruit and veg a day target, eat cheap ready meals and cheap, brown frozen foods, I would say that anything that increases fruit and veg consumption is a bonus. That was my intention in sharing that tip.

      Most people believe that eating healthily (i.e. reasonable amounts of fruit and veg, grains and less ready meals etc) is very expensive, so I set out to show that there are ways to save money and still eat better. Canned and frozen food was just one of those. Personally, we freeze our own fruit and vegetables, but I understand that many people do not have the time or inclination to do so. Nor do they always have time to cook everything from scratch, seek out the best places to buy foods, research the issues of what exactly is in our food and water, etc.

      Hopefully, by sharing a variety of baby steps most people can move towards eating better. And yes, I do agree with you on the over-use of chemicals in modern life, in all aspects, but I did not feel it was helpful to point these out to my readers who are already struggling to eat better.

      Finally, I'm delighted you are so happy with Aldi. Personally, I find their fruit and veg is not usually of the highest quality, and not significantly cheaper than elsewhere. For example, last week their baby spinach was more than a pound, whilst Tesco had bags for 50p. Again, not everyone has the time to shop around, or even to go to farmers markets etc. I guess it comes down to we all do the best we can, and perhaps by starting on the road to healthier eating, others will have the opportunity to do the research and come to the conclusions you already have.

  3. Good ideas - I like Aldi's but their selection is limited in the organics section (here in USA). I also buy local at a small farmer's marktet where the growers garden in their yards w/o chemicals. If I'm buying non-organic, I go to Aldi's as they banned the 6 pesticides linked to bee colony collapse in their brands. In the US, most commerical food is sprayed by folks in hazemat suits. They can't allow it to touch their skin, but it's "ok" for us to eat. Don't think so. I stronly support lots of veggies and fruits and lower sugar and fat for a healthy diet.

  4. Great tips! I want to up our healthy eating game. We're not too bad at the moment but there's certainly room for improvement.
    I'm going to start with one meatless meal a week. #GoingGreenLinky

  5. Great ideas and I think I probably follow or have followed all of them to a greater or lesser degree. In France, buying fresh produce at the local market means you can get exactly how much you want and can ask the stall owner to give you the ripeness you desire ... so you could buy a bag of nectarines and ask for some to be ripe and ready to eat that day with others ripening in a few days time. This really reduces down waste as supermarket pre-packed fruits will all be the same ripeness in any one pack. And you have reminded me that it has been a while since I made any raison bread and that makes such a good snack for the boys after their sports training.


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