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!

  • 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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