Healthy eating can seem expensive, but with a little planning and know how it's possible to eat very well on a budget. These suggestions will help keep your food bill low and your diet healthy. They are more environmentally-friendly too, so why not give them a go?
Step 1. Plan your meals
Meal planning is at the heart of budget-friendly eating. Spending a little time thinking about your meals for the next few days and jotting them down can save you pounds every week. You only spend money on foods you need and don’t waste money on items that end up in the bin – so it leads to less food waste too.
Meal planning also saves you time. You spend less time shopping because you know exactly what to buy and there is no ‘what are we going to eat today?’ decision making or popping to the shops for one or two items before you start cooking each day.
- Try not to make your meal plan too restrictive, as this makes it hard to maintain. Instead, allow a little wiggle room for foods you enjoy.
Include breakfast in your meal plan. Breakfast is a great opportunity to incorporate some inexpensive, healthy foods into your diet such as oats and frozen fruits. It means you don’t opt for expensive, unhealthy snacks mid-morning too.
- Incorporate leftovers into your plan for lunch the next day, so there’s less shopping, cooking and food waste.
- Consider your portion sizes. Only buy what you need – to avoid waste or eating more than you need.
Go for a healthy balance. As a guide, fill half your plate with vegetables, a quarter with healthy carbohydrates and a quarter with lean proteins such as beans, pulses, fish and lean meat. Learn more about a heart-healthy diet.
- Make lunch at home. Prepare salads, sandwiches or soups at home and take them with you when you need to eat out of the house. This will be cheaper, and probably healthier, than buying a sandwich deal or getting lunch at the work canteen.
Step 2. Be a savvy shopper
Next, write a shopping list based on your meal plan and only allow yourself to buy items on the list. It can be extremely difficult to stick to your plan when there is so much choice available in attractive packaging, so use these tips to help:
- Never go shopping on an empty stomach.
- Don’t browse the isles, just head straight to the foods on the list.
- If you shop with your children, involve them by playing games that help you stick to the shopping list, for example, getting them to tick off items on the list as you put them in the trolly.
- Shopping online is a great way to avoid temptation.
- Look for offers on items you have on your shopping list but don’t be tempted by “buy one get one free” offers for items that you don’t need. This could be a false economy if the food ends up uneaten or they take the place of healthier items on your list.
- Go for own brands. When choosing between brands for a specific food own brands are often cheaper, but it’s worth checking the price per 100g – it’s normally shown on a label on the shop shelf.
- Get to know your local butcher, fishmonger and greengrocer as they will know what items are good value. Supermarkets often have knowledgeable butchers and fishmongers too, so spend some time chatting to them and learning about cheaper and more sustainable alternatives.
- Consider offers available that fit with your plan. Shopping towards the end of the day may mean there are extra offers available on foods on your lists, or foods you could easily swap in. You could consider offers on foods that are approaching their ‘best before’, ‘sell by’ or ‘use by’ dates. ‘Use by’ dates relate to food safety and tend to be shown on items that will spoil quickly such as meat, dairy and fish. Only be tempted by these offers if they’re on your list or you can incorporate them into an imminent meal.
- Remember to check the labels. Use the front and back of pack labelling to compare products and opt for the healthiest options. Cheaper foods often have higher fat, salt and sugar content. In general, go for the healthier option even if it costs a few pennies more. Some packaged foods have colour coded labelling which makes it easier to make healthy choices. Aim to choose foods with more green and less red on the label.
Step 3. Cook from scratch
Ready-made meals might be convenient but can be expensive and can contain a lot of saturated fat and salt. Cooking your meals from scratch has many advantages when it comes to your budget and your health:
- it gives you more control over the ingredients
- you can choose cheaper options
- you can buy store cupboard ingredients when they are on offer
- you can buy inexpensive ingredients that are very nutritious, such as oats, which are great for lower cholesterol, and eggs
- you can cook large quantities and make enough for two or more meals, and freeze some for busy days.
- Get creative with your leftovers by incorporating them into another meal. Plus, reheated dishes often have more flavour so consider them as a bonus rather than a second-rate meal.
- Try our budget-friendly recipes. You don’t need to be a superb cook to rustle up a healthy, cheap meal. Or go even simpler – sardines on wholemeal toast or baked beans in a baked potato served with steamed vegetables. You can serve up these two purse-friendly dishes as quickly as a frozen pizza.
- Learn some plant-based meals. It’s worth learning how to cook some tasty plant-based meals because using pulses and beans as your source of protein offers better value. Alternatively, you can reduce the cost of meat dishes by using less meat and adding some lentils instead. Spaghetti bolognaise is a perfect example and results in a healthier option with less saturated fat and more fibre.
- Aim to cook one meal for all the family as serving up several different meals costs substantially more and can lead to more waste.