Fruit and vegetables
Eating a good variety of fruit and vegetables is vital for our health and wellbeing but can feel too expensive for the weekly shop. Here’s how you can buy them more cheaply.
- Buy what’s in season. Seasonal produce tends to be cheaper so find out what’s in season by searching online or asking your greengrocer, and base your meals around these foods. Buying seasonally is also better for the environment because the foods need less energy to grow, store and transport.
- Frozen, dried and canned fruits and vegetables are often cheaper than fresh ones. They also have a long shelf life so they’re convenient and could help you reduce food waste. Frozen varieties are often as nutritious as the fresh version and may even be more nutritious if the fresh version is left at the bottom of the fridge for days. Watch out for canned fruit and vegetables with sugar and salt added, and instead choose options in fruit juice or water.
- Go for loose fruit and vegetables rather than pre-packed. They're often cheaper and you can buy the quantities you need so there’s less chance of food waste. Remember that ‘wonky’ fruit and vegetables are just as nutritious but often cost less.
- Choose some root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and onions. They are often a low-waste option as they last for a week at room temperature and don’t need to be stored in the fridge.
- Find ways to use up very ripe fruit that’s on its way out. Fruit tends to have a shorter life but if it needs using up, you could puree it and eat it with breakfast cereal or low fat natural yogurt.
Starchy foods include things like potatoes, bread, rice and pasta. Wholegrain, higher fibre versions contain important nutrients and tend to be similar prices to the low fibre, refined versions. Most major retailers now have economy ranges which include wholegrain options and it is often very difficult to tell them apart from the more expensive ranges in terms of taste.
- Buy in bulk. If you have enough space, buy whole grain pasta and rice in bulk as they’re cheaper and they store well for months.
- Go for jacket potatoes. They make an excellent cheap and nutritious microwave meal if served up with baked beans, or tuna and tinned sweetcorn with some vegetables on the side. You can buy them partially cooked in the freezer section which speeds up cooking.
- Use your bread for breadcrumbs. If your bread is going a bit stale there is no need to throw it away. Instead, use it to make breadcrumbs which you can freeze until you are ready to use them. Then use them for a fish or chicken coating or as a crispy topping on a pasta bake.
- Include some oats for lower cholesterol. Oats soaked in low fat milk or made into porridge are a very cheap and extremely nutritious breakfast option that can be bought and stored in bulk. Plus, they’re one of our six cholesterol-busting foods.
Proteins – meat, fish and plant foods
Meat is often the most expensive part of the meal but there are ways to keep the cost down.
1. Make it last. You can use a whole chicken, for example, for three meals: a roast dinner, then a stir-fry using the leftovers, and finally, boil the carcase for a delicious and nutritious soup.
2. Go for cheaper cuts. Cook meals with cheaper cuts of meat such as low fat mince and braising steak.
3. Look out for cheaper sea food. Tinned sardines, sild (young herrings) or mackerel are incredibly cost effective and also very nutritious, so well worth including in your store cupboard. Pollock or mussels are also good options. You can also ask your fishmonger at the supermarket about cheaper more sustainable options.
4. Choose some plant-based foods such as beans and pulses. These are excellent sources of protein at a fraction of the cost of meat and fish so it’s good to learn how to cook some plant-based meals to cut down on your food costs. Or cut down on the amount of meat in your meal and replace some with lentils or tinned beans. Swapping meat for plant-based meals will also help reduce your saturated fat intake, adds to your five a day and lower the environmental impact.
Dairy and non-dairy alternatives
Dairy foods and their alternatives contain calcium, so they’re a key part of a healthy diet, and there are ways to choose them cheaply.
- Go for long life. Long-life low-fat milk and milk products are a healthy option with a long shelf life, so there’s less chance of pouring spoilt milk down the sink.
- Shop around. Non-dairy milk alternatives tend to be more expensive than dairy but there are some good value long-life options, so it is worth shopping around.
- Freeze milk and cheese. Fresh milk and hard cheeses such as Cheddar and Red Leicester can be frozen for 3-6 months, so take advantage of any supermarket offers.
- Go economy. Economy ranges of low-fat natural yogurt are a great alternative to creams for cooking healthier savoury dishes such as curries and pasta sauces.