The go-to guide for healthy eating on a budget
Eating healthy doesn’t need to cost the earth. By following a few simple tips you can ensure you get a balanced diet, giving you all the key nutrients you need to stay in tip top condition.
How to eat healthy on a budget
1. Food trends
Don’t feel like you have to follow the latest food trend or which food is this week’s ‘superfood’, these often come with a hefty price tag. Instead, consciously try to eat a balanced diet including a wide variety of vegetables.
Choose lots of colours to ensure you have a variety of nutrients, consume beans and legumes, wholegrain and good quality protein from meat, fish, nuts, seeds and good quality dairy. If you have any health issues that affect your diet, consider seeking the help of a qualified nutrition professional.
2. Opt for whole grains
When buying grains and cereals, choose the whole grain variety such as: brown rice, pasta, couscous and bread (pittas and wraps). Whole grain foods have a higher fibre content which is needed to keep our gut functioning well.
Most of your gut bacteria resides in the colon, converting dietary fibre into short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids have anti-inflammatory benefits and help to stimulate immune function, and prevent potentially harmful bacteria from taking hold.
Some people may find they suffer from digestive issues when they consume a lot of fibre, such as bloating or excessive wind. This may be the case if you suffer from IBS or have other gut issues. Introduce high fibre foods to your diet slowly whilst your gut adapts to the change. If your symptoms persist, it’s best to consult your GP or a qualified registered nutrition professional.
3. Give frozen fruit and veg a chance
Buying frozen vegetables and fruit such as berries and broccoli is generally cheaper than buying fresh, plus it’s more convenient and avoids food waste. Choose vegetables such as frozen peas, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, carrots and spinach. Opting for supermarket own brands also cuts costs as they are cheaper as opposed to big, well known brands. Lightly steam or stir fry your frozen veg to get the best taste and to ensure they retain their nutrient content. Frozen fruit is ideal for adding to porridge, natural yoghurt or smoothies.
In terms of nutrient content, there isn’t a great difference in frozen compared to fresh, in fact there is more vitamin C in frozen corn, green beans and blueberries compared to fresh and a higher vitamin B content in frozen broccoli.
4. Choose canned or frozen fish
Oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, anchovies, herring and sardines are an excellent source of Omega-3. We can’t make Omega-3 ourselves, so we need to get it from our diets or a supplement. Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and contribute to heart and brain health. Plus, opting for canned and frozen fish is more economical and convenient than fresh.
5. Get to know your local butcher
Buying from your butcher means you have a wider variety of meat cuts to choose from and you can ask your butcher for advice on which cheaper cuts to go for. You can also get to know where the meat comes from and how it was reared.
Opt for chicken drumsticks and thighs rather than chicken breasts as breasts are often more expensive. Some butchers also offer family packs that end up being cheaper than buying these individually from the supermarket. If you have the budget to buy organic grass fed meat, look online for delivery boxes. Meat on the bone lends itself well to slow cooking such as stews, casseroles and roasting which are great options for providing leftovers for lunch the next day.
6. Be selective with organic fresh food
Organic fruit and veg is more expensive. If you choose to eat organic for whatever reason, then it might be helpful to look at the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists to see which foods have the most (or least) pesticide residue, so you can bear this in mind when you're shopping.
7. Buy dried pulses and beans
Lentils and beans are a great source of plant based protein and packed full of B vitamins, fibre, iron, magnesium and potassium. Plus they are more economical especially if you buy them dried.
If you buy dried beans, these will need to be soaked overnight. I often soak a big bowl overnight and cook them the next day and freeze in batches - this works out cheaper than buying them in tins. Of course tins, jars or cartons have their place too as they are quick and convenient to use.
Most lentils don’t need to be soaked, however if you find that eating lentils and beans causes you gut issues, here are my top tips to manage an upset gut:
- If using tins or jars, make sure that you drain and rinse contents well before using them. Often what causes gas and bloating are the phytates in the beans and lentils. This is a naturally occurring substance that can interfere with the absorption of nutrients.
- Soak dried beans for a minimum of 12 hours. Drain and rinse the beans several times during soaking to get rid of the phytates that have leached into the water. Do not use the soaking water for cooking.
- Keep an eye on what type of beans or lentils cause you more discomfort and go slow - don’t introduce them to your diet all at once.
To make sure meals go further, substitute half the meat in a recipe with lentils or beans for example in a cottage pie, curry or bolognese sauce.
8. Don’t just shop at your supermarket
Find out if there are any local markets in your neighbourhood, or seek out any ethnic grocery stores. These stores often offer bigger packets compared to what you would buy in the supermarket, and have a wider selection of grains, pulses and beans, traditional brands of feta and halloumi, fresh herbs and fruit and vegetables, which are cheaper.