There are many people who believe that you can’t eat healthily if you’re trying to cut costs. I don’t believe that, but it is true that it can be a bit more challenging when you try to incorporate healthy eating and cost-cutting into the same diet. To make things more difficult is that fact that there are so many differing views on what makes a healthy diet. With that in mind, I thought I’d tackle eating fruit & veg first, as its the one thing all nutritionists seem to agree on (as well as being something I slightly obsess over myself).
1. Don’t be afraid of the cheaper classics
If you believe that the only way to eat healthily is to eat whatever obscure berries and seeds are fashionable at the moment, you’ll end up spending a fortune. Yes, goji berries are probably good for you, but so are bananas, so if you’re on a budget, it makes sense to buy the cheaper option most of the time, saving the expensive stuff to treat yourself occasionally. Most weeks I take an apple and a banana in to work every day, as they’re really the cheapest fruit you can get- oranges are cheap too, but I don’t like them. Likewise, onions, carrots, cabbage and swede are all underrated but super cheap veg.
2. Know how much a portion is and stick to it
Occasionally I swap the apples for something else, often a punnet of grapes. This works out surprising cheaply when you realise that a 500g pack should do you five days at work when kept in the fridge. Government guidelines state that one portion of fruit is about 80g, yet I’ve genuinely seen people eat a whole pack of grapes at once, making it a lot more expensive (and risking an upset tummy). If you can’t control yourself, portion it up at the start of the week into food bags or whatever. This applies more to fruit than veg, as I’ve never seen anyone eat a whole swede in one go.
3. Be flexible
Because most recipes I make are very adaptable, I can change what veg I buy depending on what’s on offer at the supermarket. I might have courgettes on my list to make chilli, but see that sweet potatoes are half price, for example. Because I’m comfortable switching ingredients in my cooking, I can buy the cheap sweet potatoes and put that in the chilli instead. Also don’t be afraid of yellow-stickered reduced to clear items – you can eat them that night, but they usually have a few days life left in them anyway. If nothing else, you can generally make veg into soup and freeze it, or freeze fruit to make smoothies or milkshakes.
4. Shop around and be aware of the price per kilo
Most people know that sticking to one supermarket isn’t the cheapest way to get your shopping. It’s hard for me to practise what I preach here, as I like the convenience of getting groceries delivered, but if you check out your local greengrocers, markets and discount supermarkets like Aldi’s, you might be able to reduce your bill significantly. Likewise, you can shop around within the one supermarket by keeping an eye on the price per kilo. At my local Morrisons, they seem to have four or five different bag sizes of onions, for example, not including loose ones. The ‘value’ bags aren’t even always the cheapest. Unless it forces you to buy so much you can’t use it (see point six), you’re aiming for the lowest price per kilo, not the lowest price per pack.
5. Take advantage of frozen, tinned and dried fruit and veg
I’m a big fan of fresh fruit and veg, and am happy to pay a little extra to get it most of the time. But some veg is fine, or even better frozen (peas and sweetcorn) and some is fine tinned (tomatoes and pulses – yes they count as a portion). Plus having some of these long-life stocks in can help you out when you don’t have much in the fridge – you can put frozen peas in almost anything, I’ve discovered.
6. But most importantly… Buy less!
Note that I don’t say ‘eat less veg’ – I’m a big advocate of getting at least your five a day. But the average household throws away an awful lot of their fresh fruit and veg, and you could probably buy 20% less and still get he same amount of vitamins and antioxidants if you meal plan better and use up what you have before you buy more. Obviously if you never waste anything you’re off the hook here, but that doesn’t apply to many of us.
EDIT. I haven’t covered growing your own here, which seems like massive oversight, but I’m saving it for another post. Just wanted to say this in case you all thought I’d forgotten.
OH and another thing – I wrote a meal planning post yesterday, hit publish (which seemed to work at the time) and now today it has utterly vanished! I will rewrite it next week, but that’s why there was no post yesterday, if you were wondering.