Eating healthy on a budget is something that we often think is quite difficult to do. And at the current time, it is all too easy to pick up ready prepared meals at a fraction of the price to creating it from scratch. In part, this is because prepared meals have been created in the factory. It makes it easier to distribute because in most cases it is frozen and just requires cooking in the oven.
Well, believe it or not, it is actually possible to eat healthily on a budget and it is easier than you might think. Most of it just comes down to being disciplined in your approach to food. Quantity plays a big part in this.
When it comes to shopping habits, this really is key to getting your food on a sensible budget. You will need to think ahead and not buy so many perishable goods that you end up chucking half of them away. According to wrap the UK household throws away, on average, 6 meals every week. That’s equivalent 24 meals a month. By being more sensible with our shopping, which could mean going more than once a week, this can be avoided.
Here’s some top tips on how to eat healthily on a budget
Make a meal plan and a shopping list to go with it
Meal plans are definitely the way forward. In our house, this is an absolute must. For one, both as busy parents, we need to have some food structure in our lives. If we didn’t we would simply buy ‘rubbish’ on the way home each day because it is easier to cook. We normally plan a weeks worth of food and mix it up with food from the freezer and fresh food. This help us to maintain a healthy balance.
To start with, it was actually quite a hard process to follow. But after about a month, we both got used to it and now we are pretty structured in our approach to eating. For the past year now, we have been meaning to get ourselves a chalk board to put up in the kitchen. However, we are still relying on post it notes on the cupboard door. I am sure that we will make the leap of faith soon and upgrade!
Grow your own
Growing your own vegetables is just one of the most incredible experiences ever. If you have a young family, then not only do you get food that is straight from the garden but they learn so much from growing the food. Only today (start of July) we were able to cook some sausages from the fridge, pick peas from the garden and pull some potatoes out of the potato bag. Not even an hour off the plant they where steamed and in his tummy! It creates a certain amount of excitement about the food that you simply wouldn’t get from getting it out of a bag.
Growing your own is something that I cannot recommend enough for families and it needn’t be on a large scale either. Even just a few vegetables is enough to get children enthusiastic about spending time in the garden.
Is growing your own actually cheaper?
This is a question that I get asked a lot. In all honesty, I believe that it is. Don’t get me wrong, the set up cost of getting the equipment, building raised beds and vegetable bags is quite expensive. However, if you look after them, they will last for many years. Compost can be expensive if you are growing a lot in containers but there is a great solution for that – make your own. Yes, granted, you are going to need to set it up again but if you are serious about it, you can certainly make it work.
I think the other point to mention is that if you are growing vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes, beans or peas, you can actually go out into the garden and pick them as and when you want them. So whereas normally you would have a packet of veg and the whole packet will go off at the same time. However, whilst they are attached to the plant, they stay fresh meaning you get a lot more time to eat them. Simples!
Buy from farmers markets or PYO
Similar to growing your own, PYO can be a great cost alternative to the supermarkets. Again, you will need to be careful where you get them from as some places can charge a premium. Mostly because people go there for the experience as opposed to a necessity. However, if you look around, you will be able to find a great site. The downside to this, along with GYO is that you can only eat the food that is in season. During the late spring and into Autumn, it’s not a problem but in the dark depths of winter it can be. On the plus side, it will help you to vary your diet by using what is in season rather than picking it off the supermarket shelf.
Don’t forget that some food can also be preserved for the winter by freezing it as it is picked. It will taste just as good out the freezer as it will from the plant.
Frozen fruit is just as good
Who doesn’t love fruit in the summer? It is just delicious. Mixed in with some plain vanilla ice cream or just served up on its own. If you are growing fruit in the garden, then you will be able to pick it from there quite easily. However, don’t be put off by buying frozen fruit. Once it has defrosted, you really wouldn’t tell the difference. And also, in most cases at the point is defrosted, it’s still had less time to decompose than those in the fridge at the supermarket!
Making the most of leftovers
Even with meal planning, you will occasionally end up with left overs. We certainly do in our house. Normally it is where we decide to do a BBQ over the weekend. Again, this one comes down to discipline and actually using the food that you have put into the fridge as opposed to using it as the waiting room for it all to go in the bin.
Storing food in the right way plays a big part in how long the food actually lasts. The NHS
have a great article on their site explaining how to store food in the best possible way. By knowing these rules in advance, you can ensure that you are storing the food at its optimum. Saves any nasty tummy upsets later on.
Batch cooking is a great way to get lots of healthy food cooked, and then frozen. Whilst the idea of cooking lots of the same dish is slightly demoralising, it does bring economies of scale along with it too. One of the most common dishes to batch freeze has to be the hearty bolognese. By cooking the meat and the sauce, there is only one thing left to do outside the freeze – boil up some spaghetti or serve on a bed of mash potato. Not only will this save you time of an evening when you all get in, but it will help save money too. One big batch cook could provide you with 8 meals – enough to last a small family a couple of dishes.
The other thing that batch cooking can also help with is when everyone in the house has different schedules. If there’s after school clubs or someone is working late, batch cooking and then freezing in smaller portions ensures that everyone’s meal is lovely and fresh! Just don’t forget to put and expiry date on the food so you know when you cooked it and when you should be eating it by.
Shopping at the right time
I thought I would save this one till last as it is probably the most obvious out of all of them. Never go shopping on an empty stomach – you will buy so many things that you just don’t need. Sometimes, I actually think that it is a great experiment. Two weeks running, take the same amount of money along with you to the supermarket. One time have some breakfast, and the other don’t. Believe me, your trolley will be vastly different across the two. In personal experience, the best time to get the shopping done is a Saturday morning straight after breakfast. That way, by the time I get to the supermarket, my stomach is telling my brain is full and I keep to the list that I have been given! Not to mention that you miss the crowds.
Some of our tips may seem fairly simple but over time they will make a big difference to the food budget. A lot of the practices actually come down to discipline. Give them a go, you will be surprised what difference it can actually make!
If you have any other ways that you manage your budget on food, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.