Listen up, foodies – the spike in food costs over the past few months has added £21.31 to the average family shopping bill. Nutrient-rich staples such as meat and dairy are the most vulnerable products in line for the hike as farmers struggle to afford feed for their livestock. But there’s no need to let a little thing like the credit crunch get in the way of your healthy eating habits. We spoke to some leading nutritionists to find out how you can continue to serve up a brilliant menu on the cheap.
Write a list
Supermarkets are deliberately laid out to encourage you to buy more (you think it’s a coincidence the chocolate bars are by the checkout?), so shopping without a list is dangerous. ‘Plan what you need for the week, make a list and stick to it,’ says Dr Elisabeth Weichselbaum, a nutrition scientist from the British Nutrition Foundation (nutrition.org.uk). ‘It’s a simple way to help you avoid impulse buys.’ Planning what you’re going to eat for the week will also limit the amount of food that goes to waste and help keep your healthy eating aims on track.
Substituting meat with other sources of protein, like beans and lentils, can dramatically cut costs. ‘Lentils are filling and will keep hunger at bay for ages,’ says nutritional therapist Alison Henry (nh4u.co.uk). ‘And at around £2 for 1kg, a daily handful of this nutritious food is real value for money.’
If your inner carnivore is screaming out for a fix, Moyra Cosgrove, a nutritionist with the Nutrition Society (nutritionsociety.org) suggests buying cheaper cuts to use in stews and padding them out with some legumes.
Utilise your freezer
‘It can be expensive to buy small packets of ingredients,’ says Elisabeth, ‘but buying big packets means leftover ingredients can often go to waste.’ If this is your conundrum – particularly if you’re only cooking for one or two – make use of your freezer. ‘Cook in batches and freeze what you don’t eat,’ suggests Elisabeth. And don’t be afraid to give other staples the cold shoulder, too. ‘Meat is often cheaper when bought in bigger quantities, and bread can be stored in the freezer for a long time,’ Elisabeth explains. Stock, soup and even fruit can also fill up your ice box, keeping it running more efficiently.
Save it for later
Got a load of tomatoes threatening to turn? How about a stash of stone fruit or berries? Pull out the apron and start cleaning your jars, because another great way to keep a lot of food is to pickle, preserve or can it. It’s a cheap, healthy way to keep seasonal fruits and vegetables in your kitchen – and your tummy – all year round.
While ready meals and takeaways are easy (and tempting!) options, they’ll cost you. ‘Although there are healthy ready meals available, you’re paying for the processing,’ says Elisabeth. Plus, the cheaper options may leave your diet lacking. ‘Takeaways and ready-meals are low in micronutrients,’ Moyra says.
The best option? Do it yourself. ‘Food prepared at home is undoubtedly cheaper and, more importantly, you know what’s in it,’ says Alison. Hunt out some quick and easy meals online or check our recipes on page 121.
If you’re always stocking up on pricey mueslis or cereals, invest in a big bag of oats instead. ‘They’re a versatile food that can kick binging to the curb as they’ll keep you satisfied for hours,’ says Alison. ‘Mix in some red-skin nuts which are cheap, nutritious and satisfying.’ Top up your mix with some dried fruit to take care of your morning munchies.
Beans also tend to be cheaper than the canned variety, so there’s far less chance of them getting binned. Soak them overnight to cut down on cooking time.
Take advantage of summer fruits
‘Fruit and vegetables that aren’t in season in the UK can be expensive,’ says Elisabeth. ‘Buying produce in season is usually cheaper and better for the environment.’ Rediscover the flavour of low-cost veg such as carrots and cabbage and make scrumptious creamy soups, stews and casseroles. For a sweet fix, hunt down pears, apples and nectarines. ‘These are fibre-packed, hydrating fruits which vary between 15p and 35p each from outdoor markets, says Alison. In winter, frozen, dried or canned fruit and veg are good alternatives, ‘as long as the vegetables aren’t canned in salted water and the fruit isn’t canned in syrup,’ Elisabeth adds.
Do your research
Shop around to work out the cheapest sources for your staples. ‘Don’t go to corner shops too often as the food is generally more expensive,’ warns Elisabeth. Try shopping on websites like mysupermarket.co.uk, so you can compare the prices of all the major supermarkets before you buy. Or, hit up your local market. Fruit and vegetables are often cheaper at markets because farmers can sell their products directly and if you develop a good relationship with the supplier, you may score a discount!
10 savvy staples
Keep your cupboards stocked with these healthy ingredients for cheap, quick meals.
1 Pasta, rice and cous cous
Dried, starchy food can be stored for a long time and makes a great base for a quick, filling dish.
2 Porridge oats
Healthy and cheap, porridge will keep you full all morning.
This versatile veggie can be stored in the cupboard for a long time. A baked potato is easy, economical and healthy.
This is an essential kitchen staple with a wealth of health benefits.
5 Canned tomatoes
The perfect base for a simple pasta dish, plus they count towards your five a day.
6 Baked beans
A good source of fibre and protein, baked beans pair well with a slice of wholemeal bread or a baked potato.
7 Frozen vegetables
Keep a bag of veg in your freezer for a low-priced vitamin fix. Stir-fry rather than boil them to keep the goodness in.
8 Canned fish
Canned sardines, mackerels and salmon are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, while canned tuna is high in vitamins B6 and B12 and protein.
A versatile source of protein, chickpeas can be added to curries, stews, salads and more.
10 Frozen meat and fish
Stock up when they’re on offer and whack them straight in the freezer!