A major cost of living crisis is sweeping the UK, with record inflation making the average food shop more costly than ever. And with so many households experiencing food poverty, more are without access to nutritious food; relying instead on cheap, energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods.
While the size of your supermarket bill might currently feel like a bigger concern than how healthy it is, it’s still possible to eat well on a tight budget with a little creativity and forethought. Our expert nutrition team have put together their tips and a budget friendly meal plan to help you eat healthy for less during the cost-of-living crisis.
Meal planning is at the heart of budget-friendly eating. It’s estimated that around a quarter of food that we buy is thrown out, so having a clear plan will enable you to only spend money on foods you want and need.
Be mindful of the three-day rule when making your plan. Lots of fresh items or cooked and stored food usually go off around the three-day mark, so break your week into two blocks of three days. In the middle of the week, cook any fresh items and move cooked or perishable items into the freezer. This saves you throwing food away and having to re-buy in the middle of each week.
Base your meal plan on what you actually like to eat and have time to prepare, so you don’t resort to takeaways on busy days. Look back on your eating habits in the last week or two and be realistic. At weekends it can be nice to spend hours cooking up something new and interesting, but after a long day at work, you may want meals that are quick and easy to throw together.
Avoid food shopping when you’re hungry or in a rush. Make a list based on your meal plan and stick to it. Look for offers on items you have on your shopping list but don’t be tempted by ‘buy one get one free’ offers for items you don’t need. This could be a false economy if the food ends up uneaten or takes the place of healthier items on your list.
Choose value brands where possible and ask supermarket staff for fresh food reduction times. Shopping towards the end of the day may mean there are extra offers available on foods on your lists.
Local food markets can also offer locally-sourced foods which are usually good value for money, particularly if you select seasonal fruits and vegetables, as they are widely available and less expensive. Get to know your local butcher, fishmonger and greengrocer as they’ll know which items are best value for this time of year.
It can be tempting to cook as you go, but smaller portions of ingredients often have the highest price per one hundred grams.
A cheaper approach is to make multiple portions each time you cook, divide up the cooked food into portions and freeze some for later. You’ll save money and time on cooking. It also enables you to have future meals ready in the same time it takes to re-heat a ready meal or wait for a takeaway.
Build your meal plans around affordable staples. You can create a wide range of meals around a few cheap, filling and healthy ingredients such as:
- Beans and pulses – high in protein and fibre plus low in saturated fat, these are often the cheapest way to consume good quality protein. The cheapest meat (such as mince) can contain around four times as much saturated fat as extra-lean meat, so consider having a meat free meal or day at least once per week. Add chickpeas to curries, lentils to bolognese and beans to shepherd’s pies. Almost any leftover vegetables can be made into soup with a tin of cannellini or butter beans added to make it more substantial. Hummus, stews, falafel, chillies and veggie burgers are also tasty options.
- A box of free-range eggs – great scrambled or poached on toast, hard boiled on a salad or served as an omelette with some added vegetables. Eggs are nutritious and filling -truly one of nature’s super foods. Also, great cracked then stirred into brown rice with some prawns.
- Wholegrain rice - the bigger the pack, the cheaper the rice. The ‘world food’ aisle at the supermarket is a great place to bulk buy dried rice with a long shelf life. Brown rice will help to keep your digestive system healthy and is more filling than white rice, so a better choice than white versions.
- Porridge oats are highly nutritious and cheaper than many cereals. Jumbo rolled oats will soak up milk or fruit juice if refrigerated overnight or can be added directly to yogurt. Mix with cinnamon and fruit for flavour and make any leftovers into flapjacks
- Frozen fruits and vegetables can be good value and highly nutritious, as the nutrients are sealed in during the freezing process, so they still count towards your five a day. Rather than buying a small and expensive punnet of cherries or berries, get a large bag of frozen fruit and simply take the amount you need out of the freezer each time.
- Potatoes – incredibly versatile, potatoes can be boiled, roasted, fried, microwaved, served as chips or mashed. Jacket potatoes are a great healthy staple with baked beans or tinned tuna and sweetcorn for added protein. Give sweet potatoes a go too, as they are packed with vitamins and flavour.
- Frozen or tinned fish - so many options! Tinned fish is cheaper than fresh and doesn’t even need cooking. Tinned salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies and pilchards provide an omega 3 boost and are great on toast or added to pasta sauces for a flavour and texture hit. Frozen fish fillets without added sauces or coatings are better choices than fish fingers or other breaded or battered fish, can which contain added fat and salt.
- Condiments, herbs and spices – no one finds it exciting to eat the same thing every day, so be sure to add variety to your meals by having a good stock of herbs and spices in the cupboard. Stock cubes are useful for soups, sauces etc. – look out for reduced salt versions. Tinned tomatoes are a must as a base for sauces while olives, fish sauce, black bean sauce, sweet chilli sauce, chutneys, olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes and soya sauce add depth and flavour.
Budget meal ideas
If you have access to WeCare, you can talk to our expert team of nutritionists for personalised advice and recommendations.
Sarah West | Head Nutritionist | Teladoc Health UK