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Can you eat healthily and save money? You bet your bottom dollar you can! Here are 20 tips to help you have your (low-fat) cake and eat it.
If cost is discouraging you from trying to make changes to you and your family’s diet then read on: healthy eating doesn’t have to cost more.
The NHS Choices Eat4Cheap challenge aims to show you how, equipped with a few simple money-saving tips, you can eat a healthy diet and still save money.
How much money can you save on your weekly food bill while still eating healthily? Try our Eat4Cheap challenge.
Draw up a weekly meal plan, incorporating ingredients you already have, write a shopping list and stick to it. Don't be swayed by impulse purchases or special offers, just buy what you need. Try not to shop when hungry. Studies show that people who shop when hungry are more likely to spend more, especially on less healthy foods, such as high-fat and sugary snacks.
The average family with children throws away almost £60 of good food every month, according to Love Food Hate Waste (LFHW). Be strict about buying only what you'll actually eat. Plan your meals so that all ingredients on your list get used and that includes fresh herbs like basil or parsley. If necessary, freeze any unused food. Freezer bags and food storage boxes will come in handy.
Cooking extra portions for your evening meal so that you can have the leftovers for lunch the next day saves time and money, and can be a healthier option than the traditional "mayo-laden sandwich, crisps and soft drink desk-lunch" option. Any extra portions can be frozen for another day. Eventually, you'll have a freezer full of homemade ready meals on tap. Find out how to use leftovers safely.
Frozen fruit and vegetables are underrated. They come pre-chopped and ready to use, are just as good for you (try to avoid those with added salt, sugar or fat), and are often cheaper than fresh varieties. Frozen vegetables are picked at the peak of freshness and then frozen to seal in their nutrients. Get tips on freezing and defrosting.
You could cut 30% off your shopping bill by buying cheaper brands than you normally do, according to Money Saving Expert – that’s a potential saving of over £1,500 a year on a family's £100 weekly shop. Give it a go and let your taste buds be the judge, not the shiny label. Find out how food labels can help you make healthier choices.
Meat and fish are typically the most expensive food ingredients on a shopping list. How about adding vegetables to meat dishes such as casseroles to make your meals go further? Or try a few vegetarian meals during the week to keep costs down? Make it fun by joining the thousands of people who regularly take part in the meat-free Monday movement.
Pulses, such as beans, lentils and peas, are some of the cheapest foods on the supermarket shelf. These pulses are low in calories and fat but packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals and also count towards your 5 A DAY. Use them in dishes to replace some of the chicken or meat, such as a chilli con carne with kidney beans or a chicken curry with chickpeas.
Bread is the most wasted household food according to LFHW. Reduce waste by freezing bread, preferably in portions (for convenience) and when it’s at its freshest (for taste). For best results, store bread in an airtight container (such as a freezer bag) and gently squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing to avoid freezer burn.
Know what’s in your kitchen store cupboard, fridge and freezer. You may find you’ve got enough ingredients to make a meal! Plan your week's meals to include ingredients you've already got in and avoid buying items you already have. Check use-by dates to make sure you use up ingredents before they go off.
If you're prepared to take a little more time with your cooking, buying cheaper cuts of meat is a great way to save. Choosing a cheaper cut of meat, such as braising steak, shin or shoulder, doesn’t mean missing out on a tasty meal. Slow cooking gradually breaks down the fibres in cheaper cuts, giving great taste at a lower cost.
Cheap doesn't have to mean less tasty. There are plenty of websites offering recipes for cheap eats and leftover ingredients. Check out Change4Life's meal mixer, Love Food Hate Waste, The Skint Foodie, A Girl Called Jack, Frugal Queen and The Resourceful Cook for some recipe inspiration.
Try eating smaller portions by saying no to a second helping or using smaller plates. You’ll have more left over for lunch the next day and your waistline may benefit, too! Try weighing or measuring out staples such as pasta and rice when cooking to stay in control of portion size and reduce waste.
One in every six meals is eaten out of the home, according to a Public Health England study (PDF, 776kb). Of particular concern are hot food takeaways, which tend to be high in fat and salt, and low in fibre, fruit and vegetables. Cutting back on takeaways could save you up to £800 a year and inches off your waist! Preparing and cooking your own meals is generally cheaper than buying a takeaway or a ready meal, and because it’s easier to control what goes in to your dish, it can be healthier.
The cheapest way to buy chicken is to buy a whole chicken. It's often more expensive to buy two pre-cut chicken breasts than a whole chicken. From a whole chicken, you'll get two breasts, two thighs, two drumsticks, plus a carcass and wings for making stock. Consider the deli counter for cheese and cured meats. You can get exact amounts, which is cheaper and less wasteful.
Fruit and vegetables sometimes cost more pre-packaged than loose. Check the price per weight (for example £/kg). Stores know that consumers want to buy in bulk, and so they mix it up: sometimes the packaged produce is cheaper, sometimes it’s more expensive. Also, pre-packaged isn’t always the freshest and you may end up with more than you need.
If your regular shopping basket tends to include fizzy drinks, crisps, snack bars, biscuits and cakes, try trimming down on these non-essential items. Many of these are high in sugar and fat so you'll be doing your waistline as well as your bottom line a favour. They can also contain a lot of salt. Think about cheaper and healthier alternatives – such as sparkling water and fruit juice instead of cola, or fruit and plain yoghurt.
Special discounts such as buy-one-get-one-free (BOGOF) deals can offer good value, but be careful: only buy items you actually need and are likely to keep and use – tinned or frozen fruit and veg or rice and pasta are a good example. Markdowns on perishables at the end of the shopping day are another way to bag a saving – but make sure the item gets used before the use-by-date and doesn’t go off sooner than expected.
If you've got a toddler in tow, get him or her used to eating the same meals as you instead of relying on costly pre-prepared toddler food. Simply blend or chop up their portion to suit their age and freeze extra child-sized portions for later. Make sure not to add any salt to their portions and be careful with spicy food.
Price comparison websites, such as mysupermarket.com, let you select a basket of products and then choose the cheapest supplier. The price differences can be significant. Unlike going to the shops yourself, you'll know how much you've spent before going to the till, which can make it easier to stay within budget.
Most supermarkets discount fresh items towards the end of the day. However, with longer opening hours it's a case of finding out just the right time to grab those bargains. Time it right and the "reduced to clear shelves" can save you big money. Always check use-by dates.
Tom Kirk and wife Emma managed to chop their weekly spend on food by more than half with a little savvy planning to make their ingredients go further.
From an average bill of £157, the couple from New Cross in south London, spent only £72 while still eating a healthy balanced diet and eating plenty of fruit and vegetables.
They were taking part in the NHS Choices Eat4Cheap challenge, which aims to show that eating healthily doesn’t have to cost more – in fact you can save money.
The key to eating well for less for Tom and Emma was to buy frozen vegetables, make the most of every ingredient, cooking from scratch and eating leftovers for lunch.
And they still managed to plan a weekend treat with some gourmet venison burgers, chips and green beans at a fraction of the cost of eating out.
“When we set ourselves the target of cutting our bill by 50% it seemed like a tall order,” says Tom. “The fact that we’ve exceeded our target shows how easy it is to save money and still eat well.”
"Using pulses to bulk up a chilli is a cheap and healthy way to get some extra portions from your ingredients."
Tom and Emma started their Eat4Cheap week with a Sunday roast chicken. The leftovers were used to make sandwiches for lunch the next day and a chicken and vegetable curry during the week.
And in an act of the-gourmet-meets-money-saving-expert, Tom used the chicken carcass to prepare a stock for a vegetable soup.
“Making your own stock is easy,” says Tom. “You simply boil the bones with some roughly cut vegetables and just use the liquid. It’s cheaper than buying stock and much tastier.”
In another example of making food go further, Tom used 500g of minced beef (£4.50) to make spaghetti bolognese and a chilli with chick peas and flageolet beans – which made a total of six individual portions.
“Using pulses to bulk up the chilli is a cheap and healthy way to get some extra portions from your ingredients,” he says. “You still get the texture and the taste of the beef but with less fat per portion.”
The couple planned their meals two days at a time, taking into account ingredients in their store cupboard and freezer.
“We didn’t plan more than couple of days in advance because we wanted to make sure we used up all our ingredients before shopping again,” says Tom.
“We shopped around a little for the cheapest deals but we didn’t go out of our way. We also stuck to our favourite brands on some key items.”
Tom and Emma also kept a running list of food that needed using up on a blackboard in the kitchen.
“Having a list was really useful,” says Tom. “It meant we could see at a glance what food we had in, which helped to reduce waste.”
Tom and Emma's Eat4Cheap tips:
The pair always made sure they had packed lunch, either in the form of homemade sandwiches or leftovers from the previous evening’s dinner.
“Our biggest saving came from not spending money on eating out for lunch,” says Tom. “It’s easy to spend £5 a day on lunch and snacks. That’s £50 a week between the two of us.”
To make sure they were getting their recommended 5 A DAY of fruit and vegetables, they snacked on fruit, usually apples and bananas.
“We bought mostly frozen vegetables, such as spinach and peppers, which are a lot cheaper than buying them fresh and they count towards your 5 A DAY,” says Tom.
He says the couple averaged three portions of fruit and veg a day on five days and managed five portions on two days.
Their meals were based around starchy foods such as brown rice and potatoes, as well as pulses such as lentils, as recommended by the eatwell plate.
“I made a spinach and lentil curry one evening – that’s two of your 5 A DAY,” says Tom.
A week of saving money and eating healthily did not leave the couple feeling they had made drastic changes to their diet and routine.
“One way we stayed motivated was by planning a Friday night treat – in our case, venison burgers,” says Tom.
“That way you don’t feel you’re denying yourself too much. Eating out can be expensive. You can just as easily enjoy a treat at home without spending over the odds.”
The couple are still using some of the tips they used during the challenge, such as an up-to-date list of store cupboard ingredients, eating leftovers for lunch and making ingredients go further.
“It was interesting to find out by how much we could reduce our bill,” says Tom. “Being able to cut our weekly spend by 50% gave us a great sense of achievement.”
Dietitian Azmina Govindji says:
"It's nice to see that Tom and Emma were still able to have gourmet weekend meals on their Eat4Cheap challenge. Using up leftovers really seems to have made a difference, as does cooking from scratch – it’s amazing how much you can save and how much further your ingredients go when you opt for home cooked meals over ready meals and eating out.
"Choosing frozen veg over fresh helped them to enjoy vegetables at a lower price, without compromising on nutritional value. And it’s good that they discovered the beauty of pulses as a way to eat healthier meals on a budget."
With the demands of running a family of five, finding ways to save money on food was not high on Rachel Mostyn’s to-do list.
Between feeding three hungry little mouths, the school run, keeping on top of household chores and her freelance work, Rachel had enough on her plate.
But fully aware of the family’s costly food expenditure, she took on the NHS Choices Eat4Cheap challenge thinking she had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The week-long Eat4Cheap challenge aims to show that eating healthily doesn’t have to cost more – in fact you can save money.
From an average weekly food and drink spend of £200, which included some eating out, Rachel managed to cut spending by £100 while still eating a healthy balanced diet and plenty of fruit and veg.
It was a family effort, with the kids – Amelia, six, Leila, five and Joseph, three – all getting stuck in to bake homemade treats that would normally have been bought.
"I realised that I was putting too much pressure on myself to create these culinary feasts for the kids when a simpler meal is enough."
“I got the children on board by making it fun for them,” says Rachel, from Bristol. “They love baking so we made brownies together one day and pizzas on another.”
She saved money by reducing their consumption of meat and fish, eating leftovers for lunch, cooking in bulk, making treats at home instead of eating out and kicking her daily coffee shop latte habit.
“The challenge was a real eye-opener,” says Rachel. “I know we spend a lot of money on food and I felt there were areas where we could make obvious savings."
One of the challenges for Rachel was to get the children to try different types of food. “Amelia and Leila have hot meals at school,” says Rachel. “But I tend to prepare another elaborate meal for their dinner.
“During the challenge, I really went back to basics in the evening with things like scrambled eggs, homemade soups and sandwiches with leftover chicken.
“I realised that I was putting too much pressure on myself to create these culinary feasts for the kids when a simpler meal is enough.”
For lunch her youngest, Joseph, would have the leftovers from Rachel and husband Toby’s dinner on the previous evening.
Gone were the usual after-school snacks such as cereal bars, mini cheddars and yoghurt raisins, replaced by fruit, carrot sticks and crackers.
“We always have a large fruit bowl in the kitchen full of fruit so the kids are used to eating fruit. So I’m fairly confident they were already getting their 5 A DAY.”
Less popular among the brood was the lentil and spinach dhal. “They didn’t like it at all,” says Rachel. “The girls were like: ‘Where’s our normal food gone?’”
The homemade pizzas however were a resounding success. “I bought some freshly prepared pizza dough from the bakery and the kids spread on the toppings, such as olives, sweetcorn and peppers.
“Cooking with the kids is fun and teaches them a valuable skill. Making homemade pizzas instead of buying them saved us around a fiver.”
Rachel didn’t make any big changes to her shopping habits. “I tend to do a big supermarket shop once a month and buy fresh ingredients from the high street during the week.
“However I was more stringent about buying value brands and selecting cheaper alternatives such as canned tuna chunks instead of tuna steak.”
Feeding a family of five requires military-style planning. “I normally sit down on Sunday to plan our meals for the week, but for the challenge I included the weekend as well,” says Rachel.
“I did an inventory of food we already had in and realised we had quite a lot in the freezer and store cupboard so I made sure I included as much of it as I could in our meal plan,” she says.
Instead of eating out on the weekend, Rachel prepared a carrot and coriander soup, which the family had for lunch with some fresh bread on Saturday and Sunday.
Rachel's Eat4Cheap tips:
“I also stopped having my daily coffee shop latte,” Rachel says. “You get into buying habits that can end up being quite a drain on your expenses, which you can really do without.”
With meat and fish being among the most expensive items on their shopping bill, Rachel opted to base more of her meals on vegetables and starchy carbohydrates, as recommended for a healthy balanced diet, shown in the eatwell plate.
Instead of the customary minced beef lasagne Rachel made a veggie version, which was much cheaper, lower in fat and got the thumbs up from the kids.
Other cheap eats Rachel prepared during the Eat4Cheap challenge:
Rachel is continuing with many of the money-saving tips that helped her slash £100 from her weekly shop, such as the weekend soup batch, now called the “Big Soup”.
“Joseph and I still have leftovers for lunch and the girls continue to have smaller meals in the evening on weekdays,” she says.
“I try as much as possible to cook in bulk so if I’m cooking a bolognese sauce, I’ll make enough so that I can freeze a portion or two.”
Dietitian Azmina Govindji says:
"Rachel has demonstrated that you can benefit from the Eat4Cheap challege even if you have a busy life. Teaching children to cook at a young age can help them to engage with family meals, and hopefully they will eat better as they’re more likely to want to taste their culinary creation.
"Buying value brands can allow you to eat the same basic foods at a lower price. And purchasing that daily coffee can really mount up to a hefty bill, so Rachel was smart to cut down on her shop-bought lattes. Cooking in bulk and freezing for another day makes good sense all round."
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