Experts - The Health Network


Healthy eating on a budget

It can be a challenge to eat healthily on a budget if you do not havemuch time, do not know too much about which foods are nutritious and cheap, where to buy them and how to cook them.

Knowledge is power. To find out more about healthy eating you can orderfree information leaflets from Health First or from other reputable sources. The BritishHeart Foundation has good information including information aboutlabelling which will help your clients to make the right choices.

Advising your clients to take the following small steps could makea big overall difference to their health without reducing the moneyin their pockets.

First, find out what healthy eating means

For most people, eating healthily means:

  • Eating roughly one third of our food in the form of starchy foods such as bread, cereals, potatoes and yams. Bread and cereals should preferably be wholemeal, wholegrain or high fibre versions
  • Eating 5 or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day. A portion is roughly a handful
  • Eating milk and dairy products in moderate amounts and preferably lower fat versions
  • Eating moderate amounts of protein foods (meat, fish and alternatives such as eggs, nuts, beans and pulses)
  • Eating/drinking fat and sugar containing foods and drinks sparingly.

Know your local shops and markets and buy cheaply

This is where a bit of planning might be needed and getting to knowyour local area better will really pay off. The key is to find sourcesof cheap but good food as close to the route you take from home to workor school as possible.

City street markets are obviously a goodstart. These local markets are often in central locations. Stockingup on fruit and vegetables whenever you pass by them is a good ideaas they are usually cheaper than supermarkets.

Buy seasonally. You can tell what is in season usually by price. Buyingstrawberries in the winter is always going to more expensive. If you'reaware of what is in season you will get it cheaper and it usually tastesbetter too!

Tinned, dried and frozen food

While dried fruit can be expensive in supermarkets, it is often cheaperin shops which sell ethnic foods. In supermarkets, do not forget frozenvegetables and fruit. Frozen vegetables are still full of nutrientsas long as you do not overcook them. They might be a bit more expensivethan fresh vegetables but they are less likely to be wasted. Tinnedvegetables and fruit can be quite cheap but try to get fruit in juicerather than syrup or vegetables with no added salt.

Tinned fish and meat can also be very nutritious. Oily fish such astinned salmon or sardines contains healthy oils. Some tinned meats canbe low fat and high in iron but it is important to check their labelsas fat content can vary from product to product.

You can now buy a variety of quite cheap tinned vegetables as wellas lots of different types of beans. These are are very healthy andcan be added to stews and sauces. If you have time to prepare them youcan buy dried beans and pulses which are even cheaper. Tinned tomatoesare a cheap and a great store cupboard item and lentils are filling,nutritious, cook quickly and can be added to most dishes.

Buy starchy foods in bulk

A healthy diet should include starchy foods for fibre and vitamins.Rice, pasta and bread are quite cheap and filling and can be very healthyespecially if they are wholegrain. They are also often available onspecial offer. If you have a freezer you can freeze bread and use itwhen you need it.

Look for offers on fresh meat and fish...

... but remember other cheaper forms of protein can be equally nutritiousFresh meat and fish can be the most expensive items in our shoppingbasket. However it is worth remembering that a healthy diet does notneed to include large amounts of meat. In fact most of us would benefitfrom eating slightly less and replacing it with more vegetables. Wecan also get protein from eggs, beans and pulses, low fat dairy foodsand from tinned fish. Some of the cheapest fish around is actually verynutritious. Tinned fish like mackerel and sardines are full of oilswhich are good for our hearts and brains.

Look for offers on cereal or make up your own

Cereals are often on offer. Try to avoid the sugary ones. Making upyour own is cheaper and can be fun. A few cornflakes, a few oats (whichare very cheap), a few raisins, a banana, sunflower seeds...

Buy healthier cooking oils

Changing the type of fat you cook with is a way of making your diethealthier. Most people need to cut down on saturated fats such as butter,lard, ghee, coconut and palm oil and the fats hidden in cakes, biscuitsand pastry and meat. Switching to oils will benefit your health. Someare healthier than others. Olive oil is rich in 'good' oils but is expensiveso a very good but cheap alternative is rapeseed oil. You can now buyrapeseed oil in most supermarkets. Vegetable oils are also healthierthan saturated fats. Remember though that you need to keep the fat downgenerally in your diet if you are trying to lose weight as it is highin calories.

If you have a freezer, use it

If you have a big enough freezer, you can try to cook all your leftover vegetables in stews or soups and freeze it. This can be very handyfor when you do not have time to cook later. You can also freeze softfruits like berries and even bananas (peeled of course!) so you canmake smoothies or have them with yoghurt.

Avoid expensive take-aways and ready-meals

Convenience meals can be expensive and have high amounts of fat, sugaror salt. This is usually to compensate for ingredients which are notso fresh. These meals can eat into your budget and are not as nutritiousas foods which have been freshly canned or frozen or are fresh.

If you want to get take-outs some are healthier than others. Chickenshish kebabs with lots of salad are very healthy, baked potatoes andsandwiches (skip too much mayonnaise!) are usually good options andquite cheap. Anything deep fried, in pastry or in creamy or cheesy saucesare the least healthy so try to avoid these and opt for tomato basedsauces, stews and grilled meat and fish instead.

Look at labels

Look at what you are getting for your money. If it contains lots ofsugar, salt and fat you are being short-changed!

Local projects

There may be projects in your local community which help you to buycheaper nutritious food or help you to cook more healthily. These are usually advertised locally.


Continue reading