I thought I would write this post as I have been thinking lately about all the ways available to us to maintain a good diet whilst on a budget. As those who follow me will know I have returned back to university to study Nutrition. Therefore, even though I am learning the importance of eating healthy, I am also practicing it on a very tight budget.
An added expense is the fact that I also need to eat gluten free for health reasons. Just to make this clear, I do not purchase much packaged gluten free foods on the supermarket shelves, the extent of my packaged foods come in the form of an Amy’s Kitchen organic lentil soup tin or gluten free oats. So I as much as anyone am feeling the expense of eating a healthy diet. Thankfully for the majority of the population unless diagnosed with coeliac disease or non – coeliac gluten sensitivity and advised otherwise, don’t need to avoid gluten. Therefore you will have the advantage of being able to buy gluten containing products and there will be no need to spend £2 on a bag of oats, yay for you!
So here are my top tips that I have learnt to eat a healthy & balanced diet on a budget..
1. Limit eating out.
Eating out can get seriously expensive. I tend to use eating out as a way of celebration or as a treat when I’m meeting an old friend or a family member comes to visit. To eat out for the sake of just not wanting to do the washing up that night, doesn’t really cut it on a tight budget and you may find yourself strapped for cash by the end of the month.
2. Prepare meals from fresh.
This is a big one when it comes to generally eating healthier. Prepare the majority of your food from fresh. I know that this can seem exhausting and time consuming especially if you particularly don’t have a love for cooking but I promise you is so worth it. Also, fruits and veggies aren’t as expensive as you may think, when bought as ingredients to make a dish, they are just as much as buying the packaged version of the food. You just need to try and practice and cooking from fresh, it may be hard at first but once it becomes a daily habit you will wonder why you didn’t start earlier.
3. Limit perfectionism.
Having said that, the idea that you need to ALWAYS be on track with your healthy eating plan is rubbish. Give yourself time and space to enjoy life and being creative. This does not mean that every meal has to be 100 % balanced and to perfection. If you have an extremely busy day the day before, give yourself a break and grab a sandwich the next day. Running low on money at the end of the month? Go easy on yourself and prepare a cheaper, less nutritious option for a couple of nights, then start again once you have your funds back on track. Many people give up when they feel like they can’t maintain perfectionism in their healthy eating, why do you think people constantly fall off the bandwagon when it comes to diets? Just give yourself a break, please??
4. Plan your meals.
This is a MUST, especially when it comes to eating fresh. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to make a list down to the last bite every week but having a general idea of what you are going to have for each meal is the ideal way to keep your health up and your budget down. For example, buying a bunch of sweet potatoes for fries or wedges, and pairing them with a cod fillet or buying chicken breasts aiming to make a fresh curry on night that week. This way you will have a general idea of your meal plan and it won’t be as daunting when you get home from work and are trying to plan what to eat that night.
If you are new to this process though, you may benefit from writing down a meal plan for the first month or so, just to get into the habit and process of this way of eating and cooking. Having ready prepared lists for lunches are just as essential, to know what your putting in your lunch box the night before the next work day is a great way to ensure it actually happens.
5. Make big batches.
Food can be so versatile when you know how. Making big batches of food for tea and incorporating it into tomorrow’s dinner will save time, money and effort. Also making big batches of food the night before and using it to create another dish the next night is an ideal way of limiting food waste and making cooking quicker and easier the next night. I also make big batches when it comes to breakfast foods. My homemade granola takes about 10 minutes to prepare and 30 mins to cook on a Sunday, then lasts me all week or longer. It also tastes so much more fresh and has a much lower sugar content that supermarket bought.
6. Buy in bulk.
Buying staple foods when they are on offer or having a cupboard with ‘base’ items in such as rice, pasta, quinoa, oats and chickpeas, will allow you to easily and cheaply incorporate them into meals. You can also get store branded versions of these items which can be half the price. I always buy store branded coconut oil which is so much cheaper & I also use it as a moisturiser and for hair repair which saves on the toiletries budget.
When it comes to additional health foods, I also buy powders, such as raw cocoa powder and baobab powder when they are half price and store them in a separate kitchen space, my baobab powder has lasted me 4 months so far and its still going strong. With foods like this you don’t need a lot of the ingredient, therefore they are a perfect health addition to meals and baking.
Herbs & spices are also great items to buy in bulk. I get mine mostly from the world foods isle and they last so long, I actually cannot remember the last time I bought them. Amazon are also a great place to buy foods in bulk if you cannot access them in your local supermarket.
7. Always be on the look out for offers.
Last week I got avocados in Tesco for 50p each and these are known to be an expensive food item. I bought a few and had half an avocado a day, for the nutritional benefits, that 1.50£ was well worth it. Also look out for offers of reduced items that day, even if they have a sell by date of that night, eat them for tea. Have a freshly made curry when back from your food shop and use chicken that is going to be off the next day, chicken is expensive so your bound to have saved a little money. Also look out for veggies which are known as ‘ugly veg’. They are perfectly good vegetables but just a bit miss shapen. However, don’t judge the book buy its cover, they are just as nutrient dense and delicious as the other, more well formed veggies. They are also half the price!!
8. Buy frozen fruits and veggies.
Buying frozen fruit means you don’t run the risk of the fruit going off before you have a chance to eat it, reducing food waste and saving money, same with veggies. I often buy a frozen pack of mixed berries or sliced mangos to put into a smoothie, or a bag of mixed veg to pair with a salmon fillet for an easy tea. They also last quite a while so you don’t have to buy them every week.
9. Add cheap veggies to make a meal more nutritious.
Having a bowl of pasta with tomato sauce? Try frying some sliced courgette, pepper, can of chickpeas and chopped onion and garlic. For the addition of £1/2 extra you have a whole load of nutritious benefits.
10. Make it your priority.
Everyone only has time for what they consider to be a priority in their busy lives. If you put yours and your families health in the top priority category you will find the time to think more about what is going into each meal. The more practice you can get at cooking from fresh and shopping cheaper, the more easily it will become a habit and more the enjoyable it will become.
Have you got any other ideas on how to eat fresh on a tight budget? Let me know if the comments below.