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Nutrition on a budget

Posted 31 January 2016

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Making sure that you and your family get the nutrition they need doesn’t have to cost the earth. We’ll take you through what you should be eating and how to get it for less.

In order to benefit from a really healthy diet you need to make sure that you’re getting something from each of the five food/nutritional groups. Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? But what if you’re strapped for cash at the moment? You might be thinking that the best foods will cost the most money, and will, therefore, be beyond your budget. 

Well contrary to what some people think, it’s definitely possible to get all the nutrition you need, even if you don’t have a lot of free cash. To make sure that you know how to shop healthily and economically, take a look at our guide to nutrition on a budget. 

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The Eatwell Plate

We’ve used the Government’s eatwell plate as a guide to show you the different types of food that should be in your diet, how much you should eat of them, and the health benefits associated with each one. 

Points to bear in mind

The eatwell plate shows you what a healthy diet should look like over time, it doesn’t show you what necessarily needs to be included in every meal or what is needed for babies under the age of two. 

It’s designed to show what a healthy diet looks like for most people, however if you have a medical condition that means you have special dietary requirements, or you’re pregnant, you might need to check with your GP to make sure that the eatwell plate is suitable for you. 

In terms of vitamins, most people get all they need from a healthy balanced diet, however there are some individuals that may need to take supplements. Do I need to take supplements from the NHS should help, but if you’re in any doubt, consult your doctor. 

The food groups

So without further ado, let’s explore the food groups that combine to create a top-notch diet and how you can shop for them without breaking the bank!


Milk and diary


What it’s good for:

Milk and dairy products, like yoghurt and cheese, are excellent sources of calcium which help to build strong healthy bones. This group should account for around 15% of what you eat. Or in other words, you should aim to have some milk and dairy in your diet, but not as much as the fruits, veggies and starchy food you eat. 

Budget ideas:

Not many people would think to do this, but if you find that you don’t use all the milk you buy before it goes off, why not try freezing it as it approaches its use by date? Just remember that it will expand when frozen so leave some extra room in the container!

Try switching which cheese you buy depending on what’s on offer so you can always benefit from the money saving opportunity.  Here’s a handy cheese flavour map, so you know what flavour you’re buying into. It’s also cheaper to buy a block of cheese and grate it yourself, rather than the pre-grated options. 

If you’re a big yoghurt fan, consider going for the plain variety which is cheaper. You can then flavour it yourself with fruit of your choice so you’re hitting another food group at the same time. Win, win! Or what about making it yourself? Click here for a simple to follow recipe.


Fruit and vegetables


What it’s good for: 

The health benefits of fruit and veg really are many, as they are low in fat and high in vitamins and minerals. 

This food group is associated with strong immune systems and healthy blood pressure, as well as a reduced risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. They’re also essential for the overall health and maintenance of the body. Due to this, it’s recommended that this group makes up a significant part of your total diet – around 33%. 

Budget ideas:

In general, it’s cheaper to buy your veg frozen rather than fresh and it’s cheaper still to buy it canned. You’re also safe guarding against waste, as you won’t have to throw away what you don‘t eat there and then, and you can cut down on the number of times you have to visit the shops. Your money will also go further if you buy whole heads of lettuce and broccoli rather than the pre-chopped and bagged varieties, which can degrade quickly once opened. 

You may have noticed that fruits and vegetables seem to change in price depending on the season. Not everything grows all year round, so try buying in season and see whether you notice the difference in your pocket. Here’s a very helpful guide from mumsnet showing you how to shop seasonally, month by month.

If you like your veggies fresh try to shop towards the end of the day when produce can be marked down, this especially applies to farmers markets. 



Starchy foods (bread, rice, potatoes and pasta)


What it’s good for:

So just like the fruit and veg, it’s recommended that starchy foods make up around a third of your total diet. This group can give you fibre for normal bowel function, energy, as well the iron you need in your blood. It’s even better if you can buy wholegrain or high fibre versions which will have more vitamins and minerals in than others. 

Budget ideas:

Uncooked pasta and rice normally has a shelf life of a few years, if stored correctly in a cool, dry place. If pasta and rice are items that you buy regularly and use for a number of meals, you’ll probably be better off if you buy in bulk as they keep for so long – so watch out for mega-packs that can save you money per 100g. 

Potatoes are a great, cheap way to get starch in your diet, but you need to make sure that you store them correctly so that you get your money’s worth. Keep them in a cool, dry, dark place ideally between 5C-8C. If you keep them in a paper or hessian sack this will allow the moisture to escape and the dark will stop any sprouting – correct storage can double their lifespan!


Meat, fish, eggs and beans


What it’s good for:

Meat, fish, eggs and beans are great for protein, which promotes healthy bones and muscles, and zinc, which promotes normal skin, hair nails and immune systems. Oily fish is particularly good for healthy bones, muscles and heart function. According to the Government, you should aim for some of this group in your diet, but not too much, around 12% should be enough. 

Budget ideas:

In general beans and pulses are a cheaper way of getting protein than meat – for example, according to mysupermarket you’re able to get a can of chickpeas from around 39p. You could try replacing the meat in one of the meals you make for the family with beans or pulses for a cheaper, nutritious option. Of course, if you’re a vegetarian, then this source of protein becomes even more important. 

If you love your meat, consider switching to cheaper cuts, for instance choosing beef skirt instead of beef fillet, or switching from chicken breast to chicken legs. If you make sandwiches every day, it’s cheaper and healthier to buy whole cuts of meat rather than the processed, pre-sliced versions. 

Examples of oily fish are salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines. Now, the cost of these fish varies massively depending on where you buy, what brand you buy and how much you buy, but, generally speaking, sardines are the cheaper option. 

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding check here for the guidelines on eating fish


Foods high in fat/sugar


What they’re good for:

Foods that are high in fats and refined sugar can form part of a healthy diet – your body uses the fat for energy - you just have to monitor the amount you’re eating. As you can see from the eatwell plate, this is the group that you should eat the least of. 

Budget ideas:

There are always buy one get one free deals with sweets and chocolates, and you may be able to save some money by buying more own store brands, instead of branded stuff. However, the general consensus is that we, on average, seem to be eating more than we should of this group. So, it might be worth seeing whether you could help your budget by eliminating some of the very fatty and sugary things you buy altogether. This might be easier said than done of course, especially if you’ve got children and they like to snack. Have a look at this NHS page, it’ll give you some ideas for healthy alternatives that might go down well with the little ones. 

General tips to remember

Here are some general tips to keep in mind if you want to see your money go further when it comes to the food shop:

• Use mysupermarket to compare stores and find the cheapest deal on what you want.

• Try to plan your shopping trip for later on in the evening when many items are marked down in price.

• Try and use your freezer more so you can limit waste and capitalise on offers.

• Buy items with a long-shelf life in bulk.

• Try to cut down on ready-made meals as it’s usually possible to make your money go further by making a big batch of stew or curry and then freezing what you don’t eat. It’s normally healthier too, as you can control the amount of salt and sugar you use.

• Get to grips with some easy recipes that incorporate your healthy food items, so you make sure you’re using what you buy. Good Food from the BBC, is a great place to start.

• Consider buying own brands instead of name branded items.

So, we hope you agree that even when you’re on a tight budget, there are always ways to stay healthy and in the black. If you’ve used any of these tips or you’ve got some of your own, get in touch on Facebook and let us know. Happy eating!


by Christine Walsh

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