In these economically challenging times a common complaint I hear is that healthy food is expensive to buy. I agree that certain foods can cost quite a lot, but there are lots of tricks you can use to save money when food shopping. I would argue that buying seemingly cheap foods such as £1 ready meals which are generally high in fat and salt can actually be more expensive than well planned homemade options. Check out these tips I use to buy healthy foods without breaking the bank, hopefully it might save you a few quid! 😀
1. Waste Not, Want Not!
I may sound like your granny but this is a really important point! In the UK we throw away roughly 7 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year, the majority of which is edible. This food waste equates to an estimated £12.5bn a year overall, or £60 per average household per month1.
To reduce food waste try to: avoid buying food that you don’t need, use leftovers for lunch the next day, use aging vegetables to make soup, share food shopping with housemates and take turns cooking meals, and freeze food (as outlined below).
Remember that food can be eaten past the “use by” date if it was frozen according to the instructions on the label. Also, food can be eaten after the “best before” date within reason, as this indicates food quality such as flavour, rather than food safety.
The best way of finding value for money is to read food prices per unit, so rather than buying a 500g bag of pasta for 60p, buying a 1kg bag for £1 will be cheaper overall (ie. £1.20 per kg vs. £1 per kg). Therefore buying staple foods such as cereals, pasta, rice in bulk is often the cheaper option. This also often applies to loose fruit and veg which can be cheaper per kg than packaged versions.
Supermarket price comparison websites such as mysupermarket.co.uk, or supermarket’s own websites can be useful to look up food prices per unit, especially if you tend to do your grocery shopping online.
3. Shop Around
It is a good idea to shop around to find the best deals available; in the UK there are a good variety of low cost supermarkets, shops and wholesalers to choose from. You can also find good deals in the “reduced to clear section” of supermarkets near the end of the day, but remember it’s only a deal if you needed it originally so be careful with promos!
Supermarket value range options are often just as nutritious and good quality as branded options, but as always it is important to read the label to choose the healthiest option! Check out this guide by the British Heart Foundation for reading food labels.
Buying locally and in season can also save you money, so it’s definitely worthwhile checking out your local butcher and fruit and vegetable shops!
4. Get Organised
Making a rough budget, avoiding shopping when hungry and planning your weekly meals, snacks and shopping lists are really good way of avoiding unnecessary impulse buys (which usually tend to be those tempting less healthy snacks!).
Also if you are organised with your meals you are less likely to rely on takeaways, NHS Choices reports that cutting back on takeaways can save individuals you up to £800 per year.2
There are plenty of cheap and healthy meal ideas to help with your meal planning, such as: http://www.nhs.uk/change4life/pages/meal-planner-recipe-finder.aspx
5. Cook in Batches
I am a massive fan of batch cooking, it’s not just super handy to have plenty of healthy meals on standby in the freezer, it means that you can buy ingredients in bulk which is cheaper. Batch cooking can also help with controlling portion sizes if you separate out individual portions before freezing.
To highlight how cost efficient cooking in batches is rather than buying convenience foods, I compared a spaghetti bolognaise ready meal to a homemade version based on BBC food’s recipe.
£1 Spaghetti Bolongaise Ready Meal
74p for 1 portion of Homemade Spaghetti Bolognaise (using lean mince, wholegrain pasta, carrots & onion)
6. Embrace Frozen and Canned Foods
LoveFoodHateWaste report that fruit and vegetables are the most common type of food waste in the UK, contributing to 27% of overall household food waste3.
Therefore opting for canned and frozen versions with a longer shelf life can be a great way of avoiding waste and saving money, and these versions are also generally cheaper than fresh foods to begin with. Frozen fruit and vegetables can also be more nutritious than fresh versions because the nutrients are locked in straightaway and are less likely to be lost during storage and transport4.
Pulses such as chickpeas and beans are often cheaper to buy in canned form, these foods are great to help bulk out meals, are a good source of protein and also contain soluble fibre which is great for your digestive system and can help to lower cholesterol levels.
It is recommended that we eat oily fish at least once per week due to the heart healthy effect of omega 3 fatty acids; however oily fish such as fresh salmon or fresh tuna can often be quite expensive. Frozen fillets of fish are often cheaper options than fresh versions and there are plenty of tinned fish which are good sources of omega 3, such as: anchovies, sardines, mackerel and salmon (note: only fresh tuna counts as a source of omega 3, however tinned tuna is still a healthy type of protein to include in your diet).
However, it is important to check the labels of frozen and canned foods to choose options with no added salt or sugar.
7. Ice, Ice Baby…
You freezer doesn’t need to be limited to just pre-frozen foods; you can freeze most foods to preserve them for longer and reduce food waste! For food safety advice on freezing check out: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/homehygiene/Pages/how-to-store-food-safely.aspx.
It physically upsets me to waste food, so I always freeze my bread so I never have to throw any out, or if I see a good deal on fish I stock up my trolley then freeze it when I get home. As mentioned above freezing meals you have prepared in bulk is a great way to have lots of homemade healthy meals ready to go!
8. Give Veggie Options a Go!
Although meat has lots of important nutrients (such as: protein, iron, B12 and zinc), in the western world most people eat more meat than is recommended for a healthy balanced diet. Meat is also generally more expensive than vegetarian alternatives such as meat substitutes, beans, lentils and tofu. So trying to replace some meat dishes with vegetarian options, or simply reducing the amount of meat in a dish by bulking it out with more vegetables and beans or lentils is usually more cost effective, can add more fibre to a meal, can lower the saturated fat and calorie content of a meal and is better for the environment, what’s not to like! Some people like to aim for a vegetarian meal once per week as promoted by the “Meat Free Monday” campaign.
9. Control Portion Sizes
Regularly eating more than is needed not only leads to weight gain but is a waste of money, so it is important to learn what an appropriate portion size is. Many labels indicate how many portions the product contains or what weight of the food is deemed to be one portion, but I find it easiest to use handy portion guides such as those outlined in this chart. Previous tips such as planning meals, freezing food and taking left overs for lunch can all help with portion control as well.
10. Organic Isn’t Always Best
Organic options are usually substantially more expensive than non-organic foods; however the evidence base indicates that there is no real difference between these two options in terms of: nutritional value, food safety or taste. From an environmental point of view, foods labelled as organic can be better for soil conservation and maintaining local habitats, however on a larger scale organic foods can actually be more harmful in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and land used for production5.
If you are interested in reading about organic foods in more detail check out this interesting blog post by FoodandNonsense.com