February 17, 2023

Ways to eat a nutritious diet on a budget

As I have aged, I have become even more aware of the nutrition in my food.  Being well is being frugal and brings more joy in to my life.  Providing our food is not just about calories to give us energy, or foods to keep our bellies full and the hunger pains at bay, it is also about trying to get enough nutrition to keep us healthy, to boost our immune system and help us feel our best.  I was lucky as I was born in a time when nutrition was taught at school and there was not as much choice of convenience or processed foods, snacks and sweets. We were therefore more likely to eat a fairly nutritious meal regularly.  Processed foods contain a lot of salt and additives that are not always beneficial to health and so I try to keep my food as natural as possible. Our school meals at primary school were awesome and I still remember some of my favourites and try to make them sometimes. By the time I went to high school it was all hotdogs and pizza. These things are cheap and easy and it can be tempting to put them on the table. We love pizza and still eat it, however, on their own they are not providing a nutritious diet.  We always make sure that we have a good salad with it.  I can hear people shouting out that salad costs a lot but we grow our own and I have learned to make salads out of ingredients in the fridge like cabbage and carrots and add things like defrosted frozen peas and sweetcorn. It is still possible to eat a healthy diet on a low budget, but it might mean tweaking some habits, or introducing new foods as I have been trying to do recently. Here are some ways that I add nutrition to my meals, despite having a very low food budget.

  • Grow a garden or even things on your window sills. A variety of fruit and vegetables are important to a healthy diet but can be so expensive in the shops.  I have a hedge around my garden that is currant bushes and raspberries.  I also have some fruit trees in giant tubs and rhubarb in the ground.  Strawberries are easy to grow as well and can be put in hanging baskets and will give free plants the next year.  We harvest  fruit during the summer but also freeze them to give us nutrition during the winter. My tomatoes provide me with pasta sauce all winter.  If you only have window ledges you can grow cress, lettuce, rocket, radishes etc or sprout seeds to add fresh nutrition.
  • Buy fruit, vegetable and meat when in season and preserve or freeze. They are a lot cheaper when in season.  I always get a couple of red cabbages at Christmas when they are 19p each and we pickle them to add nutrition to our salads from January until the garden is producing again in May.  We also freeze carrots and other vegetables that are on offer or in season.
  • Check out food pantries and Olio for free or cheap food to pad out your meals so that you can spend your money on healthy products. We often use a waste food project in February and March when our fresh food supply is low and I get M & S wholemeal or sourdough bread for 20p, and vegetables for little money.
  • Use frozen vegetables and fruit. It is important to eat 7 different portions of fruit and vegetables a day. This can get very expensive but frozen vegetables have just as much nutrition in them as fresh.
  • Use tinned products. These can often be found in food pantries if you need to use one, and still provide a lot of nutrition.  Cans can also be cheaper than fresh food. I often buy tinned beans as they are quicker than using dried beans but I prefer to use tinned fruit and vegetables that do not have a lot of salt and sugar in.
  • Plan your meals. I make a meal plan every week.  I do not have specific days for the meals but by planning I can make sure that our meals are balanced and that I am incorporating enough nutrition and fruit and vegetables.  It helps me save money by planning my meals from what I have already in the cupboards and then I can just buy what we actually need and I will make a list and try to stick to it.  I plan 3 smoothies a week into our breakfasts to ensure that we are getting plenty of berries with antioxidants during the winter.  The berries are from my hedges in the garden and have been frozen. It also helps me keep an eye on the amount of protein that we are eating.
  • Cook from scratch so that you know what is in the food and you can tailor it to the members of your family. My daughter did not like onion and so I would hide garlic instead.  She would not eat vegetables when she was small and so I would grate carrot into bolognaise so that she did not see it and use water that vegetables had been cooked in to make gravy. I would also blend things in to soups and stews. Later she would not eat anything grown in the garden and so my friend gave me some brand frozen veg bags and I would freeze my homegrown vegetables in those.
  • Batch cook things like stews and soups and main meals. It is cheaper as you can stretch ingredients and spend less on energy cooking them. It is also more convenient as you can use them when you are rushed and don’t have time to cook. When I am baby sitting or know I have a busy day I will take them out of the freezer the night before or keep them in the fridge.  You are less likely to buy a take away or a ready meal if you have something on hand that is quick to warm up.  Slow cookers are a cheap way of batch cooking and can provide a hot meal after a busy day..
  • Waste no goodness. I use stalks of broccoli cut thinly in stews and stir fry, use old vegetables in soup, yoghurt in flat bread etc.  There are so many ways to use up left overs and the bits left in the bottom of the fridge (what I call fridge gravel) that people often throw away.
  • Buy whole foods eg oats, wholemeal pasta and grains. They are slightly more expensive but keep you fuller for longer and provide more new nutrition.  Studies show that they reduce your chance of being diabetic or from suffering from heart disease.
  • Add seeds to baking and bread and breakfasts. I even use nettle seeds.  All seeds are full of fibre and are a great source of vitamins and minerals.  I add them to flapjack, add to porridge, or sprinkle on top of yoghurt and fruit.
  • Stock up when things are on offer, reduced or in sales. Every Christmas and Easter we buy a whole salmon and fillet it ourselves and freeze it so that we can afford to eat salmon regularly.
  • Buy cheaper cuts of fish and meat, or whole poultry and divide it yourself. It isn’t as cheap as it used to be but you can some times find things like mackerel quite cheaply or some cuts of beef or offal.
  • Miss out the meat and make more vegetarian or vegan meals using other sources of protein. These can include plant protein like chick peas, lentils, eggs, cheese etc.
  • Buy in bulk. I buy dried beans and spices from the world food aisle, and there are lots of bargains on the internet.
  • Take your own food to school, work or on days out so that you know that what you are eating is balanced and full of nutrition and family members are not grabbing unhealthy snacks. It is often cheaper (unless you get a free meal) and you know what to make for the other meal to balance your diet.
  • Eat slower and with intention. We always sit at the table now and not watching telly as we used to.  Studies have shown that people that eat fast and whilst occupied are more likely to be overweight and eat more.  If you eat slower, you are more likely to realise that you are full and not grab some unhealthy snacks afterwards.
  • Eat Greek yoghurt as it is a cheap source of high protein. We often eat it with some fruit and granola for breakfast, or with compote, waffles and pancakes (which are not so good for you).  We make our own Greek style yoghurt quite cheaply.
  • Ensure that you are eating plenty of protein as it is needed to help with keeping muscles healthy but also helps with a hormone that regulates your calorie intake. I ensure that I eat things like homemade peanut butter (nuts and oil), eggs, beans, nuts, lean meat and fish (or tinned fish) and dairy products.
  • Take supplements if you feel that your diet is lacking. These can be found cheaply at discount stores.
  • Avoid ready meals, diet food and convenience food as much as possible. An odd fish finger or chicken goujon will not hurt but try to limit these to a treat once a week rather than for most meals.
  • If you want to snack eat popcorn. It is a whole grain and is full of fibre.  I pop my own as a lot of shop bought varieties are full of fat and sugar.  I do make a caramel pop corn sometimes but usually I just mix it with a small amount of icing sugar or with salt and spices.
  • Choose healthy oils. If possible use coconut oil, olive oil or avocado oil rather then sunflower and vegetable oils as the latter are highly processed and have been linked to health conditions.
  • Drink lots of water as it fills you but is also needed by our bodies for good health. We have started putting a jug on to the table with a meal to remind us to drink more.
  • Cook food wisely. I use my slow cooker a lot or my air fryer.  If you eat a lot of fried food, it is not good for your health.  We still eat chips but air fry sliced potatoes with no oil.
  • Forage and preserve. Learning to forage has made the biggest difference to our diet.  Even if you only forage for well known things like blackberries or apples it is adding nutrition to your food. Wild garlic pesto is enjoyed by us all year and we make foraged cordials, add leaves to salad, make rosehip syrup as a sweetener and collect as many berries, nuts and fruit as we can.  Nettles tops contain so much nutrition and can be used instead of spinach in meals. One day I also hope to add mushrooms to the list as I become more competent.
  • Spend lots of time outside to absorb as much vitamin D as you can. We eat a lot of fish like salmon, tuna and sardines which are also full of vitamin D.  A lot of plant milks, orange juices and dairy are also fortified with vitamin D.  Egg yolks also contain vitamin D.
  • Nuts are often sold cheaply after Christmas and I often buy lots of them and freeze them. Adding nuts to the diet is a good way of improving protein, fibre and healthy fats.
  • Visit markets at the end of the day.  Often stall holders will sell fruit and vegetables very cheaply so that they do not have to pack them up and take them home.  We have found this happens especially at 4pm on a Saturday at our market.
  • Make soup.  You can make soup with anything, including lettuce, would you believe?  It is a great way to use up bits from the fridge and the freezer and if you do a first course of soup for the evening meal it will provide nutrition but also mean that you can make a smaller main meal and so will save money.
  • Pad out your meals like chilli, bolognaise, meat pies, lasagne etc with vegetables and lentils as this adds nutrition to the meal and reduces the amount of meat that you need.
  • Changing diet, especially with children is hard, but if you can slowly incorporate some of these ideas in a frugal way ( a few at a time) to improve your diet, you and your family should enjoy improved health.  We continually try to improve our diet and each year try new ways to keep as nutrition as good as is possible with little money.  How do you increase the nutrition in your meals?

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  1. Julie Barton February 17, 2023 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    Brilliant ideas thank you so much will definitely be taking these on board.

    • ToniG February 18, 2023 at 7:05 am - Reply

      Thanks for commenting. I hope they help

  2. claire1965.meadow@gmail.co.uk February 17, 2023 at 8:19 pm - Reply

    Excellent info.so great to share what works.simple ideas ,easy to implement. Didn’t know that about vegetable sunflower oils. Thank you for this.

    • ToniG February 18, 2023 at 7:04 am - Reply

      Thank you for commenting. I tend to use all oils sparingly and will often start to fry things like onions and peppers in a little oil for a meal and then add a splash of water to finish the cooking to make it healthier

  3. Jeangenie February 18, 2023 at 11:18 am - Reply

    Thank you for tips .. one I shall take on board is the frozen peas and sweetcorn .. never thought of just defrosting and eating without cooking .. thank you

    • ToniG February 18, 2023 at 11:32 am - Reply

      No worries. They are great for adding some colour to salad and bulking it out if you do not have much

  4. Susan Bennett February 23, 2023 at 6:05 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing your tips and ideas.
    Timetable make a few more changes I think

    • ToniG February 23, 2023 at 12:42 pm - Reply

      No worries. Thanks for commenting

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