Healthy eating on a tight budget


Some of the healthiest foods can be the most inexpensive. Nutritional Therapist Karen Geary explores the options for cheap protein and veg.

A 500g pack of dried red lentils
is less than £1.50 – enough for an 8-12 person portion of lentil dahl

As the inflation squeeze on budgets becomes more widespread, it is hard not to notice the rising cost of the household food shopping bill. Healthy eating is not all chia seeds and turmeric lattes.
With that in mind I’ve taken a run through of highly nutritious foods that won’t break the bank.

400g canned beans in water are under £1
a can.

Beans and legumes

These are some of the most under-rated foods we can buy. High in fibre, B vitamins and minerals, they are an excellent source of protein; great if you are trying to reduce your consumption of meat, and when paired with grains like rice they become a ‘complete’ source of protein. If you follow the diets of the Blue Zones, you will already know that beans are the cornerstone of their longevity diets. 100g cooked portion of beans or legumes contains between 9g and 16g of protein, depending upon your choice. There is also some evidence that beans may support healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels, as well as healthy gut function.

A 500g pack of dried red lentils is less than £1.50 – enough for an 8-12 portion lentil curry.
Most ready-to-serve 400g canned beans in water are under £1 a can, and may come up cheaper in multi-packs. Cannellini (white) beans make for a great base for soups when blended with stock, and the possibilities are endless for bean chillis and salads.

And don’t forget frozen edamame beans – they are not just an alternative to peas. They pack
a whopping 13g of protein per 100g and are therefore a great cheap replacement for animal protein and are extremely filling.

Beans and legumes are high in fibre, B vitamins and minerals, they are an excellent source of protein; and when paired with grains like rice they become a ‘complete’ source of protein

Avoiding flatulence!

Some people suffer with wind and bloating when they eat beans and lentils. It is best to increase your intake gradually, starting with 1⁄4 cup at a time and working up. If you are using ready-cooked legumes/lentils, always rinse and drain before eating. Try adding cumin, fennel, ginger or turmeric to meals as they can aid digestion.

If you are using dried beans or lentils, always, always soak them overnight especially red kidney beans, which contain a toxic lectin which is poisonous. Soaking also helps to neutralise a compound called phytic acid, an anti-nutrient which can reduce the absorption of minerals. Soaking may also help to reduce bloating.

Fruit and vegetables

Frozen fruits and veg are just as healthy, if not healthier than fresh, as they are frozen immediately upon picking, retaining key nutrients. Frozen berries can be up to 40% cheaper than fresh – and they are an easy addition to breakfast time with yogurt, smoothies or even added to pancake batter.

Frozen veg is a family staple and can be found from around £1 for a mixed bag – excellent in stir fries and casseroles.

Wonky veg or ‘not quite perfect’, as the supermarkets call them, are cheaper, as is buying what is left at the end of the day – sometimes it is fun to try something different and the diversity is good for us. Farmers markets can also be cheaper than the supermarket.

How to use leftovers

What can you do with left over veg? Pulverise it all together in a food processor and store in a small snack bag or an ice cube tray. Add a few cubes to thicken sauces in casseroles, or add one spoon to a smoothie – an excellent way of using left-overs while getting extra nutrients in.

Buy from the farm

We are so lucky in Dorset to have farms on our doorstep who sell directly to the public; often far cheaper than the supermarket. Not every farm has a shop but sometimes will sell to you directly.

Make your own ‘milk’.

Last time I looked, some plant milks are twice the price of dairy, and are far less nutritious. But some people cannot or prefer not to eat dairy. It is rare to find shop-bought plant milk without additives. 250g of hemp seeds is around £2 – roughly the price of a carton of the higher end plant milks, yet will yield four times as much milk if you have a blender and are prepared to invest £6 in a nut milk bag. Add a date and pinch of salt and it is better than your shop bought version (recipe here).

Recipes featured in images:

Lentil Dahl

Pesto, bean & tuna jackets

Aubergine & Chickpea Curry

NB Price comparisons used are from Ocado & Amazon, Feb ‘22

by Karen Geary


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