Healthy eating on a tight budget

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Another season feeling the pinch at the check-out?Expert Karen Geary shares some smart strategies for eating well and wasting less

Maintaining a nutritious diet often conjures images of expensive organic produce and speciality health foods. Many believe that eating healthily on a tight budget is simply not possible.
However, with a little planning and creativity, it is entirely possible to eat well without breaking the bank!
Make use of tech
Check out apps such as Too Good to Go and Olio. Too Good to Go is where supermarkets sell off their unwanted items close to their sell by dates. I live near Blandford, and noted both Spar and Morrisons participate with their ‘surprise bags’, at around a third of the full shelf price. And yes, Greggs are there too, but that defeats the healthy-eating point! Olio is a community exchange app – you can donate overstocks or produce of your own as well as seeing what others locally may have to share.

Plan your meals
I have managed to cut my budget right back by spending half an hour a week planning meals in advance. Your plan should include breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
Always check what you already have in the cupboard to avoid buying duplicate items (guilty as charged) (and me – Ed). Planning meals not only helps you stay within budget, but it also eases the ‘what’s for dinner’ daily stress, while reducing the chances of impulsive and unhealthy food choices.
Buy in bulk
Buying staple items in bulk can significantly reduce the cost of your groceries, if you can manage the single up-front cost (which I appreciate not everyone can).Look for items like rice, pasta, beans, lentils, oats and canned vegetables in larger quantities.

Shop around
One item I find annoyingly expensive in supermarkets is nuts – yet go onto Amazon – or check local supplier Wilton Wholefoods – and they are much more affordable if you buy a large bag. The same applies to many dried goods such as beans, lentils and spices.

Embrace frozen and tins
Fresh fruits and vegetables are fantastic, but they can be expensive, especially when not in season. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are often far more affordable and have a longer shelf life. They are just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts and can be used in a variety of dishes, from smoothies to soups and stir-fries.

Use leftovers
Got some droopy stuff hanging about in the bottom of the veg drawer? Freeze it. Perfect for adding to soups, stews or smoothies.
If your menu plan uses half a packet, tin or fresh item, be sure your plan uses the other half, rather than leaving it to go sad and then throwing it away.

Cook at home
Takeaways, while convenient, will quickly deplete your budget. Instead, make cooking at home a priority. Home-cooked meals are not only more budget-friendly but also allow you to control the ingredients, making it easier to choose healthier options. Experiment with simple recipes and gradually expand your culinary skills. Don’t dismiss making your own bread. It’s easy, cheap and if you make sourdough, you don’t even need to knead it! I wish someone had told me that years ago.

‘Frozen and canned fruit and veg are just as nutritious – but are often far more affordable and have a longer shelf life’

Batch cooking
Cooking once and reheating in a microwave can save ££s on energy bills – as well as having things ready to go when you get home from work. My favourites are stews and soups in the winter, but it can also be done with salads and lunchbox items too. Invest in some good containers, ideally glass with plastic lids, to make them last longer and for ease of storage.

Buy generic and store brands
Don’t shy away from these. They are often as high in quality as name brands but come with a lower price tag.

Less but better
Meat can be one of the most expensive items and often the cheapest way to buy it is your local farm shop or butcher, not the supermarket. The quality is likely to be far superior too. Consider reducing your meat consumption and incorporating more plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, tofu, and eggs into your diet instead.

Use coupons and discounts
Keep an eye out for coupons, discounts and sales in your local grocery store’s flyers or online. There are also various apps and websites that offer digital coupons and cashback rewards.

Limit processed and junk foods
Ultra-processed foods are in the news at the moment. They taste great and they are cheap (let’s face it, that’s why we buy so much of them).
However. .. they often offer little nutritional value and can be detrimental to your health in the long run.
Instead, focus on buying unprocessed whole foods that provide essential nutrients without the unnecessary added sugars, unhealthy fats and artificial additives.

Grow your own produce
If you have access to outdoor space, or even a windowsill, have a go at this.
The cost of herbs is one of my pet peeves, they can be grown so easily in pots from seed.

Practice portion control
Wasting food is both costly and environmentally unfriendly. Be mindful of portion sizes to avoid overeating and to make your groceries last longer. Leftovers can also be repurposed into new meals, reducing food waste.

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