When you think ‘healthy food’, many tend to assume that it’s going to be pretty unhealthy on your wallet. But is that unfair? Will quinoa, nuts and fish cost you more than chocolate, burgers and chips?
With a bit of nifty knowhow, eating healthy food doesn’t have to be ridiculously expensive. Here are a few ideas to reduce your food bill while sticking to a healthy diet – they’ll come in handy whether you’re cooking for yourself or for a family.
Healthy family eating on a budget
Hide the veg!
We’ve all seen the NHS adverts – it’s important to get your five a day. Almost all fruit and veg count towards your five, but it’s not always easy to get your children on board.
If you have trouble convincing your children to eat vegetables, but you want to enjoy them in your family meals, try making a healthy meal for kids by hiding veg in pasta dishes with a tomato sauce.
Buy frozen or cheap fresh veg such as carrots, butternut squash and red peppers, add them to the tomato sauce and use a blender to hide the evidence. You can use this approach to add more veg to family meals like lasagna, bolognese and pasta bakes. This way you get your veg, and your children don’t pick it out.
Another place to hide veg at breakfast or snack time is in savoury muffins. You can save money by buying ingredients in bulk, making a big batch and freezing these treats.
Try this savoury muffin recipe from My Fussy Eater
Fast food favourites
If you’re trying to enjoy a healthier diet as a family and want to save on takeaways, try remaking the kids’ favourite fast foods healthily and cheaply. For example, you can make a low cost batch of burgers with lean beef mince, turkey mince or kidney beans; onion, egg and dried herbs.
Stretch the mixture further by making breadcrumbs from the ends of a loaf of bread and adding that to the burger mix. If you buy in bulk and make a big batch, you can reuse the burger mix as meatballs in another dish.
A family bucket of chicken from a takeaway can cost £10 or more, but a kilo of frozen chicken pieces costs a fraction of that. Add spices and breadcrumbs to the chicken and roast at home to create multiple meals for the cost of one family takeaway, and with fewer calories.
The same rule of thumb applies to pizza: buying pizza bases and adding cheap toppings can be fun – top them with tomato puree, cheese, ham or tinned mushrooms. Plus, because it’s custom made and you choose the ingredients the kids get to enjoy the pizza without picking off toppings.
Check out these family meal ideas for under £1 per person from Good to Know
Learn more about cutting the cost of cooking
Healthy meals for one person on a budget
Batch and freeze
Smaller portions of ingredients often have the highest price per hundred grams, so cooking for one can be expensive.
It can be tempting to rely on perfectly packaged ready meals or pay over the odds on small packs of ingredients, but a cheaper way to get around this is to make multiple portions each time you cook, divide up the cooked food and freeze some for later.
This way you save money on shopping and save time on cooking. It’s best to use most frozen foods within about four months, which gives you lots of time to rotate meals and have a variety to choose from. A neat little trick is to grab a marker pen and write the date you put the item in the freezer, and what is actually in there – which will avoid any guess work.
More meals and ingredients than you might think will freeze well (even cheese)! Read this blog post on how to make friends with your freezer to save some real cheddar!
There are also cheap fresh ingredients that don’t go off too quickly that you can use in small quantities. One trick is, if you buy six eggs at the start of the week, you can make portions of baked eggs with ham or frozen spinach in a ramekin, scrambled eggs, boiled eggs or omelettes, to give you multiple meals from one pack.
Try these healthy recipes for one from BBC Good Food
Cheap healthy meals for two people
When you’re cooking for two, it can also be tempting to splash cash on meal deals, or to join in if one of you wants an expensive or fatty takeaway. A great alternative is to plan ahead and bulk buy a healthy ingredient, get creative and cook it in lots of different ways.
For instance, one cheap job lot of plain yoghurt can be used in a breakfast smoothie, a stroganoff (instead of cream), a dessert with honey and berries, and a curry in the same week. Other versatile ingredients include a whole chicken, a bag of potatoes or sweet potatoes, eggs and cans of pulses like lentils or chickpeas.
Another way to avoid paying a lot for smaller portions is to replace some fresh items with thrifty long-life, tinned, dried and frozen versions. For example, rather than buying a small and expensive punnet of berries, get a big bag of frozen ones and get the amount you need out of the freezer each time.
Check out these cheap, healthy recipe ideas from the Food Network. Lots of these recipes serve four, so you can batch cook and freeze or eat the leftovers later.
Low fat healthy meals on a budget
If you’re specifically looking to decrease fat in your diet, here are some ideas you can try without increasing your spend.
Alternatives to frying
So many foods can be made crispy and delicious without frying – grilling is a great option, especially for frozen fish. Roasting is another option – roasted fresh vegetables with a minimal amount of oil caramelise in the oven and taste great.
Creamy foods with low cost and low calories
Swap full-fat cream for a cheap bulk carton of plain natural yoghurt, and use it in a range of savoury and sweet recipes. Eat it for dessert with defrosted berries, honey or dark chocolate shavings, or for dinner in a homemade curry.
You can also swap high fat hard cheeses for low cost cottage cheese, and use it to top a jacket potato for a quick low fat meal.
Cheaper, healthier comfort foods
Rather than creamy soups, try east Asian broth based soups such as miso, pho and ramen dishes. These are cheap to make, with just spices, stock, frozen veg and noodles.
Replace foods heavy on pastry like pies and tarts for versions using filo pastry, which you can get for a similar price.
A lot of the cheap meats we love are high in fat, like sausages, bacon (especially smoky and streaky) and smoked ham. Choose leaner cuts of meat that are lower in fat, like turkey breast and reduced fat mince.
Comfort foods don’t have to be fatty or expensive: try warming one-pot dishes like stews or casseroles, which are super cheap to make with a low cost cut of meat slow cooked along with wonky veg, tired leftover veg, or frozen veg. Bulk it out with tinned pulses like kidney beans to make it go further and keep you feeling full.
Check out these 150 low fat meal recipes from Good to Know
Midweek meals on a budget
The three day rule
Lots of fresh items or cooked and stored food will go off at around three days. So, to save on throwing food away and re-buying in the middle of the week, break your week into two blocks of three days.
Use the middle of the week as a reset day: In the middle of the week, cook any fresh items you’ve got kicking about, and move any cooked items you have from the fridge into the freezer. (Don’t forget, label them up and date them so you don’t forget what they are.)
Great meals that you can make midweek with leftovers include stir fries with noodles or rice, omelettes, pies, stews, soups or curries.
Find more leftover recipes on Love Food, Hate Waste
Winter meals on a budget
As the weather gets colder, we naturally feel more inclined to hot, stodgy meals. No-one wants salad when it’s snowing outside!
If you prefer hot food on a cold day, try not to splash out on buying from a shop/restaurant every day, especially if you work in an area where lunch costs a lot. If you have a microwave at your workplace or can eat at home, you can heat up leftovers from dinner the night before.
Try making soups, pies, casseroles, curries and stews – they’re usually made from really cheap ingredients, and also very filling – perfect for a cold day. They’re a great way to use up tired looking vegetables, or to make cheap cuts of meat taste great through methods like slow cooking. You can also make the most of a roast or chicken portions by boiling the bones to make stock.
Tips for eating out on a budget
Try these hearty low calorie recipes from The Healthy Mummy