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How to eat healthy food on a budget

Footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to provide free school meals to children who go hungry in school holidays and The Trussell Trust’s forecast of a 61% rise in need for food banks over the winter compared to the same period last year indicate many families are struggling to buy enough food to feed their families at the moment.

Whatever your income, now is the time to think carefully about getting the best quality food for your money to help your family stay fit and well during the coming winter. Quality food is fresh, tastes good and is packed full of vitamins, minerals, proteins and good quality carbohydrates, fats and oils.

With a bit of nutrition know how, careful budgeting and some nifty cooking skills you can save a huge amount of money on your food bill and improve the quality of your family’s diet.

How much is spent on food?

According the latest figures from the UK Government’s Family Food Survey the average amount spent per person on food and non-alcoholic drinks is £27.54 a week. A further £10.65 a week is spent on eating food out of the home. This average figure means some are spending a lot more on food, others much less.

How to feed a family on a budget?

The first thing to do is to set a budget for food each week. Think of this as your ‘food purse’.

Plan

Only one in three people check the fridge, freezer and cupboards and make a list before they shop for food.[link]

Planning meals and making a shopping list ensures you only buy food you need. Involve the family so everyone gets to eat things they like. Make sure meals contain lots of vegetables, pulses, fruit and not too much salt, fat or sugar.

Till recipts

Collect supermarket receipts from previous shopping trips to familiarise yourself with the price of food so you can monitor how much you spend on your weekly shop. You can also compare prices across shops. Get a note book and take note of the price of key foods.

Avoid Food waste

Planning meals helps to avoid food waste which amounts to £700 for an average family with children.

Remind yourself what a healthy diet looks like

The Eatwell Guide shows the ingredients that make up a healthy diet. It also gives a guide to how much of each of food groups should be eaten.

Add flavour and interest to your diet

An inexpensive way to make the basic ingredients shown in the Eatwell Guide taste good is cook them skilfully and add fresh herbs and spices. Fresh herbs like parsley, dill, basil and thyme can be grown from seeds. Spices can be bought cheaply from ethnic food shops.

Build up a good store cupboard

Having a well organised store cupboard can help you prepare tasty economical meals. If you see any of your favourite foods discounted take advantage and buy them when you can. Use your freezer to store spare meals and healthy ingredients like fresh vegetables.

Cook yourself or ready meals?

Buying ready meals and pre-prepared food can be an expensive way of feeding a family and meeting their nutritional needs. Ready meals do not usually contain many fresh vegetables which are essential for a healthy diet.

Key cooking skills

Learning the following skills will help you to become a better, more economical cook.

  • knife skills - makes preparing fruit and vegetables a breeze
  • weighing and measuring ingredients carefully helps portion control and makes for a better baker
  • Cook regularly. The more you cook the quicker and better you become at it.
  • steaming is a great way to cook vegetables and preserve their nutrients
  • make bread, then you can make pizza too
  • make yogurt. One small pot of live yogurt will make 4 litres of fresh home make yogurt
  • make your own pasta sauces
  • grow herbs, salad leaves, peas and beans. This is a cheap and rewarding thing to do.
  • learning how to use up leftovers
  • learn how to freeze spare food to avoid food waste
  • Store food correctly so that it lasts. Vegetables like butternut squash, onions, peppers and aubergines lasts a couple of weeks if stored in a well ventilated vegetable rack. Carrots and beetroot last for several weeks if stored in a plastic bag in the fridge.

Where to shop

Fruit and vegetables are often much cheaper if you buy them from a market. Otherwise use supermarket’s online shopping sites to compare prices. Sometimes independent, local retailers can offer competitive priced foods.

For more information on how to improve the nutritional content of your diet www.nutrition.org.uk