Cut the cost of eating healthily

We show you how to find delicious, healthy food on a tight budget.

The price of eating healthily is rising, according to figures out last week. The inflation data - from the Office of National Statistics - shows that the prices of vegetables, fruit, fruit juice and mineral water are all shooting up.

While overall inflation has officially fallen to just 3.1%, food prices have risen by 10%, fish is up 8% and the price of vegetables has increased by 5% over the past year, with particularly sharp increases seen in the last month.

Experts are blaming everything from the drought and wildfires in Russia to the floods in Pakistan, and say we should expect global food prices to increase further this year.

Despite this, certain unhealthy foods have actually fallen in price; notably sugar, jam, syrups, chocolate and confectionery.

However, man cannot live on sweet treats alone! If you’re struggling with a tight household budget - but still want to eat a healthy, balanced diet - there are several steps you can take.

Here are 12 ways to cut the cost of eating healthily…

1. Shop around

One of the key ways to save money on healthy food is to shop around. If you’re determined to stick with supermarket shopping, you can do this quickly and easily using specialist comparison site MySuperMarket.

This will compare the price of items at Tesco, Sainsbury’s, ASDA and Ocado - so you can work out where you’ll save the most money.

2. Eat the seasons

Eating food that’s in season is good for your wallet and for the environment. Home-grown fruit and veg is likely to be cheaper (because it doesn’t need to be flown thousands of miles around the world!) and you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint, too.

Check out the Eat the Seasons website for lots more information, and to find out which healthy foods are in season this week.

3. Dodge the big boys

Supermarket shopping can definitely be the most convenient option, but it’s not necessarily the cheapest. Don’t assume the giants offer the best value just because they can buy in bulk: Local street markets often sell fruit and veg at much lower prices.

4. Pick your own

Picking your own produce can be a frugal option and an enjoyable day out. You’ll almost certainly pay less than you would in the supermarket, and you can freeze any excess to enjoy later in the year.

Just remember to factor in the petrol costs involved, and consider car-sharing with a friend. You can pinpoint your nearest pick-your-own hotspot using this website.

5. Grow your own

If you’re green-fingered and/or a bit more ambitious, have a go at growing your own food. You don’t need a big garden - several types of fruit, veg and herbs will grow happily in a sunny windowbox or up against a wall.

You could even tend your own allotment - everyone seems to be doing it! Here’s a useful guide to finding one near you.

6. Co-operate

Alternatively, consider joining a food co-operative in your local area. In a nutshell, this is when a community pools its buying power and orders food in bulk direct from suppliers, meaning it gets access to good, healthy food at more affordable prices.

You can find out lots more about food co-ops on this great website. And this useful tool will help you find a food co-op near you.

7. Food for free

Don’t forget about the healthy food you can bag completely for free. Check the price of blackberries in your local supermarket and you’ll be haring off with your bucket before you know it!

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  • Serena Cowdy writes:

    Frugal Food - 27 August 2010

    Welcome to this week's edition of Frugal Food. We’ve got new and extended restaurant deals from All Bar One and STRADA, as well as a new ‘Dine In’ offer from Marks & Spencer. We also have 50% off wine, half price Ben & Jerry’s, 2 for 1 on Monster Munch, 25% off Champagne, a free J2O drink, a free breakfast, and a guide to making the most of canned food!

There are dozens of edible varieties of fruit, mushrooms, nuts and herbs growing in the UK countryside. But of course, you need to exercise caution and find out exactly what’s what.

The Go Self-Sufficient website has lots of useful foraging tips. And for hundreds more hints, invest in the forager’s bible - Food for Free.

8. Make space in the freezer

Modern professional freezing techniques mean that the fruit and vegetables do retain their nutrients. They are usually much cheaper than their fresh equivalents, and you don’t need to worry that they’re going to go off within a couple of days.

I’m not suggesting you drop fresh produce entirely - but if you’re on a tight budget, try swapping fresh for frozen once or twice a week.

9. Frugal tins

In a similar vein, consider buying tinned fish once in a while. In many cases it’s just as healthy as the fresh stuff, and far less pricy.

This will enable you to get your quota of Omega-3 essential fatty acids (found in oily fish like salmon and sardines) without blowing your budget.

And because tins can be stored for months, they make great healthy cupboard staples. To keep salt levels down, choose fish preserved in spring water, rather than brine.

10. Curb the carnivore in you

Meat is expensive, and too much red meat can be bad for you. Pulses, on the other hand, are generally much cheaper, and are a low-fat source of protein and fibre.

Related blog post

Our very own resident chef, Paul Warburton, writes original frugal recipes for readers every week, all of which cost less than £1.50 per person – and don’t compromise on either the ethics or the quality of the ingredients. Some of his most popular recipes are his vegetarian and fish dishes, such as this Falafel, roast pepper and feta salad with chilli tomato salsa or this Broad bean, halloumi and mint farfalle. Check out the frugal recipes for more frugal but delicious recipes.

11. Drink up

I’m not surprised mineral water producers do such a brisk trade - H2O is a wonder drug! Drinking lots of water is one of the best ways to keep your body in good condition, inside and out.

Being dehydrated can make you feel hungry, too, so drinking plenty of water can save you money by helping you dodge unnecessary snacks.

The thing is, tap water does exactly the same job… and it’s free! If you don’t like the taste, by all means invest in a water filter. However, I think bottled water and all those flavoured alternatives are money down the drain. Just keep a bottle of tap water in the fridge and you’ll be surprised how different it tastes.

Also, try to remember to take a bottle of tap water wherever you go, so you don’t have to shell out on pricy alternatives.

12. Focus on breakfast

It makes financial and nutritional sense to have a decent breakfast: If you don’t, you may end up grinding to a halt mid-morning and buying all sorts of pricy, pre-packaged snacks.

Porridge and muesli are both healthy, affordable ways to start the day - check out the Eat More Oats website to find out why!

You’ll also find recipes for various oaty treats on the BBC Food website.

More: Why food prices are set to soar | Have a posh packed lunch on a budget!


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