Eat Well

How to Eat Well on a Budget

Henriette H

It has recently been reported that food inflation has reached 9.1% , the highest it’s been in 40 years. In addition to this, fuel and energy prices are on the rise, meaning many are looking for ways to reduce their food cost. Until the economy stabilises, we might have to make some adaptions to our lifestyles. One way we can do this is by looking at our diets. We’ve gathered a few tips on getting more for your money and clever ways to reduce food waste.

  • Stack up on cupboard essentials
  • Opt for canned and frozen foods
  • Special prices, reduced section and buying in bulk
  • Shop smarter
  • Batch cooking and baking
  • Preparing ahead of time
  • Food waste
  • Food larders, food banks and community fridges

Stack up on cupboard essentials

Buying foods that don’t need to go in the fridge/freezer is a great step towards reducing your food costs. Foods like dry pasta, rice, noodles, dried beans and lentils, ready-made sauces in jars/packets, canned tomato products, etc. are great to stock up on. They have a long shelf-life, are versatile enough to be added to several dishes and cuisines, and they are cheaper than their fresh counterparts.  

Opt for canned and frozen foods

Canned protein sources (beans, lentils and fish) have a long shelf-life and are cheaper than fresh options. By adding a tin of beans/lentils to your dish, you increase the protein and fibre content and get one of your 5-a-day all whilst cooking a larger amount of food.

Frozen fruit and vegetables are cheaper than fresh, and sometimes even more nutritious; the produce is picked and frozen instantly, locking in the nutrients that would otherwise be lost in the time that it is stored in your home. Frozen vegetables are also easy to add to your dish to bulk it out and contribute to your 5-a-day. Cuts of meat and fish are also typically cheaper when purchased frozen.  

Special prices, reduced section and buying in bulk

Planning your food shop ahead lets you check which supermarkets have certain foods on offer, and you can buy these in bulk to save money in the long-term. They may also have a reduced aisle with foods close to their use-by dates. This is a great way to stock up on otherwise expensive, refrigerated foods (e.g. meats and cheese) that can be frozen and used later; do however make sure the before-price as food might not be as low-priced as you think! Buying large quantities of ingredients like rice, pasta and dry beans and lentils can also save you money – they might be expensive one-off purchases, but they last for weeks.

Shop smarter

Have you noticed that food price labels have two numbers on them? One is for price per item, and the other is for price per kilo/100g. If you’re stuck between two food items, you can have a look at the latter and choose the cheaper option – sometimes the more expensive product has a lower price by weight. However, don’t buy more than you need if you only need a small amount.  

Shopping at food markets can be cheaper too, particularly if you shop for fruit and vegetables that are in-season. For guidance, have a look at this handy list by the Vegetarian Society.

Leaner cuts of meat can be more expensive, so you might want to opt for the cheaper cuts – for example chicken thighs and drumsticks, whole chicken, mince, lamb neck or pork chops. They might take longer to cook but can also be the tastiest! Just remember to cut the visible fat away and remove skin to reduce saturated fat content (these solid-in-room temperature fats are linked to heart disease). It’s also worth noting that some meats are produced in larger quantities and therefore cheaper around holidays like Christmas (turkey season) and the summer holidays (BBQ season).  

Batch cooking and baking

Cooking larger quantities of food can be helpful for several reasons; it cuts down on days spent in the kitchen, you can buy the ingredients in larger quantities which can often save you money, and if you prepare versatile sauces they can be used later in the week. For instance, a tomato-based sauce with pureed vegetables can be used in pasta, pizza, stews and other dishes. The freezer is your friend!

Another thing you can do to cut costs is to bake your own bread and other baked goods; the ingredients are cheap, and you can customise the bread to your liking by using wholemeal flour and seeds. Bread is also great to bake in larger quantities and store in the freezer.

Preparing ahead of time

With cooking larger quantities and baking your own bread comes even greater benefits: bring leftovers and packed lunches to work to avoid lunchtime expenses slowly chipping away at your wallet. Cooking from scratch is also cheaper and healthier than takeaways; our favourite part of lockdown was seeing all the different #FakeAway dishes everyone made!  

Try to avoid shopping on an empty stomach, as it can lead to unnecessary purchases. To further avoid buying more than necessary, make a list of dinner/lunch foods and break them down into ingredients – the more meals with similar ingredients (e.g. chicken salad for lunch and chicken fajitas for dinner, both using chicken and salad vegetables), the more you can bulk buy and avoid single-recipe ingredients.  

Food waste

We all want to combat food waste, and there are several things we can do to prevent throwing away food:

  • The freezer is your friend. Freeze fresh foods (meats, vegetables, dairy products) if you know you won’t be able to use up before their use-by date.
  • Make up a meal from ingredients that are about to go off; for example, use fruits to make smoothies or cakes, or vegetables to make a stew or soup. Leftover potatoes are particularly versatile for scrap cooking.
  • The best-before date is different to the use-by date. Best-before relates to quality of the food rather than food safety, so it is safe to eat canned and cupboard foods after their best-before date. However, DO NOT eat foods after their use-by date even if they smell and look fine, as it can put your health at risk!
  • If a loaf of bread is starting to become a bit stale, you can sprinkle some water on the slices and toast them to make them taste fresh again. You can also make eggy bread or homemade breadcrumbs, perfect for a pasta bake!  
  • Lastly, don’t buy more than you need when it comes to fresh, refrigerated foods; try choosing cupboard and frozen foods if you struggle to eat the food before it goes bad, as they have the benefit of a longer shelf life.

Food larders, food banks and community fridges

There is no shame in struggling to afford food, especially now with food prices being on the rise. Some might find it stigmatising to go to a food bank/larder, but we have visited several food larders around Oxfordshire and can assure you that it’s always been a positive experience both for the volunteers and people using the service. Food at these locations is typically near their use-by dates and excess fruit and vegetables are sourced from supermarkets – if they aren’t taken home and eaten, they would go to waste. If you want more information on how to use these services, visit the Free and Low Cost food in Oxford website.

Overall, there are several tips that can help you to maintain a healthy diet without compromising your wallet: cupboard and frozen foods are less expensive than their fresh counterparts and shopping for special offers can benefit you, particularly when buying in bulk; bulking up meals with legumes and vegetables, batch cooking and preparing ahead are great solutions for spending less money and time on cooking; and lastly, finding ways to use up or save foods that are about to go bad can help you reduce food waste.  

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