By Faith Archer
Healthy eating can seem like an expensive luxury when money is tight. Since moving to the country and changing jobs, I’ve worked hard to cut the food bills for our family of four, including my seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old son.
These are the top 10 tips I use when trying to feed my family healthy food on a basic budget.
1. Try tinned and frozen, not just fresh
Tinned and frozen options are often much cheaper than fresh fruit and veg, and are less likely to go off before you get the chance to eat them. And better still the nutritional value of the fruit and veg isn’t compromised when frozen or canned. Just be careful to buy fruit in juice not sugar-loaded syrup.
2. Check the price per unit
Look at the price per kilogram to find the cheapest options when buying fresh fruit and veg in the supermarket. Choosing from a loose display means you can buy just a couple of apples or a few bananas, rather than lashing out on a whole bag.
3. Buy big
If your weekly budget will stretch then buying bigger quantities will often be cheaper. Big pots of yogurt, cartons of fruit juice or bulk bags of raisins almost always cost less than individual packets, and can be divided up afterwards. When I buy a big block of cheese, I keep half in the fridge, but grate and freeze the other half, ready to use later.
4. Switch to value brands
Value ranges can make a massive difference to your food bills, for example a bag of pasta or rice for just 40p, cornflakes for 25p or tinned tomatoes for 31p. Try them, you can always switch back if your family really notices the difference – what have you got to lose?
5. Look for cheaper alternatives
I don’t buy packaged chicken breasts when I can buy many more drumsticks for the same money, or a whole chicken and use leftovers for sandwiches and stir fries.
For fish dishes I choose less expensive options, whether it’s tinned tuna and smoked mackerel rather than salmon and cod. And when I’m buying meat I opt for mince rather than steak.
6. Go veggie
A healthy meal isn’t restricted to meat and two veg. I’m not sure my children would welcome a nut roast, but they’re happy to eat scrambled egg on toast, jacket potato and beans, omelettes and macaroni cheese. Switching to veggie options a few times a week will definitely cut your food costs.
7. Make your own snacks
Snacks can really send my shopping bills sky-rocketing. Instead, I try and cook quick and easy things like flapjacks, raisin cookies or cheese scones, so my children can still enjoy treats, and I can attempt to squeeze in healthier elements like fruit and oats.
8. Take your own food
Snacks and meals when out and about soon add up, so I try to take food from home. I refill water bottles rather than buying expensive drinks. After swimming lessons, to divert the kids from pricey vending machine, I pack home-made snacks in their swimming bags.
9. Beware of pester power
When shopping with my children, they’re irresistibly attracted to the sugar-stuffed cereal in colourful cartoon packaging and anything advertised on TV. Shopping online or when they’re at school cuts down on expensive and often unhealthy extras in our trolley.
10. Waste not, want not
I’d love to say that my children eat everything put before them, in practice they often reject stuff with a loud “yuck”. I minimise waste by giving them smaller portions at first, and offering familiar favourites alongside anything new. By cooking meals for the whole family, my husband can hoover up the rest of a pasta bake if they’re not keen.
Faith Archer is an award-winning money journalist, who also writes the blog Much More with Less about moving to the country, living with less and making the most of it.