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Cheap healthy meals: healthy eating on a budget

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Healthy eating is about finding nutritious foods you enjoy that satisfy your appetite and your body’s needs. You might think that buying healthy food will be hard on your wallet, but, with a little creativity, eating healthy food doesn’t have to be expensive.  Here are a few ideas you can use to help you eat a healthy diet and reduce your food bill.

Be realistic and add variety 

Are you going to be satisfied with a bowl of soup for lunch? Will you eat a cold salad if the weather is miserable? Base your meal plan on what you like to eat. The best way to a healthy meal plan is to be realistic and to plan healthy meals that you’ll enjoy! 

You wouldn’t find it exciting to eat the same thing every day, so be sure to add variety to your meals. Look back on your eating habits in the last week or two. What foods did you crave? What foods did you enjoy? What can you add or take away to make meals healthier? Answering these questions will help you create a healthy meal plan. 

Remember that dried, tinned or frozen fruits and vegetables count towards your five a day and can help you cut waste.

Healthy breakfasts on a budget

Classic breakfast foods can be full of carbs – like toast, pancakes or pastries – and leave your stomach rumbling long before lunchtime. To help you feel full all morning, try swapping some carbs for high-protein ingredients like eggs, baked beans, oats or tinned fish. Eating a high-protein breakfast will help you cut out mid-morning snacks. 

If you want to eat more fruits and vegetables at breakfast and need something easy to take to work, try a smoothie with your choice of frozen berries, frozen or tinned spinach, plain Greek yoghurt, bananas or oats. You could also try overnight oats for a bit of extra breakfast variety.

Healthy lunch and dinners on a budget

You can plan your shopping list to create a wide range of meals around a few cheap, filling and healthy ingredients such as: 

  • Wholegrain rice - remember, the bigger the pack, the cheaper the rice! Check the price per kg to make sure. The ‘world food’ aisle at the supermarket is a great place to bulk buy. 
  • Potatoes - boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew! You can have these roasted, microwaved, as chips or mashed. Give sweet potatoes a go too, as they are packed with vitamins. 
  • Pulses and beans -  chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans can be made into hummus, falafel, chilli, veggie burgers, or added to a salad to make it more filling. 
  • Tinned tomatoes - these long-life cupboard staples form the basis for a massive range of meals, such as pasta sauce, ratatouille, bolognese, chilli, some curries, etc. 
  • Frozen or tinned fish - so many options! Grill, poach, roast or shallow fry a range of seafood. 
  • White meat - always using minced beef for family favourites? Try switching it with turkey mince. It’s a lot leaner and is just as delicious (especially when you add a range of herbs and spices). 
  • Lean red meat - beef mince or Quorn can be made in several ways, such as cottage pie, lasagne, burgers and meatballs. Love chilli con carne? Swap tinned beans for your usual minced beef, and you’ll slash the cost per serving while keeping the dish healthy. 

There are also slow cooker meals like soups, stews, casseroles and curries that are great ways to make cheap cuts of meat and tired vegetables go further and help you use less energy in the kitchen. Using a slow cooker is more energy efficient than cooking on the hob for long periods of time. These classics will go a long way towards filling your week with healthy food -  they’ll also boost your five a day. 

Healthy weekly meal plans on a budget 

On weekends, it can be nice to spend hours cooking up something new and interesting, but typically, after a long day at work, you want meals that are quick and easy to knock up. 

Writing a meal plan and only buying what you’ve planned to cook and eat are great ways to avoid impulse buys and save money. 

Build your shopping list around cheap ingredients 

Build your meals around cheap staples. Make bigger batches so that you can eat leftovers from dinner for lunch the next day or freeze portions for later in the week. Supermarket meal deals might seem like they’re only a few pounds each time, but costs can add up. Plan filling lunch options that you can enjoy cold, such as a pasta salad with leftover chicken from a weekend roast or a quiche that is cheap to buy. 

Healthy meals for one person on a budget

Batch cook 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 quick ready meals or pay over the odds for small packs of ingredients, but a cheaper approach 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. 

There are also cheap, fresh ingredients that don’t go off too quickly that you can use in small quantities. A great trick is to buy six eggs at the start of the week and 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. 

Cheap healthy meals for two people 

Versatile ingredients 

When you’re cooking for two, it can also be tempting to splash the 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, bulk-buy a healthy ingredient, get creative, and cook it in different ways.

Another way to avoid paying a lot for small 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.

Many 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 spending. 

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.

Vegetarian meal plans on a budget

Create nutritious meals with ingredients from the back of the cupboard. Bring loads of flavour to your meals without buying ready made sauces: mix peanut butter and soy sauce to make satay sauce, and tinned tomatoes, veggies and dried herbs to make pasta sauce or even lasagne. 

Swap high fat cheeses for economical, lower fat cheeses like quark, paneer or cottage cheese. Use these to create tarts with filo pastry, a hearty saag paneer (spinach and cheese) dish or a veggie cottage pie.

Thrifty long-life veg like frozen peas can be made into minted pea soup with dried herbs, and frozen sweetcorn can be made into fritters. Frozen veg and tinned beans also make great veggie burgers. When you can use fresh veg, keep it as the centrepiece of your meal - like stuffed peppers or grilled aubergines, and fill them with cheaper rice or couscous along with frozen, dried and tinned veg.

Vegan meal plans on a budget

You don’t necessarily have to pay boutique health food shop prices for vegan ingredients - lots of more specialist items are available to buy in bulk online. For example, go online for more price options on tahini for making hummus or baba ganoush, almond or cashew butters and tofu. Nut butters can be used to make high protein snacks and are great for adding flavour in a traybake of brownies.

More low cost ingredients that are useful to have on hand are tinned tomatoes, chickpeas, dried red or green lentils and couscous.

Rich desserts are also available using dairy free yoghurts, halva made with glucose, frozen or tinned fruit, agave syrup or sweeteners.

Midweek meals on a budget

The three day rule

Lots of fresh items or cooked and stored food usually 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.

Fast food favourites

If you’re trying to enjoy a healthier diet as a family and want to save on takeaways, try remaking your 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.

The same rule of thumb applies to pizza: buying pizza bases and adding cheap toppings can be delicious - top them with tomato puree, cheese, ham or tinned mushrooms. Plus, because it’s custom made you get to enjoy the pizza without picking off the toppings you don’t like.

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