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  • Managing your health amid the cost-of-living crisis part 1 – Eating well on a budget

Managing your health amid the cost-of-living crisis part 1 – Eating well on a budget

When we are faced with periods of financial uncertainty, such as the current cost of living crisis that will be affecting so many of us, concessions must be made in all aspects of our life. Some of these areas have a direct effect on our health, such as our food shopping and gym memberships. These two examples might be two areas that could be cut to save money but could consequently have a negative impact on our health in the long-term.

Though there will likely be some tough decisions to make ends meet, we do not need to compromise our health, as there are steps that we can take to ensure we maintain a healthy lifestyle on a budget. In this three-part series of blogs we will outline some possible options for reducing costs without affecting healthy living, covering considerations for our food and drink, exercise and leisure. We will also outline some tips that may help with the stress and challenges of the present cost of living crisis.

Compared with ready meals and fast food, cooking healthy meals from scratch can seem demanding on both our time and our wallets: we need to think about the ingredients, equipment and energy bills associated with cooking. However, with a little bit of planning, healthy home cooking is often cheaper than convenience food. Check out our top tips below to see how you can enjoy balanced and varied meals while saving money.

Plan your meals and shopping list

Make a meal plan for the days ahead and base your shopping list on the ingredients you need. This can help you to stay focused on buying only what you’re actually going to use, and reduce the temptation to buy unhealthy or unnecessary items that will go to waste.

Organise your cupboards

Don’t let long-forgotten items at the back of the pantry go to waste. Before making your meal plan, look at what you’ve already got. You might find there are enough ingredients to form the basis of a meal or two. Free apps such as NoWaste can help you to keep track of what’s in your cupboards – you can even set alerts for upcoming expiry dates to remind you to use things up. If you’re unsure how to use the ingredients you already have, try using recipe-finder websites such as Tesco’s or Supercook (you may need to tweak recipes to make them nutritionally balanced).

If your cupboard is looking bare, stock up on essential long-life items such as such as cooking sprays or olive oil, herbs and spices, dry or tinned pulses, wholegrain rice, noodles, and pasta (larger packs tend to be cheaper). Remember that after the initial cost of stocking up, these ingredients will last a long time.

Shop smart

Larger supermarkets tend to offer a wider range of products at a lower cost, so try to shop at these rather than smaller convenience stores.

Find out what time fresh foods due to expire are labelled up for price reductions and try to shop around this time. But be careful not to buy more than you can freeze or use safely before the ‘use-by’ date.

Own-brand or cheaper products are usually stocked above or below eye level, so check the shelves carefully. Compare the cost per unit information on the shelf label (i.e., cost per 100g or per 1L) to help you identify the best value product. In the examples below,  the options on the left work out cheaper gram for gram.

British carrots, loose

47p / kg

Vs. Organic carrots 500g pack, 40p

80p / kg

Porridge oats, 1.5kg pack, £1.90

13p / 100g

Vs. Porridge oats 750g pack, £1.65

22p / 100g

Take advantage of supermarket loyalty schemes. Some supermarkets offer ‘points’ each time you spend which can be exchanged for coupons or money off your next shop. But be wary of coupons offering money off less healthy items or products that you don’t need.

Use cheaper ingredients

Fruit and veg

Fresh produce is much cheaper when it’s in season, for example root veg in winter and berries in summer. If you’re not sure what is currently in season, take a look at this calendar from the Vegetarian Society.

Don’t be afraid to buy packs of ‘wonky’ fruit and veg. These tend to vary in size but are just as safe and nutritious as the standard products, and they cost much less.

Remember, wilted doesn’t mean wasted! Veg that’s past its best can be used to bulk up your meals. For example, rather than throwing them away, add wrinkly tomatoes and wilting spinach to your bolognaise or curry. This will help you on your way to your five-a-day, add extra filling fibre to your meals, and minimise food waste.

Frozen and tinned fruit and veg can be a cheap, long-lasting alternative to fresh produce. Frozen veg is just as nutritious as fresh and usually comes pre-chopped. When buying tinned, choose fruit in natural juice rather than syrup to limit added sugars, and opt for veg in water without added salt.

Meat, fish and poultry

These are usually more expensive when bought in pre-cut portions. If possible, buy a whole joint, side of fish, or chicken to freeze in individual portions at home. Or cook the whole lot and freeze meals to have later. Remember to trim visible fat and skin from meat and poultry to reduce the fat content.

Plant proteins

Tinned or dried pulses such as beans, lentils and peas are cheap ingredients and a great way to add filing fibre and protein to meals such as soups, stews and curries. Try using them as a cheaper alternative to meat, or go 50-50 (for example, replace half the chicken in your curry with chickpeas).

Batch cook

Try scaling up your healthy recipes to make extra portions (for example, double a recipe for 2 to make 4 portions). You can use leftovers for lunch the next day to save money on buying lunch out.

Alternatively, freeze the extra portions to have later. Homemade ‘ready meals’ are cheaper and quicker than a takeaway, and perfect for days when you’re too tired or busy to cook. What’s more, reheating in the microwave uses less energy than cooking from scratch.

We hope that these suggestions can serve to help you maintain healthy eating during this period of possible financial difficulty. In our next blog we will consider how we can stay active while being mindful of the potential costs of physical activity.

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