Nutritional therapists give their tops tips for eating a nutritious diet while on a tight budget, by Hatty Willmoth.

Healthy food can sometimes come with a hefty price tag. Not everyone can afford to spend their weekly shopping budget on avocadoes, chia seeds and kombucha.

However, foods that are marketed as timesaving, cheap and convenient are often ultra-processed, which means they are unlikely to contribute to good health.

So, what’s the answer to nutrition on a budget? This is what nutritional therapists Catherine Jeans, Sally Temple, Kirstie Lawton, Janie Perry and Sue Evans suggest.

1. Eat a rainbow of vegetables

Vegetables are relatively cheap and full of good stuff, and we benefit most when we focus on variety as much as quantity.

Sue Evans, a nutritional therapist and the Head of Continuing Professional Development at ION, says: “To help optimise your gut microbiome, increase your diversity of vegetables and fruit. Aim for seven pieces of vegetables per day and three [pieces of] fruit.

“Bring in the mixture of colours to these fruits and vegetables as they contain different phytonutrients.

“Tomatoes contain lycopene, which may reduce the risk of heart disease. Spinach, red onions, carrots and red berries contain polyphenols which are full of antioxidants.”

Nutritional therapist and ION alumni Janie Perry adds: “Beetroot is a cheap vegetable and a great source of healthy carbs, delicious grated raw over a salad or cooked as a side.”

And, to make the most of your leftover veg, Sally Temple – nutritional therapist and Lecturer at ION – suggests chopping them up small and throwing them in a soup.

For instance, she suggests a minestrone soup, with tinned tomatoes and cannellini beans and broken-up wholemeal spaghetti, or lentil soup, padding out leftover veggies with red lentils and stock.

2. Think outside the (supermarket) box

For even cheaper vegetables, Perry suggests “looking for reduced items in a local farm shop”.

Nutritional therapist and ION Lecturer Kirstie Lawton says: “Farm shops and local greengrocers can be cheaper [than supermarkets].” She also adds that these shops tend to sell their vegetables loose, so you don’t end up buying more than you need.

Lawton suggests checking out veg boxes too. Some of these can be quite pricey, but others are great value. Sainsbury’s, for example, is now offering £2 fruit and vegetable boxes, and Lidl does a 5kg version for just £1.50.

3. Don't write off the frozen aisle

Frozen food doesn’t exactly have the same health halo as fresh, but it can be a great option to boost your nutrition on a budget.

Perry says: “Buy frozen food, such as berries, fish and vegetables. Freezing preserves the nutrients and it’s much cheaper than buying fresh.”

Lawton seconds this, adding: “Frozen fruit and vegetables are pre-chopped and often more nutritious.”

She suggests buying discounted herbs close to their best-before date and freezing them at home for year-round flavour on a budget.

And never underestimate the power of the frozen pea: nutritious and oh-so cheap!

Temple recommends combining your frozen veg with eggs for a cheap and easy meal. She suggests turning frozen leeks and peppers into an omelette, sprinkled with cheese, or cooking up frozen peas, peppers and butternut squash with leftover cooked rice for egg fried rice.

4. A truly egg-cellent protein

There’s more love for the humble egg to come, and for good reason! Eggs are not only easy on the purse strings but contain literally every micronutrient we need for our health.

Lawton says: “Eggs are a cost-effective source of high-quality protein.”

That’s why nutritional therapist and ION Lecturer Catherine Jeans recommends throwing your leftovers in a frittata.

“[This is] one of my favourite ways to use leftovers,” she says. “[It’s] basically a thick, delicious omelette.

“Leftover roasted meat, cooked veggies, bits of tomatoes; I try to avoid anything going to waste.”

It’s quick and easy to make too, Jeans says. “Just beat up two or three eggs per person, add salt, pepper, some fresh or dried herbs, then throw in your leftovers and mix through.

“Heat a frying pan or omelette pan with some oil or butter. Pour in the mixture and allow to gently cook through. If your pan is ovenproof, put it under the grill (perhaps with a sprinkle of cheese). Or use a plate to turn your frittata and cook the other side.

“Cut into wedges for quick lunchboxes or serve with a salad for a budget-friendly family meal.”

And Lawton’s top eggy tip? “They can be cheaper and better quality if purchased from local hen keepers or greengrocers.”

5. Keep your finger on the pulses

On the subject of proteins, another great and super cheap option are pulses and legumes.

Temple says: “Tinned green lentils are a great addition to chopped vegetables as a base for veggie spaghetti bolognaise, cottage pie, or chilli. Or you can add the tinned lentils to a mince bolognaise to make it go further.”

Jeans also recommends stretching out meaty meals with pulses, but suggests buying dried and using from frozen.

“Sometimes dried pulses can seem like a bit of a faff,” she says, “but they are super cheap … and packed with protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.”

She suggests soaking dried pulses overnight and then cooking them up in bulk the next day to stick in the freezer.

Then, she says, “you can use [them] from frozen directly into soups, stews, bolognaise – and for me this is a great way to help meat go further for my family”.

Alternatively, leave out some frozen pulses to defrost and add them to salads or “whip up a quick bean patty”, Jeans suggests.

6. Fishing for a great deal

Another substitute for lots of expensive meaty meals is tinned fish. This may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s a fabulous source of healthy fats such as the omega-3s.

Lawton says: “Tinned sardines, mackerel, salmon and tuna are nutritious and affordable.”

Stick them on toast, in a sandwich, or jazz them up in your cooking: fishcakes, fish pie or even Mediterranean pasta.

7. Not as offal as you think

If you eat meat, there are even more ways to cut costs here. Lawton says: “Buy cheaper cuts, for example braising steak, shin, brisket, shoulder, and chicken thigh and leg.”

If you’re feeling adventurous, you could even try organ meats. “Consider offal,” says Lawton. “Liver and kidney, for instance, are lower in cost and highly nutritious.”

She also recommends alternating your meat-eating meals with different proteins that might be cheaper, such as fish, eggs and vegetarian options.

Lawton says: “The best value options here (considering cost and protein) are frozen fish, frozen peas, dried lentils and tinned sardines.”

8. Bulk up to spend less

It seems counterintuitive, but buying in bulk is often cheaper in the long run than just getting what you need that week – as long as the food lasts long enough to finish.

Lawton recommends buying nuts like this: in bulk from discount stores, in big bags of broken nuts, or as large tubs of nut butters. It may be an investment, but it’s likely to work out cheaper than just buying nuts and nut butter as and when you run out.

The same goes for big sacks of rice and pasta that often work out to be much better value than smaller packets.

Lawton even suggests buying bigger portions of meat or fish to divide and freeze or batch cook.

For Evans, batch cooking is a way to facilitate eating from-scratch food on a regular basis, and crowd out ultra-processed food as a result.

“Make double the portions for sauces and freeze for use on another day,” she recommends. “Use leftover dinners for next days’ lunch where possible.”

This not only saves time, but encourages you to make things you might otherwise spend money on – such as pasta sauces.

9. Hydration, hydration, hydration

Another simple swap is tap water – for any other drink. It may seem obvious, but it’s undoubtedly effective and comes with health benefits too.

Evans says: “Water consumption (preferably filtered) may help towards reducing constipation, increasing energy, reducing dry skin and alleviating certain types of headaches.”

Swapping ultra-processed fizzy drinks and sugar-filled fruit juices with tap water could not only save a pretty penny but help you feel healthier too.

10. Open your mind to seasonal food

It might be tempting to go into a supermarket with a list of the same favourites week-in and week-out, but it may not be doing your bank balance – or health – any favours.

Lawton says: “UK-grown or local or seasonal [foods] are often the best value.” She suggests using a seasonal produce calendar to inform your shopping choices.

Alternatively, “shop with an open mind”, she says. Look for labels that indicate food was grown nearby – preferably in the UK – as well as discounts and reduction stickers.

That budget-friendly tip may lead you to tastier produce that’s better for the planet, your wallet, and you.

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