Believe it or not, healthy eating doesn’t have to be as complicated, time-consuming or expensive as you think.
I’m a single mum with a very small amount of free time and an even smaller bank balance, but I manage to eat pretty well on a budget without having to spend my whole life in the kitchen.
Here’s how you can do the same:
1. Don’t waste your money on superfoods
First of all, save yourself a load of money by learning from one of my most expensive mistakes… I wrote a whole blog post about this a while ago as superfoods were everywhere and I fell for a lot of them. I spent far more money than I care to admit trying to keep up with the latest fashionable foods. It didn’t matter to me at the time whether I actually liked eating them – I just focused on the fact they looked good for Instagram pics. Oh the shame.
Anyway, put very simply… Yes, some superfoods are packed with loads of awesome nutrients. But no, they won’t instantly help you drop a stone in weight or work as some magic illness cure. And in my opinion, they’re not worth selling all of your shoes to be able to afford. Let’s be honest – not much is worth selling your shoe collection!
Let’s say you’re thinking of spending £10 on a certain superfood, I would instead recommend putting that £10 towards a load of veggies.
Bottom line – stick to the basics.
2. There’s nothing wrong with frozen fruit and veg
While we’re on the subject of veggies, I think it’s worth pointing out that you don’t have to scrape the pennies together to buy fresh produce all the time for healthy eating. I used to be a bit of a food snob. This was around the time I was putting grated courgette in my porridge. Superfood fad – told you I fell for them.
Anyway, I used to think fresh fruit and veg were far superior over frozen, but it turns out there’s actually not much difference. And frozen fruit and veggies are often a lot less expensive. AND buying frozen can save on food waste too. Win win!
3. Tinned food is fine too
I’m not saying that buying a tinned pie is nutritious. I’ve not completely lost my mind. I’m talking about tinned fruit – but make sure it’s in juice and not syrup if you’re trying to buy the healthier option.
Tinned fish is also a great thing to have in your cupboards as it’s super healthy and doesn’t cost much. It’s also easy to throw into a bowl with a salad when you’re short on time but want a healthy meal option.
4. Keep it simple
While a super fancy Instagram-worthy meal might look great (and it probably tastes great too), you don’t have to make super complex meals for it to be healthy.
Most of the meals I eat aren’t fancy at all. In fact, they’re pretty basic. Not basic as in crappy, but basic as in quick and easy. They don’t take long to make and don’t cost a fortune, but they do taste gooood. Well, most of the time anyway – I occasionally try something that works way better in my head than it does on the plate. But hey, we’ve all been there!
I mean, if you get a bit creative with herbs and spices you’ll be surprised how good you can make something as simple as just chicken and veggies taste! So put that unicorn milk back on the shelf and just keep it simple.
5. Cook in bulk or at least cook once, eat twice
I’m not claiming to be an expert in the kitchen, but the main thing that keeps my healthy eating food costs down is batch cooking. It’s kind of like meal prep but not in a ‘chicken and rice bodybuilder super strict diet kind of way’.
Basically, I don’t have time to cook every day. So when I do cook a full meal (which is two or three times a week) I make far more than needed for my son and I. Then I simply put the extra portions in the fridge or freezer so we can have them on one of the days when I haven’t got time to make dinner from scratch.
This doesn’t work with every meal because obviously some things don’t freeze well. But I’ve found things like bolognese and curries are perfect for this approach!
So let’s say it’s one of the evenings when I’ve got time to cook… Instead of making dinner for two, I’ll cook enough for six. Then I’ll put the spare four portions in freezer-safe tubs and keep them for another time. If we’re going to eat the spare meals within a few days I might put them in the fridge rather than the freezer, but I reckon you get my point.
Anyway, when it’s an evening where I haven’t got time to chop a load of veggies and cook from scratch, I’ll defrost and reheat the frozen meals and have those for dinner. By the way, I don’t freeze pasta or rice – just the protein/sauce-based part of the meal.
And voila, we have two healthy meals cooked from scratch but I’ve been able to get on with work, etc while they’re reheating. Writing this makes me feel like I’ve totally got my life together. I haven’t. But it’s nice to momentarily feel like I have before the chaos kicks in again.
6. Make the most of your time in the kitchen
When I’m making things like a stir fry or sheet pan chicken and veggies I prefer to make that meal on the day. So on the days when I’m waiting for a large batch of something like chilli to cook, I’ll spend some time chopping veggies in advance so I can pop them in the freezer in a box ready to take out when I need them. I mean, I’m in the kitchen already so I might as well make the most of my time in there.
It’s so simple, but doing this while waiting for something else to cook saves a load of time when it comes to making a meal on another day. I’ve got loads of pre-chopped fruit and veggies in my freezer – chopped peppers, grated carrot, diced onions, sliced bananas and yes I’ve even got cauliflower rice too (because as much as I hate food fads I do actually think cauliflower rice in the place of normal rice sometimes is an easy way to add some more nutrients to a meal).
7. Be aware of high-calorie healthy snacks
This is something nobody warned me about when I decided to focus more on healthy eating. I thought that because nuts and avocado were all nutritious and super healthy it meant I could eat a load of them and not gain weight – this was back when I desperately wanted to lose weight (when in all honesty, I didn’t actually need to).
These days I focus on health rather than weight loss, so I’m more bothered about what nutrients I can get from each meal, rather than how many calories are in it. But I realise many people have a goal to lose weight, so I wanted to make you aware that just because something is healthy that doesn’t mean it’s low in calories.
8. Make your own snacks and definitely make your own salads
There are loads of healthy snack options available in shops now and I’ll be honest – there are many I actually love. But if you’re trying to master healthy eating on a budget then you’re better off making your own snacks and taking them with you when needed. Some simple examples are energy balls, fruit pots, portions of nuts or yoghurt with berries. Those of you who’ve followed me for a while will know I have a major thing for yoghurt and berries – it’s just so damn tasty!
If you buy any of these items in a shop pre-made you’ll be forking out a fair bit of cash. But taking a few minutes to throw a load of ingredients in a food processor or to chop up some fruit will save you loads of money when you add up the amount you would’ve spent over a month or even a week!
I mean, you only have to think about supermarkets that get away with charging £2 for a few chunks of pineapple in a pot to realise how majorly overpriced they are. You could buy a whole pineapple for that!
Salads are the same, so buy a load of ingredients and whip up a few salads in one go. I’m all about saving those pennies. Over time it makes a huge difference. Trust me, I’ve gone from buying everything and making very little to actually making most of the things I eat from scratch. I do still love a lot of the healthy snacks available though – Bounce balls I’m looking at you.
9. Extra protein doesn’t mean it’s good for you
Before I go any further, I just want to say I strongly believe eating a diet high in protein is great (whether that’s meat/fish/eggs or vegetarian/vegan options). I eat loads of protein each day and always add pea protein powder to my porridge every morning. So I’m not saying you shouldn’t do that. Protein is great!
What’s not great is when companies add extra protein to something that’s not at all nutritious and then market it as some kind of ‘superfood diet product’ that we all NEED to buy. Like a chocolate bar!
These chocolate bars are often crazy expensive too! So please don’t make the mistake of thinking when protein is added to a chocolate bar that it suddenly becomes a miracle health food packed full of vitamins and minerals. Or that it’s worth the money. It’s still a chocolate bar…it’s just got a good marketing team behind it.
10. Major restriction is not going to work
This isn’t just about healthy eating on a budget – this is about healthy eating in general…
The standard process for starting a healthier lifestyle is this:
- Clear all of the ‘junk food’ from the kitchen cupboards (by eating it)
- Eat just salads, etc for as long as physically possible
- Crave chocolate/ice cream/cake
- Eat salads while wishing they were chocolate/ice cream/cake
- Hate salads and never want to see them again
- Gorge on all the chocolate/ice cream/cake you can find
- Get major food regret and start hating yourself and your body
- Eat even more chocolate/ice cream/cake trying to cheer yourself up
How many times have you started a diet and cleared all of the ‘tempting food’ out of your cupboards in the hope you’ll never slip up? Let’s be honest, clearing the food out of your cupboards usually means scoffing it all in one go. Yep, I’ve been there. The tastiest days are the ones just before a diet starts.
But that approach isn’t going to work long-term because you’re setting yourself up to eventually crave the foods you’ve strictly removed from your diet.
I’m a huge believer in everything in moderation when it comes to healthy eating…and that’s because it works. Try sticking roughly to the approach of 80/20 – so you eat nutritious foods 80% of the time and less nutritious foods 20% of the time. It feels so much easier to stick to than something where you’re told you can never eat chocolate again. I know I couldn’t do that!
It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking you have to clear your cupboards out and spend a load of money on new foods so you can start fresh. But if you make small changes over time you’re much more likely to make a sustainable healthier lifestyle change.
So don’t worry about taking out a loan to buy whatever on-trend superfood is being forced on you right now. Just make small changes to your diet…and those small changes will result in a big change over time.
As always, if you have any questions I’m happy to help!