How to eat well + spend less
Updated: Jun 26
Eating food you have cooked or prepared at home is healthier for you. It is also considerably cheaper. The key to this is planning. You’ve probably heard the saying ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’. Without a weekly food plan, it will be pure luck if you end up with the right foods in the fridge or cupboard. And, without planning your time, you won’t always make the time to enjoy breakfast or make that lunch. You could be saving a LOT of money each and every week by following these tips.
EXERCISE 1: HOW MUCH ARE YOU REALLY (OVER)SPENDING?
Be honest with yourself about your spending and shopping habits. That starts with looking into how much you spend each week on take-out coffee, croissants and other breakfasts; lunchtime salads, soups and sandwiches; snacks and other food treats; and ready meals, takeaways or last-minute meals out. Make a note every time you buy something (not the main food shop) to eat out of the house. Do this for a week, then multiply by 4 to give you an approximate monthly total.
Log into your banking app (or go online) and make a note of how much you spent over the last month on food.
Add the two figures together. This gives you your total for how much you are spending on food each month. I suspect you will be shocked. Most people are.
Commit to saving a certain amount each week or month. Decide what that is. Commit to it and write it down. What will you do with that extra money? Where can you economise?
EXERCISE 2: PLAN YOUR PLANNING
Become a planning ninja. The thing about planning is that you need to actually plan to plan. It’s easy to get derailed by events, situations, relationships and tasks that insert themselves into our already busy lives.
Choose a time when you know you will be free every week to plan your meals – breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Ideally plan midweek for the following week. Put a reminder alarm on your phone. If this planning job doesn’t get done, you will have no choice but to shop on a day-to-day basis, which is much more expensive.
EXERCISE 3: AUDIT WHAT YOU HAVE
Turn these meal plans into a shopping list.
Also create a master list of what you already have in your freezer, fridge and cupboards.
Cross anything you already have off your shopping list.
EXERCISE 4: SHOP YOUR PLAN
As an experiment, spend at least one week only allowing yourself to buy what is on your shopping list. No extras! The planning and shopping discipline may take a little time to get used to, but it is worth persevering.
Off-list shopping and impulse buys are the biggest enemy for anyone wanting to keep to a budget. Do not go to the supermarket hungry. You are more likely to shop off-list when you do.
EXERCISE 5: GET CREATIVE
A huge amount of food is thrown away, because we’re not sure what to do with leftovers. Make a commitment to using yours and prepare to save money. There is a bank of resources online to help you find easy recipe suggestions for pretty much anything you may have lurking in the fridge.
This will feel uncomfortable at first. You will be making some meals you have definitely not tried before!
Try the following:
GOLDEN RULES OF HEALTHY EATING ON A BUDGET
1 INCLUDE PROTEIN AT EVERY MEAL AND SNACK
Protein keeps energy levels stable and is essential for the body’s growth and repair, and healthy skin and nails. Protein is found in meat and poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, lentils, beans, pulses (like chickpeas), quinoa, nuts and seeds. Protein should make up a quarter of your meal (about the size of a clenched fist). Many people do not have protein-based breakfasts. How can you change yours?
MONEY-SAVING TIP: the cheapest sources of protein are vegetarian sources, like beans and lentils. Consider going meat-free one or two days a week. Eggs sold as ‘mixed sizes’ are cheaper than buying all M or L.
2 EAT PLENTY OF FIBRE
That means lots of vegetables – likely more than you are currently eating. The recommendation is 5 portions of vegetables and 2 portions of fruit (ideally low sugar fruit like berries, apples, pears, plums – anything grown in the UK) a day. Fibre keeps energy levels constant, balances your hormones, fills you up, keeps you regular and those fruit and veg contain many immune-boosting plant chemicals. Aim to eat a rainbow of colours over the course of the week.
MONEY-SAVING TIP: Greengrocers are often the cheapest places to buy your veg. Also consider basing meals around special supermarket deals (example Aldi’s Super 6), and don’t rule out the basics and essentials ranges of veg (usually just means they are not regular shapes and sizes). Don’t rule out frozen veg either. It’s cheap, often frozen soon after picking so it’s very fresh, and offers the ultimate convenience. And you are likely to waste less.
3 CHOOSE HEALTHY FATS
Eating fat doesn’t make you gain fat or otherwise put on weight, but some fats are healthier than others. The body loves omega 3 fats, which boost mood and support the stress response, and reduce inflammation. They are found in oily fish (salmon, trout, halibut, cod, fresh tuna, mackerel, sardines), flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts. Other healthy sources of fat are avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts and seeds.
MONEY-SAVING TIP: Frozen fish is a far cheaper option than refrigerated. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s inferior. Often supermarket ‘fishmonger’ counter fish has been frozen.
4 THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT STARCHY ‘CARBS’
Many diets rely heavily on white, pasta, bread, rice and potatoes, but these (especially when eaten without protein) can unbalance your blood sugar levels and cause you to store fat. Swap to healthier wholegrain alternatives; brown rice, wholemeal pasta and bread, and sweet potatoes, and ensure this element takes up no more than a quarter of your meal.
MONEY-SAVING TIP: Many people bulk up meals with starch, especially on a budget. Your body will love you for bulking meals up with veg instead. Eating large portions of starchy foods will have you craving more food than if you had more modest portions.
5 CUT SUGAR
Most people have an understanding that sugar is not good for them. Eating sugary food is like a treadmill, with one biscuit creating the need for the next. Sugar creates a blood sugar or energy imbalance, fuels inflammation in the body, and makes you put on weight.
MONEY-SAVING TIP: Consider that the more sugar you eat, the more you need to eat. Sugary ‘treats’ soon become a three times a day habit. Depending what you’re snacking on, cutting it out (or cutting down) could save several ££ each day.
Economy Gastronomy by Allegra McEvedy & Paul Merrett
Save with Jamie by Jamie Oliver
Eat, Shop, Save by Dale Pinnock
Eat Well for Less (various different books) by Greg Wallace & Chris Bavin