Making healthy choices can be expensive, especially if you fill your trolley with the latest superfoods grown on the other side of the world. However, you can still eat healthily on a budget, especially if you are happy to spend a little time in the kitchen. Read more below or listen to Heather share her tips with Mrs Smart Money on Instagram on Monday at 8pm.
Plan like a budget pro
As with most things, planning and preparation is key to success. Spend a few minutes at the weekend drawing up a rudimentary meal plan. This makes it much easier to stay on track with healthy eating. It is also one of the key steps to success with clinic patients who stick to healthier eating for the long term. Critical if you are trying to make healthy choices on a budget. Start with your main meals and plan to make extra to cover some lunches too. For example, if you are baking salmon for your dinner, cook an extra fillet at the same time . This will give you the makings of your lunch the next day. If you need some inspiration, try some ideas from our simple meal plan for a week.
Have a ‘use it now’ box
We have all experienced the frustration of throwing out food that we forgot about, literally our money going into the bin. The average household in Ireland throws away about €600 worth of food every year. I am sure we all have better use for that money. Think about putting a container of some kind (I use a large Tupperware box) in your fridge for food that needs to be eaten promptly. Before you start your meal plan, have a look at what you have on hand. If it’s in your ‘use it now’ box and plan to use that first.
Make a list
We spend up to 20% more if we shop without a list. When you have checked what you have on hand and finished your meal plan, put together your shopping list. The makes even more sense during the current restrictions, to keep shopping trips to a minimum. Some people swear by a reverse grocery list. This is basically a log of what you have in your fridge, freezer and pantry. As you run out of foods or complete your weekly ‘stock take’, you just identify the foods that need to be replaced that feature in your meal plan. This can be a real time saver.
Include some meat-free meals
One of the most budget friendly steps we can all take is to reduce our intake of meat. Replacing meat with plant-based proteins like pulses (chickpeas, lentils, beans) or tofu is a positive step for both the planet and your health. Avoid highly processed options like quorn or veg or vegan dishes with a lengthy and complicated looking ingredient list and chose simple dishes to make yourself like this butternut squash and chickpea curry or quick carrot and lentil soup.
These fibre-rich foods are also great for gut health, providing fuel for your beneficial bacteria. Do you or your family sit firmly in the carnivore camp? Well, you can still enjoy the health and financial benefits of plant based proteins by adding them to your meat based meals. A cup full of lentils or tin of butter beans or other pulses is a great addition to a Bolognese, casserole or soup.
Batch cook to save time
If you are going to the effort of making a casserole, curry, Bolognese or soup at home, it often takes very little extra time to make a large batch. It’s a more economical way to cook too. Store your extra batches in the freezer in containers that provide enough for a meal for your household. This is almost like banking a night off cooking over the next few weeks. All you have to do is take your frozen batch out of the freezer the day before you need it and allow it to defrost in the fridge. For batch-cooking ideas, see our recipe handout.
Use your freezer
As well as storing your extra batches, use your freezer to avoid food waste. If you find yourself regularly throwing out bread, just store it in the freezer and toast slices as you need them. If you often throw out fruit, why not chop up anything heading past it’s best and store it in the freezer. Tropical fruit like bananas, melon, pineapple and grapes can be stored without cooking and make a great addition to smoothies. Fruit like apples, plums and pears can be chopped, cooked and stored as fruit puree. These are great added to natural yoghurt, spooned on top of porridge or made into frozen ice pops. Just remember to label your freezer goodies well to avoid ‘UFOs’ – Unidentified Frozen Objects. These will end up in the compost bin.
Love your left-overs
I love leftovers, as long as I remember to use them! Putting a ‘use it now’ box in the fridge has helped greatly with this. It normally means that I have the basis for a lunch or breakfast from leftovers. Any leftover veg can be added to an omelette or frittata. They can also be added to a wrap with some hummus. You can also blend with veg stock to make a quick soup.
Leftover herbs can be added to a salad or blended with some garlic and oil to make a quick pesto. A leftover portion of dinner can be packed in a container ready for lunch the next day. Even the leftover water from your tinned chickpeas can be used to replace eggs in this healthier chocolate mousse.
For more ideas on healthy, budget friendly and sustainable food choices try some meal ideas and recipes from week 1 of our sustainable eating initiative with Meath County Council.
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