There was a heart wrenching story on the Today Programme* yesterday morning about undernourished families and their approaches to food purchasing. One mother of two, who was struggling with costs, said that she was on her fifth day without eating anything at all. She said that all the food she could afford to buy was going directly to her children. She couldn’t afford to buy food for herself. I find it profoundly sad that a mother should have to forgo food anywhere in the world- and I find it particularly devastating that it happens in a country with the means to keep everyone well-fed.
In the middle of the interview, this woman made a statement that really stood out for me; she said that she only has a budget of £15 a week to spend on food. This is clearly a meager amount for a woman and two young children; however, it really made me think that with a bit of nutritional knowledge, she could stretch her funds further and have enough to feed her children and herself. I should note that I am not in any way suggesting that she doesn’t need more money- I’m suggesting that we would all be better off with a bit more general knowledge about healthy food staples, budgeted shopping and healthy cooking techniques.
Widening this out from the struggles of people in impoverished economic situations, I’ve heard so many people say: “I would eat healthily, but I can’t afford to.” Healthy eating shouldn’t be a privilege for the wealthy- it must be a right for everyone, since it is integral to our health, wellness and… well, our lives really!
If you read my blog, you know that I am a fan of practical, safe and effective approaches to health, nutrition and fitness. I don’t believe that you have to eat expensive exotic goji berries to be healthy (take a look at my superfoods post), and with a bit of knowledge and information, most of us can afford to include lots of healthy staples in our diets.
To start out, here’s a list of some healthy and cheap staples below. I would love to hear all of your ideas, and to add them to the list!
- Dried pulses and beans
- Add boiling water and a bag will last for ages!
- e.g. 500g of lentils (10 + servings) is about £1 (or $1.57)
- Tinned/canned items
- Try for options that don’t have added salt or sugar
- e.g. a can of tomatoes (2 servings) is about 30p (or 47 cents)
- Frozen veg and fruit
- All the nutrients when frozen at source, at much lower prices
- e.g. a kilo of frozen peas (10 + servings) is about £1 ($1.57)
- Bulk grains (brown rice, quinoa, couscous, millet, barley, etc)
- The healthiest source of carbs, and a low cost set of items
- e.g. a kilo of brown rice (7+ servings) is £1.79 ($2.80)
- Whole wheat pasta
- Again, a great source of carbs, and very economical
- e.g. 500g of whole wheat penne is £1.55 ($2.40)
- A great source of protein
- Large eggs- about 20p each (30 cents)
To remain healthy and ensure you’re getting all your required micro-nutrients, you should rotate through various grains, veg and pulses. Clearly, fresh produce, meat (depending on your diet) and spices to keep meals tasting good would all be desired additions to this list.
Here’s a sample meal plan for three people for a week, with a total budget of £14.78
Note that this is based on an extremely minimal budget, so these are selected based on value and a balanced nutrient content, rather than fancy tastes!
7 x breakfast for 3 people: Porridge oats cooked with bananas and tea = £3.36
- Porridge oats: £1 (20 servings)
- Bananas: £0.77 (7 fair trade; 1/3 per bowl)
- Milk: £0.89 (2 pints /1.1 litres)
- Tea: 0.70p (40 bags fair trade red label)
2 x lunch for 3 people: Whole wheat tuna sandwich = £2.60
- Whole wheat bread £0.50 (22 slices- 10 left over)
- Tuna £1.38 (1/3 can per sandwich)
- Mayonnaise £0.40 (jar)
- Red onions £0.32 (2 onions)
5 x lunch for 3 people: Vegetable bulgar salad = £3.63
- Bulgar £0.99 (loads left over)
- Stir fry veg £1.45 (650g bag)
- Garlic £0.30 (whole bulb)
- Balsamic salad dressing £0.89 (jar)
4 x dinner for 3 people: Cowboy chili = £2.22
- Kidney beans £0.36 (3 basic cans)
- Chopped tomatoes £0.93 (3 basic cans)
- Onions £0.30 (2 onions)
- Bulgar £0 (from lunch salads)
- Garlic £0 (from lunch salads)
- Chili powder £0.63 (jar)
3 x dinner for 3 people: Whole wheat veggie pasta = £2.68
- Whole wheat pasta £0.95 (500g)
- Onions £0.30 (2 onions)
- Courgette/zuchini £0.36 (2)
- Mushrooms £0.45 (15)
- Chopped tomatoes £0.62 (2 cans)
- Garlic £0 (see lunch salad)
- Chili powder £0 (see chili)
Snack = £0.29
- Whole what bread £0 (see sandwich lunch)
- Mixed fruit jam £0.29
Of course, there are also general strategies to healthy eating on a budget, such as using coupons, finding your store’s produce markdown section, growing your own veg/ spices/ herbs and meal planning.
It makes me sad to think that people are going hungry through a lack of information about cheap and healthy foods. It makes me wonder whether we should include practical nutrition, budgeting and food preparation in schools, so that we’re prepared to eat well and stay healthy, no matter our budgets or circumstances.
I would love to hear your thoughts!
* This seems to be the week of the Radio 4 Today Programme responses. What can I say? I’m a fan
What are your strategies for healthy eating on a budget?
Do you have any great recipes for cheap meals? I found a site called Great Little Ideas on the web, which has loads of cheap recipe ideas
Should food shopping and meal planning be included in school curriculum?
Do you disagree- is healthy eating expensive?