From expensive superfoods to grabbing a convenient smoothie on the go, eating well and keeping up with food trends isn’t cheap. Cambridge University recently found that eating healthily costs three times more than eating unhealthily. They tracked 100 key food and drink items over 10 years and discovered that healthy foods were consistently pricier. But breathe a sigh of relief, because it doesn’t have to be so hard on your bank balance. There are plenty of ways to spend carefully, prepare wisely and avoid waste when it comes to healthy eating…
1. Use the web for cheap deals
For higher-priced superfoods, such as speciality powders, take advantage of bulk discounts, which you can often source online. Compare prices on the many websites selling superfood powders, such as Amazon (amazon.co.uk) and Real Foods (realfoods.co.uk). Use your social media account for food inspiration and healthy hacks. ‘If you’re a vegetarian, or just want to go meatless once a week, use the hashtag #MeatlessMondays on Twitter for recipe inspiration,’ says Dr Morgaine Gaye, Food Futurologist and founder of Dr Gaye Super Shake (drgayesupershake.com). If you’re not planning too far ahead, some websites, such as Approved Foods (approvedfood.co.uk), offer ‘short-dated’ buys, i.e. food close to its sell-by date, for a cheaper price than fresher counterparts.
2. Bulk out your salads
Looking for ingredients to turn your salad into a superfood dish? ‘Sprouting is cheap and easy,’ explains H&F food expert, Lyndon Gee. The easiest to sprout are mung beans, chickpeas, alfalfa and mustard cress. Good health stores will stock a range of suitable seeds, grains and pulses, plus give advice, says Gee. ‘You can buy sprouters, but a large jam jar covered in muslin secured with an elastic band works really well,’ he says. ‘Just soak beans or seeds overnight then drain and rinse – you’ll need to rinse and drain a couple of times a day until they sprout.’ For a really cheap alternative, try cress. ‘Simply fold a couple of pieces of kitchen paper, put onto a plate and add water until it won’t absorb any more, sprinkle evenly with cress seeds and keep damp – in a few days you’ll have cress,’ he says.
3. Think about the long run
You may think it’s cheaper to swap your superfood powders for whole foods, but sometimes the former goes a long way and can be a good store cupboard stable. ‘When we look to buy nutrients instead of simply calories, these ultra-healthy foods are not as expensive as they seem, and many last a very long time thanks to their extra-condensed nutrition and small serving size,’ explains Julie Morris, author of Julie Morris’s Superfood Kitchen (Sterling, £14.99). ‘For example, you’d have to buy more than eight oranges to get the Vitamin C content of one teaspoon of camu berry powder – and the oranges would cost almost 10 times more.’ For a bit of food clarity, try Two Foods (twofoods.com), which compares the health benefits, per serving, of similar foods.
‘Keeping a small collection of shelf-stable, more commonly used, superfoods on hand, such as chia seeds, hemp seeds, spirulina powder and goji berries is a great way to turn a mediocre dish into a nutritionally great one.’ Julie Morris, author of Julie Morris Superfood Kitchen (Sterling, £14.99)
4. Waste not, want not
If you look in the bottom of your fridge or fruit bowl in despair at the wilted, or slightly soft, contents, don’t despair. Think twice before you throw it away and spend more money on new ingredients. ‘Soups are a great use for slightly tired vegetables,’ says Dr Gaye. ‘Or head to markets just before they close. That way you might get a bargain as some vendors may sell their remaining perishable items at a discount!’. She also recommends going seasonal. ‘The food is better quality, tends to be more locally grown and it’s cheaper because it’s abundant.’
5. Stretch a healthy meal
Tinned beans and pulses are an incredibly cheap and nutritious basis for a meal. Gee, recommends keeping a selection in your cupboard to add to soups, salads or stews. ‘Puy lentils are a great meat substitute in mince-based dishes such as cottage pie, or add to minced meat to boost health and make it go further,’ he says. Butter beans can be mashed, seasoned with garlic, lemon and olive oil and used as a dip, or spread on toast and topped with chopped tomato and red onion for a high fibre bruschetta. Chickpeas make a tasty salad with tinned tuna, onion, cucumber and tomato, or blended for a fast, low-fat hummus. ‘For super-quick curry, fry a large chopped onion, add a tin of chickpeas and a couple of handfuls of frozen spinach and curry paste, heat, then stir through a couple of tablespoons of yoghurt and serve,’ says Gee.
‘Dried beans and pulses are great value. Soak them overnight, then cook a large batch and freeze so you can pull out a handful when needed.’ H&F’s food expert Lyndon Gee
6. Make your own seed blends
A versatile and inexpensive all-rounder, seeds and nuts can easily boost the nutritional value of a meal. ‘Try adding seeds and nuts to cereals, salads, smoothies and stir-fries,’ suggests Rob Hobson, registered nutritionist and co-author of the Detox Kitchen Bible (Bloomsbury Publishing; £25). ‘Don’t bother with expensive seed mixes – make your own by combining pumpkin, sunflower and chia with your nuts of choice – buy in bulk, as it works out cheaper, then combine and store in jars,’ he says.
7. Find a friend
It pays to get a superfood buddy when it comes to the more unusual ingredients you’ll use less often. ‘Split the cost on your favourite items with a friend, and store extra product in an airtight container (sealable mason jars work well) inside the freezer, to extend the shelf life for long-term storage,’ says Julie Morris, author of Julie Morris’s Superfood Kitchen (Sterling, £14.99). And it’s not just online deals where friends are useful. ‘If you’re cooking for one, get the most out of supermarket deals by dragging a friend along and splitting the costs,’ says Hobson.
8. Be clever with storage
Did you know the UK tops the charts for food wastage? But there are things you can do to combat this startling statistic. ‘The freezer is the first port of call for preserving leftover food, but there are other effective ways to ensure you don’t waste food,’ explains Yvonne Wake, Wellbeing and Lifestyle Consultant (wellbeingandlifestyle.co.uk). She advises slowly stewing over-ripe apples, pears, plums, even grapes, in a small amount of water, then adding a generous squeeze of lemon/lime or even orange juice to stop oxidation and the food going brown. ‘This lasts up to 10 days in a fridge or can be frozen and used within three months,’ says Wake. Lettuce leaves are often another cheap, healthy food source that gets wasted. ‘Avoid this with this little trick: separate the leaves, rinse well, blot dry and bunch together, then wrap a paper towel around the head of the lettuce and store in the bottom of the fridge – this will last a good week more than usual,’ she adds.
Get even more bang for your buck
1. Buy frozen – ‘Frozen berries, fruits and even vegetables and leafy greens are often substantially less expensive per pound than their fresh counterpart, and contain all of the same nutrients,’ says Morris.
2. DIY drinks – ‘Keep small plastic bottles and make your own smoothies at home and take your own carry out, or freeze the mixture into healthy ice lollies,’ says Dr Gaye.
3. Freeze your assets – ‘Store bananas in a cold place, or freeze them! They’ll last up to a month, and be delicious in a smoothie,’ says Wake.