This is a guest post by Josh Nicholas.
Many of us are still feeling under financial strain due to the ongoing recession and with currently no signs of economic recovery on the horizon, MyDish thought it would be a good idea to compile a definitive list of tips and tricks to eating healthy and delicious food on a budget. Afterall, food is one of life’s greatest pleasures and there is no reason that a recession should stop us from enjoying life to the fullest!
Since this is such an extensive post, we have conveniently broken our list of tips into different categories: Diet, Shopping, Cooking, At Home, Out and About, Entertainment and Other Suggestions. If you don’t wish to read them all, feel free to quickly skip to a section that interests you.
1. Become a full or part vegetarian – Meat is expensive. You don’t have to cut it out entirely but eating less of it is not only cheaper, but many say healthier too.
2. Don’t eat fruit – It is a myth that human beings need fruit as part of a balanced diet. Before international trade became widespread, fruit was only in season for a few of months of the year. What did we do for the other nine or so months? Fruit is delicious, but not a necessity.
3. Drink tap water – Many people say that bottled water offers no inherent health benefits and is nothing more than a cunning marketing ploy. Buy a water filter if you are worried about chlorine and other chemicals that may be present in tap water.
4. Don’t drink calories – We live in one of the fattest countries on the planet. Many of us could drastically reduce our calorie intake by eliminating soft drink, cordial, juice and other high calorie containing beverages.
5. Eat staples – By including cheap calorie dense staples like rice, pasta and potatoes with each meal, you can make expensive ingredients like meat go much further.
6. Eat porridge – Oats are a cheap and healthy breakfast food and are also rich in low-GI or slow-release carbohydrates, helping you to sustain your energy levels throughout the day. Heat them into a nice porridge and add milk, honey and raisins to make it more palatable!
7. Eat eggs – Eggs are high in protein and vitamins and much cheaper than other protein sources. Why not try a nice omelette for dinner?—Delicious!
8. Eat tins of tuna – Another cheap source of protein. Add tuna to sandwiches and pastas, or eat flavoured tuna straight out of the tin!
9. Eat beans – Beans are a wonderfully cheap and healthy legume and are very versatile too. Aside from baked beans on toast, you can also try using kidney and black beans in chilli con carne and other Mexican dishes and salads. They are great for making vegetarian hamburger patties too.
10. Eat fried rice – Making fried rice is a great way to make good use of leftover rice and veggies. Two-day-old rice works best. Fry it all up with some finely diced vegetables, scrambled eggs and soy sauce.
11. Eat cheaper cuts of meat – When properly prepared, cheap cuts of meat can be just as delicious as expensive fillets. Try stewing the meat for 4-5 hours in a slow cooker. You can make large quantities this way too and freeze it down for later.
12. Eat cabbage – Cabbage is an insanely healthy leafy green vegetable that last for ages in the fridge. It is delicious when used in stir-fries and other Asian dishes, so this might be a good place to start.
13. Make a budget and stick to it – We’ve all heard this one a million times, but it really does need to be first on this kind of list.
14. Pay in cash – Once you have established your weekly food budget, withdraw that exact sum of money from your bank each week and leave the credit card at home. Paying in cash makes you far more aware of how much you are spending – you can’t spend what you don’t have!
15. Shop with a list – By sticking to a shopping list, you can avoid those regrettable impulse buys that really eat into your budget. Of course shopping with a list also has the added benefit of helping you remember to get everything you need.
16. Eat before you go shopping – You already know if you go shopping with your stomach rumbling that the huge multipack of crisps is going to end up in your trolley with the chicken nuggets and the Cadbury bars. Eat a big satisfying meal before you go shopping to avoid this trap.
17. Go to one grocery store – Don’t forget that time and travel costs are valuable commodities too. While you might be able to find great deals by traipsing all over town, your time (and petrol) might be better utilised elsewhere.
18. Compare unit price – Fortunately the supermarkets make this very easy to do with shelf-edge labels. This is the easiest way to make sure you are getting the best value for money.
19. Use vouchers – The internet makes it easy to find great deals from supermarkets and restaurants alike. If you’re in the UK, try vouchercodes.co.uk to get started.
20. Get the customer card – We all know that big supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsbury’s offer customers loyalty cards that offer savings to regular shoppers. If you shop at one of these places already, you should be taking advantage of these incentives.
21. Don’t Shop at Waitrose and Mark and Sparks – Sure they have some lovely things, but save it for when you’re rich!
22. Use a stand-alone freezer – You can save enormous amounts of money by buying meat and other foods in bulk when they are on sale and freezing them.
23. Buy frozen veggies – How many times do you end up throwing away spoilt fruit and veg? Frozen veggies retain just as many nutrients as fresh ones, and they can stay in the freezer until you need them. They’re also often cheaper.
24. Buy in staples bulk – You can order 25kg sacks of rice, potatoes, pasta and other staples online for dirt cheap. This is much more cost-effective than the 500g packets you buy from the supermarket each week. Consider doing the same for canned and packet food too.
25. Buy sale food In bulk – If something you eat regularly is on sale, stock up. This isn’t limited to processed food either—many other things like bread and meat can be frozen for later.
26. Buy “loss leaders”– Do you know all those bulk stacks of wonderfully low priced items at the end of each isle in the supermarket? These are known as “loss leaders” and are typically sold at cost or sometimes at a loss to entice you down the aisle to make more expensive purchases. Don’t fall for this cunning plan—instead buy these items up in bulk while they are on sale and then wait for next week’s loss leaders. Over time you can fill your pantry with everything you need at drastically reduced prices.
27. Buy generic brands – Quite often generic food is packed in exactly the same factory as the big brand names. Don’t pay extra for packaging and advertising—it’s all the same stuff anyway.
28. Buy supplements – Veggies and fruit can be expensive and let’s face it, due to our busy lifestyles many of us don’t eat enough. Multivitamins are not all that expensive and are a good way to supplement a diet lacking in veggies, and save money in the process!
29. Buy whey protein – Meat is one of the most costly items on your grocery bill. By substituting inexpensive protein like whey for some of your protein intake, you can dramatically reduce your weekly expenses.
30. Buy fruit and veg in season – Seasonal fruit and veggies are almost always cheaper. If everyone followed the advice in this step, it would really benefit the environment too. The shipping industry uses vast quantities of oil to deliver us these exotic foods all year round.
31. Buy discounted meat – You can often buy meat at drastically reduced prices just before its expiry date. Buy it up and freeze it for later.
32. Buy non-perishables – Eliminate waste as much as possible by purchasing foods that keep for a long time. If a recipe does require an ingredient that doesn’t keep for long in the fridge, try and buy it on the day you are cooking and only buy what you need for that meal.
33. Buy from local farmers – Not always cheaper, but often you can get great bulk deals at the farmers market and their produce usually contains less pesticides and other nasties.
34. Don’t bring the kids shopping – How many times will a child in a supermarket ask for a Kinder Surprise? As many times as it takes you to say yes! Leave them at home!
35. Don’t do any shopping for one week of each month – Boycott the grocery store and consume whatever is leftover in the fridge and pantry during one week of each month. This is another great way to reduce waste.
36. Don’t buy brands, convenience foods or frozen dinners – These items are dramatically overpriced to cover associated advertising costs. They’re often unhealthy too.
37. Don’t buy ingredients that work only for a single meal – Buying very small quantities of rarely used exotic ingredients works out to be enormously expensive. Instead try to cook with ingredients that can be used for a range of different meals so you can buy in bulk and save money.
38. Order wine by the case or on sale – rather than stopping at the off-license on the way home from work when you feel like a drink, be prepared and buy your wine in bulk when it is on sale.
39. Understand the difference between “need” and “want” – Most of us eat far more than we need to sustain our livelihood. Consider adopting the philosophy “eat to live” rather than “live to eat”. This is a much healthier and cheaper way to live in the long run.
40. Shop around the perimeter of the store – All the “real” food like meat, vegetables, bread and dairy are typically located around the “outer-loop” of the supermarket. By sticking predominantly to this circuit when shopping, you avoid being tempted by all the overpriced and unhealthy convenience foods located in the middle isles.
41. Shop at ethnic markets – Produce is dramatically cheaper at these places as the owners don’t have anywhere near the overhead expenses of the big chains. You’ll often find food here to be much fresher too.
42. Plan meals around what’s on sale – Rather than going to the supermarket with a list of meals that you require ingredients for, try only buying food that is on sale and plan meals after you shop.
43. Take a calculator to the shop – Some of you may be a little embarrassed to do this, but if you are going to follow our tip of paying in cash, it will save you from further embarrassment when you go to the checkout only to find you don’t have enough money to complete the transaction!
44. Shop at a quiet time so you’re not rushed – If you can avoid shopping at peak periods like straight after work or on weekend afternoons, you can avoid feeling rushed and put proper thought into your purchases. If you go in the morning, you also have a better chance at picking up bargains too.
45. Make pizza at home instead of ordering for delivery – Topping a pizza at home is easier and far cheaper than ordering take away. Consider using pitta bread as a base for a convenient, healthy and delicious alternative to thick white dough bases.
46. Make your own vegetable and chicken stock from scraps – Don’t throw away those vegetable and chicken scraps. Instead boil them into a nice stock that can be used in a variety of dishes. You can strain the scraps afterwards and use them as compost in the garden.
47. Prepare meals from scratch – Jarred sauces and other packet flavourings may be convenient, but they’re full of artificial ingredients and are way overpriced. Instead stock up on different spices, garlic, soy sauce and other natural flavourings. Meals typically taste better this way too.
48. Batch cooking – Why not set aside one day a week (perhaps Sunday) to cook meals for the whole week? You can use large pots and frying pans to cook several meals and then freeze them down for work lunches and evening meals. This is a much cheaper alternative than convenience food and is something that the whole family can get involved in.
49. Cook once a month – A slightly more extreme alternative to the above suggestion, but if you observed our previous hint of buying a large stand-alone freezer, you can easily freeze down a month’s worth of pre-prepared meals. Consider spending one weekend of each month cooking. You can always enjoy a bottle of wine and some music in the process!
50. Use meat as a flavouring rather than the central component of a meal – Thomas Jefferson once stated “I only use meat as a condiment to the vegetables which constitute my principal diet”. Most dieticians believe Westerners eat far too much meat. Why not try the Asian method of adding just a few small pieces of diced beef or chicken to a stir fried dish. Your health and your wallet will thank you for it.
51. Bake your own bread – Baking bread is a lot easier than you think, especially if you have an electric bread maker. It’s also at least half the price of pre-packaged bread.
52. Plan ahead – We all know what happens when we fail to plan meals in advance. We end up ordering take-away or eating expensive convenience food. It only takes a little advance planning to avoid these trappings.
53. Use smaller dinner plates – Most of us were brought up to eat everything on our plate before leaving the dinner table. The problem with this is that we frequently pile too much food on our plates and then feel obligated to eat it all. Consider using smaller plates at dinner time. You can always go back for seconds if you’re still hungry.
54. Freeze Leftovers – It’s always great to cook a little extra food and freeze it down for a quick and easy meal when you’re feeling tired or couldn’t be bothered cooking. If you’re cooking for two, cook for four instead and save the rest for later.
55. Don’t waste food –Don’t buy large quantities of perishable fruit, veg and dairy. Only buy what you need for the short term.
56. Grow your own herbs – Buying herbs at the supermarket is expensive and silly too considering how easy they are to grow at home. You don’t need a garden either. Grow some simple herbs like basil and parsley on your kitchen window sill. That way you will remember to water them when you wash the dishes.
57. Grow your own veggies – Slightly more work than growing herbs, but you can start with easy to cultivate crops like tomatoes and chilli peppers and then decide whether you have the discipline to grow more varieties of vegetables.
58. Get an allotment – If there is a community garden in your neighbourhood, consider getting an allotment. You could trade gardening tips with the other plot-owners and get to know members of your local community in the process.
Out and About
59. Bring a packed lunch to work – We all know how expensive bought lunches can be. While you cook dinner in the evening, make your lunch for the next day. And then be sure to leave it in a spot in fridge where you will see it when you go to make your morning coffee.
60. Buy sandwiches from the supermarket – If you really don’t have time to make a pre-packed lunch before you leave the house, consider buying cheap sandwiches from the supermarket rather than visiting expensive restaurants and cafes. You can do this for family outings too.
61. Carry a water bottle – When companies first started charging for water several decades ago, people were outraged. Now this practise is so common-place that virtually nobody batters an eyelid. Even still, water is needed for survival and should be a standard right for all human beings. Refuse to pay for water and carry your own with you wherever you go.
62. Carry a thermos – Lattes are expensive. While many of us couldn’t possibly go through life without our daily dose of caffeine, carrying a thermos of tea or coffee is a much cheaper alternative to those frequent visits to Starbucks.
63. Have guests bring the wine – Cooking for guests at home can be a much cheaper and frequently more enjoyable alternative to eating out. You’ll also find that guests will often provide a nice bottle of wine or two when they come over, which means you can get merry at a fraction of the cost!
64. Drink at home before you go out – Drinks at the pub are expensive, at nightclubs doubly so. Why not have a few drinks with friends before you leave the house? That way you can set the mood for the night ahead and minimise the amount you spend on drinks.
65. Carry a hipflask – Carrying a hip-flask is a sneaky way to save money on drinks during a night out. Just don’t let the bar-staff catch you or you could see yourself promptly ejected from your favourite pub!
66. Fast – For many cultures, fasting is an integral part of their way of life. Aside from being a good way to save money on food expenses, many believe that fasting also has inherent health benefits.
67. Work at a restaurant – Many restaurant workers are able to eat for free at work, and sometimes take home delicious food that is leftover at the end of a shift.
68. Become a food critic – If you love food, why not become a part-time food critic? You could start a blog as a credential and then approach restaurants offering to post a review of their cuisine online.
69. Go fishing/hunting – Get back to the source. There was a time when food didn’t just come off the shelf at Tesco’s.
70. Forage for mushrooms – If you like to get out in nature, you can find some great wild foods that can be picked and taken home for later. Mushrooms are a delicious source of protein and wonderful herbs like sorrel are ideal for salads.
71. Dumpster diving / skipping – This one isn’t for everyone, but we all know that the supermarkets waste millions of pounds worth of perfectly good food each year. Consider joining the growing community of “skippers” in reclaiming some of this waste. Perhaps wear a hoodie or another disguise if you don’t want to be seen by anyone you know!
72. Try eating for a dollar a day – If you really want to take frugality to the extreme, try following the experiments of these two school teachers, and make your food budget no more than one dollar per day!
I hope you enjoyed this post–Feel free to post your own tips on how to eat healthy on a budget in the comments below