Updated: Jul 23
Eating healthy can be expensive. But with some planning, it can be less expensive. In this article, we arm you with some tips to help you eat a healthy diet on a budget.
As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, and as the Russia-Ukraine war trudges along, things aren’t so great on the global economic front. In fact, the World Bank has predicted a recession this year, and we have all felt the squeeze of inflation over the past year or so. Add to that the sky-high rents in Ireland, and things aren’t looking so cheery for your wallet.
With this context, the prospect of spending your hard-earned money on high-quality food might not be so appealing. But there are steps you can take to lower the price of your weekly shop. Below, we have come up with four tips to lower the price of your shopping basket without sacrificing diet quality.
Tip #1: Plan Your Shop
Planning your weekly shop is so important to make sure you don’t waste any food. Considering that the average Irish household wastes 150 kg of food per year (1)—which works out to be a loss of about 700 euro per year—planning what you buy could help you pinch those pennies. Start by brainstorming what meals you will make for the week and use that to guide your shopping list. If you only buy what is essential you will further reduce the price of your weekly shop.
Tip #2: Buy Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
While there is nothing wrong with buying fresh fruits and vegetables, they can be more expensive than frozen varieties, and often go off and get thrown out. As mentioned already, wasting food = wasting money. What’s more, the nutrient content of frozen and fresh produce is similar (2,3), so you’re not missing out on quality by choosing frozen versions. You could incorporate frozen fruit into smoothies or smoothie bowls, and you can throw frozen vegetables straight onto the pan as part of a stir-fry—simple!
Source: Thrifty Fun
Tip #3: Buy Own-Brand Foods
Buying foods from flagship brands is usually much more expensive than buying own-brand versions of similar products. For example, Tesco’s own-brand soy milk is only 95c per litre, less than half the price of Alpro’s soy milk. Similarly, own-brand cereals and porridge oats are usually much cheaper than the products sold by brands like Flahavan’s or Kellogg's, respectively. If you switch to own-brand food products for all of your shop, you’ll be saving quite a bit of money.
Tip #4: Eat More Plant Proteins
Compared to meat, plant foods rich in protein like beans, lentils, and tofu, are cheaper. Chickpeas in Lidl or Tesco, for example, are just 45c per tin. Swapping beef for beans and/or lentils in dishes like chillis, shepherd's pie, or bolognese is an effective way to reduce the cost of your shop and improve your fibre intake.
If you implement these four tips into your shopping and eating routine, you will undoubtedly drop the cost of your shop. What’s more, you will probably end up eating a healthier diet as you will hopefully increase your fruit, vegetable, and plant protein intake, and perhaps eat less snack foods (if you stick to buying only what’s essential).
I will conclude by saying that even with these tips, those in the lowest income brackets may struggle to eat a healthy diet. Research from the UK shows that those in the lowest income bracket would have to pay 42% of their weekly income to eat a healthy diet (4), and this has been likewise shown in research from Northern Ireland (5). What’s more, we can’t assume that everyone has the same time, resources, and skills to cook meals from scratch. For these reasons, these tips and tricks are not necessarily transferable across the board, and more needs to be done on a policy level to ensure fair and equitable access to a healthy diet for all in society.
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We hope you enjoyed this article. Let us know if you incorporate any of these tips, and as always, we would love to hear your feedback on the articles we post here to the blog.
All the best!
Patrick Elliott, BSc, MPH
Health and Nutrition Science Communication Officer at Training121
Founder of Just Health — Instagram: @just.health.info
Health Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educational purposes only, and is not a substitute for professional advice. For health advice, speak to a physician or other qualified health-care professional, and for nutrition advice, speak to a qualified nutrition professional (e.g., registered dietitian). The use of information on this site is solely at your own risk.
(1) EPA. How much food do we waste in Ireland? 2022. Available at: https://www.epa.ie/publications/circular-economy/resources/nature-and-extent-update-15th-June.pdf
(2) Bouzari A, Holstege D, Barrett DM. Vitamin retention in eight fruits and vegetables: a comparison of refrigerated and frozen storage. J Agric Food Chem. 2015;63(3):957-962. Available at: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/jf5058793
(3) Bouzari A, Holstege D, Barrett DM. Mineral, fiber, and total phenolic retention in eight fruits and vegetables: a comparison of refrigerated and frozen storage. J Agric Food Chem. 2015;63(3):951-956. Available at: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/jf504890k
(4) Scott C, Sutherland J, Taylor A. Affordability of the UK's Eatwell Guide. Food Foundation, 2018. Available at: https://foodfoundation.org.uk/sites/default/files/2021-10/Affordability-of-the-Eatwell-Guide_Final_Web-Version.pdf
(5) safefood. The cost of a healthy food basket in Northern Ireland in 2020: Food Standards Agency, 2020. Available at: https://www.safefood.net/research-reports/healthy-basket-ni
Diet quality: this refers to the quality and variety of the entire diet and allows for the examination of how a whole dietary pattern comprised of a combination of food groups and/or nutrients relates to health outcomes, rather than simply assessing essential nutrient adequacy.