Millions of us don’t eat a balanced diet because we can’t afford to. Here, nutritional therapist Karen Poole gives her tips on how to eat well for less
After you’ve paid the rent, sorted the bills and forked out for that unexpected repair, how much is left from your weekly budget?
Is it enough to buy the meat, fresh fruit and veg you want to feed to your family? Or do you struggle to find healthy, nutritious food you can afford?
According to an independent think-tank, The Food Foundation, an estimated 3.9 million children in the UK are living in homes which cannot afford enough meat, fruit or vegetables to meet national healthy-eating guidelines.
This means that many families who survive on a low income are struggling to eat well.
But is it possible to change that? Can we feed our families healthily — even on a restricted budget?
Registered nutritional therapist Karen Poole says a good diet is crucial to long-term health but many children aren’t getting the nutrients they need, not only to grow physically, but also for their mental and emotional development.
‘We really are what we eat,’ she says, ‘and in the formative years it’s even more important. The foods we eat affect not only our physical being but our mental wellbeing and our hormones.’
But she concedes that fruit and vegetables can be really costly.
‘Berries are ludicrously dear,’ she says, ‘as are many packaged veg. But if you think ahead and shop differently, you can buy the fruit and veg you need on a budget.’
She has devised some tips to help all of us eat better — even on the tightest budget.
‘Buying a pack of frozen chicken nuggets may seem the cheapest option to feed the family,’ she says, ‘but it’s often a false economy. It’s better to plan meals in advance, then batch- cook to save money and time.’
She recommends only buying what you need.
‘If you only need one carrot, buy a loose one, not a kilogram bag that will go off,’ she says. ‘Also, if you’re chopping an onion for a spaghetti Bolognese, chop a second one and make a chilli at the same time, saving on time, gas and electricity.’
She stresses the importance of introducing children to vegetables at an early age.
‘So many children now are frightened of vegetables but if they have them from a young age, they are more likely to eat them,’ she says. ‘Then it’s easier to bulk out meals with vegetables and pulses. If you cook a cottage pie, cook half the recipe with meat and the other half with lentils — I guarantee your children won’t notice the pulses but they’re cheaper and a valuable source of protein.’
Karen is also a frozen-food fan.
‘Pack your freezer with frozen veg,’ she says. ‘There are so many — broad beans, peas, squash, even berries. Add them to recipes and you won’t waste fresh veg and you’ll also always have a stash on-hand.’
Edited by Julie Cook
For more information, visit karenpoolenutrition.co.uk
Our top money-saving tips
Use frozen — Buy frozen vegetables, fruit and berries at a much cheaper price than fresh.
Plan — Plan weekly meals in advance and only buy what you need.
Batch-cook — Cook two meals at the same time and freeze or keep in the fridge for the next day.
Invest in kitchen goods — It’s worth investing in a slow cooker so you can throw food in it in the morning and find your casserole done when you get home.
Make the most of school dinners — School meals are free for those on low incomes. If your child eats vegetables at school, this is preferable to a packed lunch of sandwiches and crisps.
Grow your own — You don’t need a garden to grow veg. You can grow peppers, tomatoes, herbs and lettuce in pots on a windowsill.
I’ve saved so much cash
A few years ago, I was buying what I thought were ‘good deals’ such as offers for £1 on chicken. But it was a false economy. They would go off quickly, then I’d have to buy more. So I began budgeting and writing a menu for the week, and I set aside days when I’d batch-cook. I’d cook a roast on Sunday then the leftovers would last the week for the kids’ packed lunches. I’ve saved hundreds of pounds doing this. You can eat well on a budget. It just requires planning and time.
From Stacey Prior, 41, of Portsmouth, Hants