How to cook on a budget

Posted on: 11 June 2019 by Rob Hobson

Rob Hobson shares tips on why a healthy diet is important for you as a carer and the person you care for.

budget meals

Caring can take its toll on family finances, besides the stress of having to earn money the additional role and responsibilities can be challenging. Within a household budget, food is usually the only manoeuvrable component as mortgages, rent or bills are a non-negotiable. This can make eating well a challenge for many families and health can often become a secondary consideration.

There are many ways to save money on your food bill and still eat healthily when you understand what to buy, what to cook and where to find the best deals on food.

Planning

Planning ahead is one of the best ways to work out where to spend your food budget.  Work out your meals for the week and try to think about how you will use leftovers the following day. Get familiar with your store cupboard (tinned, pasta, dried foods etc)  so you know what is left at the end of the week to use the next.  Also, make sure you have plenty of canned foods in stock (tuna, beans, pulses, jarred sauces) as these can easily be made into a simple quick and cost-effective meals.

Purchasing food

Get savvy with the way you purchase your food.  Many supermarkets have a ‘happy hour’ when they discount fresh food products (yellow stickers).  While these foods may need to be eaten on the day, some such as prepared meals, fruits, vegetables and other products can be taken home and frozen.

Price comparison sites are a good way to find out which supermarkets do the best deals on everyday food items and one of the most common is mysupermarket.com.  This same site also has a coupon guide which allows you to browse for the latest discount vouchers.

Another new innovation are apps for your phone that link you up with free and heavily discounted food in the area. Olio is an app that links to Facebook and allows you to access people and restaurants in your local area giving away food to save on food waste (freecycling). Too Good To Go is another clever app where restaurants that have left over food at the end of the day offer it at a discount (sometimes up to 90%).

Jars and tinned food can save time and money for carers

Food choices

Making certain food choices can add up to savings every week such as choosing dried, canned or jarred foods over fresh.  Frozen foods are also more cost effective and vegetable can easily be added to soups, stew and other one-pot dishes with minimal wastage.  Another useful frozen food is fish, which is cheaper than buying fresh and still full of all the goodness (as are canned fish products such as sardines, salmon and tuna).

Cut back on your meat intake

Cutting down on meat is a good way to save pennies and you can substitute meat in a recipe with beans, pulses or lentils (this is also very good for your health).  If you do choose meat, then buy whole such as chickens which can be spread out over the week to make use of the different cuts.  You can also save money by buying cheaper cuts of meat such as beef shin, braising steak or shoulder of lamb.

Easy recipes

Create a useful bank of recipes that you can cook on rotation to save yourself time and help with meal planning.  Choose dishes that use few ingredients and make use of core staples such as rice, pasta, potatoes and eggs (a basic Spanish omelette is very nutritious, filling and chap to make).  You can find a wide selection of recipes from websites such as BBC Good Food and these sites allow you to filter your selection by simplicity.

Find dishes that can be batched cooked as these can save you time and money when made in bulk and then frozen.  Good options include soups, stews, chilli, curries and casseroles.

freezing food cuts wastage

Food wastage

Don’t throw anything away that absolutely doesn’t need to be.  Fruits and vegetables that are on the turn can be bagged up and frozen to preserve them and if you have any meat or fish that you haven’t got around to using (probably not that likely) then don’t get caught out and stick it in the freezer.

Get to grips with the labels used to show the freshness of food in the supermarket.  Those such as “display until” and “sell-by” are used by supermarkets to help with stock rotation and often many of these foods can be eaten beyond the dates shown.  Others such as “use by” dates n meat, fish and dairy may need to be taken a little more attention of to avoid food poisoning, especially if you are caring for an older person.

Food banks

These are places where food is offered free of charge to people in need and that includes those on very low incomes.  To get assistance you normally need to be referred (doctor, health visitor, school or social worker), although no always with some independent foodbanks.  One of the biggest foodbank charities is the Trussell Trust who run two-thirds of the foodbanks in the UK.

A healthy diet is incredibly important for yourself and the person you care for and whilst your weekly food bill may be a struggle to find, using the tips above may help you to source cheaper healthy food and manage your weekly meals more effectively.

About the author

Rob Hobson, Healthspan Head of Nutrition is a registered nutritionist (Association for Nutrition) and has trained and worked as a public health nutritionist (MSc public health nutrition).  Rob has worked with companies and organisations including schools, care homes, government agencies and the NHS.  He is passionate about combining nutrition and also works with private clients in their homes using food and cooking as a tool to guide teaching in a practical way to achieve long-term results.

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