Cooking for health or performance on a budget

Summary points 

  • Investing in your future health 
  • Using cheaper ingredients doesn’t mean a lower nutritional value
  • Canned and frozen foods are a great way of cutting cost and improving efficiency
  • Purchasing non-perishable ingredients in bulk is a simple and effective method of planning and reducing your long term shopping bill 

Introduction

A topic that often raises its head in the nutrition world is the idea that it is more expensive to eat a highly nutritious diet compared to one with highly processed foods with a low nutritional value. Companies and brands try to raise awareness of their products through clever marketing campaigns to make people feel like they are getting a great deal through 2 for 1 offers and various combination deals. In reality, these offers can be misleading and when you do the maths the savings are not as good as they first appeared. These deals are often not only misleading but can also lead to food waste.  On the other hand, if you are buying organic fresh foods and buying the finest olive oil from the Mediterranean you are not going to have a small food bill!

 

When making any assessment about the expense of a person’s lifestyle or the way they spend money, you must of course consider the position of the person. Age,  income, skills, knowledge, cultural background and dietary preferences can all influence people’s opinion on food cost. It would not make sense to directly compare people who have different cultural and economic backgrounds to each other to find the answer. 

The health and economic cost of the wrong dietary choices 

There is of course the opinion among health professionals that following a sub-optimum, low-cost diet will be paid back through ill health and medical expenses in the long term. An assessment of the economic cost of an unhealthy diet and inadequate physical activity carried out by the European Commission states that “levels of obesity have doubled since 1980, and it costs a staggering 2.8% of the world’s GDP”.  We are, of course, biased in our opinion and the investment in high-quality food ingredients is considered not only an investment in your future health but a strong value that is linked to tradition and a philosophy around health and wellbeing.

Eating good food on a budget 

You can build an argument for either opinion on the subject and there is no doubt that access and affordability to nutritious foods can be a challenge in some regions. A person living in an area surrounded by fast food outlets, limited transport options and little access to fresh ingredients will have to work much harder to prepare healthy meals than someone who lives beside a grocery store full of fresh ingredients. On a positive note, a  study that was recently published called ‘Yes we can; eating healthy on a limited budget’ found that if there is access to low-cost bulk ingredients, people living in low-income households can afford to eat healthily.  We know access is important but people still need to have their health as a priority to invest the time in planning nourishing meals. 

How you can cut down on food cost without compromising your nutrition 

While differences in opinion on eating preferences and diet type are likely to continue there are simple ways that you can reduce the cost of your shopping bill. Some of these are small changes to shopping habits while others are more lifestyle and behavioural changes. 

Here are ways you can aim to hit all of your nutritional requirements on a budget:

    • Eat before you head out shopping: Shopping hungry is not a good idea for many reasons, not just your shopping bill! Shopping hungry can leave you open to buying more of the processed foods. Remember, all of those snacks you see at the checkout, placed at eye level, are there for good reason, to encourage you to impulse buy!
    • Use coupons: Various shops will have vouchers and discount schemes which are worth signing up to for reductions on your shopping bill. 
    • Bulk buy non-perishable ingredients: There is no doubt that you will save money, time and energy by getting the key ingredients you need in bulk. Things like grains, lentils, nuts, seeds, jar /canned food, fermented foods and spices can all be purchased in large quantities and stored for later use. By having these ingredients in place you will also notice you will be able to plan and cook meals more efficiently.   
    • Buy discounted foods: Don’t be put off by the ‘reduced to clear’ label! Very often these foods have passed the point that a shop can have them on their shelf but they are perfectly fine to eat that day or the next day. You can often save big on fish and meats in particular.
    • Markets, fishmongers & butchers: Not only are you likely to get the freshest local ingredients when you buy at markets but you are also likely to get those ingredients cheaper than if you buy them in a supermarket. You are also going to be supporting the local economy and helping to support jobs in your area.Frozen foods: It may surprise you to learn that frozen foods are highly nutritious and in some cases, depending on the time of year and when they are frozen, can have higher levels of nutrients compared to fresh ingredients. This can be due to the retention of nutrients from being frozen soon after harvest compared to fresh ingredients that may have been transported long distances or grown in soils with a low nutrient density.  
    • Cook once and eat twice: Cooking extra food for the next day is a simple way to efficiently use the ingredients you have. Not only are you saving money by not buying lunch from a cafe, restaurant or shop but you are also much more likely to eat something more nutritious. 

We have made your life even easier by creating meal plans that are low cost but will ensure you will meet all your nutritional needs. Click here to see these simple, low-cost and delicious meal plans!

References 

Candari, C.J., Cylus, J. and Nolte, E., 2017. Assessing the economic costs of unhealthy diets and low physical activity: An evidence review and proposed framework (Vol. 47). WHO Regional Office for Europe.

Jetter, K.M., Adkins, J., Cortez, S., Hopper Jr, G.K., Shively, V. and Styne, D.M., 2019. Yes we can: eating healthy on a limited budget. Journal of nutrition education and behavior, 51(3), pp.268-276.