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10 frugal hacks for foodies

Eat well, but spend less, with our penny pinching tips

If you want to fatten your purse while you whittle your waistline, you need to get creative. Healthy food doesn’t have to mean pricey food. You simply need to employ three key skills: top-notch organisation; super-shrewd shopping and culinary creativity. Check out our great diet-optimising tips to save time and money. Ker-ching!

1. Plan ahead

At the end of each week, scribble down a healthy-eating plan for the week ahead. Figuring out which meals you’re going to make during the week will save you time and won’t stretch your purse strings. ‘Only buy food that can go well with what you already have in your fridge so you are not wasting anything,’ advises Nature’s Plus nutritionist Michela Vagnin (naturesplus.com). ‘Make a weekly menu plan and buy only what you need to prepare it,’ she adds.

2. Cook in bulk

Once you’ve stocked up on key ingredients, make bigger portions for dinner that will cover you for two meals and then take any leftovers to work. When you have extra time on weekends make up batches of your favourite soups, stews and stir-fries. Then divide them into individual portions and freeze until they’re needed. 

3. Go meat-free

A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine revealed that vegetarians have lower blood pressure than meat eaters. Further research shows, on the whole, those following a plant-based diet have a lower risk of diseases like cancer and type 2 diabetes. Remember, meat doesn’t have to be the centrepiece. You can bulk up dishes with quinoa or eggs, beans or lentils and they’ll still pack a protein punch. ‘High-fibre food like legumes are good for constipation and weight loss. They’re also nutrient dense, so great for your skin and immune system,’ says Michela. 

4. Be restaurant savvy 

When you’re watching your wallet, dining out is usually a big no-no. But if you’re clever about it, you can still enjoy the luxury of eating out. Skip starters and order a vegetarian meal instead of a meat-based dish, as these usually tend to be cheaper (and often healthier). ‘Also remember that alcohol in restaurants is quite expensive, so stick to water or choose restaurants where you can bring your own (BYO),’ suggests Michela. ‘If you feel like a drink, maybe have an aperitif at home with friends before heading off to the restaurant. Alcohol-free nights will make a big difference to your weekly budget and will also be a good detox,’ she adds. 

5. Eat in season

Sick of splashing out £4 on a punnet of blueberries? If you don’t want to miss out on getting your five-a-day, simply eat fruit and veg in season when it’s cheaper. And if you don’t want to forgo organic food, head to your local farmers’ market at the end of the day to get the best prices on organic produce. Alternatively, you could sign up to an organic veg box scheme where you can order weekly groceries online – pick the cheapest box of the week and you’ll get fresh fruit and veg delivered straight to your doorstep. ‘Cauliflower, celeriac, leeks, parsnips and swede are all in season now. These can all be made into stews or toasted in the oven with herbs or spices to give them an extra kick,’ recommends Michela. 

6. Be inspired

Love browsing the shelves of your local health store, but hate the knock-on effect it has on your bank balance? Make your own versions of foods like smoothies, houmous, granola and ‘fruit and nut’ bars and you’ll save money (and calories) in the long run. ‘Remember, cooking your own food is usually cheaper than buying pre-made pre-packed food,’ says Michela. 

7. Don’t always look at best-before dates

British households end up throwing away a whopping 7 million tonnes of food every year. And, while nobody wants to eat food that’s gone off, best-before dates aren’t always the best indicator of whether food is still safe to eat. There’s a big difference between best-before dates and use-by dates. ‘Best-by dates refer to foods that are best before that date – after that date they might not be as fresh, but will still be edible – whereas use-by dates refer to foods that expire before a specific date. Always choose food with longer expiry dates, especially for weekly shopping,’ advises Michela. 

8. Outsmart your supermarket

Supermarkets are designed to squeeze as much money out of you as they can, so you have to shop smart in order to sidestep the overspending traps. First up, don’t feel the need to fill up your trolley; if you’re not doing a weekly shop, pick up a basket instead. You won’t want to carry a heavy basket!  ‘And buy loose fruit and veg rather than pre-packed, as this will save you the packaging money,’ adds Michela. 

9. Take a multivitamin

A balanced diet is a good place to start if you want to improve your health, but if you really want to give your body a boost, taking a daily multivitamin can be a helpful aid. ‘When you buy supplements, buy them in larger sizes. Although you have to shell out more cash initially, they’ll last you longer and you’ll save more money overall,’ says Michela. 

10. Use your freezer

Fed up of having to toss away veggies week after week? Use your freezer’s ice cube trays to freeze fresh vegetables. Purée greens like spinach and broccoli, spoon into the trays, and then use them whenever you want to make a homemade smoothie or juice. You’ll find it’s much cheaper (and healthier) than buying shop-bought versions.