Your diet is a bank account. Good food choices are good investments.
One of my nutrition clients wanted to improve their diet and came to me assuming I would recommend avocado, nuts, tofu, and other expensive foods you might see on an influencer’s Instagram account.
This client was one of many people who have told me they don’t think they can have a healthy diet because they can’t afford “healthy foods.”
This article aims to challenge this unfortunate misconception and to give you tips on how to eat healthy without breaking the bank!
1. Look at the price per unit of weight
When you compare two similar food items by price, you may be more inclined to pick the one that costs less. For example, between two packs of chicken breast, if one is £4 and one is £3, you might go for the latter.
However, if you were to look at the price per unit of weight, you might notice that the £4 chicken is £5 per kilogram, whereas the £3 chicken is £7 per kilogram. The latter seems “cheaper” because there is less of it in the pack: the £3 pack contains 585gr, whereas the £4 pack contains a whopping 800gr.
This means you might be spending less in the moment, but you would run out of chicken sooner. And, if you were to always buy the £3 pack, you would consistently run out of chicken more often than if you were to buy the £4 pack.
Assuming you eat 150gr of chicken four times a week, the £4 pack would last you a week and a half. On the contrary, the £3 pack would only last you a week, forcing you to spend money on a more regular basis.
In summary, looking at the price per unit of weight can help you navigate alluring low prices that are in fact masking a higher cost in the long run.
Choosing products based on this tip is especially helpful with non-perishable foods, like pasta, and perishable foods that you can store in the freezer, like the chicken breast in the example.
In regards to fresh fruit and vegetables, you might find that some foods are priced per item and others per unit of weight. I recommend comparing their price per unit of weight, as the cost of foods priced per item is based on an arbitrary “average” portion, which can sometimes be a lot bigger than any of the portions on sale.
2. Buy local seasonal fruit and vegetables
These are usually cheaper than imported goods, especially if the latter can’t be grown in your country or they are out of season.
In order for foods to be available out of their seasons, they are subjected to alterations to their natural life cycles, alterations that can affect their taste and nutritional content. As a result, seasonal produce tends to be fresher and higher in nutrients. It’s a double win!
To take this tip to the next level, wait until the end of the season. This is when in-season fruit and vegetables tend to be the least expensive. The taste and micronutrient value could be slightly less optimal than when the same product is at the peak of its season, but it may still be better than imported or out-of-season goods… and at a fraction of the price.
3. Buy ingredients, not meals
We tend to think that ready meals and fast food are cheaper than home-cooked meals. For example, a ramen meal kit is “only” £3 or a microwaveable rice bowl is “only” £2.50.
However, buying single ingredients and cooking home-made meals is not only going to be healthier in the long run, as you can control the amount and quality of food that you use, but also less expensive.
Let’s take a Kabuto ramen meal kit as an example. The kit is £3.50 when not on offer and contains noodles, stock paste, and a vegetable topping. In addition, you need to buy your own chicken and vegetables.
If you were to make the same recipe buying individual ingredients, the approximate cost would be as follows:
The total is £2.1, which is over £1 cheaper than the meal kit.
What’s more, you will be left with plenty of leftover ingredients to use for this and other recipes, whereas the meal kit will only be enough for one or maybe two identical meals.
Eating out and opting for kits and ready meals less often will thus be a big help if you are trying to cut food costs.
4. Frozen food is your friend
Frozen food is no less nutritious than fresh food. In fact, fruit and vegetables are usually frozen right after harvesting, when their nutritional value is the highest, and the ice preserves this condition.
So, in some cases, they might actually be better than some “fresh” produce that has been sitting in a van for who knows how long before it got to the store.
Furthermore, if you consider the price per unit of weight, you will find that frozen produce is much cheaper than its fresh counterpart.
You can get an entire kilogram (over two pounds!) of most vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots, for £1 or less, whereas a single head of broccoli, which is usually around 350gr (less than a pound) can range from 55 to 65p.
5. Foreign food is also your friend
Foreign stores often have similar brands – or the same brands – that you can find in a supermarket, but the price is much more reasonable.
For example, high-protein Greek yogurt has been a part of the first meal of my day for years. In England, one pot can cost anything from 89p to £1.40 in one of the big chain supermarkets, such as Tesco or Waitrose. When I was a student in Portsmouth, I would often get my Greek yogurts from a small Polish store, where a single pot was as cheap as 49p!
This tip can also be applied to the international food section of a big chain supermarket. For instance, it isn’t uncommon to find bags of one kilogram of white or brown rice for £1 in the Indian food isle… then take a look at the local food isle and find a pack of 500gr of rice for a similar or higher price.
In Future Episodes:
A month into my new muscle-gaining phase, I’m going to share some tips I find helpful to deal with weight (and fat) gain.
Can you think of any other money-saving tip?
A personal trainer who likes superheroes, bread, lifting weights, and studying “fitness stuff”.
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