Tight budget foods

There are basically 4 four different kinds of food we need to eat.

Click on each one below for ideas to reduce costs and still stay healthy, or jut keep scrolling down:

Basic food groups

Starchy carbohydrates

These are often the cheapest foods – like porridge, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes

If you can choose high fibre versions, these keep your child’s tummy happy too! They keep us fuller for longer are also good for our mood.

This can be as simple as leaving the skin on potatoes when you make jacket potatoes or wedges, or using new potatoes.

Other times you are charged a bit more for a higher fibre food, such as wholemeal bread instead of white or wholemeal pasta and brown rice. If you can manage the difference, then the benefit is that less food will make you feel fuller

But also, the high fibre version can be cheaper – porridge oats and muesli are usually cheaper per 100g than chocolate based cereal full of sugar and air.

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Dairy products

These include milk, cheese and yoghurt, all of which are packed with calcium. Low fat versions are often the same price

If you are cooking with cheese, buy a strong one as you won’t need so much to get the same flavour

Sweetened fruit flavoured yoghurts are popular with kids, but you might consider getting big tubs of plain yoghurt – great for cooking or serving with savoury meals like a curry or chilli

If you can find it, and it is affordable, look for “live” yoghurt which gives the healthy bacteria in our gut a top-up

If one of the family is on a dairy-free diet for medical reasons you can find calcium fortified milk substitutes make with soya, oats or other ingredients. These are often quite a bit more expensive than regular milk

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Protein based foods

Costs vary hugely in this group – from the humble lentil to fillet steak – so sometimes we can make savings without having to give up too much

Plant based proteins can be healthy and affordable – such as lentils, chick peas and beans. They need a bit of help to boost their flavour with seasoning, spices, lemon juice or vinegar. There are some recipe ideas on this link

You can also use them to make a little meat go further. For example:

  • adding lentils to a bolognaise
  • lentil soup
  • Indian “dahl”
  • green lentil salad
  • chick pea curry
  • chilli con carne
  • or even just baked beans on toast!

To find out more about cooking with these pulses try this page

Nuts are also in this group, as they are packed with protein, but can be expensive

Unlike eggs, meat and fish, plant based proteins are also full of fibre which keeps our guts healthy and can improve our mood too

What about animal based foods? The best value ones usually include:

  • mince (a good source of iron)
  • chicken thighs
  • canned oily fish (great for omega 3)
  • fish fingers!

Chicken thighs still on the bone are great roasted in the oven and are cheaper and tastier than chicken breast – which some children find too dry anyway

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Fruit and vegetables

Costs vary greatly in this group too. Fruit feels expensive compared to other snacks like biscuits. Grapes, strawberries and similar are popular with kids but not so cheap.

If your budget can stretch to it, you might want to get some apples, bananas or “easy peel” oranges like satsumas. Oranges are packed with vitamin C, bananas supply energy, and apples can keep kids busy for a while!

Fruit is especially important for children who are not keen on vegetables.

Good value vegetables include:

  • frozen peas and sweetcorn
  • cabbage
  • onions
  • turnip
  • carrots
  • canned tomatoes

If your child “does not like” vegetables, then there are some ideas on this page that might help!

“5-a-day” on a budget?

We hear a lot about “5-a-day”. This means that each person “should” have at least 5 handfuls of fruits and vegetables a day. That would mean a weekly shop for a family if 4 would involve buying 140 portions a week!

Maybe a more realistic message is to eat as much (quantity and variety) as you can afford.

Most of us would benefit from eating more food from this group. Just eating a portion or two a day would be a big improvement for some children in particular.

A portion for a child is just their handful rather than yours. So a portion for a 5 year old is more like half an apple than a whole one. In weight terms, its about 40 or 50g for a small child, and 80g for a teenager or adult.

Don’t worry about whether its fresh, frozen, canned or dried – they are all nutritious.