Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Healthy family eating on the cheap

Articles like this one in the Guardian depress me with reports of the nation's bad eating habits due to suffering family finances. Apparently, fruit and vegetable consumption has decreased, most significantly amongst poorest consumers while "consumption of high-fat and processed foods such as instant noodles, coated chicken, meat balls, tinned pies, baked beans, pizza and fried food has grown among households with an income of less than £25,000 a year".

I'll be honest, I do spend quite a lot of money on food and am fortunate and thankful that we have the funds to allow me to buy good quality produce for our family. However, a lot of the meals I cook are very inexpensive and being vegetarian, are based around vegetables. I can see the attraction of grabbing something ready-made when it's there on the shelf with it's cheap price tag or maybe on special offer but it's definitely a false economy when you consider the impact it will have on your family's health.

With that in mind, here are some suggestions for healthy family eating on the cheap:

Eat seasonal fruit and veg - it will be cheaper than out-of-season produce that has been shipped in.
If you're after convenience, buy frozen veg - it is usually fast-frozen in a fresh state to conserve nutrients.
Keep in some tinned pulses - these are ideal for adding into any number of meals to bulk them out with something nutritious.
Meal plan - taking some time to plan your meals for the week ahead will reduce your likelihood for impulse food purchases during the week.

Some quick healthy meal ideas:

Soup - use up any vegetables you have lying around with a quick soup. Serve over a baked potato or just with some bread for a warming supper.
Stews - similar to the soup but more substantial. Add barley, beans, rice etc and keep your veg chunky.
Pies - not with pastry but with mashed potato toppings, like shepherds pie or cottage pie are an easy one dish meal to make and filling to eat. As a vegetarian, I make mine with whatever veg is in season and add some lentils.
Pasta bakes - you could do a macaroni cheese with some vegetables added in (mushrooms, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach all work well) or a tomato based sauce with aubergines, courgettes, peppers baked in the oven with cheese and breadcrumbs on top
Rice dishes - stir frys work with lots of different vegetables and are very quick to throw together. A hearty meat or bean chilli is another tasty, low-cost option.

It really doesn't need to be expensive to eat healthily. I haven't mentioned fruit but of course that too is an inexpensive way to have tasty snacks and puddings, or added in with a bowl of breakfast cereal or porridge.

Neither does it need to be time-consuming to put together a healthy family meal. The convenience of a shop-bought ready meal is not worth the sacrifice in ingredients. Sure, it's fine on the odd occasion but they shouldn't form a significant part of your regular meals. Even if you don't like cooking, there's no skill needed in chopping some veg and putting it in a pan to cook as the basis for a soup, casserole or whatever.

What would you add to the lists above, either ways to eat on the cheap or recipe ideas for economical family meals?

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