6 Ways to Lower The Cost of Your Weekly Food Shop
Discover 6 ways to lower the cost of your weekly food shop. I often wonder how the nutrition industry looks from the outside. On a good day, I like to think that it has the appearance of a united block of individuals who all spend their lives improving the health and wellbeing of others. An altruistic force for good that embraces anyone who seeks their help with open arms and minds. A welcoming, kind-hearted set of professionals that want nothing more than to assist those who are struggling, led primarily by equal measures of both empathy and coaching prowess.
But most of the time I guess it looks like a bunch of upper-class bellends that expect everyone to eat fresh, organic greens that have only ever been touched by the fingertips of a virgin. The kind of people that use phrases like “I would never put that in my body” when someone offers them a sandwich.
Nowhere is this more clearly brought to my attention than in comment and discussion threads between fitness people (not necessarily coaches) when the topic turns to that of the price of eating healthily.
“It’s not THAT expensive” they cry, before talking about excuses and whatnot, but here’s the thing: Eating healthily IS more expensive than not. This is not only because you can get a LOT of pretty decent-tasting calories for not a lot of money if you choose what is generally referred to as junk food to do it, but because the cost isn’t only measured financially.
It’s measured in time.
The fact is that when most people say that eating well doesn’t cost much, they say that because in literal terms you CAN make a lot of food for not much money if you have the time to prepare things from scratch, and let’s face it: most of us don’t. As such, whenever talking about the price of food this NEEDS to be taken into account.
What follows are therefore things that may not get you to the theoretical PERFECT diet. The kind of thing that involves a load of fancy-ass ingredients that may be cheap but take like 3 hours to do anything with – Instead I’m going to suggest 5 methods of reducing your food spend in the real world, when you have a job, kids, a house, and dare I mention it a modicum of a social life to take care of.
As a disclaimer, I’m going to use the terms ‘good choices’ and similar things in this blog. I’m doing so as a shorthand for “the kind of nutrient dense, calorie appropriate choices that are unlikely to result in overeating due to hyper palatability or low satiety. The sort of food choices that, were you to make them all the time, would support a healthy body and mind”. I don’t mean this in a way that creates a dichotomy between good and bad foods, nor do I mean it in a way that demonises biscuits and cakes. All foods are always on the menu, and nothing should be out of bounds or banned from you, but here we’re talking about eating well on a budget, and that means your purchases are limited to begin with. We need to make every penny count, so you’ll benefit if most of your choices adhere to something close to the above.
6 Ways to Lower the Cost of Your Weekly Food Shop
1 – Plan your weekly meals and do most of your shopping online
This is probably the single best tip I can give ANYONE short on time any money. Food waste is just throwing money in the bin but with extra steps, and anything that avoids that is a logical first step. Not doing this before implementing other cost-cutting tactics is like bailing out a boat before you stop it leaking.
Planning your food ahead of time does two things:
- It tells you what you do and do not need
- It saves you time that would otherwise be spent thinking about what you want to eat
When you’re tired and unsure of what to cook, then you look in the fridge and are uninspired, you’ve got the perfect recipe (no pun intended) for making poorer food choices. This is when takeaways will be ordered – more on this in a moment – and so this is a part of your week that’s worth eliminating.
Simply plan your food for the week (discuss this with your family, make compromises, etc) then write it down. Plan three square meals per day, and 1-2 snacks if needs be, then write a shopping list getting ONLY the stuff you need. Be careful here, though, because this is not a time to be ultra-frugal. If you cut back too much and don’t actually get the things you need – maybe you only get 12 eggs rather than 24 because you’re going to try to make do, or you just get one bottle of milk – then you’re going to run out and have to go back to the shop.
That means you’ll spend more money.
By then taking this list and buying online, you avoid the STRONG urge to buy stuff while you’re there just because you see it. Supermarkets are laid out not by the hardworking staff you see stacking shelves, but by teams of behavioural psychologists who are able to nudge you in the direction of increased purchases. If you shop online, armed with a list of things you plan to buy, you can just fill out what you want and hit order, avoiding this entirely. Select a time where delivery is cheap or click and collect which is free, and you’ll find you’ll probably cut 20% off your weekly spend right away.
(even if your weekly spend in your main shop stays the same or increases, you’ll buy fewer or no extras during the week, meaning you still save).
This tip also counter-intuitively gets you to stop calling into the really cheap shops like B&M or Home Bargains. These stores are cheap as hell, and WILL save you money…but they won’t save you money on stuff you actually need because for the most part the only things that are actually cheaper here are packaged foods*. Buying cheap biscuits, cakes and chocolate is only a good way to save money if you are going to buy those anyway, and as we’re trying to work out how to eat healthily on a budget, all scoring these bargains is doing is:
- Making your home environment less health-promoting
- Spending money on stuff you didn’t plan on buying. A deal only saves money if you were going to buy it anyway, and a 50% off item bought despite not needing it is still a waste of resources
*I’m talking specifically about food here – these stores ARE great for cheap toiletries etc, so if you are going to go, just be sure to go in with a list and buy only what you need.
There’s no reason your food shop, and so daily diet, can’t include some items of ‘junk’, but my clients and myself both found that eating well on a budget is way easier when we prioritise core ‘healthy foods’ and snacks first, then look to add things only if the budget allows.
2 – Cut back on takeaways and meals out, severely if possible, including shop-bought sandwiches or snacks
This one is probably a little obvious, but it’s really, really important to keep in mind. When you are buying food there are three options:
- An on the go/convenient meal
- Nutrient-dense and likely to support a healthy lifestyle
Sure, fresh fruit and some other ‘healthy choices’ are pretty cheap – it doesn’t cost much to buy a carrot to munch on, but that’s not a meal, is it?
It’s FAR cheaper to buy things and knock up sandwiches than it is to buy a sandwich every day – this also enables you to make sandwiches that are more filling, more enjoyable, and more nutrient-dense. (Compare a £3.95 bought ham and cheese sandwich to a homemade one that winds up costing around £1.50 if you buy enough to make one every day, and you will find that you get a far better lunch!). The same can be said of snacks and anything else you can buy in packs/multiples from a shop rather than buying one at a time while you’re out and about.
(You’ll probably find it takes less time to make your lunch than go and buy it, too!)
3 – Eat seasonally
Fruits and vegetables are expensive. They don’t contain many calories, don’t last very long, and take some preparation in order to make edible, but you can at least take SOME of the pain away from getting your 5 a day by eating seasonally.
Seasonal veg requires less transport, and so costs far less to produce and supermarkets often pass this on to the customer. Strawberries cost way less when they’re in season than they do out of season, and during winter things like parsnips become cheaper, too. Keep an eye on the reduced or cheap fruit and veg in your supermarket while shopping online and pick up some bargains!
Alongside this comes the eternal recommendation to buy frozen. Again because of reduced transport and storage costs (but not because of lower quality) frozen fruit and veg is significantly cheaper – everything from berries to cruciferous vegetables will cost less if you buy freezer bags full, and they tend to taste just as good if not better when cooked thanks to being frozen so quickly after picking!
4 – Get to know your slow cooker intimately, and rediscover roasts
One of the best ways to make your life more expensive in terms of both financial and time cost is to cook from scratch every time you want to eat something. By batch cooking, you can spend the same amount of prep time to make 10 meals as it would to make one, and when it comes to slow cookers and roasts (especially one-pan roasting dish meals) you are also unlocking a TON of flavour with minimal effort.
Cooking off whole chickens rather than buying breast, roasting joints of meat rather than buying diced portions, and preparing days worth of Quorn curry rather than just two meals will save you loads of time while also enabling you to benefit from the economy of scale – pay twice as much for more ingredients, and you’ll usually make 5 times the food, meaning each individual meal costs a hell of a lot less. Big win!
5 – Don’t try to buy lean every time, don’t be afraid of carbs, and sod organic food
I dare say one reason why healthy living seems so expensive is because of influencers telling everyone to buy organic produce, and only the finest ingredients. Sure, this is nice for those who are able to afford it, but there are a few things we need to get clear:
- The data are clear, organic food is no healthier, often no tastier, and probably worse for the environment
- Even if this WASN’T true (which it is), it wouldn’t make non-organic or not-the-best-ingredients *not* good choices
Lean steak, chicken breast, wild-caught fresh salmon and lean sausages/other meats are far more expensive, but there’s nothing wrong with eating chicken thighs, tinned salmon or tuna, joints of cheap beef, regular sausages and – here’s the big one, NOT animal-based protein sources.
With the low carb movement, came the idea that animal-based foods were absolutely necessary for leading a healthy lifestyle, and while that idea has now thankfully fallen by the wayside there still seems to be a fear of carbs permeating the nutritional world. Rice, pasta, beans, oats, bread, potatoes, parsnips, and pulses are all EXTREMELY cheap, and so great ways to bulk out a meal without spending additional money. Even mycoprotein (Quorn) products tend to be cheaper than their animal-based counterparts, and no less deserving of a place on your plate.
Swap a lean beef mince chilli with vegetables for a Quorn mince and bean chilli with rice and all of a sudden your food will go a long way.
6 – Learn ways to make things taste good with minimal effort
And finally, going back to the point I made at the start, it’s really, really important that you balance the twin ideas of financial and time-based savings. It costs a little more to buy a spice mix or marinade to put on your food than it does to buy a lot of herbs and spices that you can use over and over, but it’s a HELL of a lot easier to pour some Nando’s sauce onto your meal than it is to spend ages mixing herbs and spices and that might be the difference between you sticking to the process and not. Spending £10 more per week on convenience that saves you half an hour of your precious free time every evening (including prep and cleanup) might be worth it for you, and if so I’d encourage you to do that.
And on the flip side, it might be worth it for you to spend time preparing things from scratch because it IS financially cheaper. The choice really is up to you on this one.
Eating healthily IS expensive. It always will be. Even if you follow everything here it’ll still probably cost you £5-10 more per week to eat well-balanced meals than it would to do everything I’ve said but stock up on frozen chicken kievs and oven chips, but in the long run, poor health is far more costly.
And the tradeoff CAN be minimised…