Healthy Eating on a Budget

What are our Top Ten shopping Tips? Which foods are cheap but healthy? What other tips are there for healthy eating on a budgetr? 

Top Ten Shopping Tips 

Some of our tips may seem obvious – but follow them and you can save money while eating healthily. 

1. Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry. 

2. Plan your meals, then make a list of what you need and stick to it. 

3. Look at the top and bottom shelves – because supermarkets tend to put their most expensive products at eye level. Also check supermarket own label products. 

4. Check if your local market, ethnic shops or green grocers are cheaper - or if online shopping will reduce the temptation to pick up things you don't need as you walk around the supermarket. 

5. Buy fresh fruit and vegetables in season, when they are plentiful and cheap.  But buy only as much as you can eat before they go off. 

6. Buy frozen, tinned or canned vegetables out of season. Freezing or canning when they are picked avoids waste and keeps the price down. 

7. Avoid foods with little nutritional value (like fizzy drinks, crisps, cakes and biscuits) or which are cheap and filling but not very healthy (like white bread, pizza, cheap puddings and pot noodles). Cheaper processed meat (like sausages, bacon and hot dogs) often contains a lot of unhealthy saturated fat and may also increase your risk of cancer, so try to limit these too. 

8. Sell By Date reduced prices are worth considering if there is a longer Use By date. 

9. BOGOF (Buy One Get One Free) is fine for items you can store a long time – but may not be for items which go off quickly (like fruit and vegetables). You can often check the latest offers online first.

10. Avoid prepared meals if you can. You’re paying for the preparation and packaging and they are often made with too much sugar, salt and fat. If you’re short of time, a prepared meal with lower levels of sugar, salt and saturated fat (often indicated by green or amber signals on the pack) will usually be healthier than a takeaway.  You can also prepare meals for the week ahead and then freeze them, so you don't need to buy prepared meals from the shops. Instead of buying expensive coffee on the way to work you can also make your own at home and then take in a reusable flask or mug.

Cheap, Healthy Food 

For a healthy diet we need a mix of protein, carbohydrates, some fat (the right kind and not too much), vitamins and minerals – plus water/fluids. The following can all help: 

Pulses (beans, lentils, chick peas etc.) 

A cheap and healthy source of protein.

Tinned pulses are cheap and convenient.

Canned fish (like sardines, pilchards, salmon and mackerel) 

Another cheap source of protein - plus helpful Omega 3 fatty acids.


Cheap cuts of meat (like neck of lamb, shin beef and brisket and chicken thighs)

A further useful source of protein.

Usually need cooking longer and may also need the fat trimming off -but can be good for dishes like stews and casseroles. 


Another useful and not too expensive source of protein.

Eggs are not usually a cholesterol risk.

Low fat dairy products (like semi skimmed milk, low fat cheese and yoghurt)

Worth including for healthy teeth and bones - but check that the low fat yoghurts aren't using sugar to replace the fat.

We need Vitamin D  (e.g. from modest exposure to sunshine) to help our bodies absorb the calcium from dairy products. 


Nutritious and giving a sustained release of energy.

Cheap and filling

Brown rice, wholemeal pasta and bread, (including pitta bread)

Contain more fibre than their processed white equivalents and have a lower Glycemic Load (which reduces the risk of diabetes) - so a healthier source of carbohydrate.

They can sometimes be a bit more expensive than their white counterparts but are healthier and tend to make you feel full quicker.

Vegetable oils (like sunflower or olive oil)

Healthier than animal fats like lard.

Olive oil is more expensive but is part of the famous Mediterranean Diet, which is associated with healthy ageing and long life.

Fruit and Vegetables  (fresh in season; frozen or canned out of season)

A valuable source of vitamins and minerals

The government advises we eat at least 5 portions a day

Tap water (in countries where it is safe to drink)

Contains no sugar.

And it is free

If some of the healthy food we’ve mentioned sounds a bit bland, look for healthy ways to add some additional taste. For example you can add cinnamon, honey, fruit or yoghurt to porridge. For other meals adding spices, herbs, curry powder, tomato sauce, lime juice or vinegar can all add extra flavour.  

Other Tips for Healthy Eating on a Budget 

Make sure you have breakfast. As the saying goes, ‘Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper.’ Breakfast is probably the most important meal of the day. Studies have shown that people who eat breakfast are less likely to be obese (possibly because they are then less likely to snackon sugary foods to try to compensate). People who have breakfast also appear to have reduced health risks. A study of 82,772 people in Japan, conducted over 15 years and published in 2016, found that breakfast was associated with a reduced risk of stroke.  While an analysis of eight studies, involving over 100,000 participants, published in 2015, concluded that regular breakfast consumption is potentially important for the prevention of type 2 Diabetes.

If you choose from food like porridge/oats, fruit, yoghurt, (reduced sugar and fat) baked beans, wholegrain toast and scrambled or poached eggs you’ll be making a low cost, healthy start to your day. 

If you’re working, take a packed lunch. This will usually be cheaper than eating out or buying food during your lunch break. Remember to include some salad, fruit or vegetable. 

Add more vegetables and/or pulses to meat based dishes to help provide volume and nutrition so you don’t need as much meat, saving money while cutting down on the amount of unhealthy saturated fats you’re consuming. 

If you haven’t much money but some spare time, grow your own fruit and vegetables – in a local allotment, your back garden or even a window box (for herbs). 

The average UK household throws away a third of the food they buy. You can avoid throwing food away and save money by buying only what you need, serving food on smaller plates and using leftovers (saving them in cling film or food containers, to reuse the next day). 

Check out low cost recipes online, for example from: 

Reviewed and updated by Isobel Morgan, December 2017. Next review date November 2020.

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