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

  • Top Ten shopping tips
  • Inexpensive, healthy foods
  • More tips for healthy eating on a budget 

Top Ten shopping tips

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


Before you go shopping

  1. Plan your meals, then make a list of what you need and stick to it!
  2. Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry.
  3. Avoid putting these foods on your shopping list:
  • Avoid foods with little nutritional value, like fizzy drinks, crisps, cakes and biscuits.
  • Avoid foods that are cheap and filling but not very healthy, like white bread, pizza, cheap puddings and pot noodles.
  • Avoid cheaper processed meats such as sausages, bacon and hot dogs. These foods often contain a lot of unhealthy saturated fat and can increase your risk of bowel cancer. 


When you’re shopping

4. 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.

5. BOGOF (Buy One Get One Free) can be worthwhile for items you can store for a long time but may not be so good for items which go off quickly, such as fruit and vegetables. You can often check the latest offers online first.

6. Avoid prepared/ready meals if you can. You’re paying for the preparation and packaging, and these meals are often made with high levels of 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 your own 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, make your own at home and take it in a reusable flask or mug.


Budgeting in action!

7. Look at the top and bottom shelves when you shop. Supermarkets tend to put their most expensive products at eye level. Also, check supermarkets’ own label products.

8. Check if your local market, ethnic shops or greengrocers are cheaper than the local supermarket. Consider online shopping if it will reduce the temptation to pick up things you don't need as you walk around the supermarket.

9. Buy frozen or canned fruit and vegetables out of season. Freezing or canning the fruit and veg when they are picked reduces waste and keeps the price down.

10. Look carefully at the Sell by date and the Use by date. Shops often reduce prices if the Sell by date is close, and the Use by date still has a way to go.


Use by is usually found on foods with a short shelf life, such as cooked meats, fish or pork pies.
                      The Use by date assumes that the item has been stored correctly. 


Inexpensive, healthy foods

For a healthy, balanced diet we need a mixture of protein, carbohydrates, some fat (the right kind, and not too much), vitamins and minerals, plus water/fluids:



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, and these ‘oily’ fish contain high levels of 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. These cuts are good for dishes like stews and casseroles.


Another useful and not too expensive source of protein.
Eggs are not usually a cholesterol risk and aren’t associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease


Dairy products

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

Dairy products are 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.


Cereals and grains


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. They also have a lower Glycaemic Load (which reduces the risk of diabetes), so are 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.


Vitamins and minerals

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.


Remember: Tap water (in countries where it is safe to drink), contains no sugar and is free!


If some of the healthy food we’ve mentioned might sound a bit bland, you can look for healthy ways to add extra taste. For example, 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.

More 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 less likely to snack on sugary foods).

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 German researchers, reviewing six different studies with 96,000 participants, concluded that skipping breakfast four or five times a week increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 55%

If you choose from food like porridge/oats, fruit, yoghurt, reduced-sugar 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.The British Dietetic Association has a useful Food Fact Sheet specifically designed to help you make healthy packed lunches. 

Add more vegetables and/or pulses to meat-based dishes

Eat more vegetables and/or pulses to help provide volume and nutrition so you don’t need as much meat. This will save you money while cutting down on the amount of unhealthy saturated fats you’re consuming.

Grow your own fruit and vegetables

If you haven’t much money but have some spare time, consider ‘growing your own’ in a local allotment, your back garden or even in a window box (for herbs).

Reduce waste – avoid throwing away food

Average UK households throw away a third of the food they buy. You can avoid throwing away food and you can save money by:

  • buying only what you need
  • serving food on smaller plates
  • using leftovers (save them in cling film or food containers, to reuse the next day).

Check out low-cost recipes online

Useful websites to explore are:

Reviewed and updated by Kirulagini Sivamathavan April 2021. Next review date March 2025.


Other relevant articles on the Age Watch website: