I recently read an article in the British media about a possible future type of food tax in the UK. There was also discussion within the article about GP surgeries “prescribing” fruit and vegetables to families who could maybe not afford them or just did not have them in their children’s diets (as children and people on low income get their prescriptions free in the UK). In recent years, a “fizzy drink tax” was introduced (I believe it is actually called something like “the sugar levy”?) whereby fizzy drinks that contain sugar would be more expensive as the sugar would be more highly taxed. The idea of this was to help with the obesity issue in the UK by making sugar-free or diet drinks more attractive as they are cheaper but also to encourage companies to develop alternative recipes to keep their manufacturing costs lower. The next step appears to be increasing taxes on sugar and salt sold wholesale to food manufacturers. Again, the idea is to encourage companies to change their food formulas to make them healthier as it would be cheaper for them, with the knock-on effect that consumers will be eating healthier food.
Currently in the UK, processed and unhealthy foods (such as crisps, chocolate, chips, chicken nuggets, etc.) are cheaper than buying fresh fruit and vegetables (apparently). I must say, since I started eating healthily, my food bills have been higher than when I was just eating junk food all the time, even when I used to eat a higher volume of food than I do now. There are some ways around this, and that’s something I wanted to talk about in this post. I think that due to general education in the UK, although people may be taught about the virtues of fruit and vegetables, you aren’t really taught about how to incorporate them into your meals and daily life. So for those who are in lower-income environments, are very busy or who maybe didn’t benefit from being educated about this themselves, fruit and vegetables may not feature so highly in their meals.
Since my meals have started to feature higher amounts of fruit and vegetables (as I used to dodge them quite frequently as an adult!), I have thought about ways to both incorporate more veg but also to get fruit and vegetables more cheaply to help reduce my shopping bills.
Saving money on fruit and veg
There are a few ways to get fruit and veg more cheaply. One of the most general and probably obvious tips is to shop in cheaper places. Discounter supermarkets are good (e.g. Aldi and Lidl), but fruit and veg markets are also good for buying fruit and veg cheaply. Some towns/cities also have a “social food shop” whereby foods that are surplus from supermarkets are donated and you can buy these at heavily discounted prices. Its always worth a search online in case you have one in your area that you just hadn’t heard about. If you don’t have any of these options nearby, working out when supermarkets do their yellow-stickering (discounting foods that have a short-remaining life span) can be a good move. Some shops also have a “fruit and veg box” that has multiple items in for around £1.50 that have a short life-span. You may not be able to buy multiple days-worth of fruit and veg using this method, but it should be good for a day or two. It can also be a fun challenge to work out what you’ll eat based on what is available and encourages you to try different fruit and veg that you might not otherwise try. I’d also recommend becoming familiar with how fruit and veg looks when its “gone off” or “no longer edible”. I will generally use that as a marker of when to not eat it rather than it being after the “best before” or “use by” date.
If you want a bit more predictability and worry about fruit and veg going off too quickly, frozen and tinned veg are another cheap and good option. Usually, if you buy a bag of frozen veg, it will last a long time because you’ll generally have a larger quantity of it than if you’d bought it fresh. You also aren’t obliged to eat it within a set period of time so you can use it a bit more sensibly. After I recently bought fresh spinach to use in a recipe and then had a large quantity left to use up before it went off, I quickly got fed up of spinach! I now buy frozen spinach and just get blocks out of the freezer, as and when I need some spinach.
If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, have even a tiny outdoor space and have a little cash to be able to pay for the initial outlay, growing some of your own could also be an option. Some fruits/veg (like strawberries or tomatoes) are easy to grow, you can grow in pots and they will also spread themselves, so even if you start with a small strawberry plant, it will soon multiply and spread so you’ll have lots of strawberry plants! It may be that you can only grow one or two things, and that’s fine, but if you have a small group of you (either friends or family), each of you could grow one or two different fruits/veg depending on your available space and available time commitment. You could then give each other your surplus that you’ve grown. Before you know it, you have a small community of people sharing fruit and veg that is sustainable and requires little/no ongoing costs once all set up.
There may not always be a community of people that are able to do this that you personally know, so an already-made version of this would be apps such as Olio. This is an app where people in your local area advertise their surplus food for free. It could be they accidentally bought more than they needed of something, but the idea overall is to reduce food waste by it going to someone who could use it. Similarly, community Facebook groups also often have similar features where someone will post that they have an excess of something and offering it out “free to a good home”. This can be with food but also other items.
Eating More Fruit and Veg
So you’ve worked out how to acquire your fruit and veg, but then you need to actually eat it. There are a few ways I have found to add more veg into meals without having to eat something completely different. One of the easiest ways is if you are already having something like a spaghetti bolognese, just cut up some veg into small pieces and add it in. Even if you have particularly fussy people to feed, if you chop it up small enough, they notice it far less. If you use vegetables that take on the flavour of the sauce, even better. I recommend adding diced courgette, or diced mushrooms in. If you don’t want too much additional prep and want to use frozen veg, this works too! Just throw in a couple of handfuls of frozen mixed veg and job done. This also works with chilli, although I’d more recommend something such as bell peppers (like red or green) although courgette also works here as, again, it takes on the flavour of the sauce. Making a sweet and sour? Put some bell peppers and mushrooms in there.
If you are having something you’d usually put with rice, spaghetti or noodles, there are veg alternatives. Now I’m not saying you should necessarily fully replace the carbs, but you could mix in some of the veg alternatives with the rice, spaghetti or noodles. This would also help the veg versions to go further, which means spending less 😉 What I’m talking about here, are things such as “Rainbow rice” (found in the veg section in Aldi or Asda) or “cauliflower rice” (found in Sainsburys. Often discounted if you’re buying it on the day), “courgetti” (spiralised courgette) or “boodles” (noodles made from butternut squash). If you don’t want to buy them ready-prepared, you could invest in a cheap spiraliser and make your own out of fresh courgette or butternut squash. There are also recipes out there for cauliflower rice. These all sound a bit outlandish, but if you mix them in with real spaghetti, rice or noodles, and eat them with something that has a flavourful sauce, they’re still good and have stealthily added veg to your diet! Going back to the frozen spinach, I’ve found it helpful to defrost a small block of it and add it in to my omelette mix. The flavour doesn’t really change, but it adds some veg in without any really extra effort and without changing the flavour.
Adding in fruit is more simple, I find. Putting your fruit in easier reach than your less healthy snacks is a good start, but also, you could be adding fruit to less healthy treats that you have already. If you’re a lover of ice-cream, a good one is to put less ice cream in your bowl than you would usually, and then top up the rest of the bowl with fruit. Its tasty, its more filling and its healthier. When I first started trying to eat more fruit, it was mainly by adding it to unhealthy foods. I’d have ice cream with chocolate and aerosol cream, but then I’d add banana to it. Now, for me, its a treat to have a large bowl of bananas and strawberries, with some light aerosol cream and a drizzle of skinny chocolate syrup on top. Its tasty and filling and feels like a treat. You can add fruit to your breakfast as well in a simple way. For example, if you usually eat porridge, add a banana or some defrosted frozen berries. You can also add these to Wheatabix, or have yoghurt, granola and fruit as a breakfast.
There are no doubt loads of other ways to add more fruit and veg in, but those were just some of my suggestions. For a lot of people, its about changing habits and the reason habits often don’t change is because it feels like a lot of effort, or people just don’t know where to start. Its often easier to just carry on as you’ve always done. I totally understand that as I’ve been there myself. It also can feel like too much if you’re on a tight budget and fruit and veg appears to be considerably more expensive than a bag of frozen chips. I’m not saying that the country needs to completely change its ways when it comes to preparing food at home, and I understand that everyone has their own challenges, but hopefully these ideas might help someone who is struggling for one reason or another just to make a small change. Well this has been a long entry! Woops! Until next time, stay wonderful 😉