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Healthy eating on a budget

Want to improve your diet without spending a fortune? We share 20 tips to help you eat more healthily and save money doing it.

Eating healthily doesn’t have to mean spending a fortune. In fact, many of the healthiest foods are also among the cheapest. Our 20 top tips for healthy eating on a budget can help you to boost your wellbeing as well as your bank balance.

From home cooking to meal planning, these simple, actionable tips can improve your diet and reduce how much you spend on food.

1. Cook from scratch

One way to guarantee healthy meals is to cook them yourself. And while ready meals may be easier, home cooking will save you money in the long run.

If you’re not too confident in the kitchen, start with something easy like our 20-minute stir fry or one of these quick and easy fish recipes.

2. Eat more vegetables

Vegetables are cheap, full of nutrients and low in calories. Our bodies need lots of fibre, vitamins and minerals to be healthy, and eating a variety of vegetables is the best way to ensure we get them all.

Eating more vegetables should naturally make you eat fewer expensive and processed foods, so it’s just as good for your wallet as it is for your health.

3. Buy what’s in season

All produce, fruit and vegetables in particular, is cheaper when it’s in season. If you stick to buying this way, you could save significant money on your weekly shop.

BBC Good Food has this handy food seasonality table that should start you off.

4. Eat less meat

Vegetarian meals tend to be cheaper than those containing meat and fish.

If you can’t imagine life without meat (and many of us can’t), try cutting back rather than going full-on vegetarian or vegan. Choose some meals without any meat, and cut down your portions when you do eat meat or fish.

Perhaps start with a meat free Monday (or any other day of the week) and gradually build more plant-based meals into your diet.

Not sure what you like? Try vegetarian or low-meat versions of your favourites, such as vegetarian lasagne or beef and lentil bolognese.

5. Choose cheaper cuts of meat

This is a great way to save money if you don’t want to give up meat. Opt for cheaper – but no less tasty – cuts of meat.

The best place to start is to speak to your butcher, whether independent or in your local supermarket. They’ll be able to advise you on the best affordable cuts of meat for you.

It’s not just stewing meats that come cheap, either. Certain fish and even certain cuts of steak can be bought for a bargain.

6. Eat more fibre

High-fibre foods make you feel fuller for longer, helping you to eat less, which means less money spent on food and can help you to maintain a healthy weight.

Healthy foods that are high in fibre include pulses (beans, lentils and the like), wholegrain pasta and bread, brown rice, and many vegetables.

Start off slow by throwing an extra tin of kidney beans into your chilli con carne, or whip up a big batch of vegetable curry with brown rice.

7. Plan your meals

Meal plans are one of the most fail-safe ways to save money on your groceries. If you plan meals in advance, based around healthy foods that are affordable too, you are far less likely to reach for convenience foods like ready meals or takeaways.

Making a meal plan is much easier than people think. Simply write down the days you want to shop for, make a note of the meals you need to plan for, and fill in those slots with healthy meals you know you’ll want to eat.

Our top tips for meal planning are:

Build it around YOU

If you get home late on Thursdays, plan to eat leftovers or something else super speedy. If you always go out for dinner on a Friday, there’s no point planning a meal at home. A meal plan won’t save you money if it’s not based around your real life.

Be realistic
Don’t choose a meal that takes ages for a weeknight. And don’t attempt something new when you don’t have much time. There is nothing wrong with sticking to tried-and-tested favourites.

Be flexible

If you’re planning for a week, for example, leave a couple of evening meals and a lunch or two up to chance. You might make last-minute plans or end up with more leftovers than you expected.

Have variety

Pasta might be easy to cook but you don’t necessarily want to eat it three nights in a row. Make your meal plan interesting and you'll be less tempted to stray from it.

Cook smart

Can you double up on ingredients or prep-time with any of your meals? For example, if a recipe calls for half a cabbage or half a bag of potatoes, schedule in a recipe that uses the other half. If you’re roasting vegetables on Monday, consider recipes for Tuesday or Wednesday that also use roasted vegetables, and prep all of them on Monday.

8. Cook extra and have leftovers for lunch

Do you spend more than you want to on lunch every day? Are you tired of the same old boring sandwich? Do you opt for convenience over healthy choices?

Leftovers from the previous night’s healthy dinner could be the answer to all these problems.

So, when you make your evening meal, cook twice as much as you need and portion up your leftovers, ready for lunch the next day.

9. Know what you have in your kitchen

Get into the habit of checking your cupboards and fridge before buying anything. That way, you won’t end up buying ingredients you already have at home.

10. Build meals around ingredients you already have

Now you know what’s already in your kitchen, build your meal plan around it. A meal where you only have to buy half the ingredients is inevitably the cheaper option.

11. Make a list (and stick to it)

If you only follow one piece of advice from this article, make it writing a shopping list. Make a list, make it well, and stick to it in the shop.

If you have a list as you walk around the supermarket, you are far less likely to find yourself picking up random items you don't even need. And the less likely you are to make unhealthy choices.

The best way to make a solid shopping list is to build it around your meal plan. Buy the ingredients you’ll need for each meal, add in essentials like milk and butter, and perhaps include some healthy snacks.

12. Only buy what you’ll eat

OK, so maybe you’ll stray from your shopping list now and again. But before you do, ask yourself, will you really eat this, and when? If you’re not sure, put it back.

In the UK, we throw away frightening amounts of uneaten food, often because we’ve bought more than we really need. So, as well as saving money, you’ll be doing your part to save the environment.

13. Don’t shop when you’re hungry

You may have heard this before, but it’s no less true for being old advice. When you’re hungry, you’ll make poorer decisions about what food to buy and you will probably buy more than you need.

14. Avoid the snack aisle

If you have a tendency to overeat, to eat the wrong things, or to spend too much on your weekly shop, the snack aisle can be a dangerous place! Why not save yourself the trouble and avoid it altogether?

If you do need to venture down there, make sure you have a specific item in mind. Don’t be drawn in by the bright colours, BOGOFs and the like.

15. Buy in bulk

In general, larger containers of food are cheaper (gram for gram). For non-perishable foods, this can be a great way to save money.

If you regularly eat ingredients like rice, pasta, flour or lentils, and have the room to store large amounts of them, buying in bulk can be very cost-effective.

16. Pay attention to prices and deals

Are loose carrots cheaper per kilogram than packaged? Is that deal of the week really so great? Think carefully about your options for everything you buy and weigh up the alternatives before deciding whether something is really such a good price. Remember, supermarkets are designed to make you spend more.

17. Eat smaller portions

One very simple way to save money on food is to reduce your portion sizes. The less you eat, the less you buy.

Of course, this won’t be practical advice for everyone. But if you are overweight, one of the most common reasons is too-large portion sizes. Speak to your GP, who will be able to give you advice on what’s right for you.

18. Buy store’s own brands

Own brands tend to be much cheaper than their more famous counterparts, and in taste tests people often can’t tell the difference.

Try switching a couple of your most frequently bought branded items for a week or a month and see if you like the change. If you do, great, money saved! If not, try swapping something else instead.

19. Eat frozen

Clever cooks know to make best friends with their freezers. If you’re looking to eat healthy on a budget but don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen every day, frozen ingredients are a must.

Frozen meat and fish are generally cheaper than their fresh counterparts. The same goes for frozen fruits and vegetables. They often come pre-chopped or pre-portioned, too, which can save you time in the kitchen.

A well-stocked freezer might contain:

  • Sliced mixed peppers
  • Garden peas or petit pois
  • Sweetcorn
  • Chopped mushrooms
  • Diced butternut squash
  • Lean meats
  • Meat substitutes, like Quorn pieces or Linda McCartney sausages
  • Fish and seafood
  • Pastry
  • Fruit
  • Pre-sliced bread in case you run out
  • Pre-portioned and frozen home cooked meals

20. Cook one meal for the whole family

If you have children and are in the habit of cooking one meal for them and another for yourself, you’d be surprised how much extra money you might be spending.

Where possible, cook one meal for the whole family. It will save you both time and money. Change 4 Life has great options if you don’t know where to start.

The bottom line is, it’s absolutely possible to eat healthily on a budget. In fact, healthy options are often the cheapest options too.

Cook from scratch, choose cheap yet healthy ingredients, plan your meals, know your portion sizes and don’t be tempted by expensive, processed foods. These basic principles are guaranteed to save you money on your groceries and help you eat well for less.

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