What can you create from ‘nothing’ and still eat healthily?
Updated: May 21
Sometimes you need to get a bit creative with what’s available right now. Your grandparents were probably experts at this. An ability to create from nothing is an amazing skill to have at any time. And when we’re ‘back to normal’, you’ll save a fortune. Obviously, when I say ‘nothing’ this is not entirely true. Sadly, we are not magical Harry Potter beings. However, there are some surprisingly cheap, easy and tasty meals that come from the store cupboard/ leftovers. You might be a person who is used to using up leftovers or you might not be. Either way, our current circumstances mean that it will be helpful to get good at this. Today I want to share some of my favourite resources, tips and recipes to help you:
HEALTHY EATING ON A BUDGET:
1. Include protein at every meal and snack
Protein keeps energy levels stable. It is also essential for the body’s growth and repair, as well as for healthy skin and nails. Protein is found in meat and poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, beans, pulses (like chickpeas and lentils), quinoa, nuts and seeds. Protein should make up a quarter of your meal (about the size of a clenched fist).
Vegetarian protein sources, like beans and lentils, are the most economical. Consider going meat-free one or two days a week. You can also stock up on eggs for a relatively inexpensive protein fix. Eggs sold as “mixed” sizes are cheaper than the regular all “large”, or “jumbo” varieties.
2. Eat plenty of fiber
This means eating lots of vegetables. The recommendation is five (5) portions of vegetables and two (2) portions of fruit (ideally low-sugar fruit like berries, apples, pears, plums) a day. Fibre keeps energy levels constant, balances your hormones, fills you up, and keeps you regular.
Fruit and veg are bursting with beneficial plant chemicals that fight inflammation and disease. Different colours tend to represent different plant chemicals so eat a rainbow of colours over the course of the week to get the broadest benefit.
Greengrocers are often the cheapest places to buy your veg. You can also consider basing meals around supermarket special weekly deals. Don’t rule out frozen veg either. Frozen vegetables are much more affordable than fresh, and are often even fresher because they are flash-frozen soon after picking. My favourites are frozen berries. I always keep 2 packs for my smoothies.
3. Choose healthy fats
Eating fat doesn’t make you gain body fat. The body loves omega-3 fats, which are healthier than others. The body loves omega-3 fats, which are known to boost mood, support the stress response, and reduce inflammation. Omega-3s are found in oily fish (salmon, trout, halibut, cod, mackerel, sardines), flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts. Other healthy sources of fat include avocados, cold-pressed virgin olive and coconut oil, and raw nuts and seeds.
Frozen fish is a far cheaper option than refrigerated. Aim for wild-caught fish, avoid farmed fish.
4. Beware of ‘starchy’ carbs
Don't rely heavily on pasta, bread, rice and potatoes but these (especially when eaten without protein) can spike blood sugar levels, which causes your body to store fat.
Instead, swap to wholefood alternatives – wholemeal pasta and bread, and sweet potatoes – and keep these to no more than a quarter of your plate.
Many people bulk up meals with starch, especially when eating on a budget. Your body will love you for bulking meals up with seasonal veg instead. Some veg can be used to replace traditional starchy carbs – think cauliflower and broccoli rice, butternut squash waffles or courgetti.
5. Cut down on sugar
Most people have an understanding that sugar is not good for them. Eating sugary
food is like a treadmill, with one biscuit creating the need for the next. Sugar creates a blood sugar or energy imbalance, fuels inflammation in the body, and results in weight gain.
Consider that the more sugar you eat, the more you need to eat. Sugary “treats” soon become a three-times-a-day habit. Depending what sugary treats you’re snacking on, cutting them out (or cutting down) could save you a considerable amount each day. Challenge yourself to consume a small piece of dried or fresh fruit or an apple with 1tbsp of nut butter every time you feel like reaching for your favourite sugary treat, and note how you feel after a week.
These useful resources and recipes will help keep your budget and health on track.
Love Food Hate Waste has stacks of interesting ideas to try
Tesco Real Food has some great ideas for common ingredients
Dhal and rice – Jamie Oliver has a lovely recipe
Quinoa and any kind of left-over veg with griddled halloumi (which keeps for ages in the fridge)
Tuna, olives, caper and tomato pasta . Add some cheese to the top and the meal feels a little less like your student days.
Tortilla/ omelette with any kind of leftover veg, cheese, cold meats.
In fact, pretty much any leftover veg can work with the right flourish. I often keep Boursin or cream cheese in the fridge to pull these simple soups together – it seems to make my family feel as though what ended up in the soup was actually part of a recipe.
What other ideas do you have for successful store cupboard suppers?
Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice and any changes should be done in consultation with your healthcare provider.