We eat very cheaply here at Shoestring Cottage. However, not at the expense of our health; we always manage to eat our five a day on a budget. In fact, we eat a lot more than five portions of fruit and vegetables. I have around eight most days because I eat a lot of fruit.
I’m always surprised when people say it is hard to get your five a day on a budget. I guess it would be if you always bought fresh stuff that looks perfect in a mainstream supermarket. But there are lots of options to buy your fruit and veggies without breaking the bank. Here are my suggestions.
The best ways to get your five a day on a budget
Check out your local market
In the past when I had more time and went to town more often, I purchased from the greengrocer’s stall at the local market. If you have a good market and the time to get there this is still brilliant value and one of the cheapest ways to buy fresh produce.
Similar stalls also pop up regularly at many boot sales nowadays, and are well worth checking out. I often stock up when I am out and about.
Now that I work so much I have little time to go into town, so I tend to get my fruit and veg from the discount supermarkets like Lidl and Aldi. Their specials are excellent and super cheap, but even their normal fruit and veg tends to be less expensive than the mainstream supermarkets.
Look out for the Aldi Super Six and Lidl’s Pick of the Week for their best deals.
A lot of supermarkets offer wonky veg bags and boxes. We have grabbed a couple of Asda ones every now and again. It really doesn’t affect the flavour of the produce if it doesn’t look perfect. That’s how we always used to eat it before the supermarkets standardised everything and made us believe carrots had to be straight and apples blemish free.
Along with Asda, Morrison’s and Lidl offer wonky veg boxes as far as I know, as well as wonky bags containing just one type of item, but let me know in the comments if you have found them elsewhere.
Wonky veg boxes can be hard to track down, but it’s worth asking when they are likely to be delivered so that you can get in first. They offer very good value.
Fruit and veg that is seasonal and plentiful tends to be cheapest, particularly if it is locally grown. Farm shops and farmers markets are worth a look for seasonal produce, but I tend to find them quite pricey. Town centre markets and supermarkets are generally cheaper, in my experience.
Buy whole and unprocessed
I know it sounds obvious, but if you buy your fruit and veg ready chopped you will be paying a premium. It doesn’t take long to peel and chop a few veg, and there will be more nutrients in the produce if you prep them and eat them straight away.
I also look out for yellow sticker reductions if I can get to a store later in the day. This is the only time I will buy ready chopped items. I always freeze them if I can’t use them up straight away.
The later you go, the cheaper yellow sticker items tend to be. However, if you go too late there might be nothing left!
Snack on fruit
A piece of fruit will tend to cost a lot less than a chocolate bar or bag of crisps. Obviously, fruit will be healthier in terms of nutrients and vitamins, and contain much more fibre too.
I chop up a selection of fruit in the morning and grab it from the fridge when I am feeling peckish.
Don’t waste it
Don’t throw fruit and vegetables away if they are looking a bit sad or wrinkly. Get into the habit of making soups – home made tastes so much better than the canned variety and costs pennies.
Some fruit can also be frozen – berries and apples particularly freeze well. But you can also make smoothies, or chop it up small and add to yogurt for dessert or a snack.
If we have bananas on the turn, I often freeze them to use for banana muffins at a later date. They go black and look horrible, but they taste fine!
Canned produce can be cheaper than fresh and is handy to have in the larder. This can include canned tomatoes, sweet corn, veg such as peas, mushrooms and carrots and so on. These are really inexpensive and quite good in stews or casseroles.
Canned fruit can be quite expensive, but fruit cocktail and peaches are often included in the supermarket value ranges. I think tinned peaches make a nice dessert with a bit of custard. If they come in syrup I tend to wash this off or they are too sweet.
Pulses count as one of your five a day and can replace some of the more expensive meat in dishes like Bolognese. Who will notice a few lentils thickening the sauce? Or you can leave the meat out all together and have a mix of beans in a chilli sauce over your rice. How about a can of chick peas in with your chicken curry, or leave the meat out altogether for a chick pea curry?
Frozen fruit and veg is particularly useful when you are trying to get your five a day on a budget. As it is frozen very quickly after harvesting, it is said it usually contains more nutrients than fresh.
We eat a lot of frozen veg such as peas, peppers and green beans. I’m not a fan of other frozen veg such as carrots, but will buy it occasionally to put in a casserole or to bulk out a pasta sauce.
Frozen fruit can be good too, particularly berries, which spoil so easily if bought fresh and not eaten quickly. We often cook some up in the microwave and have it on our porridge in the morning, or in overnight oats.
Dried fruits are also worth considering in small quantities. A small pack of raisins in your lunchbox can be nice if you fancy something sweet, although it’s cheaper to buy the large packs and put them in a little container. I have them on my porridge instead of sugar.
Dried fruit can be quite pricey, though, so be careful. The discount supermarkets usually offer the best value.
Grow your own
Not everybody has the time or space to grow their own food, but if you do it can be a satisfying hobby and offer plentiful fresh produce in season.
Seeds are usually cheap when you think of the amount of plants likely to come from a single packet. I find Wilko and Home Bargains good for buying veggie seeds in early spring. You can also buy fruit canes from time to time.
Even if you don’t fancy digging a veggie patch, if you have the space how about planting a fruit tree? We were lucky enough to get a plum tree, an apple tree and some currant bushes for free from the local council. They give up to three plants away for free each year.
Not all councils do this, of course, but it’s worth checking to see if yours does a similar scheme.
How do you get your five a day on a budget? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments.