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Balanced nutrition on a budget

I think there is a common misconception that good nutrition or a protein rich diet can be overly expensive. However, it is entirely possible to eat an abundance of food that is both nutritious and tasty and be spoiled for choice.

I used to assume that a high protein diet would be really costly and for a long time I ruled out even considering it as an option because of that.

I don't have a lot of spare cash at the end of the month so I was determined when I started doing this a few months ago that I make savings somewhere so I sat down and had a good look at:

  • what I was spending on my food bill each week
  • how much was going to waste
  • looking for ways that I could minimise costs and waste.

I started out by doing a tour of the various supermarkets and comparing the cost and the quality of each shop over a period of four weeks. I even looked at local shops and butchers to see what was available. In an ideal world I would have the time to go to different outlets for different items to maximise the cost savings, but working, training, and home life all add up and spending more than a couple of hours doing a weekly shop is the most amount of time I am willing to spend.

The four supermarkets I did a comparison between were: Lidl, Aldi, Asda and Tesco.

In terms of value and volume for money, Aldi and Lidl came out on top, with Asda and Tesco costing between £15-25 more per shop. I now switch between Lidl and Aldi most weeks, and then use Tesco to get some of the brand essentials that are not available at Lidl/Aldi.

There are some simple things that you can do to minimise the costs. Which I have detailed into some simple steps below.

1. Plan your protein

I don't sit down and spend hours planning what I am going to eat every meal throughout the week. Where's the fun in that! I basically plan which meats and produce I will need to make enough main meals for the week and be able to hit my protein goals, as well as have enough to feed both myself and my husband.  My protein essentials usually include:

  • 1 kg of raw chicken breast (about 5 good sized chicken fillets)
  • Pack of either 4 Pork Medallions or Turkey breast steaks
  • 500g of either turkey mince, pork mince or lean steak mince (5% or less fat on each)
  • Pack of bacon medallions
  • Lean frying Steak
  • Bag of frozen king prawns or pack of 2 fresh tuna steaks
  • Couple cans of tuna in brine
  • Cooked marinated chicken - BBQ, Sweet chilli or cajun flavoured
  • Dozen eggs
  • Smooth peanut butter
  • Skyr yoghurt or high protein fat free greek yoghurt
  • Either a whole chicken or a beef joint for a Sunday roast
  • Light Buffalo mozzarella balls
A combination of these will end up in my trolley. Once Ive got this lot it means that I can freestyle what I am going to have with each meal and do with them.  I usually do this when I am in the supermarket. It lets me see what looks good in the fruit and veg sections, as well as think about what I am going do with each.

What is not on this list is my protein powder. I think everyone has their own preference on this. Ive tried a few, but my favourite at the moment is Spartan protein. Loving the strawberries and cream, and limited edition banoffee flavours at the moment.  Great in porridge, pancakes and your own protein snacks.  I usually purchase a supply of this every couple of months.

In the past I have used online suppliers for my meat orders. Check out sites like Musclefood. They do great deals on packages. If my freezer were bigger i'd probably do an order from here once a month and then use the supermarkets for the other essentials week to week. 

This leads on nicely to...

2. Store cupboard staples

I always make sure that my cupboards have a good selection of pastas, rices, condiments and spices that I can use to make whatever takes my fancy.  Again, Aldi and Lidl do a great range of these store cupboard essentials which they are continually improving and expanding and at a great price too.  These are the things that I don't buy on a weekly basis, maybe one or two items every couple of weeks to keep supplies topped up. You don't need to rush out and stock up on all of these, build up your own preferred supply of flavours and necessities. The bigger variety of options and flavours you have available to you the more you will experiment and enjoy your food.  My own essentials are:

  • Wholegrain pasta - fusilli and penne, and linguine if they have it
  • Wholegrain microwave and dry rice
  • Basmati microwave and dry rice
  • Rice noodles
  • Porridge oats
  • Cajun/fajita seasoning
  • Garlic granules
  • Paprika
  • Onion granules
  • Dried parsley, basil, oregano and mixed herbs
  • Tikka seasoning
  • Cinnamon
  • Ginger
  • Chinese five spice/wok seasoning
  • Soy sauce light & dark
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Olive Oil
  • Fry light coconut or Olive oil
  • Pickled Onions
  • Pickled Gherkins
  • Tomato sauce
  • Yellow american mustard
  • Light Mayo
  • Chimichurri marinade
  • Passatta and/or chopped tomatoes
  • Linseed
  • Bags of nuts - Almonds, walnuts, pecans
  • Almond milk

3. Freezer love = convenience + less waste

The availability of good quality frozen fruit, veg and accompaniments is amazing these days.  Its my new obsession.  With trying to cut down on food waste I have started seeking out new freezer options.  Aldi has an amazing freezer selection that includes fresh frozen herbs, vegetables like chopped onions, peppers, mushrooms (things that you can chuck in a pan to cook up a quick meal), rice and veg mixes, quinoa and veg mixes, couscous and veg mixes, stir fry veg mixes. If you can buy it frozen give it a go.  I've found the quality really impressive. Not only is this great for cutting down on waste, it is also really good value and incredibly convenient.  Fresh frozen garlic, basil and coriander are the new best thing since sliced bread...seriously!

4.  Buy fresh and freeze excess!

I was buying lots of fruit and veg and I was finding that come the end of the week it was starting to turn and had to be binned.  However, Ive now started chopping up and/or bagging the excess and chucking it in the freezer.  This goes for fruit like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, mango, bananas. (Only thing I've not tried freezing yet are pineapples!) If you chop them up and freeze, then the night before or in the morning put them in your tupperware and they will defrost in time for munching on come morning break or lunchtime. You can also chuck them in the blender and make yourself a smoothie, make yourself some overnight oats, or pour hot porridge over them and the heat will defrost them for a tasty bowl of porridge and fruit for breakfast. Similarly, if things like peppers, onions, courgettes, tomatoes are part of the weekly specials, snap them up, chop them up and bag them. That way you can make your own mediterranean veg mixes that you can cook from frozen in the oven or pan. Same goes if you have a lot of them and you don't think you are going to get through them. Stick them in a freezer bag.

The other stuff...

That really only leaves the fresh salad veggies, things like fresh spinach, tomatoes, spring onions, avocado, brocolli, baby corns, asparagus, sugar snap peas as well as bread and milk.

Don't forget some some snack and treat options. I really like the variety of popcorns, pea snacks, and protein bars (check out the banana one - lovely - 49p each and great for on the go) that Aldi usually have located around the tills.

How much do I spend week to week?

On average I spend between £50-£65 per week. 

This is enough for me to buy enough food for myself and my husband to eat all week, including lunches to take to work. The only things not included in that figure is soft drinks and chocolate for my husband. We go to Tesco for those cos he's fussy like that :)


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