It doesn’t need to cost the earth to eat healthily every week.

The common misconception is that ‘health food’ is about ‘organic’ supermarket food aisles advertising ‘free from’ ingredients, or specialist high street shops with fancy displays and costly labeling.

Unless you have a medical condition that means a specialist diet is required, you don’t actually have to buy ‘organic’ or ‘gluten free’ to be healthy. You don’t need to buy into fancy brands, as fancy brands do not necessarily equate to superior ingredients.

Let’s take a look at Healthy Vs Unhealthy:

As a general rule of thumb, ‘healthy’ food constitutes foods from the following groups:

Whole grains and pulses – such as oats, rye, quinoa, and beans, all provide fibre to help improve digestive transit.

Fruits and vegetables – which are rich in vitamins, fibre, minerals.

Protein-rich foods – including meat and vegetarian protein sources such as soya, tofu and pulses - these help the body repair its tissues and maintain muscle mass.

Calcium-rich foods – dairy products, green leafy vegetables, soya, fruits and fortified breads, all help improve bone and teeth health.

Unsaturated fats –such as the ‘essential’ fatty acids found in oily fish are necessary for brain, skin, hair, and joint health.

‘Unhealthy’ food types (to avoid or use sparingly) generally follow the 'CRAP' food rule:

C – Carbonated drinks - colas and other fizzy drinks.

R – Refined sugars - cakes, sweets, and biscuits.

A – Artificial additives - which come in the same nature of foods in the 'R' category.

P – Processed foods (‘junk’ food) - foods 'on the go' and ready meals often contain ingredients from the 'R' and 'A' categories as well as high levels of saturated fats.

Inexpensive, nutritious foods from the ‘healthy’ food groups listed above, are readily available in supermarkets and often from local suppliers, too. You just need arm yourself with the knowledge and do your research in order to budget-shop smart.

Here’s how:

1. Buy in season – When produce such as fruits and vegetables are in season, they are always at their lowest prices. They are generally at their best, too. Pop down to your local fruit and veg market for the best deals along with the positive feeling of 'doing your bit for the community' and buying direct from farmers rather than via supermarkets,

2. Bulk buy – For long shelf-life products such as rice, pasta and tinned pulses, or packets of meat portions, look out for large ‘catering’ packs, often marked as ‘value packs.’ Although you may be spending more for these items in a single shop, the cost per item is usually considerably less than if you buy on an ‘as and when needed’ basis. Take a look at the use-by dates and think about whether you can use all of the items by this date, and in the case of meat products, make the space in the freezer to freeze and use on another week.

3. Frozen food – Meats and vegetables that are already frozen in supermarkets tend to be cheaper than fresh versions. The freezing process is generally done at source and as such, the nutrients are locked in while the produce is at its freshest. The transportation of fresh vegetables can sometimes lead to their essential vitamins and minerals depleting somewhat, so they are not as nutrient-rich by the time they reach the shelves. As such, there is a fair argument to say frozen could, in some cases, mean more healthy.

4. Cheaper cuts – Many animal protein sources can be expensive, so look for cheaper cuts of meats to the ones you might usually buy. Chicken thighs instead of breasts for example, or lamb shoulder instead of leg. Slow cooking softens tough meats and making meals suited to these type of budget meats - like casseroles - can last a few days in the refrigerator. They freeze and defrost well, too.

5. Alternative protein sources – Planning for a few plant-based meals is a great way to save on a weekly shopping budget. Pulses and grains such as lentils, beans and quinoa are packed with quality protein and generally inexpensive. They come in packets, tins or jars with long use-by dates so last well in the cupboard if not used immediately.

6. Be organised – It is never a good idea to go shopping without a list. It is far too easy to get carried away with all of the options available and the abundance of displays in supermarkets offering 'CRAP' options on 'BOGOF' deals. Think about the next few days or week ahead, have an idea of which nutritious meals you want to prepare and stay focussed on your list as you do your supermarket dash.

7. Never shop hungry – This leads to impulse buying and ending up with a larger han intended shopping bill, often with ‘CRAP’ convenience options you may fancy at the time as a result of depleted energy and blood sugar levels.

8. Leave the kids at home – Where possible, have a relative take care of children rather than take them to the supermarket as this usually spells disaster. Little hands grabbing sugary treats or other junk food and sneaking them into the trolley can mean a headache for mum or dad in more ways than one. Having to say ‘no’ to ‘CRAP’ often brings tantrums; whereas caving in to their demands not only adds pounds to the shopping bill, it also contributes to the makings of unhealthy kids.

9. Shop around – Subscribing to the local supermarkets’ offers by post or email mean you can be kept informed on the best deals on produce and be able to plan sensibly where to go for which items each week. There are always deals to be had on punnets of fruit, value packs of meat, fish and other healthy items.

10. Home shopping – Supermarkets tend to compete on home delivery offers with incentives on discounts on first online orders, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for those. Being able to view and compare prices online can equate to some great savings on weekly shops, as well as saving valuable time and energy on driving, parking, shopping and queuing. Online shopping also avoids the temptations of eye-catching supermarket displays of deals on CRAP food.

If you find these suggestions helpful, please share this article on Facebook and Twitter, to help your family and friends eat healthy on a smarter budget, too!

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