When time, money and patience are in short supply, reaching for the high in saturated fat, sugar, salt and calorie-filled snacks and meals often feels like the cheaper, less stress, less fuss option.
But with rising levels of type 2 diabetes and obesity in children in England, we need to find ways of changing these habits and get around the daily obstacles to help our kids improve their health.
According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey from Public Health England, between 2008 and 2017, neither adults nor children ate the recommended 5 A Day of fruit and veg.
There are now nearly 7,000 children and young adults in England and Wales with type 2 diabetes, according to Diabetes UK.
26% of Year 6 children living in the poorest areas of England are obese, according to stats from the Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet - England 2018 report.
Compare that with the number of obese Year 6 children living in the richest parts of the country at 11%, and it’s easy to believe healthy eating and living is only for the well-off. This is not the case.
A bit of planning, practice and everyone in the household doing their bit, and sugary cereals, convenient crisps and low energy/high calorie processed meals will be a thing of the past. Hopefully this guide will help get you and your family on your way to a healthier future.
Let’s talk getting kids eating healthy foods
Secret 1. Don’t mention the change
Tell a child they have to eat healthier food, and they’re likely to instantly resist trying anything new. Instead, make meals healthier without comment, don’t worry about how much of it they eat (saying ‘eat your vegetables’ will only make them not) and show them how much you are enjoying the food. Keeping going without making a fuss will eventually inspire them into trying it too.
Secret 2. Add a little extra
A small grating of cheese over steamed broccoli. A little honey and chilli to roasting parsnips. Carrot sticks tossed in sesame seeds. Sliced courgettes topped with tinned tomatoes, a sprinkling of cheese and pepperoni and baked in the oven. Adding extra taste or texture to vegetables will help encourage children to be more adventurous with food.
Secret 3. Be original with your rewards
By using unhealthy foods as a treat or bribe, you are reinforcing that doing something good deserves something unhealthy. Instead reward good behaviour with a quick game together, a sticker for their chart, or a trip to the park, something non-food related that will get them moving or their brain working.
Secret 4. Get the kids involved
Don’t assume your kids can’t help in the kitchen, assume they can. Even toddlers can put chopped ingredients into a pan if supervised. Letting kids have a say in the shopping, meal planning, and cooking, will get them excited to eat what they’ve helped choose or prepare.
Secret 5. Be positive about healthy options
Keep the words ‘diet’ and ‘slimming’ out of your vocabulary. Give specific advice on why fruits and vegetables are good for us. For example, bananas are filled with potassium which helps to keep the heart healthy. Showing your children that you are making healthy choices for the right reasons and broadening your food horizons, will encourage them to do the same.
Let’s talk budget
Secret 6. Plan your meals
Go through your cupboards and plan meals around items you already have. Make a list of the missing foods you’ll need for each meal this week. (Read on for some budget recipe inspiration.)
Secret 7. Stick to the list to stick to your budget
You’ve got your list with everything needed for the week ahead, so now when you go shopping, stick to it. If you’re tempted by ‘buy one get one free’ offers – but the items aren't on your list, step away. Buying ‘offer’ items will only make you spend more, and not save the money they claim to.
Secret 8. Waste nothing – freeze it
Milk, bread, cheese, cake, cream, nuts, butter, flour, peeled bananas, herbs, meat, fish and poultry – raw and cooked, and leftovers can all be frozen. Freeze as much of your fresh shopping as you can, defrosting food as you need it, to avoid throwing things out because they've gone past their expiration date.
Secret 9. Extend the life of ‘reduced price’ fruits and vegetables
Buying reduced priced items from your list can save you money, but it means they need using much quicker once you get them home. Here are a couple of ways to use up expiring fruit and veg. Firstly, make sure to remove anything mouldy. Blitz fruit up into a puree and freeze to make fruit ice pops, or drink as a smoothie right away. Use them in baking in crumbles, pies and cakes. Reduce them down in a saucepan and add a little sugar to make homemade jam. Make a savoury sauce - reduce the fruit down in a saucepan, add a chicken stock cube, a little vinegar (any) and a few drops of water until it reaches your desired thickness. Pickle overripe vegetables. Make them into soups and stews. Bake them into bread recipes. Roast them, you can also blitz roasted veg to make a homemade hummus. The internet is a great source for finding what else is possible for expiring fruit and vegetables.
Secret 10. Batch cook
Make bigger portions of mealtime recipes and either freeze the leftovers to have another day or enjoy them for lunch the next day.
Secret 11. Prep lunches the day before
If you’re not having last night’s leftovers for lunch the next day, prepare lunches the night before ready for grabbing in the morning. Reducing the risk of buying sugar, salt and saturated fat filled snacks while on the go.
Secret 12. Buy frozen fruit and vegetables
They are picked at their peak freshness and frozen to seal in nutrients, and can often work out cheaper than their fresh alternatives.
Secret 13. Buy reduced fat, sugar or salt varieties
Whenever you are buying ‘ready-made’ – sauces, puddings, baked beans, cereals, ready meals etc. always opt for the lower sugar, salt and fat options.
Secret 14. Step away from the branded labels
There is very little taste difference (if any) between a budget brand item and expensive brand item. The main difference is the price. Why pay more for the same thing?
Secret 15. Eat more vegetables
Vegetables are cheaper than most meat and fish. Therefore, it makes sense to give vegetarian dishes a go for most meals. Pack meals with a hearty variety of pulses - beans (kidney, butter and cannellini), lentils (red, brown and green) and peas (black-eyed, chickpeas and garden). These low calorie pulses will boost any dish with fibre, vitamins and minerals all while counting toward your 5 A Day.
Secret 16. Save takeaways for special occasions
Why pay an average of £10 per person (or more) for one meal on a takeaway or eating out, when you can easily make four or five days’ worth of meals for the same cost? By cutting back on these, you’ll not only save money, you’ll also know exactly what is in your food.
Let’s talk budget recipe ideas and foods
Need some ideas for cheap and healthy meals? Give some of these a try and let them inspire you with creating simple, effective, budget friendly meals everyone will enjoy.
Budget breakfast foods:
Oats – toss 40 grams of oats into a microwavable bowl, with a mixture of water and milk until the oats are just covered. Add in a handful of frozen fruit and microwave until it’s thick and creamy.
Eggs – scramble a couple of eggs, heat up some low-sugar baked beans and place both over a piece of wholemeal toast.
Yoghurt – chop up an apple, banana, nectarine or any fruit of your choice (or use frozen fruit either defrosted overnight or blasted in the microwave for speed), crumble over one or two wheat biscuits (supermarket own brand Weetabix) and dollop low fat plain yoghurt on top.
Budget lunch foods:
Pasta or rice – heat the pasta as per the packet instructions. Cook a little garlic and chilli (frozen versions can be found in the freezer aisles) in a saucepan, add in the fresh or frozen veg of your choice (peppers, onions, mushrooms, carrots etc.), some pulses (a tin of mixed beans), and a tin of chopped tomatoes. Simmer for five to ten minutes and mix in the cooked and drained pasta or rice. Season to taste. Delicious hot or cold.
Wraps – spread cream cheese onto a wrap. Add lettuce leaves, thinly sliced tomatoes, cucumber and grated carrot, and a sprinkling of grated cheese, then wrap.
Eggs – an oldie but a goodie; egg mayonnaise. Hard boil a couple of eggs then run under cold water to cool. De-shell and roughly chop the eggs in a bowl. Add in a little low-fat mayo and crushed black pepper and mix together. Spread some of the egg mixture between two pieces of wholemeal bread or a pitta and add in some lettuce leaves.
Budget dinner foods:
Potatoes – heat a baking potato in the microwave until soft (usually five to ten minutes depending on the size). Either eat as is, or place in a preheated oven to crisp the skin. Mix together a tin of tuna, a tin of sweetcorn and a little low-fat mayo and add on top of the potato. Serve with lettuce leaves, chopped cucumber, and other vegetables for a side salad.
Sausages – fry onion, garlic, peppers mushrooms and sausages in a saucepan until the sausages are cooked through. Add in a drained tin of baby new potatoes, a tin of chopped tomatoes, a tin of low-sugar baked beans, and a low-salt chicken stock cube. Simmer for ten to fifteen minutes.
Ready rolled puff pastry – spread cream cheese over the pastry, leaving a 1cm edge. Lay chopped vegetables of your choice (tomatoes, asparagus, thin slices of carrot, leeks, aubergines etc.) over the cream cheese. Cook in a preheated oven (200 degrees Celsius) for around 20 minutes. Serves four.
Budget snack foods:
Peanut butter – chop an apple or pear into wedges. Roughly chop and mix a banana in a bowl, add in one tablespoon of peanut butter and mix again to make a healthy dip for your wedges.
Cream cheese – Spread a little cream cheese into the dipped side of one or two sticks of celery. Cut these into chunks and enjoy.
Olives – simply drain a handful of olives and snack away.
Dark chocolate – have a couple of squares of dark chocolate with a small handful of almonds to keep sugar cravings at bay.
By the time a child turns 10 years old, they will have already consumed the maximum recommended sugar amount of that for an 18-year-old, according to PHE. Getting your kids involved from day one is the best way to teach them about healthy eating and set them up for a healthier future too.
It may seem like there’s a lot to think about to get started with healthy eating on a budget, but it’s like any new task or way of thinking, it just takes practice.
Start by going through your cupboards to see what you already have, pick out meals you think you would like to try and go from there. It’ll soon become second nature.