HSE advice on eating healthily and economically in 2010

Tips on how to eat healthily and economically

Taking time to plan menus and your shopping list can help you and your family to eat healthy without it costing a fortune.    

Try our quiz to find out how good you are at getting the best value for your money from your food bill.

  1. Do you plan your weekly menu so you can make a full list of everything you need to buy before you go shopping?

a)   Never. I don’t have the time to plan my menu or make a shopping list. We generally eat what we feel like at that time.

b)   Sometimes I make a list but Idon’t always stick to it.

c)   Always. I find it easier to make my weekly shopping list when I know what we’ll be eating during the week

  1. Do you have a weekly food budget?

a) No. I never take note of how much I spend on food each week.

b) Sometimes. I try to keep on top of my weekly food bill but it’s very difficult as I find myself going to the shop every day for milk and bread etc and end up spending more then I intended.

c) Always. I keep a tight control over how much I have to spend and keep within that budget

  1. Are you cost conscious when shopping?

a) No. I buy what I want.

b) Sometimes, it depends if I am rushing or not

c) Always. I am very careful with what I buy

 4.  Do you buy own brand products?

a) Never.

b) Sometimes, if I see them.

c) Whenever possible

  1. Do you buy fruits and vegetables that are in season to ensure you get the best value, freshest and best tasting products?

a) Never. I buy what I feel like

b) Sometimes

c) Whenever possible

  1. Do you buy pre-prepared foods such as washed lettuce/ prepared vegetables etc?

a) Always. I find them great for saving preparation time

b) Sometimes

c) Never. They are too expensive.

  1. Do you look for value when buying meat/ fish/ chicken?

a) Never. I always try and buy the best cut of meat

b) Sometimes

c) Always

 8. Have you got a well-stocked store cupboard at home?

a) No. I generally use up what I buy

b) Not really

c) Yes

  1. Do you try and save on electricity or gas when cooking?

a) Not at all. I could have four saucepans on the boil and the oven on.

b) I could be better

c) Yes

 10. How often do you throw food in the bin?

a) Nearly every day

b) Not every day but pretty often

c) Rarely


How did you score?

 Mostly A’s

By taking this quiz you have shown that you are ready to reduce your monthly food bill. Read on below to find tips on getting the best value for your money from your grocery shopping.

 Mostly B’s

You are really beginning to get value for your money. Read on below to learn how to make even more savings.

Mostly C’s

Well done! You are making great savings on your food bill.

Top tips for getting the best value for your money on your food bill.

Take time to plan what you will eat during the week. All it takes is five minutes to decide what you will eat for the seven days. Try to include all the food groups and a mixture of different coloured fruit and vegetables. For example, you could have chicken, broccoli and potatoes on Monday, shepherd’s pie with onions and carrots on Tuesday and salmon, frozen peas and pasta bake on Wednesday. Once you have a plan of your weekly menu you can check what foods you have at home and make a list of what you need to buy for the week.  A list will keep you focused when you get to the shop and limit impulse buys which research tells us can account for up to 40 percent of what we buy.

Set yourself a weekly food budget. Check the local newspapers for advertised food savings and specials before you plan your meals for the week and make your grocery list. This is a good way to find places to cut costs and get an idea of what you want to eat for the coming week. One key to keeping to your budget is to limit the number of times you go to the shop each week. Try to avoid going every day, and buy enough perishable foods such as milk and bread to last for two days.

Tips to keep you within your food budget when shopping

Buy the basics first - fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, bread, cereals, pasta.

Never shop when you are hungry - you will buy things you don't need.

Allow plenty of time to do your weekly shop, so you can work out which are the cheapest options or hunt down any bargains.

Buying in bulk is almost always cheaper.  You can freeze perishable items (such as meat, chicken, bread) in smaller portions to use as needed. 

Buy non-perishable (foods that won’t go off quickly) items in bulk (canned foods, dried beans, rice, pasta).

Buy bags of apples, oranges, potatoes, onions and so on. It’s cheaper than buying singly and will fill more lunch bags and cover more meals. However only buy large bags of fruit and vegetables if they are going to be eaten up quickly, otherwise they may go off and end up costing more than they're worth.

Own brand or generic products are worth considering to help you stay within your grocery budget, and are generally of similar nutritional value as the more expensive branded products. Compare labels of own brand and branded products to ensure you are getting the same nutrition for less money. Check higher and lower shelves for own brand products as more expensive branded products are generally kept at eye level.

Seasonal food usually costs less and taste better. Your grocery shop will advertise which fruit and vegetables are in season so look out for these notices. Farmers’ markets always carry what’s in season. It is always a good idea to stock up on frozen vegetables as these are nutritious and good value. They are also a good way to meet the recommended 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day by having two portions of vegetables with your main meal.

Prepared foods such as bags of washed lettuce/ prepared vegetables and even jars of sauce can save you valuable time, but they are much more expensive. A bag of washed lettuce leaves can be nearly €3.  A head of lettuce costs less than €1.

Buying meat/ fish/ chicken can often be the most expensive part of your weekly grocery shop, so it is important to look for value. There are a number of ways you can reduce the cost of your meat bill.  You can use chicken legs and thighs instead of chicken breast.  Pork can also be an inexpensive meat alternative. Fresh fish can be costly but look out for the specials of the day. Canned fish such as salmon and sardines contain the same healthy omega-3 fats that fresh fish contain and are good value for money.

You can make a beef casserole from cheaper cuts of beef such as braising steak. It's fattier than other cuts of beef but you can trim off the fat and when it's slow cooked for 2 to 3 hours it's very tender and tasty.

To make your meat dishes like stews, casseroles or bolognaise go further and to increase the protein content you can add lentils, kidney beans, mixed beans, baked beans or chickpeas.

Keeping a well-stocked store cupboard is the starting point for easy and economical cooking.  If you keep a good selection of tinned and packet foods such as baked beans, dried fruit, pasta and rice then you'll be able to grab them come feeding time and create something tasty  with whatever you have left over in the fridge. These ingredients tend to have a long shelf life which means you can rely on them to create quick delicious meals or use them as a basis to use up your leftovers. Keep your store cupboard well stocked by replacing any foods you use up.

One-pot meals like stews and casseroles save on fuel and on washing up! When cooking a big meal, make extra to freeze, or use the next day for lunch or a quick supper. When cooking mince-meat you could separate into two meals by making chili con carne with one half and bolognaise with the other and freeze whichever you are not having that day. Another idea is to cook extra pasta or rice to use next day for a cold lunch with chopped tomato and some cold chicken etc.

Use leftovers carefully - even the most basic of foods can be creatively brought back to life in soups, casseroles, sauces or stock. Use your vegetable trimmings to make a nutritious stock which can be used to make home-made vegetable soup. Avoid throwing out overripe fruit but use instead to make delicious smoothies. Leftovers from dinner such as cold meats, pasta or potato can be used for lunch the next day.  If you are reheating leftovers ensure they are piping hot - whether using a microwave or conventional oven. Don't re-heat fish, and don't re-heat anything more than once.    Fruit and vegetables are often the biggest group of foods wasted, but by storing them in the fridge in their original packaging they can last longer. Bread is another culprit where food waste is concerned. To minimise food waste, freeze the loaf of bread and take slices out when you want to toast it. Big loaves can also be split in half and frozen or kept in the cupboard, depending on how soon you're likely to eat it.