Healthy Eating on a Limited Budget

Dish of Tabouleh – Photo by Joice Kelly on Unsplash

Vital nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats  

We need a whole range of nutrients to keep us healthy.  Most people know about carbohydrates, proteins and fats and what kind of foods they can be found in, although they may not know what they do in the body. How can we achieve Healthy Eating on a Limited Budget?

Sources of Energy

Carbohydrates and fats are the fuel we need to make energy. Fats also provide material to build cell walls, make hormones and keep our nerves and brain healthy. Proteins are used to build and maintain our muscle and bone and they can also be used to make energy. 

People know that fibre is important, but not necessarily why, or where fibre is found.  

Fibre, vitamins, minerals and Omega 3 

Fibre helps to keep us healthy because it feeds the colonies of beneficial bacteria in our gut, and it helps us poo. It is found in all fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds and whole grains, including wholegrain products like bread and breakfast cereals.  

Most people know that vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fats are important for our overall health, but, again, they may not know the details about why. These substances are known as micro-nutrients because we need them in really small amounts, but those small amounts pack a mighty punch. They are so important that the World Health Organisation calls them “magic wands” because they give the body what it needs to grow, develop, and function properly.  

Vitamins and minerals are found in all unprocessed foods, although some processed foods (like breakfast cereals) do have some vitamins and minerals added to them. Omega-3 fats are found in oily fish like salmon and sardines as well as walnuts and flax seeds.

Without the proper micronutrients we cannot produce energy from the fats and carbohydrates we eat.  We cannot build and repair muscles and bone from the protein we eat.  Our body systems cannot work properly.  And we increase our risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, dementia and even some cancers.

About Five-A-Day

Fruit and vegetables are fantastic sources of nutrition. The government message about Five-A-Day has been around for nearly two decades, but average intakes of fruit and vegetables in the UK have actually fallen since Five-A-Day was launched in 2003. The most recent government figures show that only 28% of adults and 18% of children are eating the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables.  

Unfortunately, the UK government guidelines on Five-A-Day are rather complicated. While most of us know about the five-a-day message, there is a lot of confusion around what it means. Some recent research found that people are unsure of what can – or cannot – be included. There is also uncertainty about how much a portion actually is, and a lack of understanding about the need for variety.  

Fresh, tinned, frozen or dried all count 

To try and simplify things, fresh, tinned, frozen, or dried fruit and vegetables all count towards your five-a-day. It is best to eat three portions of vegetables (this includes beans, peas, lentils etc) and two portions of fruit a day because fruit tends to be high in sugar.  

Most fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, dried beans and things like lentils and chickpeas count towards your Five-A-Day. Potatoes, yams, cassava, and plantain do not count because they are very high starch foods (although they do provide some fibre).  

A portion is 80g.  Which is approximately the amount you can hold in a single cupped hand (depending on how large your hands are, obviously).  Every portion you eat should be a different fruit or vegetable. Eating five apples in one day does not count

Low consumption of fruit and veg 

There are two other really important reasons for low consumption of fruit and vegetables. The first is a lack of availability or access to fruit and vegetables. Research done a couple of years ago found that 1.2 million people in the UK live in areas where cheap nutritious food is virtually unobtainable. These areas are called food deserts.  

The other issue is cost.  Calorie for calorie, fruit and vegetables cost a lot more than processed foods high in sugar, salt and fat but low in micronutrients. 

Healthy Eating on a Limited Budget 

There are ways to eat healthily on a limited budget, but it needs some extra planning. Sit down with the family and talk about what you want to eat over the next week. Make a meal plan and a shopping list based on that plan and do a stock take of the kitchen – for example, do you need to buy cooking oil, tinned tomatoes, or stock cubes, or do you already have some? This can help to reduce food waste and keep within a budget.  

Nutritional value of onions, carrots, tinned tomatoes, rice, lemons and lentils

Learning about the nutritional value of simple ingredients like onions, carrots and lentils can help in developing healthy low-cost recipes.

Onions are not just about flavour; they also contribute to our Five-A-Day. As well as being a great source of fibre; they are rich in vitamin C and vitamin B6 and they also contain the minerals manganese, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and sulphur.  

These nutrients help us generate energy, support our liver detoxification processes, help us make red blood cells and immune cells, and are vital in the manufacture and protection of our DNA.

Carrots and Lentils

Carrots are a fantastic source of beta-carotene, the vegetable form of vitamin A.  They are also a good source of vitamin K. When you fry the carrot in the oil you help to release these nutrients from the plant cells which means you will be able to absorb them more effectively. Vitamin A is essential for healthy vision and normal cell growth, it also supports the function of the heart, lungs and kidneys. Vitamin K is needed to help blood clot and heal wounds; it is also used in building healthy bones and to support the immune system.

Red lentils are a nutrition powerhouse. High in protein and fibre, they are a great source of most of the B vitamins which are used in energy production and are needed to keep our nervous system healthy.  They are also absolutely loaded with minerals including copper, iron, phosphorus, manganese and zinc. 

These minerals are essential to the health and function of our immune and nervous systems; they are used to make red blood cells and insulin, to manufacture and protect our DNA, and to maintain our bones and teeth.  

Rice for Energy

Rice is mostly carbohydrate, which gives you energy. Because it is mixed with protein rich lentils, the energy release is slower and more sustained, helping you to feel fuller for longer. Rice also contains some folate (the natural form of folic acid), and a reasonable amount of selenium, a mineral that is a powerful antioxidant.

Tomatoes and Lemons: Vitamins and Minerals Galore!

Tinned tomatoes are packed with brilliant nutrition; as well as some B vitamins and beta carotene, they also contain the substances lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene which are all powerful antioxidants that protect the eyes and our vision.  They are rich in vitamin C, a nutrient that is essential in the absorption of iron.  And they contain a good amount of fibre.

Lemons are really high in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that supports the immune system as well as being essential in the absorption process of iron.  They also contain good levels of beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, and the juice even contains some fibre!

All of these nutrient rich ingredients are included in the following family friendly recipe for lentil soup with rice. The recipe makes four generous portions and, based on the cheapest available option from a mid-range supermarket, the cost per portion is 53p. The equivalent items from budget supermarkets may mean that this recipe is even cheaper per portion.

Healthy Eating on a Budget: Lentil Soup with Rice

Healthy eating: Serving Lentil Soup
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash


40ml cooking oil
1 large onion
1 large carrot
250g red lentils
75g rice 
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
2 stock cubes (either vegetable or chicken)
1 litre water
1 lemon
Chilli flakes (optional)
Salt & pepper


About 2 hours before you start cooking, put the lentils and rice into separate bowls, boil the kettle and pour boiling water over them to soak. This allows them to absorb a lot of water and reduces cooking time.  

When you are ready to start cooking, rinse the lentils and rice several times in clean water.  With a clean hand, scrunch the rice to break up the grains. This helps the rice to cook faster and release its starch grains, helping to thicken the soup. Drain both the lentils and the rice.

Chop the onion and the carrot into small cubes. Fry the onion until golden brown and then add the carrot and continue to fry for a couple of minutes.  

Add the lentils and rice to the onion and carrots and turn over until everything is well coated in oil.  

Add the tin of chopped tomatoes and mix.

Crumble the stock cubes into the mix and add the water. Stir well to make sure the stock cubes are thoroughly mixed in.

Add some chilli flakes (if you want to) and salt and pepper.

Bring to the boil and then turn down so it simmers for about 40 minutes.

Turn off the heat and squeeze the lemon into the soup.

Serve with some wholegrain bread and butter.