Mixed messages on diet can be confusing

Eat well: Alison Holloway, community dietician with Sheffield Teaching Hospitals
Eat well: Alison Holloway, community dietician with Sheffield Teaching Hospitals

HARD-UP, stressed-out families have a lot on the plates.

Small wonder the thought of having a tasty takeaway on the table in minutes and smiles all-round is so tempting. Particularly when there’s a two-for-one offer, says Sheffield food and diet expert Alison Holloway.

But takeaways, snacks and sweets are what pile the pounds on to the weekly food bill – and many a family’s waistline.

Says Alison, a specialist community dietician with Sheffield Teaching Hospitals: “Families on low incomes don’t have time and money to spare. They’ve got hungry kids who want instant satisfaction.

“There is so much advice from healthy eating campaigns it gets confusing.

“And then supermarkets and fast food shops offer them the wrong foods at bargain prices.

“We often see families who have up to five cheap deal takeaways a week.

“Add up the money you spend on takeaways, snacks, sweets, biscuits and drinks and it will probably shock you,” she suggests.

“These are the foods we like because they make us feel happy and full, but which we don’t need at all.”

Says Alison: “To eat more healthily you don’t have to be perfect. The best advice is reduce the amount on your plate – most takeaways are double a healthy portion.

“And simply eat something from each of the four main food groups every day – starch: pasta, rice and potatoes; fruit and vegetables; protein: meat, fish and eggs; and dairy products.”

Top tips - it is possible to eat healthily and cheaply

Trying to lose weight while sticking to a tight budget?

These hints and tips from Weigh Ahead, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Trust’s weight management project, will help you to choose healthy options without breaking the bank...

Planning

Try to plan your meals and shopping in advance.

Make a list to help you keep away from extra spending, although be flexible if there are special offers.

Look at what food you already have in the cupboard, fridge or freezer and think about what you could add to make a meal.

Price

Look out for special offer coupons in newspapers, magazines, on the Internet, on packets and in stores, but check them carefully as there may be other brands or varieties that cost less.

Go to budget supermarkets for staples such as rice, pasta, meat and fish.

Try dropping down a price level. If you normally choose premium brands try own brands, if you normally choose own brands try discount brands.

Check out the reduced section of your supermarket. Meat and fish can be frozen for another day.

At the market, fruit and vegetables can be cheaper than supermarkets, especially if you buy what is in season. Look out for roadside sales of vegetables and fruit from allotments, homes or farms.

Remember to compare like for like with costs. Look at the price per 100g shown on the shelf edge to ensure you get the best value for money.

Buy in bulk with family, friends or neighbours. Freeze perishable foods for another day.

Pre-cut vegetables, prepared fruit, ready meals and grated cheese all cost more than doing it yourself.

Always cheap

Some foods are cheap all year round and make a good basis for healthy meals.

Try pasta, potatoes, oats, beans and pulses, tinned pilchards and sardines, carrots, swede, onions, cabbage, tinned tomatoes, apples and frozen meat – it’s often cheaper than fresh and there is less chance of it being wasted.

Eggs could be classed as the ultimate fast food – they are cheap, full of nutrients and can be used for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even dessert.

Bargain hunt

when shopping in a supermarket try to keep away from the convenience foods which are not only expensive but often high in saturated fats, salt and calories.

Try the fresh meat aisle and look for bargains such as lean cuts of beef, pork, and chicken breasts or the fish aisle and look for offers on different varieties of fish.

Frozen foods

Stock up on frozen peas, green beans, mixed vegetables and corn on the cob – they are cheap, healthy and easy to prepare quickly.

Bags of frozen fruit are ideal for making fruit smoothies, adding to cereal for breakfast, or as an addition to fat-free yogurts.

Cooking

Double the ingredients when making a recipe and freeze in individual portions.

It will not only save money, but will also be handy when you are short of time or inspiration.

Making soup is a warming and filling way to use up left-over vegetables – you can make a batch to eat over a few days or put into the freezer.

You don’t have to stick to the letter with savoury recipes – meats can be changed, vegetables replaced by ones you already have and fresh ingredients can be replaced by frozen or dried.

Use smaller amounts of expensive meat. Bulk out stews and casseroles with cheap vegetables such as onions, carrots, mushrooms and swede or pulses such as lentils or beans.

Add peppers, courgettes, onions and mushrooms to stir fries, spaghetti Bolognaise and chilli con carne to make them go further.