Forget fancy ingredients with their even fancier price tags. These cupboard staples pack a powerful nutritional punch without knocking out your budget - perfect when you have a whole family of hungry mouths to feed! Stock up on these healthy staples for cheaper, healthier cooking.
Red, white or yellow, onions are a super frugal food that can transform bland meals into something special. Why? Because what they offer in taste, they also match in nutritional value. ‘Onions contain more than 100 sulphur compounds renowned for their antibacterial properties,’ explains nutritionist Patrick Holford, author of The Ten Secrets of Healthy Ageing (£14.99, Piatkus). ‘Red onions in particular are high in quercetin, an anti-inflammatory that helps guard against heart disease. Recent evidence from the University of Berne in Switzerland has found that this unassuming bulb could also guard against the onset of osteoporosis. Expect to pay around 19p per onion. Absolute bargain!
Try it: Make a Greek salad by mixing red onion, tomato, cucumber, green pepper, olives and feta. Dress with olive oil and red wine vinegar.
We all know the old saying, ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away,’ but this is
no old wives’ tale, according to Patrick. ‘Apples are absolutely packed full of fibre and help to balance blood sugar levels,’ he says. ‘They are also very high in the
anti-inflammatory compound quercetin.’ In fact, a study reported in the journal New Scientist showed that taking high doses of quercetin can actually help to boost your immunity through periods of intense aerobic training. Scientists believe this is the result of quercetin’s ability to bind to viruses and bacteria to stop them replicating.
Try it: Grate one apple and add a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds and a teaspoon of cinnamon. Add to natural yoghurt and serve as a topping on muesli.
Spices may cost a bit more than your average vegetable, but a little goes a long way and they last for months. And when you consider the amazing health benefits they offer, they’re worth every penny. ‘Spicing up your diet means you can buy cheaper foods, which you can transform with spices,’ explains British Dietetic Association dietitian Kelly McCabe. ‘Turmeric is particularly good as it contains an anti-cancer substance called curcumin.’ Turmeric lends itself perfectly to vegetable and meat tagine-style stews and curries, and at a purse-pleasing 99p for 100g, it’s a cheap and cheerful super spice.
Try it: Add a heaped tablespoon to root vegetable or lentil soups for a health-boosting meal.
Long gone are the days when eggs were blamed for high cholesterol – they’re now widely recognised as a health food. A fantastic source of protein, eggs keep you fuller for longer and help support muscle growth and repair. ‘Eggs also contain phospholipids, which help to keep your brain healthy,’ adds Patrick. At around 23p for an organic egg, they’re super cheap and hugely versatile. And best of all, you don’t need great cooking skills to enjoy them, just the ability to boil a pan of water! What more could you want?
Try it: Poach two eggs in boiling water and serve on top of a few handfuls of steamed spinach for a nutrient-packed feast.
Chickpeas are a savvy kitchen staple, perfect for stews, salads, houmous and beefing up your curries. They’ll set you back around 60p for a 400g can, and less if you buy them dried. Just three tablespoons of chickpeas equates to one portion of your five-a-day and they’re a pulse with powerful properties. ‘Chickpeas are high in isoflavones and phytoestrogens, which are believed to help regulate the body’s production of oestrogen to help lower the risk of breast cancer,’ says Patrick. ‘They’re also a great source of protein.’
Try it: Make your own houmous by blending cooked chickpeas with lemon juice, garlic, tahini and olive oil until smooth. Top with paprika.
Peas are a cheap and versatile legume, and are great in a whole range of meals from soups to salads. Like soya beans, they are also high in phytoestrogens, which are thought to help guard you against cancer and osteoporosis. ‘Peas are also a really great source of vitamin C,’ adds Kelly. ‘Frozen peas are also much more nutritious than fresh peas, because the flash-freezing process locks in their nutrients.’ At around 90p for 900g, that’s a seriously cheap eat.
Try it: Cook frozen peas in chicken stock until tender. Drain and season with chopped mint and freshly ground black pepper.
We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so give sugary cereals the push and opt for a nutritious bowl of oat porridge to give your morning a real kick-start. ‘Oats are high in soluble fibres known as beta-glucans, which help to even out your blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and keep you feeling full,’ explains Patrick. On a per gram basis, oats contain a higher concentration of protein, calcium, iron, magnesium and vitamin E than any other unfortified grain. And at 20p per 100g of organic oats, you can afford to splurge on this superfood.
Try it: Cook 60g of oats with a mix of half milk/half water and serve with a handful of fresh berries.
Tomatoes are available all year round, but they’re in season now. Prices vary, but the average tomato costs around £1.50 per kilo. That’s even better value when you consider their nutritional content. ‘Tomatoes are almost 90 per cent water, so they’re a great source of hydration,’ says Patrick. ‘They also contain more vitamin C than citrus when eaten raw.’ Prefer your tomatoes cooked? No problem – heat only increases the levels of the antioxidant lycopene, which can help prevent inflammation in the body.
Try it: Roast tomatoes with olive oil, garlic and salt and pepper. Serve with toasted rye bread.
Like the sound of healthy, glowing skin, as well as protection against heart disease and arthritis? No problem. Oily fish, like trout, is the perfect choice for frugalistas.
‘Trout is full of omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to improve protection against inflammatory disease,’ explains Kelly. ‘It also contains the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E, which improve skin health.’ It’s a super-cheap health booster!
Experts recommend eating two to three portions of oily fish per week, so if you’re on a budget, trout will also help to keep you in the black at around 98p per fillet.
Try it: Mix one smoked trout fillet with natural yoghurt, lemon and horseradish and serve on wholegrain toast.