Feeding yourself well amidst rising costs of living

Submitted by Belinda from Talk ED

As energy prices rise, we may have to reorganise how we spend our income or earnings. With this in mind, it may be tempting to reduce our spending on food. This may in turn fuel negative habits around restriction and other disordered eating patterns.

How can we reorganise our budget without skimping on ourselves and our recovery? In this blog we aim to provide some tips and advice to manage and maximise the nourishment you get from your food shopping.

The Office for National Statistics show that in 1957, households spent an average of 33% of their income on food. Fast forward sixty years in 2017, and households spent on average 16% of income, a much lower proportion than previously. Modern day food production methods have resulted in reduced food prices, and nowadays we spend more money on housing, leisure and entertainment and less of our income on food. In some emerging market countries around the world, up to 40%-50% of an average household’s total expenditure is currently spent on food. It’s important to bear in mind that it’s natural for food to take up a significant part of your weekly or monthly spending budget, especially if you’re in active recovery and putting importance on feeding yourself well.

Buying in bulk & storage
Buying larger quantities of food in one go can often work out more economical. If you struggle with bingeing, we recommend that you be mindful about which foods you buy and store in bulk, and stay away from buying larger quantities of foods that you find more triggering until you can feel more comfortable around them.

Foods with a long shelf life that you might want to think about buying in bulk could be cereals such as oats, rice and pasta. Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans and other similar pulses are much cheaper when bought dry. They’ll need to be soaked in water overnight before cooking. 

Other nutrient-dense foods that can be bought in bulk are:

  • Seeds & Nuts eg. sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios etc. Seeds and nuts are a great source of protein and healthy fats, as well as micronutrients and vitamins. Their shelf-life can be heavily extended by storing them in the fridge (extra 3 months after ‘best before’ date) or freezer (extra 6-12 months after ‘best before’ date). They do not need to be defrosted when taken out of the freezer. Peanut butter (although not technically a nut) contains both protein and healthy fats and is an economical food, especially when bought in a large jar or tub.
  • As well as meat and fish, dairy can also be frozen to extend shelf-life, eg. cheese, milk and butter. So if you see these items on offer but don’t think you can eat them before their use-by date, you can separate them into segments, freeze them and then defrost when needed. 
  • Tinned fish such as tuna, sardines and mackerel are an excellent and economical source of protein and can be stored in the cupboard for several years. 
  • Tinned coconut milk/cream is a great source of healthy fat that can also be stored for a long time and is a wonderful way to add flavour and nutrition to cooked meals and smoothies.

If you can’t find bulk quantities of the foods that you’re after in supermarkets, you could always try buying through online outlets that deliver to your door, for example: https://www.buywholefoodsonline.co.uk/

If you are buying food in bulk, make sure to seal packaging well or store in an airtight container after opening so that the produce doesn’t spoil. 

Batch cooking
As the cost of electricity and gas rise, it may be more cost-effective to batch cook instead of cooking each meal separately. To do this, think about a safe meal or several safe meals that you like, then prepare several portions in one go. Separate the quantity into individual meal portions and store them either in the fridge or freezer in tupperware. 

Buying seasonal/local
Seasonal and locally grown foods can sometimes be cheaper than imported foods. Try speaking to your local greengrocer and asking them about economical fruits and vegetables that you can buy and when they are likely to be available. If certain fresh fruit that you like is expensive at a particular time of year, why not try buying it in its dried form, which can often work out to be cheaper per serving.

Food cooperatives & growing projects
Food co-ops are non-professional organisations that deal with food purchase and distribution within the local community. Each co-op has its own way of organising itself and most are concerned with buying local and economical foods. Some food co-ops club together to buy food from wholesalers in bulk at a lower cost, which is then shared out between co-op members. It’s also a way to make social connections in your local area. Here is a non-exhaustive link to food co-ops in the UK: https://www.sustainweb.org/foodcoops/

Some food co-ops are also linked with local food growing projects. If you have a limited budget, but extra free time, you might want to think about exchanging some volunteering time at a food-growing project in exchange for groceries.

However you decide to organise your food expenditure, we encourage you to put “nourishing myself” as high as you can on your budgeting list. If you have any other strategies to feed yourself well despite a rising cost in living, please let us know so that we can share them with people who are struggling.

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