When you walk into a supermarket, you are more often that not immediately confronted with the fruit and veg aisle. But are you likely to dodge this and head for the convenience foods? Most people do not manage to eat the recommended portions of 5 fruit and vegetables a day. Reasons for this range from budgeting to being unaware of how to cook vegetables once bought. I have has housemates at university return home with cucumbers instead of courgettes and show genuine bewilderment at the site of a sweet potato. Although I can’t help you with recognition of fruit and vegetables on the supermarket shelves, I hope by the end of reading this you will be more likely to try to eat your 5-a-day and pick up some tips on how you can achieve this on a budget.
This picture is from the Chelsea flower show last year; vegetables are tasty and pretty too!
Why should I eat fruit and vegetables?
First and foremost, they form an essential part of a balanced diet. They can help us stay healthy; fruit and vegetables are good sources of vitamins and minerals including folate (essential for making healthy red blood cells), vitamin C (vital for immune system function) and potassium (required for bone health and nervous system function). Fruit and veg can be eaten in bulk; they are made up of complex carbohydrates known as fibre and are low in calories and fat.
How much fruit and veg should I eat?
‘5-a-day’ is a public health initiative promoted by the Department of Health and based upon World Health Organisation guidelines. It aims to highlight the health benefits eating five portions of fruit or veg every day; it is hoped that if the population understands the health benefits, consumption of fruit and vegetables will increase.
Each portion should be 80 grams which is roughly a handful; because different fruits and vegetables contain different vitamins and minerals, it is advisable to eat as much variety within these portions as possible. Fruits and vegetables do not have to be fresh to count as a portion; tinned or frozen fruits and vegetables will do but be sure to choose fruits that are not tinned in sugar syrup and vegetables that are not tinned in salt water. You will just be cancelling out some of the health benefits of buying the fruits and vegetables in the first place. Personally, I love vegetables and do not find getting to 5-a-day a chore, but if you are not too keen on the taste, fear not! To count as a potion, fruits or vegetables do not have to be eaten on their own so incorporate them into a meal or dish. Most fruit and vegetables contribute to your five a day, with the exception of some starchy staples including potatoes. Despite biological classification as a vegetable, potatoes are nutritionally classified as a starchy carbohydrate. Sorry, but this means chips and crisps are definitely not vegetables (it was worth a try!) If you would rather have your fruit as a liquid intake, smoothies, depending on how they are made, can count as a portion but never more than two portions as many of the essential nutrients of the fruits within them are removed during processing. A 150ml glass of unsweetened 100% juice counts as one portion of fruit. Unfortunately, however much you drink it will never count as more than one portion because juice contains reduced levels of fibre compared to the original fruit (so looses a lot of the goodness).
How can I keep it up on a budget?
- Buy fruit and vegetables loose rather than pre-packaged
- Look for supermarket deals E.G. buy one get one free
- Buy fruit and vegetables that are in season. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what is in season, so if you are not sure what is in season, look online! I can promise you, you will not be alone…
- Visit your local street or farmers’ market. Even living in London I have found great markets and during my undergrad degree in Durham I went to a lovely, delicious and very cheap greengrocers.
- Replace your morning or afternoon snack with a piece of fruit. A banana or an apple can cost as little as 20p from the supermarket. This is half the price of a packet of crisps or chocolate bar and you are getting one step closer to the 5-a-day!
- Don’t throw out vegetables that are about to go out of date. Use then in stews, soups and casseroles which can be frozen and eaten at a later date. This is also a great tip if you buy vegetables in huge bulk…
- Stock up on canned or jarred fruit and vegetables as you can buy these in bulk and store them which reduces cost. As mentioned earlier, be careful not to buy cans with added salt or sugar and once opened, decant the contents from the tin immediately and refridgerate. An open tin quickly oxidises which can become toxic.
- Look for good deals on frozen or dried fruit and veg such as frozen peas and dried pulses/ beans. They are often cheaper than fresh varieties.
- Swap ready meals for homemade alternatives – these are often cheaper and you can fill them with vegetables. You can even cook in bulk and freeze portions to eat later, saving you time.
- Grow your own! This is perhaps not for the faint-hearted… I seem to kill every plant I have ever owned.
- There are plenty of companies which deliver vegetables (even in big cities!) and these are often surprisingly cheap. I’m a huge advocate of my weekly veg box order; its seasonal, its fresh, its surprisingly cheap and the vegetables arrive looking a bit muddy which I think is reassuring (I like to know my vegetables have been grown in a nice muddy field).