THE BLOG

Getting Your 7-a-Day on a Budget

07/04/2014 15:17 BST | Updated 07/06/2014 10:59 BST

Have you been craftily grating courgettes into your bread or faithfully whipping up breakfast kale smoothies in order to get your five a day in? Well, news flash: that may no longer be enough, particularly if you fill your plate up with meat and potatoes the rest of the day. The nutrition police are at it again with their revisionist rules, and it turns out we now need at least seven portions of fruit or vegetables a day to stave off deadly disease. The 5-a-day standard, which many families already struggle to meet, is really meant to be a minimum. It's ideal to eat 8-10 servings of fruit and veg, so with that in mind 7 does seem fair enough and can add plenty of pleasing variety (and fibre) to your diet to boot. But with food prices rising, how can you feed your family even more vegetables than before without breaking the bank?

The Study

The new guidelines stem from a UK-based health study using information collected from 65,000 adults selected at random. The survey followed participants for several years, with researchers finding that eating more fruit and vegetables was associated with a lower overall risk of death from any cause, including cancer and heart disease. Participants who consumed at least seven portions a day reduced their risk by 33% in comparison to those who ate less than one portion. Although other lifestyle factors no doubt played a role in this, the study certainly suggests that eating fruit and vegetables is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. This isn't exactly earth-shattering news, but it backs up the idea that quantity matters.

What Qualifies as a Portion?

If you're concerned about meeting the new 7-a-day guidelines, it's helpful to first define what counts towards your daily goal. Potatoes and yams don't qualify, but beans and legumes do. The fruit and vegetables don't necessarily have to be fresh, nor do they have to be eaten on their own. They still qualify when cooked into soups, casseroles, or pasta dishes. Tinned, frozen, and dried veggies all count towards your goal as well. You can drink up one serving of your fruit and vegetables, but because juice is low in fibre and high in sugar it qualifies as one portion maximum, no matter how much you imbibe.

Money-Saving Tips

Taking a stroll through the produce aisle of a supermarket can be daunting when you're on a tight budget. Use the following tips to lower your fruit and veg bills and still meet your 7-a-day goal.

• Buy produce at farmers' markets and independent fruit and vegetable shops, which typically offer cheaper produce than supermarkets.

• When shopping at the supermarket, buy your fruit and vegetables loose rather than pre-packaged or pre-cut. There's always a huge mark-up for prepared vegetables.

• Buy in bulk when possible. You can use these excess vegetables in soups or stews and freeze them for healthy ready-meals on busy weeknights.

Urban foraging is not only trendy business these days, it's also a semi-practical way to gather your own vegetables, depending on where you live. And if you are fortunate enough to have a patch of garden, you can invest in seeds and grow your own.

• Don't forget that tinned and frozen vegetables count towards your 7-a-day. Supermarket own-brands are usually priced competitively, and you can buy them in bulk for even greater savings.

• Buy vegetables from markets and supermarkets at the end of the day, when they're priced to move.

• Look for vegetables and fruits that are currently in season. Sure, that Peruvian mango is going to be delicious, but it will also cost you £2 a pop in comparison to the fresh in-season British strawberries from the market which provide multiple servings for the same price.

• If you see a great deal on bulk items but will be unable to use up the food all on your own, go shopping with friends to share the savings.

• Health food stores offer low prices on bulk legumes, seeds, and dried fruits.

• Don't throw away vegetable trimmings. Instead, save these to make a healthy stock or to throw into casseroles. Excess fruit and vegetables can also be frozen for use in smoothies later.

A healthy diet doesn't have to be expensive. The options at your disposal will depend on where you live, but even if you rely on a single supermarket you can usually cut your fruit and vegetable bill down by combining tinned vegetables with fresh bulk buys. Keep an eye on prices and buy whatever's seasonal and on sale to keep your diet varied and delicious!