Nutritious meals on a budget

Balancing the weekly budget, particularly when you’ve a few hungry mouths to feed can sometimes be challenging.  It can be even more stressful trying to plan nutritious and tasty dishes when you’re stretched for time and money.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some nutritious meal ideas that won’t break the budget.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic


Whole grain foods are not only tasty, versatile and cost-effective, they’re super-healthy!  Grains that are effectively ‘whole’, have not been processed, therefore their nutritional profile has been kept intact. Whole grains are high in fibre which helps to keep the bowels moving regularly, reduces blood cholesterol, minimising the risk of heart disease, and helps to keep blood sugar levels in balance.

Grains can be the mainstay of many dishes.  Here are just a few ideas:


Bulgur wheat is made from wheat kernels that provide a sweet nutty flavour.  Because it’s so tasty, bulgur wheat can be used as an alternative to rice eaten with stir fries or some poached salmon or grilled chicken.


Buckwheat pancakes can be whisked up in a minute and, let’s face it, who doesn’t love pancakes!  Whilst they’re great with strawberries and cream as a treat, they can actually make a really filling main dish – just add some ham, cheese and chopped tomato and you’ve got a great budget meal in minutes.


Obviously pasta is a popular dietary staple.  But it ideally needs to be the wholegrain variety to be as nutritious as possible. Think tuna pasta bake, chicken with olives for a Mediterranean feel, feta and tomatoes or prawns with some crunchy stir fried vegetables.  Lasagne made with mince is also another great budget meal; if you make plenty it can be eaten the next day, heated up for dinner, as a cold lunch or frozen for another time.

The great news is that because there are so many different pasta shapes, you and the family need never get bored of using pasta in a wide variety of dishes.


Pearl barley is packed with fibre and nutrients. It’s probably best used to ‘bulk’ up soups and these can stretch a long way.  Alternatively, it’s a great and more nutritious substitute for potatoes with stews.


Quinoa is officially not a grain but a seed.  However, it works really well like a grain and provides some wonderful health benefits.  Most importantly, it’s really high in protein, making it a great vegetarian staple food.  It can be used as a side to anything but is also excellent used cold with salads.

One of the quickest and cost-effective ways with quinoa is as a one pot vegetable stew.  All it needs is some chopped and fried onions, curry paste and frozen mixed vegetables; you can have a great, budget meal for all the family within about 15-20 minutes.


You can actually have a stir fry every day for a week and still not be eating the same dish!  The point about stir fries is that literally anything can be used. However, when working to a tight budget, they’re also a great way of making foods go further.

For example, buy a larger chicken than normal for your Sunday roast and use the rest of the chicken in a stir fry with some chopped veggies (frozen can also be used, which are still equally as nutritious).


A great traditional Spanish dish, the Spanish omelette only actually contains five ingredients: onions, olive oil, potatoes, parsley and eggs.  That’s it!  Highly nutritious, filling and incredibly cost-effective! Serve with a deliciously fresh salad for a tasty budget summer meal.


Think sweet potatoes, jacket potatoes, red or green peppers or courgettes!  All of these veggies can be ‘stuffed’.  Sweet potatoes are great with tuna, whilst jacket potatoes work well with ham and cheese. Peppers love being stuffed with quinoa, rice or mince and courgettes team up well with sausage meat and parsley. All satisfying and nutritious budget meals.

Hopefully this gives you some great ideas for balancing the budget whilst still eating nutritious meals; with a little careful planning, it can stretch much further than you think.


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‘B’ is for energy! The low down on B Vitamins.

Also known as the full Vitamin B-Complex, the wonderful family of eight B vitamins are primarily used to produce energy from the food we eat.  However, they are also used in a wide range of the body’s systems.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, provides the detail on why the B vitamins can support your energy levels all day long!

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The B vitamins are a family of water-soluble vitamins that often exist in the same foods, and also play very specific roles in overall health. They are all eliminated by the body in our urine, so a regular supply, either through our daily diet or supplementation, is required.

B vitamins are also easily destroyed through cooking, food processing and exposure to ultra-violet light.  Additionally, they are quickly depleted from the body particularly during stressful periods. So ensuring you are getting enough B vitamins every day is an essential part of maintaining a healthy body.


B vitamins don’t provide energy themselves but enable the food we eat to be turned into energy.  They also help a variety of enzymes to do their jobs, as well as transporting oxygen and energy-containing nutrients around the body.

Here is a quick go-to guide of their main functions:

Thiamin (Vitamin B1)

Supports proper energy release from the brain and good functioning of the nervous system.

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)

Crucial for energy release but also helps to keep our main antioxidant system in good working order.

Niacin (Vitamin B3)

Essential for well over 50 enzyme reactions in the body and particularly involved in blood sugar regulation, cholesterol metabolism and detoxification.

Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5)

Utilises fats and carbohydrates for energy production but is also known as the ‘anti-stress’ vitamin, helping to keep the adrenal or stress hormones in good working order.

Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6)

Supports the functioning of many enzyme systems and plays a key role in normal cell multiplication and hormone balance.

Biotin (Vitamin B7)

Key in the manufacture of fats and proteins, needed for healthy hair and skin.

Folic acid (Vitamin B9)

Essential for supporting DNA production and the formation of a healthy nervous system.  It is crucial for the developing baby to have sufficient in the womb which is why most women are recommended to take a folic acid supplement during pregnancy.

Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12)

Needed for the production of red blood cells, supports good brain and immune function, and of course energy production.


Whilst we know they are a very busy ‘family’ of vitamins, more recent research has established a link between daily supplementation of B vitamins and slowing the rate of brain shrinkage.

Scientists at Oxford University carried out a two-year randomised, double-blind controlled trial[1] to determine whether a vitamin pill containing folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 could reduce the rate of brain shrinkage.  The results were encouraging, showing an average of around 30% less brain shrinkage per year than those given a placebo. This suggests that these particular B vitamins could support ageing brain disorders such as dementia.

Suffice to say, whatever your age, ensuring you’re getting sufficient B vitamins on a daily basis is certainly going to keep the brain as sharp as possible.


The good news is that the B Vitamins are widely available in many different foods including fish, poultry, meat, eggs, dairy products, vegetables, legumes and whole grain foods, including cereals. So if you are eating a well-balanced, healthy diet you should have most of them covered. Brewer’s yeast also provides a rich source of B vitamins, hence the reason Marmite is hailed as providing energy!

One thing to note is that vitamin B12 is only found in animal produce, therefore if you are vegan you will certainly need to supplement to ensure you are not deficient.  Taking a daily vitamin B-complex supplement, alongside a well-balanced diet, can help plug the nutrient holes that can plague even the most careful of eaters. Look out for specific B-Complex supplements, or a multi-vitamin such as Alive! which contains all eight B vitamins; this is a great insurance policy to ensure you are getting enough of the B vitamins and to keep your energy levels at their optimum.


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[1] Smith AD et al.  Homocysteine-lowering by B vitamins slows the rate of accelerated brain atrophy in mild cognitive impairment: a randomised controlled trial.  PLoS One 2010; 5:e12244. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012244

Smile! Five nutrients for healthy teeth and gums.

‘Smile and the whole world smiles with you’.  A smile goes a long way in life and it’s even better if you have beautiful, healthy teeth.  Whatever age you are, it’s never too late to look after your teeth and gums.  And, as with so many aspects of health, it’s all underpinned by good nutrition.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, provides her five top tips for keeping your teeth and gums in tip-top condition.

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The mineral calcium, which is the most abundant in the body, is the most important one in terms of teeth health, right from birth and throughout life.  If you’ve had a good start, and you and your children received sufficient calcium in the womb, then that’s always going to be beneficial.  However it’s never too late, and having sufficient calcium in the diet throughout life is going to help maintain strong teeth.

Milk and dairy products are great in terms of calcium content, but if you can’t tolerate dairy or choose not to eat dairy products there are alternatives. Think green leafy vegetables, other calcium-enriched milks such as almond or coconut, sesame seeds and bony fish such as sardines.

It’s worth bearing in mind that too much stress can create acidity throughout the whole body which in turn can cause you to lose calcium.  So find ways of reducing your stress levels; yoga, meditation, a lunch time walk away from your desk – whatever helps you to unwind.


Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because it’s produced on the skin in the presence of sunshine.  So, with the summer upon us, make sure you try to get 10-15 minutes each day in the sun without any sunscreen.

Vitamin D is essential for metabolising calcium; they’re inseparable nutrients and your teeth certainly needs sufficient of both nutrients throughout life.  As with calcium, bony fish is a great source of vitamin D, as is, to some extent, milk.

Even though the body can store vitamin D, it would seem that a very large percentage of the UK population are deficient and our requirements for this vitamin are much higher than originally thought.  Therefore, the Department of Health recommends supplementation for everyone throughout the winter months but it would also be prudent to continue supplementing all year round.


Vitamin C is probably the most well-known of all vitamins; it’s also one of the most hardworking!  There is often some confusion around vitamin C and how it impacts teeth and gum health, primarily because it’s acidic and too much acid can attack tooth enamel. However, vitamin C is also essential for healthy and strong gums.

If gums are weak, teeth can become wobbly and may eventually fall out.  Therefore, the advice is to eat plenty of vegetables, particularly peppers, kale, broccoli and Brussels sprouts which are high in vitamin C, but also some fruits such as the berry fruits which are high in vitamin C but lower in acid.  Try to avoid fruit juices such as orange juice for breakfast as this coats the teeth with acid. Additionally, don’t brush your teeth for at least an hour after eating fruit.


Whilst calcium tends to get all the acclaim when it comes to teeth health, the mineral magnesium is also important.  This is primarily because magnesium is key in the formation of teeth as well as bones.  Indeed, magnesium and calcium need to be in balance to work at their optimum levels; over-calcification within the body can lead to other problems such as hardening of the artery walls.

The good news is that green leafy vegetables that are high in vitamin C are also high in magnesium; yoghurt and almonds are also high in calcium are magnesium!  It makes dietary choices a whole lot easier.


Healthy gums are as much an essential part of a healthy mouth as healthy teeth.  Compromised gingival (gum) irritations and infections can eventually lead to loss of teeth so gums need to be properly cared for.

Having a balanced diet is key for having a well-nourished and good-working body, including the gums. One often over-looked nutrient is CoQ10.  It is naturally found in the body and functions as a key antioxidant.  However, its production diminishes with age: people taking statin medications are also often deficient.

It is found in many foods such as spinach, broccoli, sardines and mackerel.  However, because it’s so key in gum health, it might be worth considering a CoQ10 supplement of at least 30 milligrams daily.

So there are some easy ways to ensure you’re grinning with confidence (and strong, healthy teeth and gums) by getting the right nutrition. Keep on smiling!


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Nut alternatives: don’t go nuts if you can’t eat nuts!

Allergies and severe reactions to eating tree nuts and peanuts appear to becoming increasingly common.  UK government figures suggest that as many as 1 in 70 children in the UK suffer from peanut allergies.  However there are lots of delicious alternatives if you’re unable to eat them.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some of her suggestions.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Peanuts and tree nuts are actually two different types of foods. Peanuts are not actually nuts but are classed as legumes or ground nuts, like soya beans.  Other nuts such as pistachios, almonds, cashews, walnuts and Brazils are known as tree nuts.  However, both types can cause serious reactions in those that are affected, and definitely need to be avoided in the diet if that’s the case.

Whilst peanuts are a great source of protein, particularly for vegetarians, they don’t contain the benefits of the essential fats; peanuts contain saturated fat rather than the healthier polyunsaturated fats found in tree nuts.

However, if you can’t eat peanuts or tree nuts there are plenty of alternatives that you can substitute into your diet and still retain the great health benefits they provide.


Cashew nuts are often used in stir fries, but the good thing is there are no fixed rules when it comes to what goes into a stir fry! If you’ve used cashew nuts to fulfill part of your daily protein needs in the past, then tofu can be a great alternative.  Although tofu has very little natural taste, when added to stir fries containing spices such as garlic and ginger, then it comes alive!  Tofu is also a great source of calcium (just like cashews) so you’ll not be losing out on any nutrients by switching.

Colour variety and texture is the order of the day with stir fries, so add as many vegetables as you can. Throwing together mange tout, baby corn, peppers, onions, chopped broccoli, mushroom and courgettes alongside your tofu will provide a quick and thoroughly healthy main meal – it also works well cold for lunch the next day!


Brazil nuts are one of the richest sources of the mineral selenium – a very important antioxidant nutrient which is great for the hair, skin and nails.  However, selenium is much depleted in the Western diet, partly due to the amount of refined foods that are eaten, and so Brazil nuts have become a popular choice for many.

So where can you get your selenium from? Non-refined grains such as brown rice, pearl barley, oatmeal, whole wheat bread and quinoa are all high in selenium.  In fact all whole grains, rather than refined ones such as white rice and pasta, are good choices.  All of these can be easily and quickly added to the daily diet in the form of pasta dishes, brown rice accompaniments to stir fries or curries, or adding quinoa to some roasted vegetables and goat’s cheese.


Walnuts contain some of the highest amounts of omega-3 fats of all plant sources.  It’s important to get the anti-inflammatory omega-3s into our diets because they help manage inflammation throughout the whole body.  They also improve blood flow, joint health, brain function and the skin.  Athletes need to eat plenty of omega-3s to help to fight joint pain and inflammation after intense exercise.  However, if you’re not able to eat walnuts, don’t despair; there are some really healthy plant- based alternatives, namely seeds of all kinds!

Pumpkin seeds are especially delicious – you could even try pumpkin seed butter. Flaxseeds can easily be sprinkled over cereals and porridge and are really pleasant-tasting. Chia seeds are great added to your acai berry fruit bowl.

Alternatively, hemp seeds are real winners. Hemp seeds are an excellent source of both omega-3s and omega-6 fats as well as protein plus they contain no cholesterol making them really heart-healthy.  Again athletes love them because they’re a power super food and they’re great as part of a protein bar recipe.  Just add cocoa powder, chia and pumpkin seeds, coconut butter and dates and you’ll have yourself a wonderful, nut-free, on the go snack and post-workout recovery bar.

So, don’t despair if you’re unable to eat nuts; there are so many alternatives which are just as tasty and healthy and ensure you’re not missing out on those essential nutrients.


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Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

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For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit Herbfacts