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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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.


Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition and health advice direct to your inbox.

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

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

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

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