Pregnancy can be an expensive time – you love the new buggy being advertised… and then there’s the new maternity wardrobe, baby clothes and the entourage of baby equipment! The good news is that healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive. Eating on a budget is easy to do with some careful planning and thought.

Starchy carbohydrates

You’ve heard the message about basing your meals around starchy carbohydrates to keep your energy levels up. But how can you save money on this food group? Try these tips:

  • Save money on your breakfast – go for oats! Not only are porridge oats a cheap breakfast option, but they will keep you fuller for longer, and less likely to snack mid-morning. You can jazz up oats with some cinnamon or nutmeg and stewed/dried fruit.
  • Bulk buy – buy large bags of pasta and rice, as they have long best-before dates.
  • Value and smart-price starchy foods (e.g. pasta, rice, pancakes, scones, breakfast cereals) usually contain just as much nutrition as branded products, but often at a fraction of the cost. Remember to check the labels on bread and breakfast cereals to ensure they are fortified with iron and folic acid.
  • Avoid wastage by weighing out dry pasta and rice before cooking; 75g (dried weight) is a healthy portion for an adult.

But I find meat so expensive!

Including protein-rich foods twice a day will help you meet your protein and iron needs. However, good quality meat doesn’t have to break the bank. Cheaper cuts of meat tend to be the less tender ones, such as brisket, chuck steak and lamb shanks, but these are delicious done in the slow cooker. Chicken thighs are often cheaper than breast. Check the labels of cheap/value sausages and mince, as they are often higher in fat and cheaper sausages may contain less meat. Why not make meat go further by adding extra veggies?

Remember that meat is not the only good source of protein and iron. Consider going veggieat least once a week – replacing meat with beans, lentils, chickpeas, Quorn, soy and tofu will not only save you money, but also decrease your fat intake and increase your calcium intake.

You’ve heard all about the importance of eating oily fish once a week, but you find fresh salmon expensive – how about tinned fish? Tinned salmon, pilchards and mackerel in tomato sauce or spring water are a much cheaper option. Not only are these a great source of essential omega-3 fatty acid, but they’re also a great source of iron and calcium.

Cheaper dairy foods

Value or smart-price milks and dairy foods are cheaper, nutritious and often have less sugar than their branded counterparts. Remember that the calcium content will be very similar across all brands.

Tips for cheaper fruit & vegetables

  • Avoid pre-prepared veggies, like pre-cut carrots, broccoli and cauliflower. They can cost more than the double the amount of money for the same weight.
  • Consider visiting your local market or fruit and veg store – there are often lots of bargains to be had, especially at the end of the day.
  • Keep a stock of frozen fruit and veggies in the freezer.
  • Tinned varieties can be cheaper – choose tinned fruit in natural juice and tinned veg in water instead of syrup or brine.

Ditch the packets – cook fresh!

Cooking homemade food is cheaper than buying ready-made foods – and not to mention healthier too! You can always cook in bulk, and put save the rest for another meal if you like the convenience of traditional ready-meals.

Cut your waste

Instead of throwing away left-over meat or veggies, make these into a tasty soup for tomorrow’s lunch, or a wholesome casserole. Soups are very easy to make, and there is a wealth of easy recipes online. Leftover carrots and tomatoes can be blended to make a tasty vegetable juice drink. If fruits are on the turn, why not blitz these up with some diet yoghurt and milk to make a delicious fresh fruit smoothie? You could also make a tasty fruit salad, or stew and freeze fruits like apples and pears until needed.

Snack time!

Buying snacks like crisps, sweets, chocolate and biscuits will quickly ramp up the cost of your trolley. Snacks high in fat and sugar are often full of empty calories. Instead of buying these, choose some nutritious snacks, which will keep you fuller for longer. Good examples include:

  • Fruits – tinned, dried or fresh all make great snacks;
  • Veggie sticks – loose carrots, cucumber and tomatoes are usually cheaper than pre-bagged ones;
  • Cheese – buy a block and make your own portions, rather than buying pre-packed portions or grated cheese;
  • Nuts, seeds and dried fruit (larger bags are cheaper than individual portions by weight);
  • Yoghurts – value or own-brand yoghurts and fromage frais are just fine, and often contain less sugar;
  • Breakfast cereals – value or own-brands are fine; just remember to check the labels to ensure they’re fortified with extra iron and folic acid.

Supermarket sweep

Use theses shopping tips to help you save money at the supermarket:

  • Plan your week’s meals in advance, so you know exactly what you need to buy.
  • Take a shopping list with you – you’ll be less likely to be swayed by the latest advertising and marketing ploys. You don’t need the latest brand of chocolate on offer!
  • You’ll often get more bargains if you shop at the end of the day or evening.
  • Don’t shop on an empty stomach, as you’ll buy more food.
  • If you shop with other children, using the experience as an opportunity to tell them about healthy eating, and reward good behaviour with something non food-related.

Tips for pregnant mums in the workplace

Instead of buying lunch out or in the work canteen, bringing in your own packed lunch will save you lots of money. You will also know exactly what’s in your lunch, avoiding the hidden fats and sugars often found in canteen- and shop-bought meals. Planning your day’s snacks in advance and taking these with you will help. Portioning out snacks into pots will help keep things like nuts, seeds, fruit and veggie sticks fresh. Buying drinks from the canteen or vending machine is expensive; instead, drink more water or bring your own bottled drinks in from home.

Could you feed yourself for £2 a day?

The table below gives an example of how you could feed yourself for just over £2 a day, and still meet the calorie, protein, vitamin and mineral requirements for the third trimester of pregnancy. You can reduce the cost per person if you’re cooking for the whole family – it’s possible to feed a family of 4 for under £5 using value ranges and cooking from scratch.

Meal / Snack Food Cost*
Breakfast 40g value oats
150ml semi-skimmed milk
Mid-morning Pear (value range, loose) 20p
Lunch Value pitta bread (1 from pack of 6)
30g cheese (grated from value cheese block)
40g cucumber (sliced from whole cucumber)
Clementine (easy peeler from pack)
Value low fat fruit yoghurt
Mid-afternoon 2 pieces of toast with value peanut butter 18p
Evening meal Bean chilli (made from ½ onion, ½ tin of value tomatoes, ½ carrot, ½ value pepper, value tin of kidney beans)
Basmati rice
Value custard (½ tin)
Banana – loose
Evening snack Handful (25g) of unsalted supermarket own-brand mixed nuts & raisins 9p
TOTAL £2.30
* Costs obtained from the Tescos website, and were correct on 17th September 2013. Costs calculated by using portion sizes as a percentage of the full package size. Costs are similar across the main supermarkets

    Webster-Gandy J et al (2011). Oxford Handbook of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2nd Edition. Oxford University Press.