We’re all having to tighten our belts right now but that doesn’t mean our meals can’t be delicious and nutritious. And, even if they’re made on a budget, they still deserve to be served up with love and an eye for detail – that way we feed our stomachs, eyes and minds.
For starters, read what the experts recommend to ensure a healthy diet – both for you and your children. Then surf the best budget recipe sites for some easy and affordable crowd-pleasing meals. Once you’ve made all that food you’ll need to know how to store it safely, so that’s dealt with too. Lastly, we’re all focussed on getting our immune system into tip top condition right now, so find out what role our diet plays. But first, a bit of theory…
Whether you eat everything or are vegetarian or vegan, I’ve linked to the latest healthy eating guides. But don’t worry if your everyday intake doesn’t look exactly like the Eatwell Guides. Let’s face it, some days we just feel like eating carbohydrates; toast for breakfast, pasta salad for lunch and a baked potato for supper, with a few biscuits added in for good measure. That’s fine. The next day you might have a chilli or soup packed with vegetables and beans and some fruit with breakfast. It’ll all work out over the week with a bit of planning.
The most important thing for our bodies (and our gut bacteria) is variety. If your diet is varied and colourful then it’s very unlikely that you’ll be missing out on any vital nutrients even if your vegetables are frozen or tinned. (And, ‘No’, a cocktail doesn’t count as colour unless, of course, it has a cherry on the swizzle stick!). If you follow a vegan diet you might need a bit of help with the odd micronutrient (they’re the vitamins and minerals) but you can find out how to manage that in the vegan section.
I’ve included a section for feeding your children too.
Oh, and if all this inactivity or dietary change has resulted in constipation, take a look at my blog ‘Quarantine-Induced Constipation’ for some light relief.
SO, HERE’S A QUICK REMINDER OF WHAT OUR BODIES NEED TO FUNCTION AT THEIR BEST.
If you eat everything.
The Eatwell guide is a UK NHS tool and this version is interactive. It illustrates how each food group makes up a healthy diet and which foods make up each group. You’ll also find some food safety tips. It does make me giggle that they have a list of foods that people over 65 shouldn’t eat, to avoid food poisoning. I have many friends over 65 and I’m not sure I’d get a very positive reaction if I suggested they were too old for runny cheese!
I’m a big fan of the Mediterranean Diet. It’s based on the diets of a number of nations lining the Mediterranean Sea. The advice is very similar to the Eatwell guide but it recommends nuts, beans, pulses and olive oil more strongly, red meat is advised only occasionally and, although not visible in this image, they have no problem with the odd glass of red wine.
A really exciting study was published in 2018, the Predimed Study. It’s rare to have such a large, high quality, human study (7447 people) looking into the benefits of specific foods. They took people at high risk of cardiovascular disease and encouraged them to take 4 tablespoons of olive oil or 30g nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds) daily or to make no change to their diet. Both oil drinkers and nut eaters had a significantly lower rate of cardiovascular disease after 5 years than those who made no changes. Personally, I need no excuse to eat more of either of these foods simply because they’re delicious.
What about Vegetarians?
Vegetarians have their own Eatwell Guide. Unfortunately, they don’t get an interactive version but you can always click on the omnivore version above which still applies for all the food groups except protein.
It is perfectly possible, and relatively easy, to get all the nutrients you need from a vegetarian diet but there are a few key minerals that aren’t quite so abundant when meat and fish are excluded. The Vegetarian Society suggests some good sources of these nutrients.
It’s particularly important to include good sources of iron in the diet if you have any pre-menopausal women in the family, since they can lose significant amounts of iron via menstruation each month. The link above will help you find good plant-based sources of iron. Remember that iron in plants isn’t absorbed quite so well as that from meat and fish. Having a source of vitamin C with meals helps it on its way into the body. A small glass of orange or tomato juice with a meal, a kiwi for dessert, broccoli or Brussel sprouts on the plate or scoop up your iron-rich hummus with sticks of pepper. Tea, on the other hand, contains tannins which reduce iron’s absorption, so try to avoid drinking it with meals.
How can a Vegan diet provide you with what you need?
You can’t have missed the fact that going ‘vegan’ has gone stratospheric . So, they also get their own Eatwell Guide. You’ll find a link to it on this page.
And this is how the Vegan society suggests you put it into practice.
The Vegetarian Society also gets in on the act with the vegan diet. Take a look at the paragraph on protein combining. Protein is made up of amino acids, some of which we can only get from our food. These ‘essential’ amino acids are all available in a vegan diet but, in order to ensure our vegan meals provide the complete set, combining different sources of protein is key. However, you’ll come to no harm if all your meals aren’t perfect. Whose are? An awareness of which foods make up the whole picture might just help you plan your meals across the day.
With a bit of focus, there’s no reason why someone who follows a vegan diet can’t get all the necessary nutrients . However, even the Vegan Society acknowledges that B12 and iodine requirements are very hard to meet with diet alone. If you really focus on eating foods that have been fortified with them, you might just make it, otherwise a vegan supplement is recommended. Oddly, some vegan mineral and vitamin supplements don’t contain iodine, so do check before buying. In the USA salt is routinely fortified with iodine but not in Europe. Here’s what the Vegan Society have to say on B12, Iodine and Iron.
Getting your B12
The Vegan Society seems to take a very responsible stance on B12. This Open Letter really hits the point home:
Meeting Iodine requirements
I’ve added this link to the The British Dietetic Association (BDA) iodine info sheet because it highlights the importance of iodine in pregnancy.
Don’t forget the Iron
And, of course, it’s worth thinking about how to get the iron in too and ensuring it’s well absorbed.
And a quick summary from my professional body on plant based diets so that they don’t feel left out.
And a quick reminder about Vitamin D
I’m also including this link to the BDA Vitamin D information sheet in view of the fact that, currently, many people are stuck inside most of the day and, unless they have gardens or a sunny balcony, they may not be getting much Vitamin D from our primary source, the sun. In the Northern Hemisphere, we have just come out of winter and our Vitamin D stores may well be depleted.
HOW ABOUT FEEDING THE CHILDREN?
From the age of 5, children will meet their requirements using the Eatwell Guide. If you’ve got younger children, the British Dietetic Association have produced this resource.
The British Nutrition Foundation have a section on feeding children. However, they don’t seem to want me to link to their page. Their website is www.nutrition.org.uk . Head to Healthy Living then Life Stages then select Children. A long way round but worth it.
What about Vegetarian and Vegan diets? Are they suitable for children too?
The British Nutrition Foundation resource mentioned above has a specific page dedicated to adapting vegetarian and vegan diets to the needs of children. It’s in the Children’s section.
The Vegetarian Society (vegsoc) have created these resources to get your kids involved and ensure they get the nutrients they need.
And if you’re catering for a vegetarian teenager, this one’s for you:
Children and Vegan diets.
This resource from the Vegan Society covers all life stages including pregnancy. They make a good point about choosing lower fibre carbohydrate foods and the use of oils and nut butters to fortify children’s diets. The vegan diet tends to be very high in fibre from all that lovely veg but children need plenty of energy and, if they’re too full from the fibre, they might not get all the other energy and nutrients they need. I’m sure I don’t need to say that children are not just little adults when it comes to nutrition. Also, take a look at the British Nutrition Foundation page mentioned above in the vegetarian section.
Any Fussy eaters in the house?
Is your child a fussy eater? Or maybe you’re not currently able to get hold of all their favourite foods and the alternatives are taking a bit of getting used to. Here’s some good advice from the Infant and Toddler Forum.
THAT’S ENOUGH THEORY – LET’S EAT
So, we know which nutrients we need, but we don’t eat by nutrients, we eat by meals. The good news is we don’t need to spend a fortune to ensure our food contains all those vital nutrients.
I’m sure you all have your favourite store cupboard feasts but I thought I’d share some tasty looking websites which provide recipes for meals which cost pennies and look delicious. The stunning pictures might also inspire you on the presentation. I hope they nudge you to branch out into new food territory and make your budget meals look Michelin starred. There’s plenty for the vegetarians and vegans among you as well since, of course, beans and pulses are cheap sources of protein.
Some budget cooking sites
You may have heard of Jack Monroe. She rose to fame when she was a penniless single mother and wrote a blog about how she fed them both on a shoestring. I’ve just read that she’ll be presenting a weekday morning cookery show on the BBC soon. On the top tips page she has a piece on reducing waste and using up leftovers too.
I particularly love the photos on this site.
Equally tempting photos, tips on using leftovers and cooking in a small kitchen on this site.
The last two are American sites and they often use ‘cup’ measurements. So, here’s a link to a handy converter tool: https://www.goodtoknow.co.uk/food/cups-to-grams-converter-87833
STORING FOOD SAFELY
At the moment we’re tending to buy in bulk and maybe batch cook a bit more often, both great ideas but how can you ensure the leftovers don’t go to waste and, more importantly, don’t make you sick? Here’s what the UK NHS has to say:
You’ll also find some handy advice on ‘How to Freeze Leftovers’ on the BudgetBytes website.
One of my favourite tips is putting a sheet of kitchen roll in with vegetables in the fridge, especially with salad leaves. It keeps them crisp and they last much longer.
WILL ANY OF THIS BOOST MY IMMUNE SYSTEM – IT’S ALL I READ ABOUT?
There’s no question, a fully functioning immune system is what we all need right now, more than ever.
The immune system is a complex thing; it includes our specific immunity to certain diseases which is something we collect throughout our life and explains why most of us only get chicken pox once. It also includes our ability to fight infection from new attackers.
Amazingly, the majority of immune cells are found in the gut, so a healthy diet and healthy gut are essential. We need enough energy in our diet to make new immune cells plus the nutrients to help the cells function properly. This includes the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, fat, fibre and fluid) and micronutrients (minerals and vitamins). Whilst there are some specific minerals and vitamins that play key roles, you are only likely to be deficient in any of them for one of 3 reasons; your diet is of poor quality, you are losing a lot via diarrhoea or vomiting or your requirements are raised due to a medical condition or as a side effect of medications.
So, for the majority of us who are healthy and have a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, supplementation wouldn’t be necessary. In any case, how would you know which nutrient to supplement? Megadosing on any nutrient is potentially harmful. However, if you know that you will consistently struggle to meet the guidelines, a general multivitamin and mineral might help and certainly is unlikely to do you any harm.
I liken the body to a flatpack wardrobe from the popular Swedish store. You need just enough screws and washers to put it together. Simply adding a few more screws randomly throughout the wardrobe is unlikely to make it any stronger or function better. The same goes for micronutrients.
What about herbal and alternative supplements? Even though studies have shown that some natural substances may have an impact on elements related to the immune system, this is far from evidence that they have any impact on our ability to fight off disease. It’s a big jump from what happens in a petri dish in a laboratory or even from the blood samples of a few animals to recommending something as a medicine. However, if something makes you feel better, tastes good and isn’t going to harm you or your bank account, why not give it a go? Just because it hasn’t been subject to rigorous studies, doesn’t mean it might not help.
In addition to a healthy diet, our immune system will also benefit from some regular exercise, plenty of sleep, management of our stress levels, not too much alcohol (and preferably no cigarettes) and, you guessed it, clean hands.
As for ‘boosting’ our immune system, that’s not something any food or supplement could do. We can only support our immune system to function optimally. Boosting it to work harder (even it were possible) would lead to nasty autoimmune diseases.
SO NOW IT’S OVER TO YOU
I’d love to see some of your creations, inventive garnishes or storage tips. Please put your photos in the comments below this post on my Curiously Nourishing FB page.
And, if there’s another food-related topic that’s concerning you at the moment, let me know and I’ll do my best to help.
‘Bon profit’ as they say in Mallorca.
May your meals be delicious, gobsmackingly appealing and keep you in excellent health.