This popular ingredient is a nutritional powerhouse. It only takes two plum tomatoes to make up one of your five-a-day. What’s more, tomatoes release more nutrients as they cook because the cell walls break down, which is good news as we often use canned tomatoes for sauces.
You can keep to inexpensive ingredients and buy cans of tomatoes, with little difference between budget and premium – even expensive brands may contain preservatives to help the tomatoes stay firm.
Use tinned tomatoes in recipes
2. Frozen berries
It’s a common misconception that frozen fruit isn’t as healthy as fresh. Commercially frozen fruit is flash-frozen within just a few hours of picking, helping it to retain most of its nutrients and colour.
We’re huge fans of using frozen berries – like strawberries and raspberries – all year round to make smoothies, compotes or frozen yogurt. It keeps you on budget, goes a long way and reduces environmental implications of eating out-of-season imported produce.
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Use frozen berries in recipes
3. Frozen vegetables
The same benefits apply to frozen vegetables and supermarket basic ranges offer brilliant value for money here. Frozen cauliflower, spinach, sweetcorn and green beans are ideal for cooking with. Be aware that some of the original texture can be lost in the defrosting process, but they work well added by the handful to curries, casseroles and sauces for a guaranteed nutrient boost.
You can also freeze your own veg to minimise food waste, which is unsurprisingly inexpensive and allows you to bulk buy and use in future meals when convenient. For practical tips, read our how to freeze guide and cnd check out our review of the best food storage containers for your kitchen.
Use frozen vegetables in recipes
Lentils are one of our favourite ingredients. Budget-friendly and nutritious, they hold up in many hearty dishes and can taste sensational when cooked the right way. Many types don’t need to be soaked before use, even the dried ones. Split red lentils are fairly inexpensive and best used for soups and sauces. Firm puy lentils are a good addition to salads, although slightly more costly. Amazingly, three tablespoons of cooked lentils counts as one of your five-a-day, plus they’re packed with fibre, protein and carbohydrates.
To find out more, read our guide on the health benefits of lentils.
Use lentils in recipes
Chickpeas are another storecupboard favourite. The dried ones offer more value for money and are budget-friendly, but they require soaking, so canned versions win for convenience. You only need three tablespoons of cooked chickpeas to get one of your five-a-day. We like them roasted as a snack or added to a curry. You can even use the water from the can (known as aquafaba) as a substitute for egg whites when making vegan meringue.
Use chickpeas in recipes
6. Canned fruit
A single canned peach or pear provides one of your five-a-day – this means buying one can could be enough to give around four people a serving. Be aware that canned fruit does usually come in sugary syrup – even the varieties in juice contain a lot of sugar. That said, if eaten occasionally, it’s a good way to sneak fruit into desserts and puddings. This can also help when your chosen fruit is not in season and is more expensive, making canned fruit the best option for inexpensive dinners and desserts.
Use canned fruit in recipes
7. Sweet potato
Regular white potatoes don’t count as one of your five-a-day, but sweet potatoes do. They may be slightly more expensive than traditional spuds but, as a source of complex carbohydrates, they’re fantastic value for money and inexpensive. And, like other orange fruit and veg, they contain beta-carotene. You need a whole potato to get a full portion, so use it as you would a regular potato – baked, mashed or as chips.
Use sweet potato in recipes
Baked sweet potatoes with lentils & red cabbage slaw
Spinach, sweet potato & lentil dhal
Roasted sweet potato & carrot soup
Moroccan chicken with sweet potato mash
More ideas for cooking with sweet potato
8. Dried fruit
You might be surprised to learn that dried raisins, currants and sultanas count towards your five-a-day. Just one tablespoon equates to a portion, so think about incorporating some next time you’re pouring out your breakfast cereal, making porridge or garnishing a salad. Dried fruit also comes in big packets, perfect for adding a tablespoon to breakfasts or doing some fun baking with the kids. They are usually inexpensive and can be a great way of getting more fruit into their diets.
Use dried fruit in recipes
9. Eat seasonal
This might sound obvious, but eating what’s in season can often be cheaper. Consult our seasonal calendar before shopping or speak to your local market stallholder or greengrocer to find out what’s in abundance. Often a glut of produce means a marked-down price. We have healthy recipes for spring, summer, autumn and winter to inspire your cooking.
Use seasonal food in recipes
10. Eat local
Food that has travelled only a few miles down the road will be cheaper than something that’s been flown around the world (and if this isn’t the case, ask yourself why). Markets and greengrocers is great for local produce, but supermarket packaging features place of origin, so take time to read labels. Even if the cost-saving is small, it’s an eco-friendlier way to shop. You can also stick to budget much easier when shopping at market stalls as you get a larger amount of produce for less money. There’s plenty of fantastic British produce to cook with, such as beetroot, carrots, cabbage and apples.
Use local produce in recipes
11. Boost your breakfasts
Kick-start your day with a healthy portion of fruit or veg and you’ll be well on your way to five-a-day before lunchtime. Whizz fruit into smoothies, add it to muesli or bake it into oats. If you prefer a savoury breakfast, make your own baked beans, serve grilled mushrooms alongside scrambled eggs or enjoy a warming shakshuka. Breakfasts can also be great for your budget, as you can use what you have and not worry about doing another shop.
Recipes to boost your breakfast
12. Healthy snacks
Instead of reaching for sugary, artificial foods when hunger strikes, treat snack time as an opportunity to top up your intake of nutrient-dense fruit, veg and pulses. Whip up your own hummus using a can of chickpeas or try roasting them with spices you have in your kitchen cupboard – it’s an inexpensive way of keeping healthy. If you’re short of time or need to pack something to go, you can always enjoy a fresh piece of fruit.
Use healthy ingredients in these snack recipes
13. Go veggie
Following a plant-based diet is considered to be better for you and the planet, as well as being less expensive. While some meat alternatives are pricey, meals made with vegetables, grains and pulses are considerably cheaper than their meaty counterparts. A curry made with root veg, for example, is cheaper than using chicken or lamb. Not to mention you’ll find it easy to consume your five-a-day. Go vegetarian full-time or for the same day every week.
Go veggie with these recipes
14. Serve a salad
One good way to get your greens is by opting for a salad for lunch or dinner. Have a few dressed leaves on the side of your meal, or enjoy a heartier salad for the main event. Just be sure to add protein, plenty of veg and grains to make it filling. You could even add dried or fresh fruit, if you like a little sweet with your savoury. Salad ingredients, especially seasonal veg, can be a great way of bulking up meals as they are inexpensive and provide nutrients.
Use fresh ingredients in these salad recipes
15. Try something new
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and cook the same meals every week, especially when you’re on a tight budget. The problem is this means you’re eating the same fruits and vegetables, over and over again, and not giving your body the diversity it needs to thrive.
Why not switch things up and add a new recipe to your repertoire? Browse our budget recipes for inspiration. We have cheap and healthy recipes, budget meals for two, budget batch-cooking recipes and lots more. If you’re new to cooking, check out our picks of the best cookbooks for beginners.
Get new inspiration from these recipes
16. Add to omelettes
Eggs are an excellent budget-friendly ingredient. If you usually enjoy an omelette for breakfast, lunch or dinner, try adding a portion of chopped veg to the whisked eggs before cooking or tuck inside the folded omelette. For a heartier meal, make a thicker frittata with cherry tomatoes and avocado salsa on the side. Or, try adding a handful of spinach to a chunky Spanish-style tortilla.
Bulk up your meals with these omelette recipes
17. Tasty traybakes
This is an easy way to get your daily dose of goodness on a budget. Fill a tray with seasonal veg, toss with garlic, olive oil, herbs and spices, and bake until you have a healthy, wholesome dinner. You can add fish or meat too, if you like, and even serve alongside a green salad for an extra nutrition. If you make enough, the leftovers will be delicious eaten cold or reheated in the microwave.
We have lots of traybake dinner recipes, including vegetarian traybakes, vegan traybakes and family traybake recipes. Make sure you have the right kit: check out our review of the best baking trays and best casserole dishes.
Have a go at these traybake recipes
18. Include the kids
Make sure the whole family is getting their five-a-day with our hidden veg recipes. We’ve crammed extra vegetables into pasta sauce and macaroni cheese, peppers into burgers and broccoli into fritters. Our dishes are hearty and delicious enough to be enjoyed by the whole family, so serve up a portion and know you’re getting a good dose of your five-a-day. When making meals for the family, using hearty ingredients while sticking to a budget is easy with these simple, kid-friendly recipes.
You could even get the kids in the kitchen with you to help them learn basic skills and nutrition. Turn them into little chefs with our easy and fun kids’ cooking recipes. Plus, discover our list of the best cookbooks for kids.
Get the kids involved making these recipes
19. Swap chocolate for fruit
If you enjoy the occasional chocolate dessert, consider switching to a cheap and cheerful fruity pud instead. Dollop homemade blackcurrant compote onto yogurt, bake apples and blackberries into crumble or enjoy a fresh, seasonal fruit salad. All are relatively inexpensive ways to make the shift.
Use fruit in these sweet recipes
20. Add veg to smoothies
Mix up your morning routine and add a portion of greens to your smoothie. Both spinach and kale work well, although spinach has a more neutral flavour, and they both boast powerful health benefits as well as contributing to your five-a-day. Greens can go a long way in smoothies when considering budget-friendly healthy options, such as large packs of spinach, kale and ‘wonky’ veg sold cheaper in supermarkets.
If you prefer a sweet start to the day, try adding banana, honey or rice milk as it has a naturally sweet flavour. For creaminess, give avocado a go. It’s also bursting with healthy fats.
Use nourishing veg in these smoothie recipes
More on healthy eating
Do you eat five portions of fruit and veg a day? Leave a comment below…
This content was updated on 20 October 2023.
Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a registered nutritionist with a post-graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.