Diet Diversity on a Budget

This month I’m encouraging you to try a fun diet diversity challenge where each day you and your family will try to eat a rainbow of different coloured fruits and vegetables to encourage variety within your diet.

What is diet diversity?

Diet diversity relates to the different types of fruit and vegetables we eat. It’s important to try to eat as diverse a diet as possible because it’s been shown to have excellent health benefits and it’s helpful for the digestive system.

Eating a wide variety of rainbow-coloured foods benefits us because the colour pigments found in fruit and vegetables occur as a result of the different phytonutrients they contain.

For example, purple/blue vegetables contain anthocyanidins, orange and yellow varieties contain carotenoids such as beta-carotene, red ones are high in lycopene, white varieties such as garlic and onions often contain allicin and greens are high in folate, indoles and saponins.

How can I add diversity to my diet on a budget?

Although it’s fine for me to tell you to add more fruit and vegetables to your diet, I’m very aware that not everyone has the luxury of being able to afford to buy a wide range of fresh produce every time they go shopping. As a result, I’d like to suggest some ways you can add diversity to your diet on a budget.

Swap your usual fresh produce for something different

I’m not here to tell you how to manage your household budget, but I always recommend buying produce from a supermarket’s value/budget and imperfect ranges. The produce is fine, much of it is grown in the UK (so it’s quite seasonal) and it can save you a small fortune at the checkout.

Almost every supermarket sells bags of value carrots, so if you always pick up carrots when you go shopping, why not pick up their value parsnips, turnip or swede instead? In terms of cost, they’re on par with carrots, but they’ll introduce something different to your gut microbiome.

Swapping your usual white potatoes for sweet potatoes is another great way to introduce diversity to your diet. Many supermarkets now have value bags of them. Sweet potatoes can be mashed, roasted or served as oven baked chips. They also make a lovely mashed topping for the likes of cottage or shepherd’s pie!

In terms of green vegetables, fresh bagged spinach and kale can be quite expensive, but cabbages and spring greens are much cheaper. They’re normally seasonally grown in the UK which keeps their cost low and they’re an excellent food choice in terms of nutrition.

Cabbage of all varieties (red, green and savoy) are delicious when they’re lightly boiled or sauteed, but they’re also gorgeous when they’re thinly shredded raw and have a bit of mild mustard, mayo and seasoning mixed into them to create a fresh coleslaw.

Some people struggle to digest onions and leeks, but many people can tolerate the green tips of these vegetables. An absolutely brilliant tip I came across years ago is to sit the roots of your spring onions and leeks in water. This enables the vegetables to continue to grow, so you can snip off the green tips to use in your cooking and they just continue to sprout more green tips! I’d estimate that a bunch of spring onions can last me around 6-8 weeks!

Embrace reduced fresh produce!

Some people aren’t too keen on buying fresh fruit and vegetables from the reduced section because they don’t think it’ll last very long. They’re probably quite right if we’re talking about ready prepared fruit and vegetables, such as fruit salads or packets of stir-fry veg, but whole produce can still have a very long lifespan.

I find that simply knowing that something I’ve bought at a reduced price needs to be used up, makes me use it up. However, I also make good use of my freezer when it comes to reductions.

My family loves fruit smoothies, so if I’m lucky enough to spot reduced bags of fruit or punnets of strawberries, blueberries etc, I’ll buy them, give them a wash and pop them in the freezer until they’re needed. It’s a great way to save a fortune on fruit and it makes a lovely cold smoothie without the need for ice!

Even reduced delicate produce, such as mushrooms can quickly be turned into a delicious soup when you get home by simply adding a couple of cheap stock cubes and water. Blend the soup until smooth and once it’s cold, freeze it in portions, so you can take a portion for lunch whenever the mood takes you.

Don’t forget that chillies, herbs, minced garlic and ginger also freeze well too. I freeze my chillies either whole or finely diced and take them out of the freezer as and when I need them. I freeze fresh coriander, parsley, rosemary, thyme and lemongrass and just use them as needed. I also mince my garlic and ginger and then freeze them in ice cube trays, so I can just pop a cube out when I require them for my cooking. It works a treat!

Try tinned produce

Let me categorically state for the record, there’s nothing wrong with tinned produce. Yeah, okay, some tinned produce isn’t great, such as tinned potatoes or fruit that’s packed in syrup instead of natural juice, but other tinned fruit and veg are very tasty and healthy!

Thankfully, most supermarkets have value ranges of many tinned vegetables which taste fantastic and are great to have in your kitchen cupboards on standby. These include:

Baby corn
Peas (garden and mushy)
Tomatoes (plum and chopped)

There are also loads of great tinned fruits out there, such as:

Fruit cocktail

So, if you’re shopping and you think the price for the fresh version of a fruit or vegetable is a bit pricey, why not check out the tinned version instead? It all adds diet diversity!

Buy frozen produce

Let me also state, there’s nothing wrong with frozen produce either! A great deal of it, such as peas and sweetcorn, is flash frozen within half an hour of being picked! Also, in comparison with their fresh counterparts, many fruits and vegetables can be considerably cheaper when bought frozen.

Frozen broccoli and cauliflower are great examples of how much cheaper they can be when compared to fresh. A small fresh cauliflower (which weighed 200g after I had removed the stalk and leaves) was priced at £1 in two of my local supermarkets, but I could buy a 900g bag of frozen cauliflower for 90p. I could also get a 900g bag of frozen broccoli for 53p! That’s a huge saving.

Corn on the cob and spinach are more great examples. They’re very expensive vegetables when bought fresh, but you can get a lot of it frozen for a fraction of the price. Frozen fruit to use for smoothies, porridge toppings or crumbles are also very reasonably priced.

Use food waste locations

A really great environmental initiative that’s becoming more widely available is the distribution of food waste from supermarkets, cafes and restaurants. It’s got nothing to do with food banks or impoverishment, it’s all about saving food waste from going to landfill.

I have one near where I live and it’s a great way to pick up fresh fruit and vegetables for free. It also kind of forces me to be diverse with my diet because I’d rather use the item up than see it go to waste. So I’ll use up bags of spinach in a dhal curry or roast squash or sweet potatoes to use in a lunchtime salad.

I’ve also used the app Too Good To Go in the past (which sees bags of produce being sold from around £2.50) and I’ve been very impressed with what’s been on offer in local supermarkets.

In summary

Diet diversity is all about ‘adding in’ fruit and vegetables which you might not normally eat regularly. So, if you’d like to have a go at my diet diversity challenge I’d recommend that you simply start ‘adding in’ more fruit and vegetables to your diet.

For instance, if you usually have cereal for breakfast try a sliced banana on top.

If you usually have a sandwich and a packet of crisps for lunch why not leave the crisps and add a small homemade side salad?

For dinner you could add a vegetable you’ve never tried before to your plate.

As always, if you’ve got IBS I’d recommend checking the Monash app to make sure that the fruit or vegetable you’re thinking of having is suitable for FODMAPs.

It’s all about keeping the diet as diverse as possible because the greater the variety of plant foods you eat the more benefits you’ll gain.

Also, here’s a link to a really handy printable diet diversity challenge sheet that’ll help make it a fun challenge for all the family. Kids love ticking off each fruit or vegetable they eat!

If you decide to try my diet diversity challenge I’d love to hear how you get on, so please get in touch!

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