This section is by far the most important. I have had a full fruit bowl in my house for the past 5 years, but the rations of fruit are carefully managed so the kids eat it. We all needed to be eating it, they needed to see me eating it. Fruit and vegetables are a source of vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates, and when you see the dizzying range of nutrients we actually need to keep functioning, you realise fruit and veg has to be a priority. Even if you were a Wham bar eating child of the eighties.
Maintaining an intake of any fruit and vegetables can be difficult enough, doing it when you really dont have a budget is impossible unless you understand that buying fruit or veg, to avoid malnutrition is up at the top of your priority list. Set aside money that you will use for fruit and veg before you spend anything else. Make yourself eat them even regularly, in small portions, even if you don’t want them.
Fresh fruit and vegetables
There is absolutely no doubt that the best way to eat fruit and vegetables is fresh and in variety. But at the very least, carrots, apples, oranges, bananas, onions and fruit and vegetables that are in season, can be bought cheaply and fresh.
There is no way to afford fruit and vegetables consistently, without recognising that the seasons are your best guide to budgeting. You need to know what is in season and when, because it will be the cheapest, and taste better than stuff imported out of season. I am blind to fruit and vegetables out of season, apart from bananas(which are quite freaky and have no season), no matter how good that out of season mango or peach looks, it is out of my budget and my eyeline and it probably tastes shit anyway.
Most shops, including the supermarkets, who sell fruit and veg sell bags of packed lunch apples and oranges for about a quid a bag. You will get about 10 oranges or apples for this. They will probably be small, but they are fresh and they generally keep for more than a day or so.
Potatoes, Carrots, and Onions
Carrots, onions and potatoes should form the backbone of your shopping list, even if you can’t afford to add anything more interesting. These are your absolute cheapest cheapest staples, do not underestimate the absolute joy of any of this trio, the nutritional value, the versatility, or the possibilities. Both can be bought in bulky 1, 3, 5 or 7kg bags for very cheap.
I am very sorry to those whose living is made through supermarkets, but the fruit and veg sold in supermarkets often tastes like an approximation of fruit and veg, is very expensive once you get past the loss leaders and is ridiculous mostly and you don’t need a polystyrene tray for 4 apples.
Most of my fruit and veg comes from either the local market or a small corner shop I found in the town I live, which caters largely to the asian community.
IF I stick to seasons, and don’t use the supermarkets, I can pretty much ensure there is fresh veg and fruit every day at the moment.
I can show up to the market late and I know that he would rather sell what he has left over cheap, than throw it or take it back to his lock up, the guy who owns the stall knows me well enough that on occasion you can see he knows I am skint and takes the top 50p off. Your supermarket won’t do this.
In addition, I make jam and preserves and he knows I am usually on the look out for gluts of fruit to get into jars and lets me have a bargain occasionally.(I currently have 7 jars of raspberry jam as a result of a very rainy day with few customers- the raspberries cost me £2.)
Some stalls and grocers sell their bruised fruit in bargain bags but even at full price, if you are careful with what you buy you can buy large amounts of fruit and veg for less than 5 or 6 quid
The guy that runs the shop I found stopped scowling at me about 3 months ago and occasionally says hello now, he is much nicer since I started including nuts and green leafy vegetables in my purchases from him and now I am not so thin, I still find his drool a bit offensive, but he is nice. I much prefer this to the forced jollity of supermarkets.
The problem with fresh fruit and veg
It is fresh, and when you are spending a significant portion of a fortnight without money, you dont have chance to top up your supplies and nature erodes fruit and veg very quickly. It loses vitamins as it gets older and becomes pointless as well as horrible and tasteless, so if you dont have money to keep topping up your supplies it gets difficult.
Frozen fruit and veg
Bags of frozen fruit and veg are very cheap from budget supermarkets, spinach, peas, and broccoli and cauliflower are great frozen and you can just chuck a handful into anything, have them on their own. If you have a freezer, you can make sure you have a supply of veg and fruit.
Frozen berries are brilliant, you can chuck them in anything, or eat them as a snack by the handful.
Tinned Fruit and Veg
My absolute favourite way of eating peaches, is tinned, preferably with evaporated milk on them. Peach Melba of the council estate class I am told. Tinned fruit and veg is useful, and even on the weeks I can afford fresh fruit and veg I buy tins of fruit, or tomatoes, and even bottled cherries and fruits from budget supermarkets. (not those horrible manky tins of carrots and peas- I can’t see how any vitamins are left in there are they don’t taste nice…lol)
I like to have a stash of fruit and veg we can access if income is disrupted.
Tinned tomatoes, sieved tomatoes, passata
It is not possible to have too many tins of tomatoes or cans of passata.
Preserve fruit as jam, chutney, or freeze it raw and cooked, in the parts of the year where there is plentiful fruit and vegetables available, freeze it as apple pies or whatever. This provides the taste of fruit and veg during those times you can’t afford it or when everything is out of season,you don’t need a freezer or a fridge to keep chutney and jam, if you have a freezer, brilliant.
Jam takes less less than half an hour, you can sterilise jars in a pan of water or the microwave, and you need no special equipment. Its so easy my little boy who is 5 knows how to make raspberry jam. Chutney is similar, sugar, vinegar, fruit and spices, in a pan, in a jar. Good things to add to a bland diet, and if you have any jars left over at christmas, free christmas presents.
I do not like dried fruit in general, I can’t see raisins being on my list as my last meal. However, dried fruit is packed with iron, vitamins, and god knows what else. Dried apricots look like dried testicles but really are packed with things you need. Lidl do huge bags of very unusual dried fruit, which includes pear, mango, raisins, prunes… Dried fruit is too amazing and too chock full of vitamins to ignore. It can be kept in a cupboard and storesfor the weeks where you are struggling to bolster your diet, and is very cheap. It is great in porridge of milky puddings, great in baking, and the kids like them as snacks. It might not be my favourite but is tastes nice for what it is, and even if you dont like it its small, you’ll get it down.
There are two types of people in the world, those who like leafy green vegetables, and those who don’t. I am in the latter group, but leafy vegetables are an amazing source of iron when other sources, like fresh red meat, are not in your diet. They are so chock full of stuff that you need, that you need to really consider battering your childhood fear of them into submission, and attempting to force yourself to eat some occasionally. While you are treating malnutrition, leafy greens are your friend and necessary, and certainly in the months afterwards. If you can include leafy greens in the foods you eat at this point, even if you never eat them again, this will be a good thing. They taste better than medicines. I find frozen spinach is a good compromise, I can load it up with other stuff, nutmeg, butter, and its edible. Just. Also great with feta cheese.
I have taken to keeping a bowl of fruit, salad, or veg next to, or in my fridge, in cold water. Every day a vegetable or fruit gets chopped up and is kept there all day to stave off hunger pangs, cauliflower is much lovelier raw than it is cooked, and that is one of my best sources of snacks. Sometimes it is carrots for quite a while, and that gets tedious, but they do stave off hunger pangs and keep you steady between meals without making you feel sick. A bowl of tinned sweetcorn with butter on it, is one of my favourite mini meals.
PS Am eating a dried apricot, in honor of writing such nice things about dried fruit. It is very much like someone candied a testicle but really quite a nice flavour.