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Cost-effective healthy food

Tips and recipes to make it cheaper and easier to serve healthy food.

This article was written by the Department for Education (DfE) in consultation with a team of early years experts and senior health professionals, including Anaphylaxis UK.

Cost-effective healthy food

Budgets are always tight, and having a strategy for meal planning is essential for saving time and keeping costs down. Preparing menus in advance and using tried-and-tested recipes will cut preparation time. It also helps with buying ingredients, keeping track of allergens and cutting down on food waste. Our recipes will help you to stay within budget and still meet the nutritional needs of children in your care. When shopping, consider ‘value’ brands, especially for staples like pasta, rice and tinned tomatoes. The difference in nutritional content between value and premium ranges is often very little, and some value brands contain less added sugar and salt.

Here are 10 tips for keeping your costs down while providing healthy, nutritious meals and snacks.

  1. Cooking from scratch is a more cost-effective and healthier choice. Use ingredients such as tinned tomatoes, onions and herbs, instead of pre-packaged cooking sauces.

  2. Experiment with making your own fruit yoghurt by blending stewed, canned or frozen fruits with plain yoghurt. You could also use up leftover fruit that you might normally throw away. Shop bought fruit yoghurt can be high in sugar.

  3. Frozen or canned fruits in natural juice and vegetables with no added salt are good alternatives to fresh produce. They minimise waste and can sometimes offer higher nutrient levels.

  4. Choosing fruits and vegetables that are in season can make them more affordable - and they will taste their best. Always compare the cost of loose and pre-packed produce. Go to local markets with children for cost-effective options and let children join in with choosing for a fun activity.

  5. Growing fruits, vegetables and herbs in pots or bags provides a sustainable source of ingredients for meals or snacks. It is also a great educational activity for children.

  6. Batch cooking and freezing portions is a good use of time. This works especially well if you are cooking for smaller groups, for example, if you are a childminder.

  7. If you choose to freeze food you must follow food safety guidelines when freezing and defrosting.

  8. A slow cooker is ideal for smaller portions, particularly for preparing meals in advance and making the most of value cuts of meat.

  9. Meat and fish are expensive proteins. Using pulses such as beans, lentils and peas can help reduce the amount of meat and fish you use. These are also great sources of fibre. Eggs and tinned fish are an affordable alternative to meat and fresh fish.

  10. Proper food storage helps extend freshness. Follow best practice food storage, such as keeping apples in the fridge and storing potatoes in a cool, dark place.

Recipes for your settings

Here are 11 recipe cards for early years settings. There are four recipes for lunch, 3 recipes for tea, 1 snack, 1 dessert and 1 side dish that is made using leftovers.

These recipes have been created to be suitable for a wide range of children, including those with special dietary requirements. Using these recipes, you can cook once and feed all the children at the same time, saving time and money.

PDF downloadRoasted aubergine and tomato curry

PDF downloadBlack bean and lentil koftas

PDF downloadJerk chicken and slaw wraps

PDF downloadHomemade chicken burger

PDF downloadChicken and vegetable pasta salad

PDF download5 bean chilli and nachos

PDF downloadCoconut and berry doughball

PDF downloadZero waste bubble and squeak

PDF downloadChocolate and beetroot brownie

PDF downloadTomato sauce

One-day zero waste menu card

This one-day zero-waste menu card includes healthy, nutritious meals and snacks for children, making all the food count and reducing waste.

PDF downloadOne-day zero waste menu card