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Eating Cheaply, Healthily and Sustainably – part 1

Over the next few months I am going to create a series of blogs with ideas for protein rich, fresh, easy, cheap and relatively low carbohydrate foods. I will intersperse this series with my more questioning based, usual blogs. Hopefully I can work out how to group my blogs into themes at some point.

The recipes and ideas are all things I have shared with many patients, and which have been found by a reasonable number of those patients to be manageable – financially, in cooking skill, in keeping them full, and often in promoting other lifestyle changes. A small change can lead to a bigger one…. and I find this to be more true when we change breakfast than with anything else.

A modern British ‘everyday’ breakfast (cereal with milk) is my bugbear of our current issues with nutrition. Starting the day with a massive load of carbohydrate, and then expecting to concentrate and eat well for the rest of the day is frankly ridiculous. You spike your sugar which spikes your insulin, and this sets up a hunger cycle you need to chase with more sugar (and, often then combat the sleepiness effects with more caffeine) for the rest of the day. … as such, the majority of us will put on weight, lose sleep, possibly increase various inflammatory issues, and so head strongly in the direction of Cardiovascular, Type 2 Diabetes, and possibly various other (maybe more contested) health issues.

From a health perspective it is bad, from an environmental / ethical perspective it is not much better. Breakfast cereals base ingredients are in general, from large, monoculture farms – or even swathes of land across the USA – relying on pesticide, fertiliser and the reduction of biodiversity. They are then processed, packaged (in air to protect their pillow or lattice type structures), and shipped halfway across the world. On the Ethical Consumer website, (which doesn’t even account for packaging and shipping) Nestle scores 1.5/20 and Kelloggs 3.5/20. The website looks at more than just environmental issues, but both failed significantly in the areas of Deforestation Palm Oil and water useage/wasteage. – https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/food-drink/shopping-guide/cereal)

On top of this, breakfast cereal is not always particularly cheap. Even in Aldi and Lidl you will pay around £1 per box, and if you buy branded cereals it can easily be £3 or more. The portion sizes recommended on the box are rarely enough to keep anyone going, and most people eat 2 bowls full each morning – with each one being up to 20% bigger than the recommended size. Given this, your cereal habit likely costs you between 30p and 60p each morning. … plus the milk, (from 5-10p per 100ml – which is 1 bowl).

So what can we eat instead? Why would it be better? and is it affordable?

My quick answer is: Eggs – locally sourced, organic, free range eggs …. or even eggs from your own back garden. They may work out a little more expensive than your cereal, but the rest of your day won’t be fueled by unplanned sugar and caffeine buying trips. … so I do know a few people who have found they saved money in the long run.

Plain eggs every day might get boring and some people find their digestive tract can’t cope with it initially – so I personally add in Yoghurt (great if you don’t find dairy too contentious), berries (which you can buy frozen, a lot cheaper and less wasteful than fresh, although usually in plastic packaging) and nuts. (I major on hazelnuts and walnuts as they are UK grow-able – in fact we used to have a neighbour with a walnut tree – no food miles there!)

Below I will outline a number of options that do not take much time, money or effort.

Scrambled Egg:

As easy at it says, I use 2 eggs, a knob of butter, some salt and pepper. It takes less than 45 seconds to put the butter in a pan and heat it, break the eggs into a dish, use a fork to whisk them up, put them into the hot pan with the butter, stir them around until cooked. With the eggs I buy it works out as a max of 50p for this including the butter and electricity costs. I eat it with grilled tomato, or left over veg from the previous night, which I guess adds another 5-10p depending on the veg.

If I’m feeling like it and have the time I sometimes chop up a couple of rashers of bacon and fry them in the butter before adding the egg, or eat my plain egg with a slice of ham.

My husband does a load of “Flavour Varieties” of scrambled egg – he misses out the salt and pepper and makes them feel ‘sweet’ by adding:

  • cinnamon and vanilla
  • cocoa powder (+/- a tsp honey)
  • chocolate drops
  • christmas spice mix and raisins

Other Egg cooking options:

Fried, boiled, poached, baked – none are difficult. All are good with wilted spinach (I use frozen) or sauted left over veg. .. be inventive. I often make it up on the spot, it’s pretty hard to get wrong. … it’s only an egg, and can reasonably be eaten at any cooking stage from raw to crispy and nearly burnt.

Berry Omlette:

Similar to scrambled egg, but I put the beaten eggs into a frying pan and swirl them around to make a pancake thing, then add the berries and fold it over, cooking for another minute to sofen the berries. If you are used to a lot of sweetness you might (as I did) have to start by adding a bit of sugar or honey to this, and gradually weaning yourself off it. Approx cost 70p (scrambled egg costs from above plus berries) Sometimes I feel decadent or extra hungry and dollop some yoghurt (over Christmas I even had it with clotted cream) and / or nuts on top too.

Yoghurt Bowl:

Approx 200g natural (organic) yoghurt with a handful of berries (from the freezer that becuase I never remember in the evenings, I stick in the microwave for 30 seconds) and a couple of tablespoons of crushed / chopped nuts – Approx Price: 90p. Seems more expensive, but this will often keep me going until about 2pm.

Berry Pancake:

I’ll admit this one is a bit of a faff for the everyday, but one we have often on holiday. It’s also hard to make for 1. (taken from Quick and Easy Meals – Primal Blueprint) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Primal-Blueprint-Quick-Easy-Meals/dp/0982207743

Separate 6 eggs, whisk egg whites, then whisk egg yolks with a bit of cinnamon and some vanilla essence, until thick. Heat a skillet with a bit of butter, add berries to cover the bottom and cook for a few mins until juices are running. Fold whites into yolks and dollop on top of berries. Transfer to the oven for 10 mins. To eat, turn out so berries are on top (or don’t and scoop it out more like a pudding)

Paleo Porridge:

There are literally hundreds of grain free porridge recipes out there online. Some are still quite high in sugars as they rely on bananas. Some use egg, some don’t. A lot use coconut (which I don’t really like). Personally I like the ones that use a mixture of chia seeds and other things. … Currently my favourite is to mix chia seeds, crushed mixed nuts, some flax seeds and milk, and then stirred together in a warm pan until thick, maybe adding some grated apple at the end. Given the prices of the ingredients, I estimate a (good sized) bowlful costs 70p. .. Chia seeds swell magnificently, like oats.

Berry Smoothie:

Smoothies have been a bit contentious the last few weeks. But this has saved me from skipping breakfast on days I’m hungry but have no time….

I basically take my Yoghurt bowl (above) but decrease the yoghurt, add some milk and an egg, and whizz it all up in my food processor, then drink on the go!

So there is a selection of what I eat for breakfast, and things I have suggested to patients, that work.

Over the next few months I will look at Lunch, Snacking, Dinner … and I think I might do a whole post on soups – one of my favourite staples.

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Published by ecogreengp

GP, Wife, Mum, Climate Activist, Enthusiastic Cook. Owner of a car named Leafy, a cat named Biscuit and a hamster named Carrot. Disorganised beyond belief. .... sometimes I don't even put my shoes on.

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