The Cost Of Healthy Living

When it comes to what kind of diet you follow (I’m not talking about fad diets like Keto or Weight Watchers.  I mean how nourishing the foods you eat are), one big influence is your financial status. 

It’s no secret that fast food, highly processed foods, and low-quality foods are less expensive than fresh, high-quality produce most of the time.  This means that lower income household can find it difficult to access a nutritious diet.  Because of this, they are more at risk of developing diet related diseases.  This is usually through no fault of their own, and frankly it’s unfair to have to choose between feeding your family enough food or feeding them healthy food, but not enough to meet their nutrition needs. 

Food poverty is the inability to access a nutritionally adequate diet, and unfortunately it is becoming a lot more common in Ireland. 

Safefood carried out a study to find the cos to of a Minimum Essential Standard of Living (MESL) Healthy Food Basket for 2020 and to look at what percentage of take-home income from different household types in Republic of Ireland would need to be spent of food.  The results were as follows.

Table 1: Safefood survey results (Safefood, 2021)

From this survey you can see that low income households would need to spend 13% to 35% of their take home income to buy a healthy minimum essential food basket.  This depends on the type of household, location and whether you’re on social welfare.  Another thing is that food costs rise as children grow (and they do grow).  The cost of feeding a teenager is almost twice the cost of feeding a toddler.  Now, these numbers were calculated using averages and statistics.  They don’t consider things like medical conditions that require special foods for say, a coeliac disease, lactose intolerance, or maybe a member of the family is Vegan or Vegetarian. It doesn’t consider if a member of the family is an athlete and requires extra calories, thus, extra food.  What it does tell us is that low-income families would have to spend a large percentage of their income in order to meet the minimum standards of a healthy food basket. 

Since 2020 food prices have risen…a lot.  In 2021 the cost of living had already increased by 5.5% since 2020.  Prices have risen by 6.7% in the year till March 2022 (CSO, 2022)

Another more recent report carried out by a charity called Amárach, Barnardos and Aldi looked at the impact of Food Poverty has on children and vulnerable families in Ireland.  The study was carried out via an online survey on a sample size of 1,130 adults across ROI between 12th to 17th January 2022 (Amárach Research, 2022).  From the survey they found that.

  • 3% had used a food bank in the past 12 months.
  • 14% concerned they are ‘very close’ to food poverty/insecurity.
  • 14% do not feel they can provide their children with a sufficiently nutritious diet.
  • 19% always/sometimes worried about not being able to provide their children with sufficient food.
  • 19% had skipped meals themselves or reduced their own portion size in the past 12 months so children can eat enough. 
  • 28% said they feed their children but skip meals themselves every week.
  • 29% first-hand experience of children where the impact of not having sufficient nutritious food has been evident.
  • 43% cut down on spending in one or more area to afford food costs. (Amárach Research, 2022) 

What I found heart-breaking from this survey is that parents with food worries are stressed, worried, frustrated, guilty and embarrassed about their circumstances.  Also, no parent should have to skip a meal to feed their child. 

Tips To Save Money On Groceries

Now I’ve given you the statistics that clearly show when you’re on a low income, healthy eating can be expensive.  So, what can you do to minimise the cost without minimising your nutrition?

I can’t do anything about food prices, or make healthy unprocessed produce more accessible to everyone, but I do have a few tips that might help keep your food budget down.

  1. Make a grocery list!  Honestly, making a grocery list is so useful because it help you remember everything you need to get as well as lowering your risk of impulse buying.  Ook through all you press and fridge to see what you do and don’t need.  Having a rough idea of the meals you’ll be having that week will help you know what foods you’ll need to buy.
  2. Never shop when hungry.  As well as increasing the risk of you forgetting things because all you can think about is food, placing a hungry person in a grocery shop with a trolley is like putting a child in a sweet shop.  You’ll buy things you don’t need and didn’t really want.
  3. Stock up on the staples that have long shelf lives.  Pasta, rice, canned foods like beans are a great source of fibre and protein and very inexpensive.  You can also get canned salmon and tuna.  If you every see deals on these kinds of foods take advantage of them, even if you already have them at home.  They have long shelf lives, so they don’t go off for a long time.
  4. Fresh vs frozen – Fresh isn’t always best.  Frozen veg and frozen fruit can be more nutritious because when a fruit or vegetable is harvested it starts to lose nutrients.  Frozen fruit & veg are frozen instantly and so they are loose very little nutrients.  Unless of course they are harvested from your own garden and eaten straight away!  Frozen fruit and veg also keep for longer and are usually pre-prepared so less waste.  I would recommend using frozen veg if you find you are always throwing away vegetables that have gone off before you could use them.  Same with frozen fruit.  It’s handy to have in the freezer to make smoothies or other desserts.
  5. Back to the freezer!  If you aren’t sure you’ll use the fresh meat, poultry, or fish you bought then stick it in the freezer instead of letting it go bad!  You can also get good quality frozen fish and other seafood that is less expensive than fresh, but still a good source of protein.
  6. You can also store bread products in the freezer.  Buy a of and put it in the freezer, then you can use the frozen bread to make toast or defrost the loaf bit by bit as you need it.  Same with tortillas, pitta breads and bagels.
  7. Store leftovers in the fridge (or freezer) and either use them again in that week (know how long you can safely store the dish in the fridge, you can find out by googling it), or you can change it up.  For example, I made a chicken casserole and there was some leftover, so I got some ready- to- roll shortcrust pastry and made a chicken pie for dinner the next day!
  8. A lot of foods are cheaper in Northern Ireland so if you live near an ASDA you might want to check it out.  Especially for specially foods like Vegan or Gluten free.  However, Aldi is very good and if you stick to own brand foods SuperValu can have competitive prices as well.
  9. On to brands, most of the time you are paying for the brand name.  The foods are made using similar recipes, but one has a fancy label and the other doesn’t.  Try own brand foods and give them a chance.  They will either taste very similar or sometimes they taste better.  They also cost a fraction of the price of the same branded product.
  10. Red meat is the most expensive source of protein, but if you ask for cheaper cuts you can still make a nutritious and delicious meal.  Most cheaper cuts require marinading a to be cooked on a ow heat lowly, but if you cook then well, they taste great.  Ask your local butcher for advice on this. 


In conclusion, food prices are rising, and most households are going to have to cut back.  Just remember, if you eat well, you feel well so try not to let you and you families’ nutrition suffer too much.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help either. 


Amárach Research (2022) Food Poverty – The Impact on Vulnerable Children & Families, p. 24. Available at: https://www.barnardos.ie/media/14810/amarach-barnardos-aldi-food-poverty-research.pdf.

CSO (2022) Consumer Price Index – CSO – Central Statistics Office. CSO. Available at: https://www.cso.ie/en/statistics/prices/consumerpriceindex/ (Accessed: 12 April 2022).

Safefood (2021) What is the cost of a healthy food basket in Ireland in 2020. Available at: https://www.safefood.net/getattachment/3bce7bc6-86db-4480-8c2a-719fb223dc5b/safefood-Cost-of-a-healthy-food-basket-2020-Report-ROI.pdf?lang=en-IE#:~:text=food%20basket%20would%20require%2023%E2%80%9335%25%20of%20household%20income.&text=smaller%20percentage%20of%20net%20income%3A%2013%E2%80%9328%25.

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