- a blog about food and value

Unhealthy food is cheaper, says new report


Can you eat healthy on the cheap? Really healthy, really good quality food?

I think not. I’ve said as much in many interviews radio and press interviews: it’s cheaper to buy a frozen pizza than fresh meat; it’s cheaper to pick up a packet of fish fingers and a few tins of beans than fresh vegetables to feed a family.

If, like many people in Ireland, you’re struggling to feed your family, and if, like many people in Ireland, you sometimes have to make a choice between feeding yourself or feeding your children, you may have no choice but to grab the high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt foods. They are cheaper.

Or these?

A new report by the Safefood agency suggests that growing poverty is affecting what we eat. It’s cheaper, says Dr. Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director of Human Health and Nutrition at Safefood, to stock up on an all-you-can-eat buffet – even if it leaves you feeling grotty (there’s also a longer version of the report on the Safefood website).

Sites like and give tips for eating on a budget: less expensive cuts of meat, cheap recipes, where you can get good deals and special offers. But for some people, time, distance, and cost factors simply make it much easier to grab the frozen rubbish in Iceland or pick up some cheap convenience food. Even if they’d much rather eat healthy fare, and even if the cheap food is a false economy which makes them sicker.

If this is you, try and aim for frozen fish with high levels of Omega 3, pick up decent packets of frozen berries, choose low-sugar baked beans where possible (beans are one of your five portions of fruit and veg per day), and stock up on frozen vegetables in Lidl or Aldi instead of frozen pizzas.

Some other information included in the report:

  • Children are eating only one or two of their recommended five fruit and vegetable portions.
  • Adults in lower income groups live on average seven-ten years less than wealthier counterparts.
  • Another interesting if unsurprising finding is that single men, especially those living alone  or under 25, tend to have poorer diets: “It is very depressing when you are cooking for just one. I have cooked myself a meal and just threw it in the bin.”

You can listen to Dr. Foley-Nolan’s interview on yesterday’s Drivetime from around 59 minutes and 10 seconds.

Do you find yourself eating unhealthy junk when you’re low on cash? What half-decent frozen foods can you recommend? And what do you do when you only have a few euro left to feed the family?


  1. This does not settle well with me.
    How can feeding children frozen pizza or putting crisps & cheap chocolate in their lunchboxes be cheaper than buying a bag of potatoes/pasta/rice and serving with vegetables? There is no need for meat everyday, our parents didn’t grow up with it. Eggs are cheap and good protein, cheddar cheese is a great low cost protein, calcium source.
    The mindset is wrong in my opinion, a little education would go along way on this subject .. as would the realisation that 20 min spent preparing a meal will pay dividends for your health, your child’s health&development and in the long run for your pocket.

  2. Agree with you both. Fruits and vegs, as well as quality meat and fish are very dear. Much dearer than junk food. Most of my weekly budget food goes for fruits and vegs, even though I frequently buy the deals and reduced to clear unblemished fruits and vegs. A frozen pizza averages 2 euros, a bag of leeks is 1.79 and you would spend more money cooking them (energy + oil, rice or pasta to serve with, etc….). Although junk food can be expensive too. I think we are talking of the cheapest junk food available, the 1 euro frozen chicken nuggets or the 33 cents burgers
    However, as SJ points out, there is no need for meat everyday, and there are cheap healthy options. Wholegrain pasta don’t cost much more than the refined ones. Pulses can bulk up a meal and add some proteins. Tinned sardines with mashed potatoes can make a cheap and balanced fish cake, much better than frozen fish fingers containing very little fish.

  3. I’m a vegetarian, I like cooking at home and I honestly don’t think my diet is in any way more expensive than junk food diet, not to mention takeaways. All you need is Aldi, ethnic shops and a little bit of knowledge (which is not difficult to gain with the wisdom of the internets). You can easily afford eating out in local/ethnic places and some treats from cheesemongers or Donnybrook Fair.

    I think that planning is often lacking, I know it made all the difference to me. When you stock up on spices, rice, pasta, sauce ingredients and fill the freezer with breads and veg you will find cooking quite cheap. It’s only when there’s no food in the house when you’re tempted to buy quick and ugly food. Getting a big freezer was a life changing experience 🙂

  4. SJ: It doesn’t settle well with me either, but the sad fact is that frozen pizza with frozen chips is sometimes the only option if you are on the breadline, with no more sacrifices you can make, when it can be difficult to think long-term, and when places like the Iceland supermarket are selling cheap muck that will feed the family for days. And yes, our parents didn’t grow up with these options – that’s because these options didn’t exist in their time.
    Lack of education is not necessarily the problem; the report clearly states that a lot of people who eat unhealthy options would dearly love to eat better food.

  5. Still dunno. If you take like for like, I don’t think that 10kg of frozen chips is that much cheaper than 10kg of spuds and a bottle of oil to drizzle as you grill them, or some butter to mash with. Or a 10kg of frozen pizza is that much cheaper than a few bags of flour and some basic toppings it takes to make 10kg of home made pizza. You could even argue than putting frozen food in the oven uses more energy than baking/grilling from room temperature…

  6. Forget money for a moment. Some people like to go for the Quickest option which is often the most unhealthy option. “Active” preperation time for most pizzas, oven cooks and microwave ready meals is zero so for people on a time budget it’s perfect.

    It takes time to shop for and cook the healthy option, it suits me I like cooking and I like shopping and I have the time to do this.

    About once a week when I don’t feel like cooking or am pushed for time I go for “donegal catch” with oven chips and tinned peas, a “milano” pizza or sausage, rashers and baked beans meal.

    None of the above meals are particularly healthy but all these easy meals taste delicious and save at least 30 minutes cooking.

  7. I agree with most of what the previous contributors have said…It really is education. It is amazing what you can produce with a lot of thought and a little imagination. A bag of potatoes can go a long way. Cheeper cuts of meat slowly cooked are delicious. Fish like mackrel are full of nutrition and very inexpensive. Aldi and lidil are packed with cheap fruit and veg…Plain and simple water is the best thing to drink. We simply need to re-educate ourselves

  8. itr is possible to eat healthily on a budget
    for instance this is a typical weekday for my husband and I.
    Breakfast :Aldi porridge made with water and milk
    Lunch : hubby , leftovers from previous night dinner
    me : Homemade soup or sandwich
    Dinner: This I cost at €1 per person as sometimes we have family for dinner.

    I cook everything from scratch and try and have two meatfree dinners per week ( eg frittata , quiche, pasta bake, veg. lasagne etc)
    As a previous poster said a 10kg of potato goes a long way.

    Aldi , Lidl and local veg shops are my saviours and the only thing I buy from tesco is savoury gravy.I dont buy biscuits, cakes or soft drinks .

    My freezer is the most favourite thing in my house .

    My advice is to have a master shopping list
    keep lists of what is in freezer and cupboards .
    Every week I do a menu based on what I have and what is happening the folowing week . There are some great cookery books in the library and some good websites out there

    Get organised for the next day the night before , it can take as little as 15 min.
    hope this helps

  9. The Safe Food research called ‘food on a low income four households tell their story’ have launched a summary report

  10. I don’t buy the cost argument either.

    I bought at the weekend a 1KG joint of beef, potatoes carrots and parsnips for less than a tenner in tesco – this fed our family of 5 well for 2 nights (cottage pie the second night). You could do it even cheaper if you went with a cheaper cut of meat or a vegetarian dish.

  11. I think you really can prepare easy and long lasting foods that are very good for you at low cost.
    For example I would buy a large amount of fresh vegetables in bulk at about €10, this amount can make two large batches of a fast easy yummy veg soup that will each feed a family of four or last 2 days for a smaller amount, just vary the veg content from mixed veg to potato n veg to green veg or root veg soups.I think with a little thought a prep you can teach yourself how to cook better for you and your family. Convenience foods could be a once a week treat for a gt off but long term are not good for health. What you spend i time and effort preparing god meals could save what you spend later on digestive problems or doc bills!