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'New baby meant more ready meals'

'New baby meant more ready meals'

New father Matt Bancroft tells how he cut his weekly food bill by nearly half but still managed to double his intake of fruit and vegetables.

Since the birth of his son Eddie in August 2012, Matt admits planning the family’s weekly meals has played second fiddle to their "pretty full-on" new parenting duties.

Convenience has taken over and instead of popping into the shops during the week, they have been doing the bulk of their shopping online.

While they make sure that Eddie always eats freshly made meals, Matt and his wife Maria haven’t been as disciplined about their own diet in recent months.

This has resulted in the couple eating more ready meals than they’d like and not as much fruit and vegetables as they should.

Matt says the Eat4Cheap challenge was an opportunity to hit the reset button in an effort to review their spending habits and eat a healthier diet.

The challenge involves trying to save as much as you can for one week while sticking to a healthy balanced diet, which includes eating at least  five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

New addition to the family

“The baby’s arrival has changed our habits,” says Matt. “We don’t plan our meals as much as we used to. Usually we’re on the ball, but occasionally we let things slip.

“We’re generally pretty careful about how much we spend. To make sure we don’t waste food I usually buy fresh ingredients as and when we need them.”

"I had between four and five portions of fruit and veg on four days and between two and three portions the rest of the week – that’s about twice as much as I usually have."


Typically, the couple spend about £153 on food, which includes a weekly online shop, the odd takeaway and a few midweek trips to the shops for fresh ingredients.

Matt says: “We tend to cook Eddie's food from scratch, making sure he eats a variety of fruit and vegetables.

Eddie generally eats the same type of dishes as his parents – although without added salt or sugar – which simplifies the cooking tasks and is quite cost-effective.

For example, when Matt makes a chilli, he’ll use the same ingredients to prepare a no-salt version for Eddie.

“If we had a ready meal, we still make sure Eddie’s eating home cooked food,” says Matt.

A balanced diet

Matt was curious to find out if the challenge could help reduce the family’s weekly spend on food and at the same time ensure they achieved a balanced diet as recommended by the eatwell plate.

“I was already familiar with the advice on the eatwell plate and 5 A DAY, but I thought I’d brush up ahead of the challenge,” says Matt.

Over the course of the Eat4Cheap week, Matt’s weekly spend on food went down from £153 to £83, a saving of £70.

While they were more rigorous about their budgeting, the savings were partly achieved, rather fortuitiously, thanks to a couple of free meals.

“We had a big lunch at Maria’s parents’ place on Sunday and a takeaway curry courtesy of Aunty Annie on Monday evening, so those free meals accounted for some of the money we saved," says Matt.

Matt’s Eat4Cheap tips:

  • plan your meals
  • waste nothing
  • cook from scratch

"Overall, there wasn’t a big difference in spending between a typical week and our week doing the Eat4Cheap challenge.

“The fact that we didn’t spend less proved to me that we’re generally doing a reasonable job of not wasting money or food.

“However, the main difference is that during the Eat4Cheap week I made a real effort to increase our intake of fruit and veg and it didn’t cost us any more.”

Throughout the week, Matt says he managed to eat between two and five portions of fruit and vegetables every day of the week.

“I like veg but I’m not a fan of whole fruit,” says Matt. “I did make an effort to increase my fruit intake drinking fruit smoothies and fruit juice,” says Matt.

“I spotted a meal deal in a high-street store that came with a smoothie or fruit juice so I got a couple of those during the week.

“I had between four and five portions of fruit and veg on four days and between two and three portions the rest of the week – that’s about twice as much as I usually have. ”

Matt says taking part in the Eat4Cheap challenge has encouraged him to reintroduce a bit more planning into their weekly meals.

He says: “Planning our meals will help us make sure we’re eating a balanced diet and getting our five daily portions of fruit and veg.”


Dietitian Azmina Govindji says:

"The arrival of a new baby can mean your own needs go out the window, as your priorities change. But Matt seems to have found a way to ensure his whole family eats better while still keeping an eye on the wallet.

"Buying pre-prepared baby food is fine for convenience, but Matt has been steadfast in cooking freshly prepared weaning foods and has found that this is a cost effective and healthy approach.

"Although he didn’t spend much less overall, the focus on Eat4Cheap appears to have helped his family to make healthier food choices and plan more effectively – I’d say that’s a winner all round."

'I managed to eat healthily on £3 a day'

'I managed to eat healthily on £3 a day'

Caroline Finucane set herself the challenge of living on £3 a day while sticking to a healthy balanced diet, including five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

With some creativity and careful planning, she managed to spend an average of £1 a meal without compromising on taste, variety and her ethical values.

Caroline, 34, was taking part in the NHS Choices Eat4Cheap challenge, which aims to show that eating healthily doesn’t have to cost more – in fact you can save money.

She saw the seven-day challenge as a chance to see how much she could save on her weekly food bill, which was brimming with ready meals and premium brand products.

“I’d have no hesitation in spending £5 on a good steak,” says Caroline, a health writer from Herne Hill, south London. “The challenge was a way to work out how much I was spending and how much I could save if I really wanted to.”

"There are lots of ways you can cut costs without having to change your diet, you can still have your favourite meals."


During the Eat4Cheap challenge, Caroline’s food bill came in just under £21 compared to her average weekly spend of £50.

“It was quite a rewarding experience because I managed to save quite a bit without compromising on my standards,” she says.

“I still ate the same type of food I’m used to, I still bought free-range eggs. The only thing I sacrificed was time in planning and preparing my meals.”

To live on £3 a day, Caroline planned her meals in advance, used a street market for fresh produce, cooked from scratch, ate leftovers for lunch, chose value brands and used up all her ingredients.

“I still managed to buy some of my favourite foods such as avocado and smoked salmon,” says Caroline. “I bought a 120g pack of smoked salmon trimmings for £1.50.”

Avoiding the same meals

One of the aspects of living on a budget she was keen to avoid was eating the same meals over and over again, which required her to get creative.

“I used the same ingredients in different ways,” she says. “For example, I made a big vat of mince which I used to make spaghetti bolognese, a chilli and a jacket potato filling.”

Instead of buying a pot of her favourite ready-made carbonara pasta sauce, she made her own using value cream cheese, diced ham, garlic, grated cheddar and an egg yolk.

“There are lots of ways you can cut costs without having to change your diet,” she says. “You can still have your favourite meals.”

For breakfast, Caroline would have a chopped banana on two slices of wholemeal toast, which came in at 40p and 346kcal per portion.

Caroline's money-saving tips:

  • plan your meals
  • use a street market for fresh produce
  • cook meals from scratch
  • eat leftovers for lunch
  • choose value brands
  • use up all ingredients

On other days she would have 50g of porridge to which she added semi-skimmed milk and some freshly picked blackberries (30p and 315kcal per portion).

Caroline was nothing if not resourceful. “I helped myself to my neighbour’s blackberry bush so the berries were free,” she says.

When she had a bit more time, she had half a pack of salmon trimmings and two scrambled eggs on a slice of wholemeal toast (£1.23, 370kcal).

“I used eggs, free-range eggs, quite a lot because they are a good source of protein and cheap, and contrary to popular belief there’s no limit on how many you can eat,” she says.

Lunch was usually leftovers or home-cooked meals such as spicy tuna pasta (99p, 572kcal) made with pasta, half a tin of tuna, half a tin of tomatoes, frozen spinach, chilli flakes and 30g of grated cheddar.

She managed to get four of her 5 A DAY in one go with her bulgur wheat salad (£1.35, 378kcal) with half a can of black beans, half an avocado, diced red pepper and cucumber with a smoked paprika seasoning.

Other choice lunches included:

  • pasta with the leftover salmon trimmings and a creamy spinach sauce made with value cream cheese, frozen spinach and 30g grated cheddar (£1.31, 640kcal)
  • baked potato (cooked the night before and reheated in the office microwave) with the leftover portion of mince and cream cheese (£1.15, 552kcal)

“Lunch required a bit more planning than I’m used to, as I would normally go out for lunch, which is convenient but not ideal if you’re on a budget,” says Caroline.

“Beans were a useful ingredient as they’re a cheap low fat source of protein and they also count towards your 5 A DAY.”

For snacks, Caroline bought fruit from a market stall near work and rustled up some quick and simple 100kcal snacks, such as cheese and tomato toasties and homemade popcorn.

Dinners were “quick and easy”. She made up a vat of mince stew using 240g extra lean minced steak, a tin of tomatoes, a carrot, onion and garlic and a stock cube, which provided three portions (68p, 152kcal).

One portion of the mince was used to make a “speedy spag bol” by adding 100g of whole wheat pasta and 30g grated cheddar (£1.27, 597kcal).

Caroline’s other dinner recipes included:

  • Half a tin of black beans with the remaining half avocado and brown rice, adding cumin and chilli, pepper and onion (£1.32, 588kcal), which provided three of her 5 A DAY.
  • Creamy pasta made with value cream cheese, chicken breast and frozen spinach (£1.40, 635kcal).
  • Chicken and veg noodles – made with a packet of instant noodles, grilled chicken breast, blanched strips of courgette and carrot, seasoned with soy sauce (£1.44, 423kcal).

Saving money was only half of the challenge and Caroline also managed to have a balanced diet, including five portions of fruit and vegetables on every day of the week.

“Planning your meals in advance can seem time consuming but it’s probably quicker doing it once a week than spending time every day going to the shops to buy food for one meal,” she says.

“I wouldn’t normally plan my meals. I’d buy things on the day from convenience stores, which is more expensive and I’d forget about what was in the fridge and it would just get wasted.

“So nowadays, if I buy, say a pack of four chicken breasts, I’d use one on the day and make sure I froze the rest in individual portions.

“The challenge has taught me a lot about the cost of food and how easy it is to save money. It’s not hard, it’s just about getting into the habit.”


Dietitian Azmina Govindji says:

"What’s interesting here is that Caroline didn’t sacrifice her favourite foods that might sometimes cost a bit more, like avocados and smoked salmon. Not only are these foods a source of healthy fats, eating what she enjoys can help her to keep to her Eat4Cheap eating plan in the long term, as she is likely to feel less deprived.

"She also found creative ways to eat more fruit and veg – her vegetarian bulgur wheat dish sounds amazing! Finding meal choices that fit with your lifestyle is crucial – and Caroline seems to have found quick and easy ways to conjure up tasty evening meals."

'Planning our meals was key to saving'

'Planning our meals was key to saving'

Rob Finch thought he was running a pretty tight ship until he did the Eat4Cheap challenge and shaved nearly 20% off the family’s weekly shopping bill.

Eat4Cheap is more than just a money-saving challenge, it’s an attempt to demonstrate that eating healthily is cheaper than you think.

The week-long challenge was an opportunity for Rob and wife Lisa to review their eating habits to see where they could improve their diet.

Adding to the challenge of eating healthily as a family was planning their meals around the comings and goings of their five-year-old daughter, Tilly.

The keys to saving money in the Finch household were writing a weekly meal plan, cooking from scratch, eating less meat, buying cheaper cuts of meat and eating leftovers for lunch.

From an average weekly spend of about £130, the family managed to reduce their shopping bill to £106, “without making too many sacrifices” says Rob.

“We were never hungry and we never felt like we were particularly compromising,” he says.

Sitting down to plan their meals for a whole week was an opportunity for the couple to delve into their ample collection of cookery books that had been gathering dust on a kitchen shelf.

"We thought it would be hard to save any more than we already did on our food shop, but to save 20% far exceeded our expectations."


“We have our favourite meals that we tend to stick to week in week out, which means we don’t get as much variety as we could,” says Rob.

“The planning prompted us to flick through recipe books we don’t normally look at and try something new.

“We made sure that all the ingredients we bought would be used in the meals we planned to cook so there was no waste, which also saves money.”

'Unhealthy habits'

Comparing their regular shopping list with their Eat4Cheap list revealed some unhealthy habits that Rob had not fully appreciated until then.

“We realised how much salty and sugary food we were eating,” he says. “Also, we ate a lot of biscuits, didn’t drink enough water and we had a slab of meat every evening.

“It’s not uncommon for us to use up 500g of minced beef in a spaghetti bolognese for the three of us. Do we really need to eat that much meat? Probably not.”

Instead of the usual ready-cut beef chunks, the couple opted for a 375g shin of beef for £2.35, which they used in a stew with vegetables, such as mushrooms, and suet dumplings.

A cheaper cut of beef, shin tends to be tough and sinewy and is ideal for stewing so the connective tissue melts during cooking, adding extra flavour and richness.

“We were worried the shin wouldn’t stretch far enough to feed three,” says Rob. “But with all the veg and the dumplings, there was more than enough for dinner and lunch the next day.”

Sunday roast was chicken but instead of piling the plate with meat, the couple used the advice on the eatwell plate and added an extra portion of veg.

Rob's top eat4cheap tips:

  • have a weekly meal plan
  • cook from scratch
  • eat less meat and buy cheaper cuts
  • eat leftovers for lunch

Rob says: “This meant we had plenty of chicken left over for sandwiches in the week, to be added to pasta sauce and for a chicken and leek pie.”

One of the healthiest changes the family made during the challenge, which also saved money, was the switch from crumpets and branded breakfast cereals to porridge with blueberries.

“Porridge is simple to make and ridiculously cheap compared to most breakfast cereals,” says Rob.

Adding fruit to their porridge was an easy way of increasing their fruit and vegetable intake to meet the recommended target of at least 5 A DAY.

“We’d have two or three portions of vegetables at dinner time and we generally had fruit for dessert and as a snack,” says Rob.

For the last few months the couple have been paying for a weekly delivery of a fruit and veg box, which has helped them get their 5 A DAY on most days.

“The fruit and veg box isn’t cheap but it has really made a difference to the amount of fruit and veg we eat each week. To compensate for the extra cost, we now buy less meat.”

For the Finch household, the Eat4Cheap challenge was less about how much they could save and more about how they could add more variety to their diet to make it more balanced.

“We were eating the same things over and over again,” says Rob. “This was an opportunity to review our eating habits and see where we could make improvements.

“We thought it would be hard to save any more than we already did on our food shop, but to save 20% far exceeded our expectations.”


Dietitian Azmina Govindji says:

"One of the nicest observations here is Rob’s comment that they 'were never hungry'. Often people feel spending less on food means eating less and consequently going hungry, but that needn’t be the case.

"Flicking through their old recipe books in search of creative ideas meant that they were having more variety, which helps them get a wider range of nutrients. They’ve cut down on meat and invested in fruit and veg boxes – a convenient way to eat better."

PPG Survey Results & Engagement Report 2013/14

2013/14 Patient Survey Results
2013/14 Patient Participation Report


The links below go to the NHS Choices website.

What's In A Unit
Track Your Drinking
Tips On Cutting Down
Calories In Alcohol
Hangover Cures

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