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The small changes that can lead to big savings in the battle against food poverty and malnutrition

Alex Ballard, who lives in Bishop's Stortford and works as a specialist dietician in West Essex, writes about how to take small steps towards a healthier lifestyle...

I aim to write light-hearted, easily digestible (yet hopefully informative) articles. However, when headlines about the current pandemic fuelling both food poverty and malnutrition are being dished up, it's difficult to sugar coat such heavy topics.

Many of us are aware of issues facing the western world, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. But I doubt most in the UK would place food poverty and malnutrition within that same mixing bowl.

Hertfordshire Independent Living Service has recently joined forces with the UK Malnutrition Awareness and Prevention Network to urge the UK Government to act upon rising levels.

Unfortunately, this was already a growing problem pre-Covid 19, with over 3.3 million people in the UK being affected by malnutrition and hundreds of thousands more walking through food bank doors every year.

In the first two weeks alone of the UK lockdown, Trussell Trust food banks distributed a shocking 6,250 emergency food parcels every single day, with 3,000 of them being provided to children. Overall, the number of families receiving food parcels has almost doubled in comparison to this time last year.

The obvious way to directly assist emergency food providers is to donate, whether that is via food, money or time. Offer any food that you may have unnecessarily bulk purchased during lockdown and encourage your places of work to have a designated section for non-perishable food donations. Consider always purchasing an extra item during your weekly shop as a contribution.

Consider if you have any extra time to spare, or if you have any particular skills or resources that may be valuable. Remember that this commitment does not necessarily need to be every single week and it can be a great CV-boosting opportunity.

For charities that are already fully staffed, donations of money may be the most effective way to keep them afloat. You may decide to do a sponsored bike ride, car boot sale or a whip round amongst friends.

For those of you working in public sector roles, consider if it would be beneficial to have a designated colleague able to distribute food bank vouchers directly to clients. If so, liaise with the Trussell Trust directly about training and necessary resources.

Unfortunately, without legislation changes it seems unlikely that many of the underlying issues will be fully resolved. Therefore, support organisations asking for change, get involved in campaigns, sign petitions and use your voice to raise awareness.

As a dietitian, ensuring that my patients can access individualised advice about eating well on a budget is imperative. Despite what some health gurus may swear by, you do not actually need to consume quinoa, hemp seeds and almond butter to obtain a healthy, balanced diet.

The British Dietetic Association’s ‘Meal Plan- feed a family of four for £5 a day’ (40248385)
The British Dietetic Association’s ‘Meal Plan- feed a family of four for £5 a day’ (40248385)

Cutting back on food waste is both planet- and purse-friendly. Essentially any edible food ditched is the equivalent of binning hard earned cash. Being organised is a great way to avoid over purchasing, such as always planning out the week's menu, placing ingredients that are due to go off at the front of fridges and always basing the next meal on what you have left over.

Planning for outside of the house is also key. Take beverages, lunches and snacks with you to avoid the hefty costs of coffee shops and takeaways.

Use leftovers for tomorrow's meals or pop them in the freezer for your future self. At the end of the week, make up a hearty soup, stew, curry or pasta sauce with all of the bits and bobs left looking a bit sad. Bulking out meals with beans and pulses (such as lentils, butter beans and chick peas), opposed to extra meat or fish, is also much cheaper.

Ask staff at your local supermarkets about when stock reductions occur, and have a look at value brands and the bargain section before falling for fancy packaging. Special offers can sometimes be misleading. Rather than looking at the total cost, have a sneaky peak at the unit pricing per 100g for a reliable comparison (for example, £0.00/100g). Use this guide to also establish if it is cheaper to buy in larger quantities, such as bags of rice, pasta and pulses.

Opting for tinned, dried or frozen varieties can also sometimes be more cost effective. Despite the common misconception, frozen fruit and veggies are not less nutritious. When buying fresh, seasonal items tend to be much cheaper (even more so if you choose the misshapen and wonky varieties).

Remember that lots of small actions can add up to something big.

You can follow Alex on Instagram @alextalksdiet.

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