How Much Does Basic Nutrition Cost?

With the rising food prices and stunted wage rises, it has become a regular claim by many that a healthy diet is just too expensive. This is highlighted regularly in...

With the rising food prices and stunted wage rises, it has become a regular claim by many that a healthy diet is just too expensive. This is highlighted regularly in the news, where it is often claimed that “basic nutrition is too expensive for many”. However, I am concerned that many (but not all) people may not have their priorities in order, and certain luxuries have taken the place of basic necessities such as nutrition. This article will investigate how much the average Briton spends on some luxuries, and determine whether this amount can buy enough food to provide basic nutrition. The examples in this article are designed to demonstrate how affordable basic nutrition is for the average member of the public. It avoids nutritional ‘luxuries’ such as eating organic, and avoids specific diets or nutritional schools of nutrition such as vegetarianism.


Estimated cost of luxuries

coffeeMost people will have a variety of luxuries, but the most common are take-a-way meals/ drinks and mobile phones. These are luxuries which are not at all essential, but the majority of people will indulge in. The average Briton will spend £30 a month on take-a-way coffees, a massive £110 a month on take-a-way food and an average of £36 a month on a mobile phone contract (of which there is more than 1 per person in the UK). These figures are averages, and although they will not be accurate for everyone, they do indicate the amount of money which is spent on just a few luxuries. Just these 3 luxuries comes to a total spend of £176 a month, which is £5.68 a day. So, if we spend the same amount on these luxuries a day on food, can we meet our basic nutritional needs?


Method for researching

As foods are rarely bought in portions in which they are eaten I have calculated the exact amount used per portion. E.g 1kg of oats costs £1.08, but as you only use 50g per meal, it costs you 5p for that meal. All prices are from a popular UK supermarket and avoid all discounts and deals. The nutritional information is obtained from the food packet where possible, but for most micro-nutrients I have needed to use various online databases, meaning that the actually value may vary slightly.



Porridge with fruit (e.g banana)

A simple breakfast is porridge with some fruit in, and in this example I have used a banana. You can see the nutrition and cost of this breakfast in the table below.

 Price (£)KcalsFat (g)Carbohydrates (g)Protein (g)Vitamin C (mg)Vitamin A (IU)Vitamin B12 (mcg)Vitamin B2 (mg)Vitamin B3 (mg)vitamin B6 (mg)Vitamin B5 (mg)Vitamin B9 (mcg)Vitamin DVitamin E (mg)Vitamin K (mg)Calcium (mg)Iron (mg)Magnesium (mg)Phosphorus (mg)Potassium (mg)Zinc (mg) Manganese (mg)Selenium (mcg)
1 banana0.21050.4271.310.375.500.
50g oats0.05194.53.4533.158.450000.
285ml Whole milk0.12179.558.5514.258.550290.71.140.570.28501.1414.2511400.2850322.05028.55381.91.1428.510.55

porridge-fruitThis is a relatively carbohydrate heavy meal, and provides over 70g of carbohydrates (primarily from the oats). This might look a little unhealthy, but these carbohydrates almost all complex carbohydrates and the small amount of sugars are only from natural sources. These carbohydrates have been shown numerous times to benefit the digestive system, and cardiovascular system and they avoid the insulin spikes associated with simple sugar meals. Certainly compared to many common breakfasts across the UK, which contain up to 30g of simple sugar, a bowl of porridge with some fruit is much healthier, and is cheaper.

This breakfast also provides the body with a small quantity of many vitamins and minerals, making it a very cost effective breakfast, which is much healthier than many other options.



Mackerel and lentil salad

A surprisingly cost effective and nutritious lunch is a mackerel and lentil salad. Tinned mackerel is relatively cheap for an oily fish, and with the addition of lentils you can afford to have some more expensive items such as an avocado. The nutrition and costs for this example are shown in the table below.

 Price (£)KcalsFat (g)Carbohydrates (g)Protein (g)Vitamin C (mg)Vitamin A (IU)Vitamin B12 (mcg)Vitamin B2 (mg)Vitamin B3 (mg)vitamin B6 (mg)Vitamin B5 (mg)Vitamin B9 (mcg)Vitamin DVitamin E (mg)Vitamin K (mg)Calcium (mg)Iron (mg)Magnesium (mg)Phosphorus (mg)Potassium (mg)Zinc (mg) Manganese (mg)Selenium (mcg)
125g mackerel (in olive oil)1271.2526.62024.620208.7510.870.3711.370.51.121.25451.81.876.2515.06295271.25392.50.75055.12
1/4 avocado0.2580.57.254.2515.02573.2500.0750.8750.1250.740.75451.81.0510.556.0250.27514.5726.25243.750.3250.0750.2
3 cherry tomatoes (17g)0.1490306.6426000.3007.500.
60g lentils0.155211.80.63615.62.642.3400.121.560.31.26287.400.30.3211.84.573.2270.65732.880.784.98
1/2 lettuce0.257010.35000000000000000000
1/2 tbsp olive oil (7ml)0.0261.8870000000000014.2100000000

mackerelWith the majority of people working in non-active jobs, I have tried to control the amount of carbohydrates in the lunch, as many people will not be requiring much immediate energy. The 44g of carbohydrates that this meal does provide is almost all complex carbohydrates again, with a few natural sugars coming from the vegetables. This lunch will provide you with essential omega-3 fatty acids from the mackerel and a number of other healthy fats from the avocado and olive oil. This lunch also provides a wide range of various vitamins and minerals, and when compared to other common lunches such as sandwiches or pasta salads it is much more nutritious and costs £1.82 to make.


Evening meal

Glazed chicken with sweet potato chips and broccoli

chickenChicken is one of the more expensive meats, so this meal could probably be done even cheaper with a different meat such as turkey. Despite using chicken, I am still able to afford luxuries such as soy sauce and honey, which only serve to enhance the flavour, and don’t offer much nutritional benefit. You can see the nutrition and cost of this meal in the table below.

 Price (£)KcalsFat (g)Carbohydrates (g)Protein (g)Vitamin C (mg)Vitamin A (IU)Vitamin B12 (mcg)Vitamin B2 (mg)Vitamin B3 (mg)vitamin B6 (mg)Vitamin B5 (mg)Vitamin B9 (mcg)Vitamin DVitamin E (mg)Vitamin K (mg)Calcium (mg)Iron (mg)Magnesium (mg)Phosphorus (mg)Potassium (mg)Zinc (mg) Manganese (mg)Selenium (mcg)
150g chicken breast1.3394.524022.5000.450.158.5501.351800028.51.6534.5316.53211.234.537.05
1/4 lemon (squeezed)0.09000015.42.34000001.520000.820000000
1/2 tablespoon honey0.073208.500000000000000000000
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce0.0540000000000000000000000
1 sweet potato 0.12105024222.32190700.11.70.316.800.82.643.30.830.861.65410.40.60.2
50g broccoli0.0581402.51.546.61500000.620.10.2535.5000240.4512.533162.
1/2 tablespoon olive oil (7ml)0.0261.8870000000000014.200000000

Broccoli and sweet potato are extremely nutritious and do not cost much at all. As you can see from the table, 50g of broccoli provides a massive 46.6mg of vitamin C and 1 medium sweet potato provides 21907IU of vitamin A.



Nuts and fruit

appleSnacks are typically one of the downfalls of many people, both in that they are expensive, and high in sugar. In the interest of making a suitable example for the average Briton, I have included some alternatives. In this example I have used almonds and an apple, but most fruit and nuts will have similar nutrition and cost a similar amount.

 Price (£)KcalsFat (g)Carbohydrates (g)Protein (g)Vitamin C (mg)Vitamin A (IU)Vitamin B1 (mcg)Vitamin B2 (mg)Vitamin B3 (mg)vitamin B6 (mg)Vitamin B5 (mg)Vitamin B9 (mcg)Vitamin DVitamin E (mg)Vitamin K (mg)Calcium (mg)Iron (mg)Magnesium (mg)Phosphorus (mg)Potassium (mg)Zinc (mg) Manganese (mg)Selenium (mcg)
50g almonds0.37287.524.51110.50000.


Total nutrition and costs

The total nutrition compared to the UK RDA’s costs for the total meal plan can be seen in the table below.

 Price (£)KcalsFat (g)Carbohydrates (g)Protein (g)Vitamin C (mg)Vitamin A (IU)Vitamin B12 (mcg)Vitamin B2 (mg)Vitamin B3 (mg)vitamin B6 (mg)Vitamin B5 (mg)Vitamin B9 (mcg)Vitamin D (IU)Vitamin E (mg)Vitamin K (mg)Calcium (mg)Iron (mg)Magnesium (mg)Phosphorus (mg)Potassium (mg)Zinc (mg) Manganese (mg)Selenium (mcg)
Total4.98207010911797103.524485 (7.31mg)12.462.0428.261.828.125475.78565.820.0137.81826.4614.17558.971539.43873.5510.6474.25112.15

As you can see from the table, this meal plan has met the RDA for all nutrients, and in many cases has provided much more, and for only £4.98 a day. This is less than the average Briton spends on 3 simple luxuries. I have aimed to provide approximately 2000kcals because most people in the UK will not partake in much exercise, and so additional calories are not required by many. If additional calories are required for sports/ exercise, they can easily be obtained from starchy vegetables (like potatoes) or various fruits, which not only provide you with calories but additional micro-nutrients.

I have added ‘N/A’ under the RDA for macro-nutrients (carbs, protein and fat) simply because they are not very relevant to modern health; they vary dramatically depending on age, diet and lifestyle. For more information about the RDAs and how they were set please read this article.



Basic nutritional requirements can very easily be met on a budget, and is cheaper than a number of luxuries. When compiling these meals I didn’t have to change my mind about recipes, find different foods to add/ remove or research recipes. The three meals and 2 snacks are things which came to mind when I thought of nutritious foods, and I only modified the meals by changing the quantities of various foods. It is also likely that the cost of this meal plan can be brought down even further by changing the meat in the evening meal, and removing ingredients which only serve to enhance flavour.

Images courtesy of eltpicsqiaomenglo_quierobeckayorktrpnblies7 and grobbo.

I hope you enjoy the site, and like what we have worked hard to create, any feedback is very much welcome, after all this site is for you! Graduate of Nutrition & Food Science (Bsc) at Reading Uni.
  • stardisgate

    I have also learned that it is cheaper (maybe less convenient) to shop for fruits and vegetables as you need them, or once every few days. That is the biggest downfall with fruits and veggies. I think people (myself included) are just lazy. I mean it would be easier to go to the store and buy foods with all these chemicals and preservatives that are going to last quite a bit longer. In reality we need to stop eating out (salads are more expensive going the fast food route and not as healthy as buying your own food) and start shopping healthy.

    • Craig

      I can’t believe how much salads cost when you buy them from a fast food place – crazy

  • Amanda Pike

    Another way to cut on cost of healthy foods is to start your own garden. Then you will not have to spend that money for your fruits and vegetables. You can just go to your back yard.

    • Craig

      Good point Amanda! Its always much more satisfying to grow something yourself too 🙂

  • zararian

    I think it depends, there are countries where fast foods are more expensive that healthy foods and vice versa. It is still cheaper to buy vegetables and prepare meals at home than dine on a restaurant. If possible, one can have even a small garden for veggies as well as fruits which ensure thet you and your family will have fresh and free foods.

  • jmdecaro

    I just recently started trying to eat a bit healthier and I’ve made a few mistakes along the way regarding costs. Getting all excited and buying fruits and veggies in bulk only to have them go bad before you can actually eat them was a lesson I had to learn the hard way. A human can only consume so many tomatoes , you know? But ultimately filling my cart with fresh items has definitely saved me money. The only thing it has really cost me is time! I never spent so much time chopping, slicing and dicing as I have recently. But then if you look at the prices of the pre-sliced veggies it’s absolutely worth getting back in that kitchen.

    My fiance and I were going out to eat probably 4 or 5 times a week before I started eating healthier and preparing my own meals. Just one of those outings could potentially cost upwards of $100, which basically equals a full weeks shopping trip.

    • Craig

      Haha, I’ve been there. Buying so much delicious looking fruits, only to find half of them have gone off. Such a shame, but as you say – you learn from the mistakes, and ultimately it is cheaper. There certainly is some sort of skill or something when it comes to shopping. You can’t just buy everything what you want to eat.

The Health Cloud was created in December 2011 by Craig and Morg who have been friends since high school. Our focus is to educate our readers with unbiased health articles and on the side we run our own online health shop. This website is for you, so drop us a comment or send us a tweet, we always take the time to reply!