Healthy food needn't become unaffordable in winter.
The beginning of January traditionally sees a change in our shopping habits. Out go the massive tins of Quality Street, packets of mince pies and rounds of cheese. In their place we shop for fresh vegetables and fruit, in an attempt to keep to our New Year's resolutions.
However healthy our intentions may be, unless we look very carefully at what we are buying, the supermarkets will once again be laughing all the way to the bank while we wonder exactly how we are spending so much.
According to the Government, fruit prices have risen by 34pc since June 2007, which has had a disastrous effect on our consumption of these vital items. Figures from Defra (the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) show that those who are struggling financially have drastically cut back on fresh fruit and veg since 2007, when prices began to rise. Low income households bought 25pc less fruit than previously between 2007 and 2010, and 15pc fewer vegetables.
While fruit and vegetables have undoubtedly become more expensive, there are ways to keep your own costs down while continuing to consume a healthy amount. Eating fruit in season, not minding about shape and size of products and considering frozen and canned fruit and vegetables are all ways of ensuring that you are not so shocked when you take your trolley to the till.
The first step to take is to "seasonalise" your shopping list. It is easy to fall into the rut of buying the same fruit and veg every week without looking at the fluctuating cost. After all, supermarket produce sections contain much the same things whether you visit in July or December; it is just that the cost is drastically different.
So if you have become accustomed to raspberries in the depths of winter, you will have to pay more for them. Ensuring that you eat fruit in season will be cheaper. The best place to check is a website called eattheseasons.co.uk , which should give you an idea of which products are in season now and are therefore likely to be cheaper.
At present it suggests apples, clementines, lemons, passion fruit and pineapple in the fruit section, while parsnips, leeks, celeriac and cauliflower are among the seasonal vegetables.
Another useful sanity check when considering your fruit and vegetable choices is the website mysupermarket.com. This site shows you the highest and average price for the product you are buying over the past year, enabling you to see just how much more you pay for your fruit and veg at certain times and hopefully warning you off out-of-season purchases.
Another way to cut your fruit and veg costs is to visit a traditional market. Produce at markets is often far cheaper than a supermarket equivalent. However, you may be forced to buy large quantities a false economy for some people, particularly if they live alone. Additionally, produce is often at the end of its shelf life, so this needs to be borne in mind.
Some supermarkets and discount retailers do have good offers on selected fruit and vegetables it can be worth checking their websites before you visit and planning your recipes for the week accordingly. Aldi offers a "Super 6" list of vegetables weekly, available at less than 50p each. This week it is offering little gem lettuce at 49p for two, cucumber at 49p each, celery at 49p for 350g and cherry tomatoes for 49p for 250g. Salad potatoes are 49p for 750g and spring onions are 49p for 125g.
Lidl's fruit and vegetable deals for this week include lemons for 59p for 500g down from 79p. Cherry tomatoes are now 50p for 250g, down from 75p. This weekend it is also offering fresh blueberries usually very expensive at this time of year for 79p, down from £1.59.
Frozen fruit and vegetables can also be a great way to get your vitamins for less. Recent figures from Asda show that we spent 18pc more on frozen fruit and 16pc more on frozen vegetables than last year. Frozen foods can often be higher in nutrients than fresh alternatives freezing prevents these substances from "leaching" out.
According to Asda, sales of all frozen food are up by 24pc in a year, with a third of the average shopper's basket now coming from the freezer aisle, compared with just 14pc this time last year.
Frozen fruit and vegetables can be significantly cheaper at this time of year as well as cutting waste. For example, frozen spinach can be bought for 15p per 100g at Ocado, compared with £1.24 for the same amount fresh. Frozen raspberries are 93p for 100g against fresh for £1.93 for 100g at Ocado.