How Much Does Five a Day Cost?

Five Day Red Peppers Halved

We’re perpetually made to feel bad if we don’t eat our five a day.  Introduced in 2002/2003 in the UK as a target, since that date there have been numerous discussions over what counts, how big is a portion, is it just a marketing ploy to sell more, mis-labelling of products that make people think a package contains one of your five a day when it doesn’t.

Then there’s the sound byte that’s pumped out in any discussion that says poor people can’t afford to eat five a day.  As somebody who does have a low food budget (usually £10/week or less) and feeling that I should at least “look into it”, I begrudgingly turned my weary and crest-fallen thoughts to the price of this five a day as I am one of those people who lets out a big sigh when five a day gets a mention!

Now, one of the issues that’s not mentioned is whether you LIKE a food.  If you don’t eat or like something then you won’t be tempted by it no matter how “good for you” it’s supposed to be.

Many TV programmes talk of Eat Well for Less – and there was even a UK Government website called EatWell4Less at one point, with some lovely people who set themselves the Eat Well 4 Less Challenge to eat better and reduce their food bills saying how they managed it – the flaw I could see here was that they managed to successfully eat better and reduce their food bill down to £35/week per person.  Clearly this isn’t going to be my route!

So, here are my initial findings, the facts I discovered and uncovered:

  • Fresh, frozen, tinned and pre-prepared all count – but be mindful of extra ingredients
  • A portion of fruit and vegetables is 80 grams
  • A portion of dried fruit (currants, sultanas, etc) is 30 grams, but you have to be careful as these are higher in sugars
  • 80 grams of beans of all sorts are one portion (e.g. baked beans, cannelloni, red kidney beans), but you can only count them as ONE of your five-a-day, even if you eat many of them.
  • Potatoes are not a vegetable that counts towards the five a day.

The next thing is how much we’re talking about here, how much is 80 grams of various vegetables?  I was especially interested in the vegetables that I currently eat.

  • Mixed Vegetables: Three heaped tablespoons of cooked vegetables, such as carrots, peas or sweetcorn, or eight cauliflower florets count as one portion.
  • Greens: Two broccoli spears or four heaped tablespoons of cooked kale, spinach, spring greens or green beans count as one portion.
  • Fruit: One portion is half a grapefruit, one slice of papaya, one slice of melon (5cm slice), one large slice of pineapple or two slices of mango (5cm slices). One portion is one piece of fruit, such as one apple, banana, pear, orange or nectarine. Two plums, two satsumas, two kiwi fruit, three apricots, six lychees, seven strawberries or 14 cherries count as one portion.

First Steps to Five a Day!

The first step has to be for me to identify the foods that I already eat/like and to understand the volume that’d need to be eaten.  So it seems I’m looking at three heaped tablespoons of each of three cooked vegetables per day.  That’s NINE heaped tablespoons… that’s already seeming like a lot. I could also eat one banana per day easily enough and that just leaves me one more slot to fill.

How Much Does Five a Day Cost?

Looking at my example, and going for three portions of different vegetables/day, I can buy frozen vegetables at under £1/Kg.  Each of these portions would cost 8p, so 24p on vegetables.

A banana would cost about 15p.  That just leaves the unknown fifth element!

Here are some outline costs of some five a day items I’ve checked out:

  • 250g cherry tomatoes at 50p/punnet. 17p/portion
  • 360g salad tomatoes at 69p for 6. 15p/portion
  • Frozen veg at £1/Kg. 8p/portion
  • Onions can be bought ready chopped at £1 for a 650g bag. 12p/portion.
  • Tinned pineapple, 227g a well known brand is 137g drained. 75p/can. 44p/portion.
  • Tinned pineapple, 540g a supermarket Basics brand is 340g drained. 60p/can. 14p/portion
  • Tinned mandarins, 312g a supermarket Basics brand is 175g drained. 35p/can. 16p/portion
  • Red peppers when on offer at 30p each is 15p/portion as half a pepper is one portion.
  • Grapes are about £3/Kg. 24p/portion.

To be investigated:

I’ve still further foods that I am prepared to eat on my list of working out their cost/portion, including:

  • Compare more tinned vegetables and tinned fruit

Lowest Cost to Get Five a Day:

So, of the foods I have to try to eat each day, the lowest cost I can find that fits into my regular food shopping would be:

  • 24p for three lots of frozen vegetables, 15p for a banana and 15p for tomatoes.  This means a daily cost of 54p.

So, the next stage is try to build up my own menu of food to eat that includes these more often.

*sighs* ….. I think I need a doughnut now….

Ideas to Increase Intake:

Clearly a work in progress, but here are my initial thoughts:

  • I could start using swede and carrot mash as an alternative to potato mash.
  • I could make more spicy bean burgers and similar, using more vegetables and beans.
  • When I make pizzas I could put a LOT more toppings on them, fully loaded pizzas with onions, peppers, tomatoes and more!
  • Find a great vegetable soup to make and eat more soups.

As you can tell, I’ve only just started thinking about this, so it could be some time before my thoughts influence my choices… *sighs* … off for some crisps now!