Eat healthy on a budget

Friday, 22 February 2019

It can be tricky to know how to make healthy food choices while sticking to a budget.

Convenience foods like frozen pastries and pies, chips, biscuits, and cakes can be very appealing. They’re often affordable, can save a lot of time in the kitchen, and have a long shelf life. Unfortunately, these foods don’t give our bodies all of the nutrients we need to be at our best.

Eating healthy helps us feel energised and ready to take on study or work. A wholesome diet can reduce our risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. It can also boost our mood and assist with managing the symptoms of a wide variety of physical and mental health conditions.

Some clever food swaps and a little planning can help us to eat healthy on a budget.

Meal planning

Close up of hand writing a check list
Before you go shopping, write a list of things you need for the meals you’ve planned. This can help you avoid buying things you don’t need.

Plan your meals for the week in one go. You could:

  • Jot your meals in your online or paper calendar
  • Write them on a whiteboard in your kitchen
  • Use a meal planner template

When deciding on your meals for the week, keep these tips in mind:

  • Try to plan meals that share similar ingredients or use staple foods. Buying unique ingredients for just one meal can lead to wasted food and money.
  • Learn what’s in season. Seasonal ingredients are often tastier, more nutritious, and cost less.
  • Look at the specials and plan meals that make the most of them.
  • Eat the rainbow! When we include colourful fresh foods at meal times, we’re giving our bodies the nutrients we need to be at our best.

While fresh fruits and vegetables are a great choice, sometimes they’re not practical. Frozen varieties are often just as healthy and tasty as fresh, but are often more affordable and last much longer. Keep some frozen fruit and vegetables in the freezer so you’ll always have healthy options available.

Canned fruit and veggies are also a good choice, but it can be a little trickier to choose the healthiest options.

  • For canned fruit, try for those stored in natural juice or water, rather than syrup.
  • For canned vegetables (and meat), check the label for phrases like salt-reduced, sodium-reduced, or ‘no added salt’.

With your meal plan ready, write your grocery list.

Grocery shopping

A photo of a large grocery store dairy shelf.
It’s easier to compare prices by using the ‘unit pricing’. Check the shelf label for the price per 100g or 100mL.

Rule number one – avoid grocery shopping on an empty stomach! Feeling hungry can make us reach for quick snacks and less healthy options, and unnecessarily add more to our grocery bill.

Stick to the items on your shopping list. Steer clear of specials unless they’re on your list, or unless they’re a healthy staple item that you buy regularly.

Buy in bulk when possible. Why spend $2 on 10 teabags when you can buy 100 for $4? Farmer’s markets and green grocers can be great places to buy a wide variety of bulk foods, and they tend to offer better deals on fresh foods too.

Try to buy cheaper brands or ‘home brand’ products, which can offer reliable quality at the best prices. To compare products, look for the price per 100g on the shelf label (this is known as unit pricing). This will help you compare two products that are in different-sized containers.

Meal time tips

Did you know that you could save yourself $600 to $1800 a year by taking a packed lunch to work instead of regularly buying it? Preparing lunches the evening before work can help you build the habit while also maintaining your morning routine. If you don’t have access to a fridge at work, invest in a cooler bag and ice brick, or a small esky.

At dinner time, if your meal serves four people, divide the food into four portions and refrigerate or freeze any leftover portions for another day.

Get more bang for your buck by adding affordable beans and legumes to bulk out meals. Lentils, chickpeas, broad beans, and kidney beans are great in pasta sauces, casseroles, curries, and stews. Not only do they add extra nutrients and fibre, but they also help you get more serves from each dish. You may also find you don’t need as much meat when you incorporate protein-rich legumes, which can save you even more money.

Recipe inspiration

We’ve gathered a few great websites full of healthy, budget-friendly foods to whet your appetite. We’d love to hear your favourite affordable recipes – share them with us on Facebook!

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