We all know we need to eat healthy food, but how do we do it if we’re on a budget – particularly when it seems that the price of good food is continually climbing?
The secret is to understand just what ‘healthy’ eating means.
What is healthy eating?
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend we eat a range of nutritious foods and drinks in accordance with our energy needs.
The guidelines also recommend eating a wide range of foods from the following five food groups every day:
- Lots of vegetables of differing colours, including legumes and beans
- Lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, tofu and legumes/beans
- Bread and cereals (focusing on wholegrains), rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
- Low-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese.
We should also drink plenty of water and limit foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol.
Applying these guidelines to everyday eating
Many people mistakenly believe that it costs more money to eat healthy. However, you can save money by focusing on your health.
By actually limiting the foods you should limit (i.e. biscuits, cakes, pastries, chips, pies, sausage rolls and other fast food items), you can save on your grocery bill each week. When you take a good look at the cost of food, the higher processed, packaged foods are often more expensive than their more natural counterparts. For example, a packet of potato chips is more expensive per weight than the humble potato. Yet the potato is more nutritious and will keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Eating for satiety (feeling full and satisfied) will also help save money. The foods we are supposed to eat more of will keep us feeling fuller for longer — which means that we are actually eating ‘less’ food. For example, how full will you feel after eating an apple and an orange? How many biscuits would you need to eat to feel full? What do you think costs less? What is better for you?
Eat out occasionally. This also applies to buying your lunch, daily coffee or zipping through the drive-thru for a burger and fries. Buying food from cafes, restaurants and fast-food joints takes a huge chunk out of your budget, so limit it to once a week or once a fortnight.
Finally, when it comes to beverages, choosing plain water over soft drink, juice and cordial is a no-brainer. Not only is it better for you, it’s FREE!
How does all this translate to a weekly shop? Glad you asked. Here are our top tips to eat healthy on a budget.
Top tips to save each week
- Plan your menu for the week and create your shopping list from that.
- Plan how you can turn left-overs into other meals (i.e. left-over roast chicken can be made into a pie)
- Browse for specials in the supermarket catalogue.
- Only buy what is on your list.
- Shop after you eat or ‘little extras’ are likely to find their way into your trolley.
- Focus on buying food from the five food groups.
- When it comes to meat, look for cheaper cuts that are suited to slow-cooking techniques, rather than expensive cuts. Lean mince is also a great option.
- Foods such as legumes, pulses and beans are economical and are great to bulk up casseroles and salads.
- Make the most of relatively inexpensive products such as pasta and rice.
- Buy in bulk, where possible, as the price per kilo is usually cheaper.
- Buy produce that is in season and choose local produce, as it is usually cheaper and fresher than produce not in season.
- Choose canned or frozen produce if it is out of season.
- Shop with a friend and split the spoils. You may not be able to get through 5kg of apples, but you and a friend might. Remember, buying in bulk is often cheaper.
- Look for discounted items — often close to the use-by-date — that can be frozen (e.g. bread, meat).
- Avoid buying pre-made items such as simmer sauces, frozen meals and pre-packaged meals.
- Choose tinned salmon, tuna and sardines over fresh.
- Buy generic brands where possible.
- Avoid food already chopped or grated and do it yourself at home.
- Avoid individually portioned products (e.g. cheese and crackers). It is usually cheaper to buy the block of cheese and box of crackers.
- Compare prices by looking at the ‘unit price’.
- Shop at different stores, (e.g. the greengrocer, butcher) instead of buying everything at the supermarket.
- Save items such as chocolate, ice cream and soft drink for ‘treats’ (i.e. every few weeks).
- Make the most of a slow cooker, as these meals are usually cheap.
- Roast your own chicken instead of buying a store-bought one. You will get more meat for less.
- Leftover veggies at the end of the week make a great soup.
- Buy smaller amounts of lean meat, chicken and fish and bulk out the meal using vegetables.
- Bake your own biscuits and cakes. Not only are they cheaper, they are likely to be healthier.
- Cook up large batches of food and freeze.
With a little forward planning, smart shopping and some creativity, you can eat well and stick to your budget.