Healthy eating on a budget

Looking to make some healthier changes to the way you’re eating but feel like your budget is getting in the way? You don’t need expensive organic superfoods made in exotic locations to eat healthy!

The 2018 University of Otago Food Cost Survey estimated an Auckland family of four consisting of one male, one female, one 10-year-old and one 5-year-old would have a weekly food budget of $227 for a basic diet ranging to $355 for a liberal diet (excluding special dietary needs). That can be a huge part of the household budget and be a big obstacle to healthy eating for many families.

There are some practices that can be really useful for bringing down the weekly food shopping bill. Here are our tips for healthy eating on a budget.

Get back to basics

Fancy health products and ingredients can be great, but you don’t need them to eat healthy. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, wholegrains and lean protein is all you need. These can come fresh, frozen, tinned, bagged… it really doesn’t matter. Alter the quantities depending on what your household needs. Use this as your basic shopping list each week and add whatever you need to turn it into the meals you want to make.

Now that we’re talking about meals, they don’t need to be complicated to be healthy either! There’s nothing wrong with old school meat and three veg. Stir fries, shepherd’s pie or bolognese bumped up with grated/small cut veges, curries, soups and stews can all be delicious, low cost, nourishing ways of getting all the nutrients you need.

Buy seasonal produce

Fruits and vegetables that have been cool stored for longer periods of time, transported longer distances, or grown in special circumstances so you can eat them in the seasons they don’t normally grow will always be more expensive than in-season produce.

Find out what’s in season and plan your meals around it.

Venturing out of the supermarket and going to a farmer’s market or fruit and veg store, or using a produce cooperative may add an extra task to your weekly shop but you’re more likely to save some extra money.

Prep, prep, prep!

Meal prepping may seem tedious but it will pay off later on. Having healthy food sorted in advance means you’re less likely to spend money on pricey takeaways or impulse purchases (plus you know exactly what’s in your food if you’ve made it yourself). All you need is a decent meal prepping kit of storage containers to hold the meals you’ve made.

It’s good to remember that you don’t need to prep the whole meal either. Chopping up veges is one of the most time-consuming tasks for meals at the end of the day, you might want to set aside time after your produce shopping trip to cut up your vegetables and put them in containers in the fridge ready to quickly throw into your meals.

Some bases such as onion, garlic, mince and chopped tomatoes can be cooked in advance then herbs/spices and vegetables or lentils added to make nachos, spaghetti bolognese, lasagne filling, shepherd’s pie or a range of other meals.

You can also prep small savouries and other snacks such as bliss balls for lunchboxes and small meals.

Shop smarter

Buying cheaper cuts of meat can save you money, as can buying some of the basic essentials in bulk or home brands. Look for sales or bulk buys as well. Owning a slow cooker means you can create delicious soups and stews out of cheaper cuts of red meat that may become too tough otherwise.

A good way to plan your meals around this is to look at how many days you need to buy for, then pick your main source of lean protein for each of those meals. Based on that, figure out what you’re going to make and what else you might need.

Avoid wastage

Everything has a use. Keep an eye on best before/expiry dates and make sure you use them within the timeframe. Older vegetables are great in soups, stews and quiches.

Having a vege garden can also contribute a lot of produce towards your everyday meals, plus you can put your old fruit and veg and meal scraps back into the compost for it.

Think big

If you’re already cooking a meal, it’s simple enough to make more and reserve some for leftovers. This is especially handy if you don’t feel you have the time for a big weekly meal prep session.

But I’ve only got ‘x’ amount of protein, how do I make the meal bigger? Think of ways you could pad it out. Adding extra vegetables or a tin of legumes can extend a meal by several serves.

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