How to eat healthily on a budget

Woman buying groceries online

Want to get healthy and save money? HFG shows you how to get the most nutritional bang for your buck!

Being healthy doesn’t have to cost more. Many of us are on the lookout for budget-friendly, nourishing options — and there are plenty to be found! Here are eight ways to help you and your family thrive, nutritionally, while making your money go further.

Cook at home

Cooking at home is cheaper than eating out. Even if you don’t have a love of cooking, making your own fresh food is an important skill when you want to eat healthily and inexpensively.

If cooking is relatively new to you, or you’re not entirely comfortable with some parts of it, there are plenty of YouTube videos teaching basic skills like roasting a chicken, steaming veggies, whipping up an omelette or making a pot of soup or curry or you can find easy recipes and cooking tips here.

Make your own food ‘convenient’

Ready-cut or prepared foods may save time, but they always cost more. Packages like ready-made salads, cut-up fruit and even grated cheese can start to add up. These time-saving options can be done at home when you plan your meals for the week, using airtight containers.

Plan your meals

Planning meals ‘on the fly‘ while in-store can be exhausting. Not planning means you come home from shopping with bags of goodies but nothing to make into a meal. And winging it when you get home after work can make you more likely to get frustrated and call or head out for a takeaway.

Meal planning really is the best way to eat healthily and prevent waste — and it doesn’t need to be at all complicated. Most families have five or six go-to favourite recipes, so start with what’s most familiar for you. Make it part of your plan to cook extra to take for lunch the next day. If you want some new inspiration, our 5pm panic meals can help, as can the meal planners here.

Make a list and stick to it

Without a list, you’re more likely to make impulse purchases in the supermarket, especially if you walk up and down random aisles. Plan your trip through the store according to your list — and don’t go shopping when you’re hungry, as there’s a greater chance you’ll grab extras you don’t even really want or need.

Perhaps consider ordering online, then either picking up the groceries in-store or getting them delivered. This can definitely help prevent impulse purchases.

If you’re using recipes you can create and email or print shopping lists.  Here’s how it works.

Use up what you have first

Check the pantry and the fridge before you start planning to shop for meal ingredients. Can you make a meal with what you already have?

Many people waste food because they buy more of what’s already on their shelves or in the fridge.

Doing a quick stocktake also gives you the chance to get creative — to try something new with what may be hiding in your cupboard.

Reconsider protein

Meat, chicken and fish are often the most expensive items in many people’s weekly shop. Diversify your protein by including much cheaper options like legumes — lentils, beans and chickpeas — that are packed with protein and will keep you feeling full.

You don’t have to become vegetarian: just halving your meat and bulking out your meal with legumes is a smart way to do this.

Start by adding a can of lentils to your Bolognese, and keep a range of canned legumes in your pantry, ready to add to salads, soups and to bulk out stews. Tinned fish is cheaper than fresh, and eggs are another great, inexpensive option to help boost protein in your meals.

Don’t buy just because of ‘specials’

Buying extra of your regular grocery items when they’re on sale is a smart move, especially if they can be frozen or stored for a good while. However, buying something you spot on the end of an aisle that you wouldn’t normally buy — just because it’s half price — is not a bargain. Impulse buying items you or your family don’t normally eat is a waste of money, and can encourage you to overeat.

Don’t fall for wellness fads

You may hear a lot about how you need coconut oil, matcha and the latest trendy — and expensive — supplement. However many food trends may be only loosely backed by science, if at all.

No one food is ever going to lengthen your life or make you healthy — it’s really the quality of your overall intake that matters. And none of these foods are a match for the nutrition you’ll get by eating plenty of veg and fruit. If bought in season, they‘ll be at their cheapest and most delicious.

Fruit and veg provide the best nutritional bang for buck — and there are so many different, tasty ways to prepare them.

Reduce waste and save

Q When do I need to ditch food?

Inspect food before throwing it out — if it’s not bad, use it up and save your money. But if you‘re not sure, it’s best to trust your instincts. Use your eyes and nose. Look for visible signs of spoilage like mould, or for a funny smell. If it seems fine, it probably is, but if in doubt, chuck it out.

Q How do I maximise food shelf-life?

Freeze foods that are close to their use-by date and that you won’t use in time. Stew up fruit that’s going soft, freeze bananas that are turning brown (but peel them first), and make soups or stews from limp vegetables. If you have a humidity setting on your crisper, setting it to low will make fruit that is prone to rotting easily — such as apples, pears and stronefruit — last a good bit longer.

Q Should I reduce my portion sizes?

Buying, cooking and eating less is a sensible, positive way to reduce your shopping bill and waistline! Check out our handy online portion-size chart as a guide to appropriate portions for different foods:

Best before vs use by

A ‘best before’ date is really just a guide. As long as the packaging is not damaged and the food hasn’t been exposed to extreme heat, the food may still be safe to eat after that date. The worst that could happen is that the quality, flavour or the texture is not quite as good.

‘Use by’ dates state when a product may no longer be safe to eat.

40 per cent…

of household waste is made up of food. The best way to reduce wastage is to reduce the amount of food you throw out. Frozen veg can be a better option since they keep longer.

First published: May 2021

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