Healthy eating on a budget – by guest expert Julie Masci APDExpert Examiner, Kitchen Klinic — By Emma Stirling on March 24, 2011 at 12:54 pm
When a kilo of bananas costs more than a Big Mac Meal, we are left pondering how it is possible to eat well without burning two holes in our pockets. But rest assured that with a bit of time spent planning, fewer dollars need to be spent at the checkout to stay healthy. Let’s have a closer look at the easiest ways to manage soaring food prices, while avoiding the temptation to turn to cheap sources of empty calories – after all, it’s more affordable to stay healthy than it is to become sick.
About our expert:
Julie Masci is an accredited practising dietitian and the director of New Life Nutrition, a Brisbane-based private practice. With Italian blood pumping through her veins (don’t let the blonde hair fool you), food has always been a major focus in Julie’s life. She passionately believes that everyone should have the opportunity to experience the pleasures of food, while also staying healthy, and looking and feeling great.
Healthy, wealthy and wise
Opting for a balanced, adequate and varied diet is an important step towards a happy and healthy lifestyle. Food is our body’s one and only source of fuel. Would you put diesel into a Ferrari? Probably not. Similarly, we need to make sure we’re putting the highest quality fuel into our bodies. Proper nutrition and good food habits can add years to your life by helping to control your weight, meet your nutritional requirements and naturally reduce your risk of developing nutrition and lifestyle related diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
Be clever with your pennies
Try some of my easy ideas to keep food costs in check while still putting tasty, healthy food on the table.
As boring as it might sound, planning your weekly menu in advance and writing a detailed shopping list (that you stick to!) is a brilliant way to save both time and money. If you know what you are going to cook over a week, it is much easier to buy everything you need at the grocery store during one big shop. Always being prepared will help to avoid the last minute dashes to the convenience store where the prices are usually far higher than at the supermarket.
Perhaps I’m turning into a bit of Nanna, but I get excited when I receive junk mail. What isn’t to love about scouring supermarket brochures to compare products and find the best food discounts available? Look through both brochures and the internet to find the best deals on the more expensive essentials such as meat and then base your weekly meals on these. If the bargain is great, buy in bulk and freeze (be sure to date the containers). Never neglect to look at home brands and what cheaper chains such as Aldi have to offer as you generally get the same product but without the frills. Don’t forget to keep the pantry essentials such as rice, pasta, rolled oats, tinned fish, tomatoes and legumes (eg baked beans, chickpeas) stocked up as they are great for bulking up meals and can be stored for months.
It’s an oldie but a goodie – avoid shopping when you are hungry as you will be easily tempted to buy more than you need (and generally not the healthy stuff). If you are a self confessed impulse shopper (or even if you are limited for time), indulge by doing your groceries online at sites such as Aussie Farmers Direct, Woolworths Online or Coles Online. Not only is it delivered to your door for practically nothing, shopping online allows you to monitor your running total so you can delete items or exchange them for cheaper products as you go.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are essential for good health but unfortunately are often the most costly and therefore the first to be forgotten. Aim to only buy seasonal fruit and vegies as they are generally fresher and more affordable. Check out your local weekend produce markets whenever possible. Grab a bargain by going later in the day when sellers are trying to clear their stock.
Always remember that buying something that you don’t need just because it is on special (I’m looking at you 2-for-1 family block of chocolate purchasers!), doesn’t actually save you money – it costs less if it stays on the shelf.
You can buy all the right foods and at the right prices but it is how you combine them that is the most important part. First things first, find recipes that cost less than $5 per serve – many recipes on the internet or in magazines now have a cost per serve attached to them to help with budgeting. When searching, be open to meals from different cultures such as curries, pastas and stir-fry’s as they tend to make large portions from relatively cheap ingredients – plus it reduces the temptation to buy costly takeaway. Consider growing your own fresh herbs and spices to add new flavours to dishes.
Rice, pasta, potatoes and fibre-rich pulses such as lentils and cannellini beans are a nutritious base to any meal and can make dishes such as soups and casseroles go further. Keep portions of more expensive cuts of protein (meat, fish, chicken) to the size of your palm. Meatless Monday’s are a smart way to start the week and the perfect opportunity to try vegetarian alternatives such as tofu or legumes.
Last but definitely not least, buy good quality plastic containers. These are essential for any successful kitchen so that it is possible to make the most of leftovers for lunches or for quick homemade frozen dinners – waste not, want not!
With a plan in place, eating well doesn’t have to cost the world, in fact it may just open up your eyes to new ways of eating and exciting foods to enjoy. When considering the cost of food, always remember that ‘the first wealth is health’ – and it is only through good food and nutrition that long term health can be achieved.
Editor’s comment: Thanks Julie, for the fab budgeting tips. Twice this week I have seen people at the checkouts juggling items to a budget and having to leave some behind. It makes me sad and we need to remember that food security is an issue not just for countries in the throws of disaster. I also love the idea of forming a food co-op so you can buy items in bulk and share with neighbours. There’s also a wealth (pardon the pun) of info on the Food Cents site and the Dietitians Association of Australia has explored the Real Cost of Healthy Food, with favourable results. I bet you have your own tips clever readers? Love you to share in our comments below.