Eating a healthy diet is crucial to our mental and emotional health as well as our physical wellbeing. It can make a huge difference to mood, energy, waistline, and how well we think and feel. But at a time when many of us are living on a tight budget, finding food that is both wholesome and affordable can be a challenge.
Another hurdle can be how time-consuming it seems. Often, the last thing you want to do after a busy day is to spend time trawling the shelves for something healthy and filling for dinner. With a little planning and some tips on what to buy, eating healthy can become second nature.
Tip 1: plan ahead
Saving money on food involves revising your shopping habits, eliminating waste, and focusing on healthier choices – and that can require a little planning.
The simplest way is to start with a well thought out shopping list. Taking this list to the supermarket or having it next to you while doing your online shopping will help you avoid impulse buys that can quickly eat into your budget.
Planning all meals for the week can also help you know exactly what you need to buy and what you can leave behind.
“Think about how you can use leftovers the next day and turn them into another interesting dish too,” says Rob Hobson, nutritionist at Healthspan.
“For example, a pot of chilli can be used as a lunch filling to make Mexican wraps. Simply add sour cream, grated cheese and a little avocado to make a delicious midday snack.”
Keep a supply of staples
These include ingredients such as olive oil, flour, canned tomatoes, canned fish, frozen veg, dried herbs and spices, pasta, rice, and stock cubes. Things that can really add something to a dish or help you to spice up some leftovers quickly should always be on hand.
Research new recipes
There are plenty of simple, healthy recipes that can help you stay within your budget. Once you have a handful of tried and tested meals, you’ll find it easier to plan and shop for the week.
Get into meal prepping
Many things such as casseroles, curries and stews allow you to throw all the prepared, raw ingredients into a Ziplock bag and then pop it into the freezer ready for thawing and cooking whenever you want. A lot of them can even be cooked from frozen in a pressure cooker.
Remove junk foods
Eliminating ultra-processed foods such as biscuits, crackers, chips and pre-packaged meals can help keep your wallet and your waistline in check. These foods are designed to be hyper-palatable, so they’re often gone in no time at all.
Look for healthier alternatives
Planning meals based on healthy whole foods that have been minimally processed will help you keep within your budget. Pay attention to what is currently in season and plan meals around those vegies.
Tip 2: make smart food choices
Some healthy food products can certainly be expensive, but there are also ways to save money at the supermarket and still eat nutritionally balanced meals that will leave you feeling full and energised.
Maximise on pulses
Pulses such as beans, lentils and peas are a cheap, low-fat source of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. They also count as part of your government-recommended five daily portions of fruit and vegetables.
“You’d be surprised at how affordable and how far beans and pulses can stretch,” says nutritionist Jenna Hope, who believes they are a great dietary source of protein, B vitamins and fibre.
“To get more for your money, try buying the dried varieties,” she advises.
Use frozen fruit and vegetables
Your five-a-day don’t have to come from expensive organic vegetable shops with fresh, loose produce.
“Frozen fruits and vegetables are often just as nutritious as fresh, so they’re a good alternative when thinking about cheap dinner ideas,” says Mr Hobson.
“Frozen fruits can be added to healthy breakfast smoothies and puddings, while vegetables such as peas, cauliflower and sweetcorn can be added to many different dishes, including soups and stews.”
If you have freezer room, the largest frozen bags tend to offer the best value.
Try canned fish
Can’t afford fresh salmon from the fishmonger? “Canned fish is a great cheap way to get your omega-3 fix,” says Ms Hope. Omega-3 is a fatty acid that plays a key role in brain functioning, and gut and bone health in the body.
“Try opting for canned salmon and mackerel rather than the fresh varieties,” she adds, as these can often work out cheaper.
Use the whole vegetable in cooking
Root-to-stem eating encourages you to use every edible part of plant, including the leaves, skin, seeds and stalks.
“For example, you could use cauliflower leaves and carrot tops in soup, roast the seeds of a butternut squash with salt and oil for snacking, and use vegetable peel to make homemade stock,” says Ms Hope
The less you throw away, the further your weekly shop will go – and not only is it great for the environment, but it will save you money in the long run too.
Tip 3: make sweet treats affordable
Eating well on a budget doesn’t mean denying yourself some treats or cutting out all desserts. There are ways to satisfy a sweet tooth that don’t include processed items packed with sugar.
Make your own icy poles
Pick up a special tray and freeze your own icy poles with juice and chopped fruit.
Oatmeal cookies with rolled oats are a good example of a healthier, home-baked dessert. Look for recipes that are refined sugar-free and sweetened with things such as dates or honey.
Jazz up some yoghurt
A large container of plain yoghurt can go a long way when you add seasonal fruit to each serving. You could try slivered almonds and honey, or cinnamon and raisins – anything you have on hand really.
How do you eat healthily on a budget? How often do you go to the supermarket? Do you plan meals in advance?
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