Eating Healthy on a Budget
Affordable healthy eating certainly has its challenges. When it comes to planning a weekly menu, doing a grocery shop, or whipping up a meal at home, barriers that challenge our budget requirements and intentions to eat well are bound to pop up.
However, with a fresh perception, and some tips and tricks in our toolkit, the foundations of eating healthily, and affordably can be built - it just takes a little planning, preparation and creativity.
Here are our top recommendations for healthy eating on a budget:
The ultimate tip for budgeting. By planning what to eat, preparing a grocery list and shopping accordingly, it’s easier to purchase only the ingredients needed, which can significantly reduce both food waste and unnecessary spending.
To plan efficiently, make sure to look in your pantry, and base upcoming meals around any ingredients you already have. You might have a tin or two of brown lentils and tomato passata – ideal for lentil Bolognese, or a couple of eggs and some rice for a simple egg fried rice.
The more meals you can make using what’s on hand, the less you’ll need to buy to make up the difference. Better yet, the creativity is bound to develop better cooking skills too!
Stick to a grocery list
Be sure to stick to the list when it comes to browsing supermarket aisles. It’s easy to be tempted by discounted snacks and 2-for-1 specials, but these items quickly add up, and when it comes to saving every item counts. And if you can, try to allow a little extra time for comparing prices and serving sizes to make sure you’re getting the best value possible. So much choice can be a little overwhelming!
Use more pulses
Pulses (beans, lentils and peas) are not only cheap, but they’re an excellent source of plant-based protein, and they work well as a vegetarian (or vegan) replacement for animal products. Try incorporating a few vegetarian meals into a weekly menu – we love these vege burgers, falafels and bean nachos for a super satisfying meat-free meal.
Pulses are also great for stretching and bulking out meals, particularly chili, curries, stews, cottage pie, lasagne and Bolognese sauce - simply halve the meat and replace with a tin or two of lentils or beans. Our go-to pantry essentials are black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas and mixed beans.
Shop seasonally for produce
Seasonal produce is generally less expensive than fruit and vegetables brought outside of their natural season, as these products often have to travel long distances (sometimes from the other side of the world) to get to us. Not only is seasonal eating a cost-effective option, it’s also better for the environment, supports local farmers, and because the food is generally picked when it’s ripe, rather than ripened artificially in storage it’s often more flavoursome and nutrient rich.
Take a trip to your local farmer’s market, where you’ll be likely to find some sweet deals on the weekends freshest harvest. It’s a nice way to enjoy a Saturday or Sunday morning, and it’ll be good for your bank balance too!
...Or better yet, grow your own!
A garden may require a small investment to get up and running, but as time goes on it will repay you in fresh food many times over. Dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale are great for our health, but generally have a short shelf-life, which can lead to wilted salad on supermarket shelves, food waste and money down the drain. Try growing your own, and only picking what you need for each meal – it doesn’t get fresher than that.
Experiment with herbs and spices for natural flavour
Skip store-bought sauces and seasonings and instead use herbs and spices for flavour. Spices are an economical choice, as a little goes a long way. They’re also versatile whether cooking savoury or baking sweet, and have excellent health properties. Our favourites are cinnamon, turmeric, curry powder and red chilli flakes. Dried herbs are also a flavoursome option, however if you can get some fresh herbs growing on a windowsill or in the garden, that’s ideal too.
Cook once, eat four times!
Buying ingredients and cooking for once can be pricey, as many staples come packed in larger servings. Cooking in bulk and freezing portions for later can be an economical way to ensure you have a quick and healthy option for busy evenings and office lunches - a wallet (and waistline) friendly alternative to ordering takeout instead.
Try bulk cooking a meal base to use as a part of another meal (for example a frozen pasta sauce could be paired with freshly cooked pasta, spread atop pizza or added to a casserole), or otherwise prepare complete single-serve dinners to simply reheat and then enjoy later in the week. Some meals keep better than others - here’s a few of our favourites:
- Soup - freeze single serve portions to enjoy as a snack or main meal
- Curry sauce - pair with freshly cooked rice and meat or veges of your choice
- Hearty vegetable and lentil-packed stew
Use cheaper cuts of meat
Animal protein, such as beef, lamb and poultry, can account for a significant portion of the supermarket bill, however the cut of the meat will greatly affect the price. Don’t be afraid to try something new - slow-cooking is a great way to make tougher meats soft and juicy, and purchasing larger and inexpensive cuts such as mince is a budget friendly option, especially if it’s used for a couple of different meals throughout the week.
Make smart ingredient substitutions
Some recipes call for small amounts of expensive ingredients that aren’t likely to be used frequently.
Wherever possible aim to make smart substitutions while cooking or baking - for example, using vanilla extract may be more budget friendly then a fresh vanilla pod.
Celebrate inexpensive whole foods
You don’t have to invest in specialty superfoods and powders to eat well – there’s healthy options for every budget. Frozen vegetables, dried beans, eggs and oats are all packed with nutrients, and they can serve as the base of a variety of delicious meals. We love organic popping corn as a low cost snack too.