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Have your kale and eat it too! Simple tips for healthy eating on a budget

3 min read

We’re all feeling the pinch of rising prices these days and, when you’re on a budget, food shopping for the family can be tough.

It can be even more challenging if you’re trying to be healthier too.

The good news is that, with some planning and some simple changes at the shops and at home, you can save money and still eat to stay well.  

We’ve put together some handy tips to help get you started.

Have a plan …

The first step to saving some money when you’re shopping for healthy food is doing a bit of homework about what’s in season and on special. Then you can pan some meals a week or two in advance.

Here are our top tips for looking out for your food budget:

- Take advantage of seasonal fruits and vegetables.

You’ll have more to choose from when produce is in season. They’ll also be cheaper and more likely grown closer to home. Winter vegies like cauliflower, onions, carrot, celery, sweet potato and pumpkin can be great for making hearty soups and curries. Summer vegetables include beans, cucumber, snow peas, lettuce and tomato and are just right for those cool, refreshing salads.

- Make the most of specials.

Take a few minutes to look online at the specials on supermarket fruits and vegetables, proteins like lean meats and skinless chicken and other healthier options. Or, if your area has a market, take the chance to get everything fresh and at a good price.

- Plan ahead.

Planning melas in advance is a great tool! It can really help you be organised and will help cut down on wastage. When planning your meals, take the time to make a note of what you already have on hand instead of shopping by habit.

- Make a swap.

See is a healthy food swaps can serve you. Swaps are often economical (like beans and chickpeas for meat and vegetable noodles for traditional noodles).

- Make your food go further.

Think about how you can use the same ingredient for a couple of recipes (you can cook up enough of your favourite protein like chicken to go in a pasta sauce and a curry) or make more of the one dish (like a soup or stew) and freeze for later. You can also use smaller amounts of meat, chicken and fish and add more vegetables to bulk up the dish, add savings and reduce the calories.

- Make room.

Keep space in the freezer for leftovers and meals you make ahead of time. This will save time and money.

At the shops …

This is where you’ll put your homework to use, choosing good foods and saving money at the same time. Here’s some tips to keep you on track.

- Make a list.

Your shopping list will let you know what you need for the meals you’ve planned. Stick to it! Impulse buys can really impact the cost of your regular shop (and sometimes they may not be the healthiest options) Even better, you can do your shop online.

- Don’t go hungry.

Eat a healthy snack (like an apple) before you go shopping. Or make the trip after you’ve eaten. An empty stomach can lead to a few treats or extras being added to your cart.

- Go local.

Visit your local market for fresh fruit and vegies. Many items will be cheaper than the supermarket or grocer and you’ll know they’re fresh. Plus, it’s often a lovely trip and a chance to walk around in your community.

- Give up the idea of perfection.

The ‘odd‘ apple is still a good apple. Some fruit shops and supermarkets sell fruit and vegetables that don’t look perfect for less. They taste the same and if they’re on your list, it’s another saving!

- Hunt for bargains.

Buy as many of the items on your list as you can on special. Maybe you could try a brand that’s different to your usual if you’ll get a good deal. And you’re trying something new!

- Try ‘no name’.

Give the cheaper home brand version a go. Canned tomatoes and frozen berries can often be a good buy, as can other canned and frozen fruit and vegies. Check the nutritional information to make sure there’s not loads of sugar, salt or other added items.

- Keep the staples on hand.

Grab some low-cost, healthier staples. Having brown rice, wholegrain pasta, oats and dried lentils in the pantry and frozen vegetables and chicken breast in the freezer will give you more options.

- Focus on the 5.

Make sure you’re covering the five food groups. If you spend most of your food budget on a variety of nutritious foods you’ll be way ahead on saving money and eating healthily.

- Keep treats for sometimes.

Keep treats for special occasions. The cost of confectionary and cakes might be enough to put some people off already. If you still feel yourself heading for the chocolate, chip, and fizzy drink aisles, check for specials and buy a small amount to save for a special treat.

Good prep is part of the fun

Now it’s time for the fun part – the cooking and eating. Using everything you buy and storing it wisely is key to not letting your hard-earned cash go in the bin. 

- Meal prep can be fun.

Be your own MasterChef. You know what’s going into the meals you’ve planned, and the dishes are likely to be cheaper and healthier than takeaway. Why not try cooking for a few nights in the one go? You’ll be able to freeze your handiwork, so you’ll have dinner covered down the track. Then it won’t be so tempting to order food in on a night when you don’t feel like cooking.

- Love your leftovers.

Keep leftovers for later. Curries often taste even better the next day. Or, you can put them in single portions in the freezer for another time.

- Waste not, want not.

You’ve been careful not to buy too much, so it makes sense to look after the items you’ve purchased to make them last longer. There are lots of clever tricks for storing food. Wrap celery in foil to stop it from wilting for up to two weeks. You can submerge wilted greens like kale and lettuce in cold water for around 30 minutes to bring it back. First cut the base on the lettuce and stems on the kale and make sure they are fully covered.

- Foster your green thumb.

If you don’t already have your own vegie patch, there’s no time like the present. Growing fresh vegetables and herbs is satisfying and a great way to save money. Plus, it’s a lovely reward to farm your own patch for your own table.