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How to eat healthy food on a budget

Kate Freeman

I often hear people say that eating well costs too much. I always love proving them wrong! You can eat well on a budget, all it takes is a change in mindset and in the way that you do your shopping. Here are some tips on how to eat well on a budget.

Shop online

When it comes to smart shopping, you really can’t beat doing it online. Why? Because you know how much it’ll cost before you have to hand over your money. If you’ve spent a little more than you intended, you can adjust your shopping cart before you pay.

When you’re at the supermarket, all your groceries go through the checkout and bam! You’re hit with the bill. “Ouch”, you think, as you hand over your credit card, “I’ve spent too much this week.”

Shopping online means a few things for your weekly budget:

  • You know how much you’re spending as you add items to your cart. You can adjust your cart to fit within your budget.
  • You’ll have minimal food wastage because you’ll only buy what you need.
  • There’s less opportunity to impulse buy because you’re not walking down the isles falling victim to great merchandising displays.

Shopping tip: Vegies to Your Door, a local Canberra business that I’m proud to be associated with delivers great quality produce that will last a whole week and longer. No more wastage means big savings on the fruit and vegetables you buy.

Eat seasonally

The availability of fruit and vegetables in Australia changes significantly throughout the seasons.

Eating seasonally means choosing fruit and vegetables that are at their best price and quality. This is good for both your wallet and your health. It also means that you’re not eating imported fruit and vegetables which is a great way of supporting our local farmers and growers.

May is a great month to buy asian greens (bok choy, pak choy, chinese broccoli), sweet potato, Brussels sprouts, leek, carrots and Jerusalem artichokes. It’s also a great time to buy apples, pears, avocados, kiwifruit, mandarins, organises and pomegranates.

Nutrition tips: Make stir fries with lots of asian greens and soups with the leek and sweet potato. Have an apple or pear for morning tea (only about 90c each) instead of a hot chocolate ($4).

Recipe: Tasty Chicken Pie

Plan, plan, plan

There’s no doubt that the more organised you are the more money you’ll save in your weekly food budget.

I don’t know about you but when I haven’t planned my meals for the week, I end up at the supermarket multiple times, I spend way too much money and have far too much food wastage. Impulse buying will always mean you spend too much on your weekly food bill, whether it’s healthy or not.

Spend some time writing a meal plan and doing your shopping online straight away. Then have your fresh produce and groceries delivered the next day and watch how easy the week ahead becomes because you’re organised.

If you need help with writing a healthy meal plan for your family, thats budget friendly, get in touch with me at The Healthy Eating Hub. I can help you with that!

Here’s an example of what my family eats for a week. I spend about $150-$200 a week for 2 adults and 2 children. We eat muesli, weetbix and/or toast for breakfast, snack on fruit and yoghurt and eat leftovers for lunch.

meal plan

I like to stick to the principles of:

  • half my plate vegetables (salad, steamed or stirfied)
  • unprocessed meat, chicken or fish
  • a high fibre carbohydrate (quinoa, wholewheat  couscous, grainy bread, potato with the skin on)
  • flavour with fresh ingredients (lime juice, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, chilli, herbs)

Here’s some photos of what we ate:

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Quinoa salad: cucumber, capsicum, feta, parsley and flaked almonds with dukkah crusted chicken breast.

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Green salad: baby spinach, cucumber, capsicum, couscous with pine nuts, lemon juice and basil and lamb cutlets.

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Pan-fried salmon with basmati rice and steamed bok choy with a ginger, soy sauce & lime dressing.

Ditch the extra foods

I often tell my clients to stop buying unhelpful foods, that are a poor source of nutrients. If they’re not in the house then you can’t eat them. Simple. You know the foods: chips, biscuits, cakes, lollies, chocolate, soft drink, alcohol, etc. How much money do you spend on these each week?

Your weekly food bill might be expensive because there is both healthy food and not-so-healthy food in your trolley. If you want to each well on a budget, then you’ve got to prioritise good quality food and put them in your trolley first. If you’ve got a little money left over then pop in a few extra items that your family enjoys.

Nutrition tip: Make a fruit salad out of seasonal fruit and serve it in a chocolate cup. Much cheaper and healthier, especially if you’re entertaining.

Recipe – Fruit Salad Chocolate Baskets

Rely on the old faithful staples

There are some foods that are just cheaper per serve than other foods. This has a lot to do with supply and demand and the way that the foods are marketed and then perceived by that market.

So-called ‘super foods’, (e.g. kale, coconut water, goji berries, chia seeds, quinoa) are all great, but they’re a rip off! You don’t need to eat these foods regularly to be healthy. There are no extra health benefits gained from eating them compared to a balanced diet rich in all kinds of whole, fresh foods. Baby spinach is just as nutritious as kale, linseeds are just as good a source of omega 3 fats and fibre as chia seeds, water hydrates you just as good (arguably better than) as coconut water does, brown rice is still an ok alternative to quinoa and any kind of berry (or fruit for that matter) offers antioxidants like goji berries do.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing these foods, but there’s too much hype around their nutritional benefits and not enough evidence to back up a large amount of their impressive claims or their exorbidant price tag. Healthy eating is simple and not complicated (it’s also not sexy and exciting, but alas, we can’t have everything can we?). True story.

Here are some foods that are great as part of a balanced diet, yet won’t blow your budget.

Eggs = $1 per 2 eggs

Canned tuna = $1.50 per 150gweetbi

Turkey mince = $2 per 160g

Milk = 50c per 1 cup

Lentils = $1 per 1 cup (Canned, drained and rinsed)

4 bean mix = $2 per 1 cup (Canned, drained and rinsed)

Pasta = 40c per 150g cooked (choose wholemeal or high fibre)

Apples = $1 each

Potato = 80c per 200g

Pumpkin = 60c per 200g

Mandarin = 80c each

Weetbix = 10c per serve (2 biscuits)

Rolled oats = 33c per 50g serve

Carrots = 60c each

Tomato = $1 each

Baby spinach = 50c per 1 cup

Broccoli = 95c per 1 cup florets

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Kate Freeman

Kate Freeman is a Registered Nutritionist and the founder and managing director of The Healthy Eating Hub. Kate’s healthy eating philosophy is all about whole, fresh foods, being realistic about life and creating long term healthy eating habits. She doesn’t believe in detoxes, fad diets or quick fixes. Once you’ve finished working with Kate, you’ll be empowered to feed yourself well for the rest of you life! More about the Author

  • Sarah Jenner

    Your prices given for healthy foods seem a bit high. Is that for organic? I don’t buy many organic foods mainly because I can’t afford them but you are bang on about having the unhelpful foods in your trolley raising the total cost. Thanks for all the other tips. They’re all things I know but helpful to get the reminders. Sometimes I forget the tried and true ways to save money grocery shopping. I’m also a new convert to online shopping. It’s definitely a useful tool for keeping the cost down and it’s nice having someone do the shopping for me