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Healthy Food on the Cheap – is it possible?

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healthy food, expensiveWhat makes it hard for Australians to eat healthy food?

Well, when the government re-developed the Australian Dietary Guidelines a little over a year ago, they held focus groups across the nation to gain insight into the major barriers that made eating healthy food difficult for Australian families. This is what they came up with and after 10 years in the industry I tend to agree.

The three main barriers to eating healthy food, reported by regular, everyday Australians, just like you and me, are:

  • lack of time,
  • perceived high expense of fresh, healthy food, and
  • lack of cooking skills.

We’re all busy and struggle to find the time to do all the things we need to do each day. Eating well when you’re busy is a whole other kettle of fish and I’ll talk about that another time.

However, when it comes to the argument that fruit and vegetables are expensive and healthy eating costs too much I tend to disagree. Reality will show that in most cases the ‘too expensive’ argument is invalid. Healthy food doens’t need to be expensive at all, but you do need to start planning, stay organised and become a savvy shopper. Just going out and filling your trolley with random fruits, vegetables, so called ‘super foods’ and other nutritious items isn’t going to be good for your budget but with a bit of forethought you’ll be saving money and eating well in no time at all. Let me give you some examples.

Dinner for $20

For $19.95 you can purchase a McDonalds Family Meal Box. This would feed 2 adults and 2 children. With this meal comes a burger, fries and soft drink for each family member. Not to mention oodles of calories for the very low amount of nutrients (vitamins & minerals) and high amounts of salt, fat and added sugar it contains. It would take you approximately 30-40 minutes to obtain. 10-15 mins driving to McDonalds, 10 minutes waiting in the drive through and 10-15 minutes driving home.

For $19.65 you could make your own hamburgers for dinner. Drink water instead of soft drink and serve with carrot sticks instead of fries. You’ll feel just as full, with much less salt, sugar and fat plus get a significant intake of vitamins and minerals. That’s not as yummy, you say, well that is a matter of opinion!

All prices are taken from the Vegies to Your Door website except for the chicken breast and cheese. The prices for these items are taken from Woolworths online.

To feed 4 people you will need:

  • 4 bread rolls (wholemeal or grain), $2.80
  • 1 large chicken breast (butterflied and cut into 4 pieces and grilled on the BBQ), $4.50
  • 4 slices of cheese, $4
  • 1 tomato (sliced), $0.85
  • 2 cups of green leafy salad, $3.50
  • 1 onion (sliced and BBQ’d), $0.50
  • 1 avocado (mashed and spread on the buns), $2.50
  • 2 carrots (cut into sticks), $1.00 and
  • salt and pepper to season (already in your pantry).

As you can see, it’s quite easy to prepare a yummy, healthy meal for the whole family for the same amount of money as a ‘cheap’ family dinner box from McDonalds. You just need to start practicing and putting together a nice arsenal of recipes at your disposal that you’re familiar with and can whip up with little fuss. The great thing about the prices used in the example above you’re gonna have leftovers for future meals. There are no leftovers form McDonalds.

The majority of recipes on my website will feed 4 people for $20 or less. That’s $5 a serve.

It’s also prudent to point out that most other takeaway foods will cost you much more than a $20 box of McDonalds. For example:

  • It costs $30-$40 for Crust Pizza for 4 people.
  • It costs around $40 for 4 people to eat a meal box from KFC
  • It costs around $50 for Chinese foods for 4 people. Thats rice, 3-4 dishes and a drink.

I used to buy groceries when I cooked for a Queanbeyan Indigenous program called Aunty Jeans Good Health and spent between $30 and $40 a week to feed 10 people. I also had limited pantry items for this program so I needed to buy 95% of the ingredients most weeks. These meals contained whole grains, lean meats, eggs, vegetables, dairy, nuts and seeds. I bought very few processed foods from jars and packets and this is actually what kept my costs down.

Now don’t get me wrong it’s just as simple to eat on the cheap by buying packets and jarred convenience foods. I mean seriously, it costs $4 for a pack of 8 beef sausages and less than $2 for a pack of 2 minute noodles. Pair this meal with a bag of frozen vegetables for $3 and you’ve fed a family of 4, pretty poorly (besides the vegies, frozen are totally fine), but for under $10.

Let’s just say, however, we swap the sausages for 1 425g can of tinned tuna at roughly half the price of the sausages, a pack of high fibre pasta for the same price as the noodles and stick with the frozen veggies. Add a cup of milk, a handful of grated cheese and some seeded mustard and you can make a delicious tuna mornay pasta for approximately the same price with three times as much fibre, omega 3 fatty acids and half the sodium for the SAME price.

For my family, I often buy the following salad ingredients each week. At the beginning of the week I cut up all the vegetables and throw them into a large bowel. This salad will give me 2-3 meals worth for 2 adults and 2 children. All I need to do is serve up some meat, chicken or fish along with some legumes, rice, pasta or bread and I’ve got a complete meal.

The following list of ingredients for my large simple salad will cost you $22.70 from Vegies to Your Door:

  • lettuce or green leafy salad (baby spinach & rocket)
  • capsicum x2
  • cucumber x2
  • red onion x1
  • carrot x2

Another example where it’s cheaper to buy fruit or healthier items instead of packaged unhealthier items is for your afternoon tea. Check out the list below:

  • For $1 you could have a banana or apple (Vegie’s To Your Door prices)
  • For $0.50 you could have an orange (Vegie’s To Your Door prices)
  • For $0.60 you could have a pear (Vegie’s To Your Door prices)
  • For $0.47 you could have an Uncle Toby’s Muesli Bar (Woolworths online prices)
  • For $1.99 you could have a Cadbury Dairy Milk Snack Bar (Woolworths online prices)
  • For $1.99 you could have a Cadbury Boost Bar (Woolworths online prices)
  • For $3.00 you could have a small cappuccino

So you see, it’s not all that expensive!

The other point that I’d like to mention is the whole ‘value for money’ ideology that we have as a culture. We go to a restaurant and we’re disappointment if our meal is too small. Even though oversize meals are contributing to our ill health. We don’t like paying $5 for just one healthy sandwich when we can get a burger, chips and soft drink for the same amount of money. Even though the excess sugar and salt in the second meal is making it difficult for you to mange a healthy weight and overall good health. When it comes to nutrition and healthy eating, the ‘more food for your buck’ idea isn’t necessarily a helpful longterm mindset, not unless you’re smart enough to make your food last a few days, rather than eating it all at once.

Hmmmm… anyway, just some food for thought (pun intended).

If you would like help in creating a healthy meal plan for your family and developing healthy habits that you can sustain even when you’re busy why not make an appointment for a consultation with one of our nutritionists.

What are your inexpensive healthy recipes? I’d love you to share them below.

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2 Responses to Healthy Food on the Cheap – is it possible?

emma says: 1 July, 2014 at 1:49 pm

We were brought up by a single mum with very little money who still generally managed to put balanced healthy meals on the table for next to nothing. You can do a lot with legumes, vegetables and cheaper cuts of meat or smaller portions.

Also, I learned to cook from the age of 12 and have developed those skills as I’ve gotten older. So I believe it’s critical for people to cook their own food.

The only kind of relationship with food that can be healthy in the long term is one where you understand where food comes from and how to prepare it using fresh ingredients.

Much of the “food” sold in supermarkets (the packaged stuff) barely deserves to be called food.
Emma, 33

Juli Ng. says: 4 July, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Kate, such a great idea to compare these foods – Usually it’s an excuse to say that healthy food is rather expensive.
Myself I’m a big fan of healthy and quick snacks, which are usually cheaper than any junk food and you can bring them easily anywhere.
– Carrot sticks, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, almonds, fruits, boiled egg, nuts, protein shake,…
I used to eat a lot of junk food too, but recently changed my eating habits drastically and even realized that I have rather more money at the end of the month than more month at the end of the money 🙂 Now, I proudly started my second sugar detox (


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