Healthy eating on a budget

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Friday, 28 November 2008.
Tagged: balanced diet, dinner, family fare, food safety, guides, kitchen organisation, meal planning, tips, vegetables, wellness

Healthy eating on a budget
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On a tight budget? Worried about the economic downturn? Trying to save as much as you can? Cooking at home saves you money and is much healthier than fast food. However it does take a little planning and some basic cooking skills. Here's 10 tried-and-true tips I've found can help you save both money and time:


1. Plan meals

Write down a dinner plan for the week ahead (or at least the next 2 or 3 days) and match home meals with days when you're in.

2. Slow cooking for cheaper cuts

Use the tricks from our grandmothers for long slow cooking using the cheaper cuts of meat - Scotch broth, minestrone, osso buco, pot roast, lamb shanks, beef olives and pork & cabbage. Cheaper cuts of meat are generally tastier though tougher than the more expensive cuts. That's why slow cooking is great, it really develops the flavour and makes the meat tender.

3. Cut your waste

Don't buy more than you think you can reasonably eat. Australians throw out up to 25 per cent of their food! That's a lot of wasted food and a lot of wasted money. If you live alone, shop at your local butcher or hot bread shop where you can buy things in small portions.

4. Use your freezer

Freezing's the most nutritious way to store food. Freeze bread until you need it. Freeze soup, stews and curries in single-serve plastic contains so you have quick meals ready to heat. Stock up on a couple of frozen dinners for those nights when you don't feel like cooking.

5. Make your meat go further

Meat and chicken are generally the most expensive items of your weekly food bill - but are important for iron and zinc. Extend your meat by spreading it over rice or pasta - a little Bolognaise can go a long way - and mix in some legumes by:

  • adding kidney beans to Mexican mince
  • or a can of chick peas to casseroles
  • or cooking up a hearty chicken and lentil soup

Dishes such as stir-fries, casseroles and lasagne use smaller quantities of meat, and can make a small quantity go a long way.

5. Know your prices

Compare prices and watch for things on special. Private label (home-brands) are usually cheapest but don't buy them UNLESS you're happy with the quality. Some are cheap and nasty! Don't buy things on special unless they are a real bargain. Supermarkets have introduced "Unit pricing" so you can compare prices per kg or per 100grams which makes comparison pricing a lot easier.

6. Buy in bulk ...

... or buy the biggest size - but only if it's something you like to eat AND you can use it right to the end or if it has a long shelf life. (Take care though - compare the prices of large packages with smaller ones. Sometimes, for reasons that aren't clear, the larger packets are actually dearer.)

7. Skip that aisle!

If you don't need food from a particular aisle in the supermarket, don't visit it. This especially applies to the confectionery, snacks and soft drink aisles. You don't need junk food!

8. Buy in season

Fruit can be expensive, so only buy what's at its peak and cheapest. In autumn (fall), pears and grapes are at their cheapest while oranges, mandarins and grapefruit are best buys in winter. Team up with friends and buy in bulk at wholesale produce markets. Buy locally at farmers' markets if you can.

9. Make a list before you go

A shopping list saves time and money - and prevents those impulse purchases that are often unnecessary and not the best for your health or your wallet! Keep a pad on your fridge to jot down things when you run out.

10. Closing time bargains

Shop at your supermarket at the end of the day. You can pick up bargains just before closing time for perishable foods like BBQ chicken, fresh fish, bread or salad vegetables.


Pantry basics

Stock up on these inexpensive items to keep in the cupboard to pull together a quick meal when you can't get out:

  • Spaghetti, macaroni and noodles - different shapes
  • Rice - different types (basmati, Arborio, brown etc)
  • Potatoes - unwashed ones are the cheapest
  • Onions
  • Canned sardines and tuna
  • Breakfast cereals - plain breakfast cereals (Weet-Bix, Vita-Brits, Weeties) are good buys and make a healthy breakfast and an easy snack with milk
  • Rolled oats
  • Dried lentils/split peas - great for soups and casseroles
  • Canned beans/lentils/chick peas (same as above)
  • Canned soups/canned vegetables - tomatoes, corn, beetroot - reduced-salt is best
  • Frozen peas, frozen peas & corn, frozen spinach
  • Canned fruit - in juice, not syrup
  • Stock - cubes are cheaper than liquid but have more salt
  • Dried herbs/spices/curry mix
  • Oil