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Is healthy eating really affordable?

It’s clear to anyone who shops for food that many healthy foods have become more and more expensive in recent years.

It’s not surprising we often hear statements like: “Healthy eating is too expensive!” and “It’s so much cheaper to buy junk!” That’s why we explored this issue in the April edition of Healthy Food Guide. We wanted to find out the answer to the question above, and also to get practical tips and inspiration from readers who are making small food budgets go a long way without compromising on health.

One of the things that really struck me about the people we interviewed was that despite the great differences in their households, they all shared key things in common.

 

The first thing is that they all invest time and thought into planning. They plan what they are going to eat for the week, and from that they plan what they are going to buy. Then (and this is key) they stick to the plan, so they don’t waste food and they don’t waste money on emergency trips to the shops.

 

Another thing they all do is shop around. None of our featured families buys their produce in the supermarket. For them, other outlets (farmers’ markets, fruit and vege specialty stores) represent better value for money. Some also shop around for staples like bread and milk.

 

The third thing they all do is cook. Which sounds obvious, but it’s something that’s not natural for everyone. I think it’s nearly impossible to get great nutrition (let alone great taste) eating only food cooked in commercial kitchens, whether restaurants or food manufacturers. Having some basic cooking skills really helps.

 

While not every healthy food is a bargain buy, there are some old favourite, unglamorous but nutrition-packed foods that really give you great bang for your buck. Here are some of our favourite budget-friendly foods to add to your plan and shopping list.
 

Seasonal veges and fruit

A no-brainer; any great budgeter will tell you they shop around for in-season produce which is cheaper and fresher. Even cheaper if you can grow your own.

 

Dried lentils, beans and chickpeas

They’re not sexy but they’re packed with fibre and protein and are super-cheap. Base a whole meal on legumes (look to Indian and Italian recipes for inspiration) or use them to bulk out meaty dishes.

 

Canned tomatoes

A staple year-round. Stock up when they’re cheap and use them as sauce bases, soup and stew ingredients, and to add an extra vege serve almost anywhere.

 

Oats

High in a type of fibre called beta glucan, which helps reduce cholesterol absorption, oats are a multi-purpose breakfast and baking ingredient. Try throwing a handful into your next meat loaf or meatballs recipe.

 

Brown rice

A whole-grain carbohydrate with a nutty flavour – don’t only use it as a side. Makes a great salad base.

 

Eggs

Eggs start at about 25 cents each (you’ll pay a bit more for free-range) so they are one of the cheapest proteins around. If you’ve got eggs, an omelette dinner is only ever about 10 minutes away.

 

Frozen fruit and veges

Don’t dismiss the frozen section. There are bargains and good nutrition to be found here – stock up when specials are on.

 

Share your favourite budget-friendly buys! What do you do to save money on food? 

 

First published: Mar 2012



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