Topics, Tips & Tools / Family

Healthy Eating on a Budget

10 February 2014

Is it possible to eat healthily on a budget? This is a question that’s being debated a lot lately as we become increasingly health and value conscious. 

If the truth be told, it is not easy – largely because while the cost of all food has soared in recent years, healthier staples such as fruit and vegetables have seen particularly large increases. By example, red meat has seen price inflation of between 40% and 65% over the last five years while the cost of broccoli has more than doubled (if you haven’t seen it already, you might be interested in this price comparison infographic).

But ‘not easy’ is not the same as ‘impossible’. Eating healthily on a budget is indeed possible; it just requires proper planning and handling food in innovative ways.  

In the grocery aisles

Make a shopping list. Long before you step through the sliding doors at your local grocer, you have to draw up a shopping list. Divide the list into two columns – groceries you need immediately and groceries you anticipate needing in the near future. An item to go on the latter list could be, for example, baking ingredients for a school cake sale. Add the items on the ‘immediate’ list to your shopping trolley but only buy the items on the ‘future’ list if they are on sale. If they’re not, leave them for the time being but keep an eye out for store promotions. Chances are that at some point in the next few weeks, some of the ingredients will be discounted 

Buy family-sized, even if you’re single. Bulk packages of chicken and the like generally offer more value for money. Freeze portion sizes separately if the entire bulk pack won’t be used at once. 

Buy in season. Fruits and vegetables are a lot cheaper in season. If you really need something out of season, shop for it at a local or farmer’s market. You’re more likely to get a good deal at these markets than at big retail supermarkets. 

Swap white bread for brown or whole-wheat. The price is virtually the same, but low GI food will keep you feeling full for longer, meaning you are more likely to avoid unhealthy and expensive snacks.

On the stovetop

Less meat or no meat. Meat-loving South Africans might not want to listen to this piece of advice, but avoiding or cutting back on meat is one of the simplest ways to be kinder to your wallet and waist. Other protein sources are cheaper and can be just as tasty. Good options to consider are legumes like chickpeas and other pulses, certain cheeses and eggs. Further to this, tinned fish goes well on sandwiches, in salads and with pasta.  

Make your own condiments. If you love to dip carrot sticks into hummus, start making your own. Like a bit of salad dressing? Not only will a homemade salad dressing be cheaper than a store-bought variety, it will be a lot healthier as well. Simply mix a little bit of olive oil with a dash of balsamic vinegar. And as for tomato sauce, that other South African favourite? You can make that too.

Use one item in many ways. Test your creativity with this one. A chicken that you roast on Sunday evening could, for example, go into a salad for Monday lunch, in a stir-fry for Monday supper and onto a sandwich for Tuesday’s lunch. That’s four meals from one chicken! 

Everywhere in-between

Go through your fridge regularly. Take a minute a few times a week to see which items in your fridge will expire in the next day or two. Then move those items to the front of the fridge and use them. How does this help you live healthy on a budget? If the lettuce, tomatoes and broccoli in your fridge go off, you’ve essentially wasted the money spent on them. 

Grow your own produce. If you’re really committed to healthy and frugal living, grow your own vegetables. Not enough space in your garden? Then just grow some herbs. Herbs add delicious flavours to meals, eliminating the need for unhealthier options like mayonnaise and sweet chilli sauce. 

Drink tap water. South Africans really have no excuse to not drink tap water. Our tap water is completely safe for human consumption. If you disagree, install a filter at home. That way you only need to buy one water bottle which you can refill time after time. 

Don’t forget this tip that works too – prepare meals in bulk, portioning out and freezing what you don’t intend to eat immediately. You’ll save money and time, and have healthy ready-made meals at hand.