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Eating Healthy on a Budget: Part 1


People often say, “I can’t afford to eat healthy”, but can you afford NOT to?  Eating a healthy diet is crucial to your physical, mental and emotional health. It can make a huge difference to your mood and energy, and how well you think and feel. But at a time when so many of us are living on a tight budget, finding food that is both nourishing and affordable can be a challenge.



Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash


I love the story Stone Soup.  If you haven’t heard it, you can read it here (https://archive.org/details/TheStoryOfStoneSoup-English).  While this story may have a great moral that is perhaps even more important when times are tough all round; it doesn’t really provide the solution to feeding a family with little. 


This is something I’ve been wanting to write for a while – and now more so than ever.  The cost of living continues to rise and I don’t think we’ve seen the end of that.  The temptation can be to make cheaper eating choices that compromise health (because sadly unhealthy eating is cheaper); but as my husband once said, “Poor health is cheap”.  He was right on with that - we pay - one way or another.


So how can you afford to eat well when the budget is stretched?  This is one area I really feel qualified to contribute to.  You see I grew up in a household that was not exactly affluent – but my Mum taught me to manage money well.  She also taught me to cook simple basic food.  And then when we had children we chose that I would be a stay at home mum.  That meant one income (with 6 children to feed)… and not always the highest income at that.  In fact, there were a few periods of time when my husband was unemployed.  So I’m pretty seasoned at this.


But I guess before I talk about how to eat healthy on a budget, I should define healthy eating from my perspective (as there’s a lot of differing views on what that looks like).

I’ll start with common ground… the things that pretty much all nutritionists would agree on no matter what health philosophy they follow.


1.       Eat whole unprocessed foods as much as possible - limiting sugar, refined grains and carbohydrates; and all processed foods.  Just Eat Real Food (JERF).

2.       Include plenty of vegetables and fibre.

3.       Eat organic where possible.

4.       Eat seasonal and local.

5.       Include fermented foods and prebiotic fibres for a healthy gut.


Beyond that my most basic philosophical belief is to eat the foods that God gave us - in the form He gave them to us. JERF!  For me that includes meat (and organ meats), chicken, fish, eggs, lots of veggies, fruit, nuts and seeds, wholegrains and legumes.  Eating this way naturally includes good quality proteins, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and other health promoting nutrients.


But yes, that way of eating can be expensive.  So I’ve put together a whole lot of ways you can cut costs on groceries without compromising your health.


Today I’m just starting with some general tips (and I’ve got a lot of them), but over the next few posts I’ll talk more specifically on proteins and veggies.  Today’s tips are a bunch of cost saving ideas I’ve observed and learnt over the years.  Hopefully there’s some that you find helpful.  They are in no specific order:


  1. Learn to cook.  That might sound like an odd one but I have discovered more and more people these days don’t know how to cook basic simple food (and it makes me so grateful that I was taught).  That usually leaves them eating nutritionally deplete foods and relying on ready meals which are way more expensive.  Even if you don’t really like cooking - learning basic and simple cooking will save you a heap.  If you don’t know how to cook, then ask someone who does, to teach you; or look for tutorials online.

  2. Meal planning can really help.  It means when you go to the supermarket you only buy what you need for the meals you’ve planned.  Plan according to what you already have, what’s in season (generally cheaper and healthier) and what’s on special.Additionally writing a shopping list helps to only buy what you need as does making less frequent trips to the shops (we usually pick up more than planned on those little drop in trips).

  3. Stock up when items are on special (that is non-perishables and food you can put in the freezer).  Also for items that keep and you use often, take the time to read the unit price or do a quick calculation – usually the larger quantities work out cheaper.  It’s a bit more to start with but a worthwhile investment and will balance out in the end.  If you’re starting out with this approach and just don’t have the budget, then slowly replace out one item at a time for a larger quantity.

  4. Look at joining a co-op, or just organise an arrangement with a couple of friends to buy bulk quantities (which are usually cheaper) and split them.

  5. Don’t shop when you’re hungry.  You’ll end up buying a whole lot of food you didn’t need… and usually of the less nutritious variety.

  6. With just a little bit of planning you can also cut down on your electricity usage.  Cooking one pot meals in larger quantities and freezing them to eat later will cut down on your electricity consumption. Or if you’re using the oven, then prepare a few different oven meals at once that can be frozen and reheated. 

  7. Cut out… or at least reduce… the junk food.  Leaving items such as chips, biscuits and chocolate out of the trolley means a whole lot of saving and is better for your health. 

  8. Don’t choose the convenience options. They ARE convenient.  They are also more expensive!  For example, buying a 1kg block of cheese and grating it yourself as needed is a whole lot cheaper than buying grated cheese (and keeps better too).

  9. Don’t be a snob!  I will admit there are some items I choose a brand name - for a nutritional or ethical reason or because they really are nicer, but I’ve found most items don’t taste any better just by having an expensive brand name.  So as far as supermarket shopping goes – most of mine is home brand.

  10. Avoid buying more perishable foods than you’ll use before they go off (this is one reason meal planning is helpful).  And if you do find you’ve ended up with more than you’re going to use – try fermenting veggies, making vegetable stock or a pot of soup to freeze.  If I end up with more milk than will be used before the best before, I’ll make up a pot of tuna mornay to freeze.

  11. Eat satiating and filling foods.  For example while nuts may cost more than a bag of chips – how often do we easily eat the whole bag of chips (and then not feel so good), while we’re likely to only want to eat a handful of cashews in one sitting.  We’ll be better nourished for the cashews but they’ll also keep us satisfied longer – in the long run eating less.  And the bag will last a whole lot longer than one sitting.  Un-satiating foods leave people wanting to eat more often… which may translate into greater food costs.

  12. Drink water instead of expensive sugary drinks such as juice and flavoured milk.

  13. When it comes to organic food - I’m aware this is not the cheapest option.  Just do what you can – if you can.  Sometimes you can pick up organic food as cheap as the non-organic.  If you do have access to a farmers market you can get to know the growers and which ones are chemical free (even if they don’t have the organic certification).  And if you can only afford some organic food then I suggest prioritizing animal products including dairy (as toxins are stored in the fat), and choosing the more heavily sprayed fruits and veggies (a post for another day). This is one area where growing your own is a fantastic option!

  14. If you enjoy the process of cooking, learn the art of sourdough bread making.  It can be quite therapeutic and I can make a loaf of good quality sourdough bread for about $2 (at time of writing), which is far healthier and more satisfying.

  15. Certain memberships (such as NRMA; NIB) offer discounted gift cards.  I buy Woolworths gift cards at a discounted rate and then do my shopping with those.  It means all of my supermarket groceries are purchased at a discounted rate and over a year, that’s a lot of money.  So check out your various memberships and rewards plans. 

  16. It takes a bit more time but you can save a lot by shopping around.

  17. Don’t rule out the small businesses.  Sometimes these can be as cheap as the big supermarkets and usually have better quality (and heck I’d rather support a local small business any day).  Also the more we shop at them, the more they can afford to keep their prices down.

  18. Limit how much takeaway you buy.  This is one of the easiest ways to save on your grocery budget.  Home cooked is definitely cheaper and more nutritious.



Over the next few posts I’ll share more tips on cheaper protein options and veggies… so watch this space!

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