It is important to eat a balanced diet for your health, but you do not need to compromise your bank balance in the process. Eating healthy food can help you to perform better physically and mentally, and you can eat well on a limited budget – you just need to know what you are looking for and how to make your food go further.
Stick to the basics
Basic foods should make up the majority of your shopping list. Basic foods include pasta, rice, wholegrain breads, flour, couscous, quinoa, oats, barley, beans/lentils, lean meats, eggs, fruits, vegetables, milk and yoghurt. These are food basics as you can construct many meals from them. Premade foods (like an add water and mix cake) will always be more expensive than original ingredients. Plain fresh meat is always cheaper than meat which has been made into other products (for example a chicken Kiev). These foods are also lower in sodium (salt) than pre made options. Another way to keep your food costs down is to use a home brand or store brand for your basics. For example all flour will be similar so buying the cheaper option won’t have any effect on the taste of your food. You can also do this with canned beans, lentils. You may also like to buy staples in bulk when possible so that they are cheaper.
If you plan your meals for the upcoming week you are much more likely to stick within your budget. If you have no plan and have to make regular trips to the store you will spend a lot more over the week. When you plan your weekly meals make sure you create a shopping list to accompany it. If you shop with a list you are much more likely to stay within budget – make a commitment to yourself that you will not buy anything that is not on the list. If you have children or a partner that encourages you to add extras to your trolley you may like to shop without them. It is also a good idea to buy what is in season. For example, if you love tomatoes buy them fresh when they are in season but resort to canned tomatoes when they are out of season and their price is inflated. You can also do this with frozen vegetables as they are just as nutritious as the fresh version.
A great way to stay within budget, and save yourself time is to use leftovers for lunch the next day. Plan to make a little more than you need for dinner, then pack away your lunch from what you have leftover.
Grow your own
A great way to make fruit and vegetables cheaper is to grow them yourself. A simple vegetable garden can provide your family with lettuce, carrots, silver beet, spinach, cauliflower, broccoli and many other vegetables. Fruit trees do take more time to mature but other fruits like strawberries can be grown in a short amount of time. Herbs are also easy to grow and can even be grown in a pot on your windowsill. If you are unable to grow your own you may like to consider buying your fruit and vegetables from an orchard or market where it will be cheaper than in a store.
Use less meat
Although plain meat is inexpensive compared to pre made and processed products, using less meat can limit how much you spend on food each week even further. Meat provides a source of protein as well as zinc, iron and other nutrients, but you can substitute a plant source of protein into some meals. Legumes are great for this purpose; they are cheap, easy to prepare, high in protein, fibre and nutrients, and very filling. They do not contain the amount of iron and zinc that red meat does but they are a useful addition to casseroles, soups and curries to bulk up your meal while making the overall cost cheaper.
Make your takeout meals at home
It is nice to eat out but the cost of takeout meals can be more than what you budget for a few days worth of food. Instead of spending your hard earned money on takeout make your own at home. Homemade pizza, pasta, burritos, tacos, fish and chips, burgers and wraps are all easy to make from staple foods. You will also know exactly what is in your meal if you make it yourself. If you add more vegetables and cook meats in less fat/oil then you make your meal even healthier.
It is easy to eat well on a limited budget if you plan ahead, use staple food items, avoid processed foods, grow what you can, use less meat and make your favourite takeout meals at home. It is worth making the effort as your health (and wallet) will feel better for it!