Can healthy eating be cheap too?

Budgeting. That awful thing that is the reality for most of us. When talking with clients here at Feel Fresh Nutrition, one of the biggest stumbling blocks people face is the belief they can’t afford to eat healthily. I certainly agree to an extent. Eating healthily does cost you. Either in terms of finances, time or knowledge.

You can eat well on a budget, but you have to know what you are doing and have time to make things from scratch. That isn’t always easy. Some people have the financial luxury of forgoing the time and the knowledge but for everyone else, we’re here to help with some knowledge and some hacks to help you reduce the cost of eating nutrient dense food. 

The first point I would make is that following an ideal or a perfect diet will always cost you. Often more than just financially. It’s imperative that when starting a healthy eating regime we learn not to sacrifice ‘good enough’ in pursuit of perfection. In an ideal world yes, we would be eating organic, grass-fed, and free-range ‘superfoods.’ But foods like mince, eggs, avocados and fruit are all superfoods in their own right. 

Here we have our best tips for eating well on a budget. 

1) Always buy seasonal produce

Fruits and vegetables are at their cheapest when in season. You can also ask for any seconds on produce. Often fruit is damaged or bruised and ends up being 1/4 the cost of perfectly shaped fruit. Recently I bought a 1.5 kg bag of organic carrots which were recommended for juicing. Once peeled, and especially in casseroles, they were fine. The nutrients are all the same. This is a growing trend worldwide with supermarket chains now offering “daggy” vegetable boxes at a cheaper rate in an effort to reduce food wastage. Sustainability and nutrients on a budget, a winning combo!

2) Grow your own

The cheapest way to enjoy fruits and vegetables is to grown your own. In particular, leafy greens are easy to grow and seeds are incredibly cheap. In contrast, one bag of spinach is often $4 and might last for three days. 

3) Use EVERY part of your food. 

One of the daggiest, tasty and effective ways I have to use up vegetable scraps is to make a soup. Put the stalks of broccoli and cauliflower, celery leaves and wilting spinach in a pot with bone broth (made with leftover chicken caracas) and a few potatoes or kumara. Once cooked, blend with cottage cheese to make a creamy veggie soup packed with protein. 
Similarly, you can put the tops of carrots into homemade pesto.
Lastly you can strain yoghurt to make cream cheese while catching the whey to ferment veggies or preserve mayo and pesto to extend it's shelf life. Your gran will be very proud of you. 

If you want to get next level you can preserve fruit in summer for eating in winter. 

4) Understand traditional methods for preparing food 

Veggies that are going limp can be fermented. A double win for your gut health. 

Grains and beans are significantly cheaper bought dried in bulk. A 1kg bag of organic black beans is $2.80c at the bulk foods store. A tin of cooked ceres organic black beans is $4.99 at the supermarket. 1 kg of dried beans is equivalent to 6-8 tins of cooked beans. You just need to know how to soak and cook legumes to make them easily digested. It’s not difficult at all, it just takes pre-planning and time.

5) Don't rely on specific ingredients for a meal. 

Take an idea such as a curry and add the spices and protein and then use whatever veggies you have. If you think about it, recipes are great but the types of veggies or protein you use don't change the method all that much, you might just need to adjust your cooking time.

Think about items that can be bulk bought and cooked. 

Things like bircher muesli or crock pot casseroles save on time and cost. You can make big batches using relatively cheap staple ingredients such as oats, grated apple, coconut and milk or beef, tinned tomatoes, broth, potatoes and frozen spinach. 
In addition to buying in bulk, cooking in bulk can help keep costs down as well. It’s sometimes cheaper to buy large quantities of products than to buy them in smaller amounts. Divvy up leftovers into portion-sized leftover containers and freeze for a quick meal when time is tight.

6) Avoid expensive extras

We know that foods like haloumi, chorizo, bacon and nuts can be healthy and tasty additions to your diet. We certainly don’t need to avoid these foods but the fact is, these items are more expensive and aren’t nutritionally necessary. Choose one flavourful item you love per week. So choose haloumi one week, and chorizo the next.

Similarly rotate your whole grains and superfoods. They certainly aren’t essential but if you enjoy quinoa, chia seeds, buckwheat or flaxseed choose one per week and cook using that then swap for a different food the next week. 

7) Become friends with your butcher and local food suppliers.

Your local butcher can be a financial godsend. You can support local business while asking them questions about the cheapest cuts of meat and how to cook them. Many butchers will also process 800g of mince and 200g of liver together for a 1kg block of minced meat if you ask. Adding liver to your diet is not only a nutritional gold mine, but it reduces the cost of your meat overall. 

For many people handling liver is a big barrier that prevents them from eating it. Doing it this way eliminates that and kids get it several times a week without realising. 

Similarly, talk to the produce people at your local market. They can tell you what’s coming in to season and what's finishing. You can meal plan to account for this.

8) Don’t be afraid to eat the same meals twice. 

Breakfast and Lunch in particular lend themselves to eating the same thing a few days in a row.

9) Keep frozen veggies in your freezer. 

Veggies are often fresher frozen than from the supermarket as they are picked and frozen straight away, rather than sitting on display shelves. They help to bulk out meals and add vital fibre to your diet.

10) Eat less protein and more veggies. 

Protein costs significantly more. If we eat  80-100 grams of meat per person at every meal as opposed to 150 - 200 grams we could halve our meat bill each week. Substituting a plant-based protein to 2 dinners a week such as quinoa, falafel, black beans or lentils will help save you money too. 

11) Avoid eating out often 

Eating out can be an enjoyable, social interaction. We aren’t here to tell you that you can never eat out again. But, it’s expensive and sometimes detrimental to your weightloss goals  if you’re doing it frequently. Having a plan and being prepared means you will be less caught out and having to buy lunch or dinner regularly. Bringing food from home is cheaper and you have the added bonus of knowing exactly what is in it. 

When working with clients I always recommend having an emergency stash at work with easy items to form lunch if you get stuck. Tins of salmon and some rice crackers can form a quick lunch with some cottage cheese or fresh tomato in a pinch. 

12) Buy tinned fish

Tinned fish such as mackerel, sardines, anchovies, and salmon all provide ample amounts of omega 3 fatty acids – the fantastic anti-inflammatory fat that’s credited with providing health benefits from improved brain health, to decreased joint pain. The bones in canned fish are also a great source of calcium.

In New Zealand the only sustainable form of fresh salmon we can get is imported and costs $90 a kilo. However, we have another alternative. Many brands of tinned fish such as sealord and john west now have a sustainable fish symbol on their packaging. This means the fish is line and pole caught, rather than trawled. 

The takeaway

Remember perfection is the enemy of good. Health is the culmination of what you do consistently over time, not what you can do for two weeks before returning to previous habits. 

It’s great if you can afford organic, free-range, and grass-fed everything, but it this isn’t possible for you, there’s absolutely no reason your diet has to be less nutritious. If you would like some help knowing what foods you need to focus on for your goals we’d love to help you. Book an appointment with one of the Feel Fresh Nutritionists. 

 

RECIPE: 

SALMON PUMPKIN PATTIES

These Salmon cakes are ridiculously easy. Tasty and full of hidden veggies. You know, for the child in you.

Tinned salmon is the only sustainably caught salmon available in New Zealand unless you want to pay $90/kg for the privilege. It is also cheap at around 70c per serve, so it's a great protein option for those with tightened purse strings.

They freeze really well too. I like to make a double batch and freeze them in individual serves for those days when I can't be bothered making lunch

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Serves: 6

INGREDIENTS

415gm can of pink salmon
2 cups pumpkin, cut into small cubes
2 cups cauliflower, cut into florets
1 egg (add an extra egg if the mixture is too dry)
1 heaped Tablespoon of coconut flour or 3 Tablespoons of ground almonds or gluten free flour. 
grated zest of one lemon
1 Tablespoon of capers (optional)
1 spring onion finely sliced
salt and pepper
1/2 cup of ground almonds for coating
Oil of choice for frying.
You could use potato, broccoli or sweet potato in place of the mashed vegetables.

METHOD

Place pumpkin and cauliflower in a steamer and steam on the stovetop. Steam until pumpkin is tender. Mash the pumpkin and cauliflower together and set aside to cool.

Drain the tinned salmon and mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.

Add the mashed cauliflower and pumpkin.

Roll the mixture into palm size balls and flatten. Pour the extra ground almond mixture onto a plate. Coat your patties in almond meal to create a crunchy coating. For a nut free version use gluten free breadcrumbs. 

In a pan heat your oil. In batches fry the patties until crispy. About two minutes on each side.

Eat straight away with mayonnaise or pesto and a green salad.

Let any leftovers cool before transferring to an airtight container to refrigerate. They will keep in the fridge for 5 days.

Image: Brooke Lark