Healthy meals on a budget

September 24, 2020 by Lisa Bywaters


A healthy diet doesn’t have to break the bank

Hands up if, like me, you’ve developed some ‘not so great’ eating habits during iso and lockdown? Snacking more often, larger serves and comfort eating? Combined with being less active than usual, this can lead to weight gain. Not great for our joints and overall wellbeing.

And with tight budgets – and tighter waistbands (hello COVID kilos) – it’s timely to look at how well we’re eating and how we can eat well for less.
Here are our top tips for enjoying tasty, healthy meals and snacks that won’t break the bank.

  • Plan your meals/snacks and write a list of the ingredients you need before you hit the shops. This is a must, because it’s easy to forget things, buy the wrong quantities or buy items you don’t need in the heat of the moment (step away from the Tim Tams Lisa). Check out this information from for tips on meal planning. There are also a lot of meal planner apps you can download from Google Play or App Store. They give you the convenience of your meal plan and shopping list on your phone. No more forgotten shopping lists!
  • Choose generic products. They’re generally cheaper and are often the same product as the name brand, just with less fancy packaging. So check out the generic, home brand and no-name versions of your staples, such as flour, tinned tomatoes, legumes and oats.
  • Read the nutrition panel. It’s a good habit to get into so that you can track the amount of energy (kilojoules), fat, salt, sugar etc in your foods. It’s also useful when you’re comparing different brands of the same product.
  • Replace some meat dishes for vegetarian meals. Research has found that a vegetarian diet costs less than a diet that includes meat. You don’t have to go all out vego, but simply swap a few of your meat dishes for plant-based meals. They’re tasty, healthy and cheap. Just make sure you do your research to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need. Healthy vegetarian protein sources include tofu, chickpeas, beans, quinoa, lentils, eggs and nuts. If you need help, there are a lot of great websites with interesting and tasty vegetarian recipes – from simple to more complex recipes. Something for everyone!
  • Prepare meals in advance. When you’ve got some free time, make extra meals that you can freeze and use when necessary. That way when you’re exhausted, or having a flare, or just can’t be bothered cooking, you’ll have some meals you know are healthy. And you won’t have to resort to takeaway foods or store-bought frozen meals, which can be costly and are often high in fat, salt and/or sugar.
  • Buy fresh fruit and vegetables that are local and in season. It’s cheaper, fresher and supports our local farmers. And goodness knows they need all the support they can get! The Foodwise website can help you find what’s in season. They even have a seasonal meal planner. Very handy!
  • Grow your own. Many of us have discovered the joy of gardening this year. So why not grow some of your own produce? Whether it’s small scale with a few pots of herbs on your balcony or larger scale vegie patch and fruit trees in your backyard, you can experience the pleasure, and reap the rewards of growing some of your own foods. Nothing tastes better than food you’ve nurtured, grown and picked yourself.
  • Frozen and canned fruit and vegetables can often be used in place of fresh. They’re still healthy and they’re often cheaper. They’ll also keep longer. Just make sure to check the nutrition panel. Canned foods may have added salt or sugar. So for vegies, look for ‘no added salt’ on the label, and choose fruits in natural juice and with no added sugar, rather than canned in syrup.
  • Read the unit price when comparing products. This will enable you to see the difference in price regardless of brand or quantity, and you can work out which provides the best value for money. Unit pricing works by using a standard measurement across all products of the same type.
    So for example, if you compared yoghurt X with yoghurt Y:
    * yoghurt X costs $6.40 for 1kg, so its unit price is $0.64 per 100g;
    * yoghurt Y costs $2.30 for 200g, so its unit price is $1.15 per 100g.
    That makes yoghurt X cheaper per 100g.
    Luckily, you don’t have to tie yourself up in knots doing this math when you’re shopping – the unit price is provided on the shelf label and online. Thank goodness! Shopping is hard enough!
  • Shop around. Just because you’ve always shopped at a certain shop doesn’t mean you always have to shop there. Visit the local farmers markets, keep an eye on catalogues and join online groups with other savvy shoppers. That way you’ll always be in the know about who’s providing the best value for money for your groceries. Times are tough, and there are less than 100 days until Christmas – so doing a little research before you go shopping is worth it!
  • For items that last, and that you use regularly, buy in bulk. This includes things like rice, dried/canned legumes and pasta. But please don’t go crazy and start hoarding. Buying in bulk to save money is different to the panic buying we saw earlier this year. If we all shop for only the things we need, there’ll be plenty to go around for everyone.
  • Reduce your kitchen waste. Shopping with a list will help here, and also only buying what you need. Take note of the foods that you often throw out because they’ve become a mysterious, furry blob in your fridge. Avoid buying that item, or buy less of it when you shop. Or look for ways to use food that’s becoming slightly less than fresh, but is still good. Soups are a great way to use the last of the vegies in your fridge crisper. Also check out the Foodwise website. It has lots of tips to help you reduce waste, as well as recipes, meal plans, info on what’s in season and loads more.
  • Takeaway tips. Let’s face it there’ll be times when we really, really want takeaway food. As long as it’s an occasional thing and we eat it in moderation, it shouldn’t have too great an impact on our health or wallet. Here are some tips from Health and Wellbeing Queensland to help you make the healthiest choices when it comes to takeaway food.
  • Finally, don’t shop when you’re hungry. It’s a really easy way to find lots of tasty, but unhealthy things in your trolley that weren’t on your shopping list. It’ll blow your budget and your plans for healthy eating right out of the water. So shop after you’ve eaten, or munch on an apple or banana or handful of nuts before you even consider walking into the bright lights and air-conditioned aisles of your local shopping centre. Your budget will thank you for it.

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