Eating well doesn’t need to cost the earth, nor should it be bland and boring! Find out how to save at the supermarket with our go-to hacks for eating well on a budget.
Get back to basics
If you don’t have a nutrient deficiency or health condition, there’s no need to purchase expensive supplements and nutrient powders. Although – when indicated – they can be incredibly helpful. Supplements are designed to address any gaps that aren’t filled by diet alone. As such, they represent the ‘cherry’ on top of the proverbial sundae.
First and foremost, focus on establishing strong nutritional foundations with minimally-processed, whole foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Naturally, greater supply means seasonal produce is more affordable. It’s also more likely to be grown locally (and fresher, due to the associated shorter transit and storage time frames!)
Opt for odd-bunch varieties
Although odd-bunch produce might look a little different (with a price tag to match), nutritionally speaking, there’s no difference whatsoever! Odd-bunch veggies are great candidates for finely chopping or shredding – you’d never know the difference!
Buy in bulk
When shopping, look at the unit price (usually written as the price per 100g or 100mL), which accounts for variations in volume and make it easier to compare product prices quickly. Larger sizes are often better value, even if there’s a special on!
Good candidates for buying in bulk are:
- Dry ingredients (including oats, rice, dried legumes, nuts and seeds)
- Supermarkets have a good range, or visit a bulk-foods store if there’s one in your area for even greater choice!
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Look for 3L and 4L tins, usually on the bottom shelf – these can be decanted into an empty, dark glass 750mL or 1L bottle. Just be sure to store in a cool dark place (e.g. pantry) and use within 3 months to prevent it going rancid. If you won’t use this volume in a 3 month period, opt for the smaller bottles when they’re on sale.
- Meat and poultry
- Larger quantities can be frozen for a few months; wrap individual portions to keep the air out and defrost on a paper towel-covered plate on the bottom shelf in the fridge overnight, ready to use the next day.
- Opt for a 1L container rather than individual tubs; spoon into a smaller, reusable container if you’re taking it with you!
- Look for large blocks of cheese to slice or grate yourself; there’s often a mark-up associated with pre-sliced and shredded varieties.
Play the field
Unit prices also help us compare brands. It often pays to leave brand loyalty behind – particularly for staples like tinned tomatoes and legumes, tomato puree / passata, cheese, yoghurt and milk.
Forego meat, more often
Compared to meat – particularly premium cuts – vegetarian proteins such as eggs, tofu, tempeh and legumes are much kinder on the grocery budget! Find some inspiration with 11 meat-free meal ideas here.
Embrace slow cooking
For those of us who are able to eat meat – lean poultry, chuck steak and lamb shoulder are good choices among the more budget-friendly options. Avoid high-fat products like sausages and regular mince, where possible.
Cheaper cuts often shine with slow cooking, and are therefore especially suited to cooler weather. As the weather warms up, they also work well alongside salads – featuring grains and/or roasted vegetables, for example.
Don’t forget the freezer
Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts, yet often much more budget friendly! Frozen berries work incredibly well in smoothies, with oats, and in baking.
Meanwhile, frozen vegetables have come a long way in recent years! Keep an eye out for veggie ‘rice’ and stir-fry mixes, ready-to-roast chopped pumpkin and sweet potato, and even grilled veggies like eggplant and zucchini that just need to be reheated in the oven.
Making your own protein balls, muesli bars or seeded crackers is often much more economical than buying pre-made items. Similarly, using herbs and spices for flavour – rather than pre-made sauces, marinades and spice mixes – allows for greater control over our intake of salt and other unnecessary additives.
Grow your own way
Growing your own produce is a fantastic, cost-effective way to boost your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables! If gardening isn’t really your thing, try starting small with a couple of frequently-used herbs like parsley, basil, rosemary and mint. They’re a great source of polyphenols and help us boost plant diversity, but buying these fresh from the supermarket each week can become costly.
Make water your main drink
Some beverages, including alcohol and soft drinks, don’t offer much in terms of health benefits, and aren’t exactly budget-friendly! Meanwhile, although plenty of healthy hydrators – such as sugar-free kombucha and sparkling waters, for example – are readily available, they’re not necessary inclusions within a healthy diet. Instead, opt for tap water (it’s – basically – free!), adding some flavour with some sliced citrus fruits, cucumber or mint. Herbal teas are another inexpensive way to mix things up!
For expert dietary support on your personal health and wellbeing journey, book your first appointment with one of our wonderful Accredited Practising Dietitians today.
Written by Caitlin Branch, Student Nutritionist, and Amanda Smith, Accredited Practising Dietitian.