Tips for healthy, budget-friendly food

Health and Fitness
Relying on convenience food has been one of the biggest contributors to poor dietary habits in our culture today. It’s because these foods are often low in vegetables and nutrients and high in energy, fat, salt and sugar.

We’re often searching for an ‘easy’ way to eat well, and we’re now blessed with many new businesses sprouting up that can do most of the leg work when it comes to healthy food prep. All we have to do is reheat.

However, these options are often expensive, and reheating cold or frozen food can quickly get old. It’s worth developing the skills required to feed ourselves well, so no matter what, healthy eating becomes a seamless part of our lives.

You don’t need to become an obsessive healthy food preparer, but healthy eating does require a small amount of forethought. Vegetables need chopping and proteins need cooking. Healthy food has a short shelf life and needs purchasing regularly. It also does require some basic skills in the kitchen.

If you take the time to invest in this area, having some basic food organisation skills can not only help establish long-term healthy eating habits, you’ll save money and time as well!

Shopping for food

Write a weekly meal plan

Anyone who’s been successful in implementing healthy eating habits long-term has not left their food choices up to chance. They’ve planned to eat well, in one way or another, and they’ve created meal plans that set themselves up for success and not failure.

If planning every meal and snack for you and your family feels overwhelming, then just start off with planning one meal or snack each day. Maybe it’s dinner, or maybe it’s work lunches. Whatever it is, make sure you keep it simple. If your meal plan is too complicated, you won’t follow it.  

Write a shopping list divided into fruit/veg, pantry items and perishable items

Shopping gets dangerously expensive and full of impulse buys and convenience food when you head into the supermarket without a list. A list separated into fruit/vegetables, pantry items and perishable items is very easy to shop from, and you won’t find yourself wandering all over the whole supermarket. It’ll cut down your shopping time, plus help you stick to your weekly food budget.

Cross-reference your shopping list with your current fridge/pantry supplies

Every day, people waste a lot of food, most of which is perfectly fit for eating. Once you’ve created your shopping list, cross-reference that list with what you’ve already got in your kitchen.

I also make a point of using up any leftover fresh or perishable food in the first 1–2 days of my meal plan, so it doesn’t go to waste.

Shop online

Shopping online is convenient and can save you so much money. Mostly because you’re not exposed to aisle after aisle of promotional displays. It’s much easier to stick to buying just what’s on your list. It then arrives at your door 24 hours later. Win!

Get fruit and vegetables delivered

There are a number of companies in most capital cities that will deliver seasonal, Australian produce straight to your door either weekly, fortnightly or monthly. It’s a great way to stay stocked with fresh, healthy foods.

Buy seasonal produce

Buying seasonal produce is important from both a price and a quality perspective. Seasonal produce is cheaper – as it’s in high supply – and tastes better because it’s often picked, shopped and sold more quickly. Get familiar with what’s in season in your local area and practice incorporating these produce items into your meals.

Storing food

Herbs keep best in water and a plastic bag

Fresh herbs add flavour and interest to a meal, yet they can be expensive and often wilt quickly in the fridge. Pop the fresh herbs into a small glass of water and cover with a freezer bag. Store in the fridge. They’ll last four times as long this way, and you can pick the leaves as you need them.

Vegetables last longer in PEAKfresh bags

These are fantastic green bags that filter out ethylene gas and help your fruit and vegetables last longer in the fridge. They’re often available at your local green grocer or you can buy them online.

Freeze portions of cooked fibre-rich carbohydrates

Fibre-rich sources of carbohydrate like brown rice, wholemeal pasta, quinoa and grainy breads can be separated into individual portions and frozen. Then you’ve always got pre-portioned healthy carbohydrates to add to your meals whenever you need them.

Freeze meat/chicken/fish in individual portions

It’s great to buy meat in bulk, but there’s nothing worse than freezing it that way. You’ll get much more use out of it and waste less if you divide it into individual portions before freezing it. Frozen individual portions of salmon, chicken tenderloins and even steaks can be used to create an easy lunch or dinner for one!

Copyright: tverdokhlibov / 123RF Stock Photo

Stock your fridge/pantry with fail-safe staples

There are lots of healthy, packaged foods that are cheap and easy to incorporate into a healthy eating pattern. Keep these foods well-stocked in your kitchen:

- tuna
- 4 bean mix
- lentils
- chick peas
- eggs
- natural yoghurt
- nuts
- seeds
- extra-virgin olive oil
- brown rice
- wholemeal pasta
- dried herbs and spices
- wholemeal couscous
- vinegars
- oats
- wholegrain crackers/rice cakes

Cooking food

Cook meals in bulk on the weekend

Meals like spaghetti bolognese, lasagne, soups, stews, curries and casseroles can be packed full of vegetables, wholegrains and lean protein-rich foods, cooked in bulk and separated into containers for the week ahead. If you keep your freezer stocked with a handful of different pre-prepared, portioned meals, you’ll have something ready to go for when things get hectic!

Make your lunch when you’re making dinner

You’re already in the kitchen, so you may as well kill two birds with one stone and make tomorrow’s lunch while you’re there. If you’ve got kids, you’re already accustomed to the daily lunchbox prep. Why not spend a few extra minutes and include yourself in that preparation? Prioritising your healthy habits is just as important as prioritising the family’s.

Boil some extra eggs, cut up some extra salad, steam some extra vegetables, cook some extra brown rice. These can all be used to make lunch the next day.

Cook enough dinner for leftovers on another day

Some nights you might have time for cooking dinner and others you might not. Cook extra on the nights you do have time, then refrigerate or freeze it. Then you don’t have to worry about the nights when you’re super busy. Dinner will already be done – just heat and serve.

Snacking

Keep quick staples at your work desk

These foods can be great to keep at your desk for snacks:

- nuts and seeds
- tuna
- wholegrain crackers
- wholegrain or protein-rich muesli bars
- baked beans
- savoury rice kits
 

Keep a big bowl of fruit on your kitchen bench

Research tells us that you’re more likely to eat foods that are right in front of you. A big fruit bowl at home and at work can be a great reminder to snack on fruit.

It’s also a much cheaper snack. One apple will set you back less than a $1, whereas a hot chocolate will set you back $4.

Plan your snacks for the day

See your snacks as an opportunity for nourishment and a way to include more nutrition into your day.

It’s important to be intentional with your snacks. If you leave them up to chance, you may find yourself reaching for not-so-healthy choices. If you plan your snacks and have them prepped and ready to go, you’ll find it much easier to stay in control of your appetite and your food choices day to day.

Header photo by Fischer Twins on Unsplash

Kate Freeman
Kate Freeman is HRI's resident nutritionist. She is a registered nutritionist from Canberra, Australia and the creator and managing director of the largest private nutrition practice in Canberra, The Healthy Eating Hub. Kate consults, writes, presents and mentors in the field of nutrition and has over 10 years of experience in the industry.
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