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04.Healthy eating on a budget

Slow cooker

Healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables can be more expensive (serving for serving) than potato chips and chocolate bars. But that doesn’t mean you should resign yourself to getting fat if you’re on a budget. Here are 15 tips from CHOICE and Consumer Reports on putting together healthy meals for less.

  • Buy in season This improves your chances of getting the freshest produce, and you avoid paying for shipping. See our list of fruit in season.
  • Try supermarket generics Quality doesn’t always come at a price premium. Some supermarket brands – particularly home-brand staples such as sugar, salt and flour – are often just as good as pricier name brands.
  • Buy frozen produce Frozen fruits and vegetables – often frozen soon after picking – can be more nutritious than “fresh” items from your local supermarket, which may have sat on store shelves for a while. And by using the frozen variety, you don’t have to worry about it spoiling before it’s eaten - fruit and veggies make up the bulk of the $5.2 billion worth of food wasted by Australians every year.
  • Eat pulses such as beans, chickpeas and lentils. They’re inexpensive, versatile and a great source of protein and fibre. Add them to salads, soups, stews and pasta dishes to increase bulk. Canned pulses are the most convenient, but for maximum economy, buy dried.
  • Mix a big fruit salad Squeeze lemon juice over it to stop it going brown, then divide it into individual food-storage containers for breakfast, dessert or a snack each day. Making your own costs much less than buying deli- or store-made fruit salad.
  • Bake a potato With the right additions, it can make a satisfying meal. Add healthy or creative toppings such as cottage cheese, plain yoghurt, beans, low-fat cheese or salsa. Sweet potatoes can offer even more nutrients.
  • Avoid packaged drinks Dilute juice to cut down on kilojoules as well as cost. Don’t buy bottled water – drink tap instead. Invest in a reusable polyethylene (opaque plastic) water bottle to store it.
  • Buy in bulk Buy extra chicken, meat or fish when they’re on special and freeze what you don’t eat straight away. Buy large packages of snacks and re-bag. Buy fruit and veg with a longer shelf life (such as apples, oranges, potatoes and onions) in the large pre-packaged bags rather than a few at a time –but use unit pricing to compare value, as buying in bulk isn’t always the cheapest option.
  • Buy a whole chicken It’s more economical than buying separate breasts, thighs and wings, and you can get a nutrient-packed stock out of it, too. Freeze the pieces you don’t use in individual freezer bags.
  • Put meat and poultry on the side Keep meat and poultry to the recommended serving size of 65g-100g. Fill up your plate with whole grains and in-season or frozen vegetables.
  • Use your scraps Cook leftover meat and vegetables into a frittata, quiche or omelette; eggs are a great source of protein. Use bones, meat or vegetable scraps to make stock. Try our chicken stock recipe.
  • Grow your own veggies  This requires a little time, but can have nice payoffs (including exercise).
  • Know your supermarket Products that make the largest profit margin are usually at eye level in supermarket aisles, so check higher and lower shelves for better bargains. For more tips, see supermarket sales tricks.
  • Plan ahead Avoid impulse buying – make a weekly menu and shopping list and get everything you need in one trip.
  • Cook for the week One-pot meals such as casseroles, pot-roasts, soups and stews use cheaper cuts of meat, and you can divide into portions and take to work for lunch or freeze the remainder for later. Slow cookers are great for one-pot meals.

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