Eating on a budget

2014-04-24 00:00

IT seems that the only prices coming down lately are the so-called termination rates between cellphone networks. With the rising cost of food, is it still possible to eat healthily on a tight budget?

The supermarket is certainly the place to start improving your diet and making better food choices. However, the price of fresh vegetables, fruits, lean cuts of meat and most other groceries may tempt you to buy what is perceived as the cheaper, less healthy options. I say “perceived as healthier” because when we don’t pay attention to a healthy lifestyle, we often spend more money on doctors’ visits and medications.

Here are a few ways that good planning can help cut costs.

• Avoid unnecessary spending by planning your meals ahead of time and making a shopping list for the items you need to buy. Stay out of the aisles that don’t have items on your list (usually the tempting luxuries).

• Try not to shop when you are hungry or rushed for time. This will help you to avoid unnecessary purchases and also allow you time to compare prices, making the most cost-effective choices.

• Buying items in bulk and stocking up when groceries are on sale can save many rands at the end of the day.

There are many low-cost ways to improve your vegetable and fruit intake without blowing your food budget.

• Buy fresh produce that is in season. At the moment (autumn) you may find that apples, pears, pineapples, grapefruit, papaya and watermelon are more reasonably priced. Seasonal vegetables at the moment are brinjals, beetroot, peppers, hubbard squash, turnips and radishes. Oranges, naartjies and pumpkins will arrive with winter.

• Buy fresh fruits and vegetables in amounts that you will be able to use before they spoil. However, if you do have more than you can use, almost any leftover vegetable can be turned into a soup by cooking it up with a little stock and blending. Overripe fruit can be used in smoothies or baking.

• Buy fresh foods at a farmers’ market. They are usually fresher, as well as far cheaper.

• Frozen vegetables contain just as many vital vitamins and minerals as their fresh counterparts. Stock up on frozen vegetables when they are on sale.

• Vegetables and fruits in their natural form are far cheaper than ready-to-cook items. Being willing to spend a little more time preparing the food at home will yield dramatic savings.

• Plant your own at home. Tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, green beans and various herbs are great for beginner gardeners (like me). This is also a great way to encourage your children to eat more vegetables. Let them water the plants and help you pick the vegetables for dinner.

Save time as well as money on those busy days by cooking in advance and freezing meals. It is relatively simple to make large quantities of stews, casseroles and soups when you have the time, and freeze portions for those crazy days when you would be tempted to grab a takeaway.

Save on your meat bill by making use of any variety of beans you can — baked beans, chickpeas, cannellini beans and kidney beans. Buying the dried version is the cheapest way, but even tinned beans bought on sale are very cheap meat replacements. Adding beans to meat dishes extends the meal and allows you to use far less meat. I often suggest to my patients that they add dried soya mince to their mince dishes to extend the meal dramatically. Even my most sceptical patients have been pleasantly surprised by how delicious this can be.

The effort spent planning and preparing a healthy diet is effort well-spent. A little creativity can make your rands go a long way.

• Sharon Hultzer is a consulting

dietitian. She can be reached at

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