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Updated 25 February 2016

40 tips for cheap and healthy eating

With the rising living costs and sky-rocketing food prices, it is still possible to eat healthily without breaking the bank. Here's how.

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Money is tight and we’re all trying our best to save around every corner. With the rising living costs and sky-rocketing food prices it seems increasingly difficult to eat healthily.

Though many people believe that healthy eating is expensive, it is possible to include a variety of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and protein in your diet without breaking the bank. Here’s how:

Protein

  • The quickest way to cut your groceries bill is by curbing your appetite for red meat. Though protein-rich foods are an important part of your daily meals, it does not only have to be red meat. There are far healthier and less expensive sources available such as chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, beans and pulses.
  • Opt for one meatless day per week. Consider having one or two vegetarian meals per week and experiment with vegetarian sources of protein. Veggie proteins, such as beans and lentils, are quite inexpensive, very nutritious, easy to prepare and taste great.
  • Make the meat in your dishes go further by mixing in kidney beans, mixed beans, lentils or even baked beans. When cooking mince meat add soya, lentils, beans, oat bran and/or vegetables to bulk it out. You can also add beans, lentils, potatoes and other veggies to stews, casseroles and curries. Mix mashed, cooked dried beans with mince or fish to make meat loaf, fish cakes or meatballs.
  • Prepare stews from tough and more affordable cuts of meat. By using moist cooking, these cuts will become more juicy and tender.
  • Tinned fish, such as pilchards and tuna, is usually cheaper than buying fresh fish. Make sure to buy it tinned in water rather than oil as it’s far healthier. Frozen fish also tends to be cheaper than fresh fish, so always compare prices. Making your own fishcakes with pilchards can be very economical. Flake fish and extend it by making a stir fry with rice and vegetables.
  • Whole chicken is cheaper per kilogram. Save money by cutting the chicken up into portions and freezing for later use. Remember to remove the skin and all excess fat if you're avoiding fat.
  • Don’t buy tinned meat and processed cold meats such as polony, salami and viennas. They’re not only expensive, their high sodium and fat content also makes then unhealthy. Rather use tinned fish or left-over chicken for sandwiches and salads.

Fruit and vegetables

  • Don’t cut down on your fruit and vegetable intake. These are “protective foods” that guard against disease. Make sure you still get your 5 - 7 portions of fruits and vegetables a day by buying in season. They are not only much cheaper during their peak growing times, they also taste better. Cook them in different ways to keep your menu varied.
  • Buy vegetables and fruit in bulk from a fresh produce market and share with friends and family. Onions, potatoes, butternut and gem squash are cheaper by the pocket and tomatoes by the box.
  • Stay away from canned fruit and vegetables as these tend to be more expensive and often have unhealthy ingredients added such as sugar and salt.
  • When fruit is very expensive you can save money by buying more vegetables, especially those that are nice to snack on when raw, such as carrots, celery, cucumber, tomatoes and fresh green beans.
  • Don’t dismiss frozen vegetables. Frozen veggies are usually frozen fresh after harvest and can work out cheaper than the fresh produce as you can keep it in the freezer. Just make sure that no sugar or salt was added.
  • Self-selected vegetables and fruit are cheaper per kilogram than those that are pre-packaged for convenience.
  • Retain maximal nutritional value of vegetables by peeling them very thinly with a vegetable peeler.
  • Use vegetable leaves and skin with onions and potatoes in soups or stews. Left-over or wilted vegetables can also be added to soups.
  • Start your own vegetable garden. Grow your favourite veggies and herbs in your backyard or in a container garden and enjoy fresh, organic produce.

Grains and cereals

  • Buy unrefined whole grains as far as possible. Refining makes a product more expensive and strips the food of fibre, vitamins and minerals. Standard Low-GI brown bread is for example often cheaper than white bread, and generally much cheaper than special breads and rolls.
  • Buy porridges that you can cook. Maize meal is the cheapest kind of porridge available in South Africa. Oatmeal and Maltabella are more expensive, but still far healthier and cheaper options than instant cereals and will keep you satisfied for longer.
  • Needless to say, luxuries such cake, biscuits, rusks and potato chips are expensive empty kilojoules which add no value to your health or budget.
  • Though there are often specials to be found on pasta, such as noodles and spaghetti, it’s good to note that other grains such as samp, corn, rice and pearled wheat are often cheaper than pasta.

Read: Why Low-GI bread is the staff of life 

Dairy

  • Milk sold in sachets is generally cheaper than those packaged in plastic bottles or cartons.
  • Use skim-milk powder instead of coffee creamers, tea whiteners or milk blends.
  • Cheaper substitutes like low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese can be used instead of more expensive ingredients like ricotta cheese.
  • Use less cheese in cooking by using a little mustard or cayenne pepper.
  • Use yoghurt, condensed milk and evaporated milk sparingly, as these items can be quite expensive.
  • Buying a large tub of yoghurt often works out cheaper than buying small snack-size containers.

Fats

  • Eat some butter and some soft margarine and some plant oils, but in small quantities
  • Use only a little oil in the preparation of food. Take note that certain foods, like onions, don’t have to be fried in oil. You can simply soften them in a little hot water in your frying pan before adding the other ingredients. 
  • Grill, steam and microwave foods instead of frying them. It's not only healthier, it will also save you from using butter, margarine or oil.

Read: Why you should never cook with sunflower oil

More smart shopping tips

  • Make a shopping list before you go shopping and stick to it to avoid impulse buying.
  • Take your calculator with you on your shopping trip to help you stick to your budget.
  • Never go shopping when you are hungry. Going to the grocery store on an empty stomach will leave you more likely to buy on impulse.
  • Plan a week’s menu in advance and buy accordingly so that you can take advantage of weekly specials. Check out local newspapers for specials and save the discount coupons for extra savings.
  • Compare prices and quality when shopping. Remember that no-name brands and buying items in big sizes are not necessarily cheaper. Scan the supermarket shelves as the more expensive items are usually placed at eye level.
  • Practise portion control and cook just enough for everyone. This will save your rands as well as help your waistline.
  • Experiment with your cooking by using left-overs in other dishes.
  • Pack your own lunch for work. You’ll not only eat healthier food, you’ll be less tempted to raid the vending machine later – a bad move for you both your wallet and waistline.
  • Cut out convenience foods such as soda, cookies, processed foods and pre-packaged meals. They’re both expensive and fattening.
  • If you can’t go without snacking, make your own pre-packed snacks by buying a large packet of raisins, nuts, dried fruit or pretzels and separating them into individual portions yourself. You can also snack on freshly-cut fruits and vegetables.
  • Grow a vegetable garden. Start a plot in your backyard or a container garden on your patio and save money on vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots and radish. You can also start a compact herb garden in small pots by your kitchen window.

Sources:

Nutrition Information Centre of the University of Stellenbosch http://www.sun.ac.za/english/faculty/healthsciences/nicus/Pages/default.aspx
Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa http://www.heartfoundation.co.za/

Read more:

Fruit and veggies: how much is 5-a-day?
Portions sizes: getting it right
27 Ways to eat healthy on a tight budget

 
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