Prices are going up...petrol, interest rates, groceries. It makes you wonder where it is all going to end!
So, to help you save your hard-earned cash, I've put together some of my BEST tips for how to stay healthy (and most importantly, continue to eat delicious food!) without breaking your budget.
I firmly believe that healthy eating doesn't have to be complex, time-consuming or expensive - and with a few simple tweaks we can make life easy and enjoy better health.
Below are some of the tips that I cover in the video - and others are an expanded version of what I've talked about. Please keep in mind that this article is a bit of a brain dump...there is a fair bit of info that I cover, and as such there's no need to implement ALL of these at once. Start small, find the 1-2 tips that resonate the most with you at this point in time and make those a habit first.
Here we go...
1) HOME COOKING TIPS
- Check out free resources - websites like taste.com.au, Facebook groups (e.g. slow cooker groups, fermenting groups), YouTube or the library. There are plenty of great places you can find inspiration, learn the basics or a put a new spin on a favourite dish.
- Set aside some time each week to create a meal plan – even if it is just for dinners! This is one of the most under-utilized, yet time- and money-saving habits you can get into, and it’s something I encourage all my patients to do as a cornerstone of their health restoration plan. You can use an app, such as ‘Paprika’, or a handwritten version. In our household, we use a tear-off magnetic pad that lives on our fridge, and I write meal ideas for the week ahead on it on a Sunday. This also helps us to make use of leftovers, as I can plan how I am going to use them up in advance.
- Kill two birds with the one stone. If you can get two jobs done in the same time as one takes, so much the better! I often make use of my oven while I have a dish cooking – I’ll either pop a whole butternut pumpkin in on the side to cook (it’s great for using in fritters, pasta or mash the next day) or some cut up vegetables like sweet potato or carrot to use cold in lunches.
- Cook in batches where you can. This is a no-brainer, and all it takes is a little planning. After all, for many meals it’s just as easy to cook a double or triple portion as it is to make one serve. Cooking 1-2 meals in larger batches and freezing the leftovers (if you have the freezer space) means that within a few weeks you’ll have a fantastic ‘library’ of quick go-to meals when you need something in a hurry. Meals that freeze well include:
Spaghetti bolognaise sauce (plus it’s easy to hide veggies like grated carrot or zucchini!)
Rissoles (make raw and freeze in individual portions)
2) MINIMISING WASTE
- Try growing your own fresh herbs instead of purchasing bunches as you need them. At $3-$5 a bunch (and let’s face it, you’ll likely throw a good bit away) these can get expensive quickly. If you’ve got a spare pot or bare patch in the garden, you can pop a seedling or two in for a ready supply of fresh flavour. Here’s what I find useful to grow:
Rosemary (this is great if you don’t have a green thumb, as it’s very difficult to kill)
Mint (grow it in a pot if you can, as it can overrun a garden)
Oregano or marjoram
- Buy seasonal where you can. It’s better for you, and usually cheaper. As it’s difficult these days (with food available year-round) to know what IS actually in season at any given time, I’ve created this handy list for you to refer to.
- Make use of frozen fruit & veg if the final result won’t suffer. For instance, in soups, vegetable bakes, casseroles etc, texture isn’t too much of an issue, and you can safely use frozen veg in place of fresh. Frozen veggies are often significantly cheaper than fresh, they don’t have the market variations so the price is usually fairly constant. plus they’ve been snap-frozen which means that a lot of the nutrients are retained. And they have the added benefit that you use only what you need at the time - so you won’t end up with those odds & ends that inevitably get thrown away.
- Repurpose your leftovers. Can you make a curry or casserole with leftover roast meat? A fritter with leftover baked vegetables, or pop some mashed root vegetables (like sweet potato, parsnip etc) on top of the remains of a dish and call it a pie?
- Take another look at the bits you usually throw away. For instance:
9 times out of 10, you don’t need to peel potatoes. The skins contain fibre and nutrients, and adds texture to mashed potatoes, soups or stews.
You can use the green part of a leek. I actually only learnt this recently – I had previously cut the green leafy section off and thrown it out so I only had the white part left! But all you need to do to make use of the green part is to slice it up a little thinner, on account of it being a bit tougher. Once it’s cooked, you won’t know the difference.
Save fresh ginger peelings to make a ginger tea. Or, try peeling it with a spoon instead if you’d prefer to simply minimize the off-cuts in the first place.
- Make friends with your freezer. If it’s a bit of a mess, get it organised and whipped into shape first, so you've got lots of room to work with and it's easy to find what you're looking for (you’ll thank yourself later). Here are a few foods you may not realise you can actually freeze:
Cooked rice – great to add to make a quick fried rice
Cheese odds & ends, or grated cheese – these can be used on bakes as they are going to melt anyway
Filled pastas (tortellini, etc) – not something I’d recommend eating all the time, but they are very handy to have on hand for those days where you just need something ready in 5 minutes!
Mashed avocado – freeze in muffin or ice cube trays. The texture will change a bit, so it is best used as guacamole once defrosted
Wraps – toss the whole packet in the freezer, and take out what you need as you need them. They defrost in about 2 minutes flat
Celery leaves for stock
Leftover shredded cooked meat or chicken – great for adding to soups or quick stir-fries
Cooked pulses like chickpeas or black beans
Breadcrumbs – whiz up stale bread & freeze
Fresh herbs – ginger, lemongrass, chillis
3) SPEND MONEY TO SAVE MONEY?
- Assess your equipment. For instance, are your pots & pans in good nick, or do these heat unevenly and the food sticks? And there’s no need to necessarily purchase new – perhaps you have friends or family members who may have serviceable equipment lying around that they are no longer using (e.g. grandma may have some great cast iron pans that have become to heavy for her to use regularly).
- Consider a slow-cooker if you don’t already have one. These are a great way to save both time and money, as you can cook cheaper cuts of meat, as well as cook in bulk if you want to. Here are some of the meals we make in ours:
Roasting cuts of meat (great to use as leftovers)
- Think about the cuts of meat you purchase. For instance, it is cheaper to buy a whole chicken than it is to buy the same weight in individual cuts, as you are paying for the time the butcher has spent. Roast a whole chicken and use the leftovers in meals over the next few days. Or can you go halves or thirds with friends in a bulk 'economy' pack from your local butcher?
- Mince is versatile, freezes well and often cheaper to purchase in larger quantities. If it’s more than you are likely to use, consider sharing with a friend or two to spread the cost.
4) PACK A NUTRIENT PUNCH
- Do you overlook legumes? These little powerhouses are rich in fibre, protein, vitamins & minerals, and are as cheap as chips. Whilst you can of course buy them canned, they really are a LOT nicer (and more economical) if you cook them from dried. I find, when I am working with patients in the clinic, that most people don’t use them simply because they are unsure how to cook them (or they think that canned are as good as they get!). This is a shame, because legumes are a great way to bulk up a meal and make them more filling whilst still contributing valuable nutritional value. Once cooked, you can freeze them in portions that can be quickly added to soups, stews or defrosted to use in dips or tossed through a salad. If you are unsure how to cook them, a quick Google search will provide you with plenty of tips – and please remember that for safety most varieties (other than red lentils) need to be soaked prior to cooking, and the water discarded.
- Swap frozen chips for a homemade version. Pre-packed frozen fries and wedges often contain additives and unhealthy oils. You can easily make your own from potatoes (leave the skin on!), sweet potatoes or even other vegetables like parsnip or zucchini. Toss in a little olive oil and salt (add some herbs or spices if you like – onion powder and smoked paprika or Italian herbs work well) and pop in the oven or air-fryer.
- Make a jam-jar dressing. Commercial salad dressings like mayonnaise or aoli usually use oils that are best avoided, such as canola oil. It is very easy to make your own by simply mixing the following:
Light tasting olive oil, flaxseed or macadamia oil (3 parts)
Balsamic vinegar or lemon/lime juice (1 part)
Salt & cracked pepper to taste
Optional flavours – chilli, garlic, herbs, mustard etc
- Revisit old-school desserts. You know the type – those that Grandma used to make! Not only are fruit-based desserts delicious (you may have forgotten just how much!), they can be cheap AND provide a nutrient boost. Try things like:
Apple crumble or baked apples
Warm fruit sauce – gently heat frozen mango, blueberries or raspberries in a saucepan, stirring, until warmed through. This goes well with Greek yoghurt or homemade pancakes (we like ours made on almond flour – delicious!)
Frozen fruit whip – pineapple and mango go well blended together
Grilled peaches or nectarines
Strawberries dipped in dark chocolate
5) MAKE IT TASTY
- Make friends with herbs & spices. There’s no need to purchase most pre-made blends – not only are they more expensive, they can also include undesirable ingredients like sugar or oils. Instead, make your own blends from the individual herbs themselves. There are plenty of recipes freely available on the internet, and a little bit goes a long way. If you don’t have many base flavours in the pantry, start adding a new herb or spice to your collection every week or two. Here are some of my favourites:
Rock salt/salt flakes
Curry powders – Indian, Malaysian
Chinese five spice
- Homemade curry pastes are quick, easy to make and delicious – they kick the jar version out of the park for flavour, plus they freeze well in muffin trays. Thai-style recipes usually include ingredients like fresh lemongrass, ginger, garlic and chilli, and can be quickly thrown in a pan with some protein (chicken, prawns etc), vegetables and a can of coconut milk for a quick mid-week meal.
- Check out your local Asian or Indian grocery store. Not only are these fascinating places to visit just for the different spin on food), often you can source your ingredients for a lot cheaper compared to buying in the supermarket. The good thing about many herbs & spices is that they rarely go off – you may just need to use a bit more as they lose potency over time – so it often makes sense to buy in bulk. Split the cost of a pack with a friend if a bulk size packet is too much for you to use on your own.
- Make your own stock paste. This can be a vegetable, chicken or meat stock, and it is a fantastic way to add a lovely depth of flavour to foods like soups and casseroles. Usually you only need to add a tablespoon or so to create the equivalent of a few cups of stock, and it keeps well in the freezer if you’ve added enough salt. Check out recipes on the internet with a quick Google search.
6) AVOIDING THE TAKEAWAY TRAP
- Have a list of ‘go-to’ meals readily available – these are quick recipe ideas that you can call on at a moment’s notice, on those days when you don’t feel very enthusiastic about cooking/you’ve had a big day at work/the kids are sick/you are coming up to your period! These meals can be ready in less time than it would take you to go down and collect a pizza (or for your Uber Eats to arrive) – and you KNOW you’ll feel a lot better afterwards. Keep your list in a prominent place (like on your fridge) if this scenario happens a lot! Here are a few of my favourites:
Omelette with veggies
Legume pasta with stir-through sauce, topped with cheese
Raid that freezer stash of pre-prepared batch meals that you can heat up quickly
Mini pizzas made with onions, mushrooms, sliced zucchini and olives on wholemeal pita bread
Tray-bake – onions, capsicum, zucchini etc with chicken thighs
Quick soup using frozen cauliflower, corn or broccoli
Quesadillas – use a wrap, can 4-bean mix, cheese, onion/capsicum and mashed avo
- Meal plan. As mentioned earlier, this is the #1 way to save money and time – plus it’s the best way to stay on track with eating well. Set aside some time to work out in advance what dinners will look like, and keep your plans as once you have 3-4 weeks worth of plans, they can be recycled if you wish.