Healthy eating on a budget

“I want to eat healthier, but it’s just too expensive.” Have you said this before? Many people feel that the price of food is the biggest deterrent to healthy eating. Would it surprise you that it can be done? You can be healthy on a budget! Here’s how:

Convenience costs

Avoid using convenience foods as you pay for the convenience. Rather cook meals from scratch, cook in bulk and freeze meals to save both time and money.

Planning is key

Plan your meals in advance and make a shopping list and stick to the list. By doing this you won’t buy unnecessary food items. Your wastage will also be less because you have planned meals using the items that you purchased.

Buy bulk

Buy certain non-perishables in bulk, saving on packaging costs and reducing your trips to the supermarket. Basic food items that can be bought in bulk include pasta, rice, oatmeal, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, cereals, tinned foods and beans.

Shop seasonally

Always shop for produce that is in season for the best prices. Food packages may state when a food is in season. Alternatively, there are charts available online you can refer to.

Less expensive fruits and vegetables to look out for are apples, bananas, oranges, naartjies, sweet melon, cabbage, carrots, pumpkin, butternut, tomato, onions and spinach. Purchasing them whole and not pre-cut is also less expensive.

Pro plant proteins

Add vegetable sources of protein, such as lentils, beans and chickpeas, to your meat dishes to stretch the meal, as meat is often the most expensive part of a grocery bill. Extending this purchase to serve more meals can make a big difference. Try adding chickpeas to a Chicken à la King, beans to a stew, or lentils to Cottage Pie.

Meat-free meals

Plant-based proteins are much more affordable than meat, chicken or fish. Start with one dinner a week being meat-free and slowly increase from there. Delicious vegetarian meal ideas are Mexican bean bowls, chickpea mushroom stroganoff, bean burgers, lentil dhal, bean and butternut curry and more.

Pack lunch

Take a few minutes every evening to pack a healthy lunch and snack box for yourself and the family. Some examples are a tuna sandwich with lite mayo and a handful of cherry tomatoes, or a ham and mushroom omelette or chickpea curry with brown rice.

Snack wisely

Snacks, such as granola bars, chips, chocolates, and sweets, can add up quickly and cost more than fresh food. Rather snack on fresh fruit, boiled eggs, veggie sticks, like carrot or cucumber, and homemade popcorn.

Frozen is fine

Frozen vegetables are still rich in vitamins, mineral, fibre and low in calories. There is not a notable difference between fresh and frozen composition. The key is how you cook the frozen veg. If you over-cook the vegetables, they will lose their nutrient value.

Be water wise

Drinks can be the fastest and sneakiest way to increase grocery spend. Avoid drinking fruit juices, cold drinks, and energy drinks. Aim to drink water most of time, as it’s free.

Still need convincing?

Maybe you still aren’t quite convinced about healthy eating on a budget. Let’s crunch some numbers. A bought lunch of a burger, packet of chips and a snack bar can cost you about R40-R80. A homemade egg mayonnaise sandwich with a fresh apple and homemade popcorn will cost you R9-R12 in total. It’s possible to eat healthier on a budget with effort and planning.


Jessica Pieterse is a registered dietitian and owner of Dish Up Dietitians. She practices in Edenvale, Johannesburg and has a special interest in women’s health and gut health.

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