Noy Pullen shares how to save with simple tips to keep costs down when eating healthy.

Simple tips to keep down costs of healthy eating




Health starts with me

As food prices rise so does the obesity rate and prevalence of diabetes. It affects everyone. The secret to the success of the Agents for Change project is that we have found that ‘good health starts with me’.

At Agents for Change, we do not preach about healthy eating but rather practise it. We make freshly-prepared platters during our courses. Not the usual muffins or fluffy white sandwiches served for tea at most course venues. The participants can also help prepare the food.

We show that healthy food is much cheaper than regular processed food. Being part of this process, people find it exciting to discover a different perspective and are motivated to make changes.

How we demonstrate lower costs of healthy meals

  1. VAT-free meals

When most ingredients for your meals are grains and pulses (beans, lentils, etc.), vegetables and fruit you can save 15% on a meal.

Ideas using mainly VAT-free ingredients

Here are some of our most popular prepared dishes to try at home, or to demonstrate live at support group meetings. Most of the ingredients are VAT-free; dishes are refreshing and colourful.

Beetroot and apple combo

Less than R10 per bunch, VAT-free beetroot is one of the healthiest VAT-free foods you can eat. This recipe is enough for a family of five.

  • Take a bunch of beetroots. Boil until soft. Peel after cooking and grate with a coarse grater.
  • Grate two medium raw carrots into this (fine grater).
  • Add two grated apples (coarse grater) and the rind of a lemon (fine grater) and the juice of a lemon. (Apples lower the glycaemic index of a dish and the lemon replaces sugar or vinegar that conventional recipes ask for).
  • Mix together thoroughly and serve.

Cabbage and raisin combo

Less than R10 for half a VAT-free cabbage, cabbage is one of the cheapest fresh products on the market.

  • Grate half a small cabbage (coarse grater).
  • Add a handful of raisins and Ina Paarman’s Lemon and Black Pepper or Green Onion seasoning.
  • Mix together half a cup of full cream yoghurt (to give a creamy texture), half a cup of smooth cottage cheese
    and two tablespoon regular mayonnaise.
  • Combine all the ingredients and leave to stand for a few hours.

Banana and apple combo

This salad is very popular with men as it complements a braai.

  • Mix half a cup of mayonnaise with two tablespoons of curry powder and a quarter cup of chutney. Add more if needed. This combination stops the banana and apple from turning brown.
  • Cut up five bananas into slices and coat with the mayonnaise mixture to prevent them going brown.
  • Cut two apples into small blocks and add to the mixture. Apple lowers the GI of the salad.

Fruit platter

This adds colour and variety, and is economical.

  • Choose any two fruits that complement each other.
  • We love to put grapes on toothpicks and introduce them to the children as balloons. Or stick a grape on a toothpick as a head, add a naartjie segment for the arms and you have created a little person. You can make 10 little figures from 1 naartjie.
  • Make a sailboat from half a strawberry and a block of pawpaw.

Meat platter

  • Choose a good quality meat, like chicken viennas or grilled boerewors. Cut into 2cm slices, and stick on a toothpick with blocks of cucumber and/or radish rings and/or mini tomatoes. This makes the meat go further and adds fibre and colour.
  1. Low-GI dumpy bread

During our courses, we introduce the low-GI dumpy seeded bread which we serve with peanut butter. This bread costs a rand or so more than fluffy brown or white bread.

We know that many of our participants are used to taking four slices when they serve themselves. So, we invite them to take only one slice with the other dishes offered. We assure them that if they still feel hungry after they have finished, they are welcome to come back for more bread.

Nearly all participants are amazed how full they feel after one slice. So, even though it costs more per loaf, you eat half of what you are used to. So, you actually save. It is simply a matter of becoming conscious of your old traditional eating habits and testing them.

  1. Sugar

When we have our tea break, we invite participants to think of how much sugar they use. We ask them to do an experiment for two days – to halve their sugar intake. After this experiment, many of them wonder why they ever took so much sugar. They find they can get used to less sugar. So, they halve their sugar bill.

  1. Oil or fat

The healthy portion guide ( Zimbabwe Hand Jive) shows that one portion of fat or oil is the size of your thumb nail (1 tablespoon). If you use this per person when you are frying your meat, onions, eggs or cabbage, you are going to save on cooking oil.

Note to support group leaders 

When planning a support group demonstration, make a list of the ingredients and go to your local supermarket and tell them what you want to achieve. Ask them if they can donate some or all the ingredients for your demonstration

Have the ingredients ready at your venue and divide participants into groups. Give each group one of the recipes/platters to make. When all the dishes have been completed take photos of them and let everyone enjoy tasting the others’ dishes. Celebrate low GI, low cost food together. The participants will remember these dishes because they helped to make them and taste them.

  1. Portion sizes

The Zimbabwe Hand Jive is a simple method of portion control1. Dr Kazzim Mawji, from Zimbabwe, invented this technique to help people living with diabetes work out their own individual portion sizes. Each of us has our own body structure on which this guide is based.

The Zimbabwe Hand Jive is used all over the world and is recognised by the International Diabetes Federation. Many people are confused by terms, like kilojoules or calories. Some people are illiterate and concepts like these mean nothing to them.

Participants at Agents for Change are each given the Hand Jive guide to simplify the concept and introduce an element of fun. It is an ideal way to introduce portions to a support group.

You use your own hands as a measurement tool to gauge appropriate portion sizes of starch, fats, proteins and vegetables. A well-rounded meal includes one of each of the following:

  • Palm = 1 portion of protein (meat/poultry).
  • Whole hand – 1 portion of fish.
  • Closed fist = 1 portion of carbohydrates (grains & starches).
  • Thumb = 1 portion (tablespoon) of fat-heavy foods (peanut butter).
  • Cupped hands = 1 portion of fruit or vegetables.

Depending on your lifestyle e.g. a very active brick layer, you may need more than one portion of each food group. But if you sit behind a wheel or desk, one portion would probably suffice. Eating according to portion sizes will save you money.

If you get used to the right portions consciously, you will save. And you will feel slimmer, lighter and healthier.

  1. Take-away vs healthy options

Many of our participants enjoy junk food. When they crave a litre of fizzy sugary cool drink, we encourage them to do an experiment: to make a jug of cold water infused with slices of lemon, mint or cucumber and drink that.

Then take the money they would have spent on the cool drink and drop it into a saving box. They can then decide what they would like to spend this money on when there is enough saved.

Do the same with take-aways. Opt for a healthy economical home-prepared meal and drop the money you save into the box. In this way, you are rewarding yourself for your smart choices. Before you know it, you will have a little nest egg to spend on something worthwhile.

  1. Gardening

When you peel your potatoes, what do you do with your peels? You have paid for them at the supermarket. You also pay for your carrot tops, beetroot leaves and egg shells. Do you throw them away or invest in the future of your vegetable patch?

Our booklet Gardening is Child’s Play gives a guide on how to make a healthy compost heap. It would be ready after about three months. We call compost black gold because it helps you to grow your own food. Healthier, cheaper and accessible. Even if you do not have any land or watering facilities, one can plant a small ‘plastic packet’ garden.

Sprouts are a very good source of micro-nutrients. You are shown how to grow healthy lentil sprouts, using brown or black lentils from the supermarket. At a fraction of the cost of ready packaged sprouts. You can use these sprouts to add fibre and nutrients to any dish, hot or cold. Because you don’t have to cook them, you save on electricity as well

Change starts with a single step. Enjoy the fruits of your savings.



Please contact Noy Pullen if you would like more information: [email protected] or 072 258 7132.



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