Eating well on a budget

Eating on a budget isn't usually thought to be synonymous with eating a nourishing, healthy diet. When we think of budget meals we often think of white bread, sausages and 2-minute noodles (surely that's not just me?!), and on the other hand a healthy diet is thought to be filled with chia seeds and a variety of other super expensive superfoods. But this doesn't have to be the case. If you ditch, or cut down on, the overpriced superfoods and base your diet around real food, you can have a healthy, nourishing diet that's actually quite cheap. Don't get me wrong, I'm also a fan of chia seeds and the rest, but they aren't a necessary requirement in having a good diet, and you can definitely get better bang for your nutrition buck, so to speak.

Below are 5 tips to help you spend less on your healthy diet. It may require more thought and time to plan and prepare meals, but it's all about how you choose to prioritise your time, and cooking's fun didn't ya know! 

1-  Eat legumes and beans - legumes are great! They're high in dietary fibre, have a low GI (which means steady energy, and feeling satisfied for longer after eating), and are a good source of protein and a range of vitamins and minerals. And perhaps their best quality: they're dirt cheap! Tinned beans and lentils are cheap, but the cheapest are the dried variety. Buy them from a supermarket, or bulk food store (think Naked Foods), then soak and cook them yourself (this will make them easier to digest and the nutrients more bioavailable, blog coming soon).

Try using lentils as the protein source in some of your meals in place of meat, and watch your food dollars go further. Try adding lentils to your next salad, they taste good with just about any vegetable. My personal favourite is a beetroot, lentil and feta salad.  

2- Eat seasonally - Choosing to eat seasonal produce offers a range of benefits, both to our wallets and to our health. Seasonal foods are cheaper to buy, as they are at the peak of their supply. It costs less to grow, store and distribute this produce, and this is passed on to the consumer. It also reduces the distance your food has travelled, which is better for the environment.  

Eating seasonal foods offers a natural diversity in our diets, as the variety of fruits and vegetables we eat changes with the season. This is a great way to ensure we are getting a range of different nutrients throughout the year. 

Seasonal foods are also at the peak of the season, which means they will be fresher and taste better than produce that has been in cold storage for 8 months, or has been shipped around the world to get to you. Shopping seasonally also supports local farmers and growers which is great for the local economy. 

This is a great guide to seasonal produce in Australia. 

3- Bulk up with cheap vegetables - Not only will bulking up your cooking with veggies add a nutritional edge to your meals, it will also mean you've got more of it. It's a no brainer - add more veggies, have more dinners (or lunches, or both!). Try adding extra grated carrot to bolognese, pumpkin and sweet potato to curries, cauliflower to soups, and potato to your next frittata or scrambled eggs.  

4- Use cheaper cuts of meat - Not all cuts of meat are priced equally, furthermore, the price of meat can vary quite a lot depending on where you purchase it. Cheap cuts of meat are by no meats 'bad' cuts of meat, some of these cuts of meat are even more flavourful than their more expensive counterpart, but they just take slightly more thought in preparing to have a well cooked meal. For example; instead of always choosing chicken breast, why not try chicken drumsticks instead? Or better yet, roast a whole chicken. It's super easy, relatively cheap, and you'll have roast chicken to use in a variety of meals, for a couple of people for days.

Feel like red meat? No worries! Swap your regular steak for a healthy beef burger. Mince is quite cheap and you can usually get the option of a lean variety if you're worried about the fat content. Or try pork mince to mix it up, it's usually just as cheap and naturally lower in fat. 

Use a slow cooker to turn cheap cuts of meat (blade steak, chuck steak, silverside, chicken drumsticks, lamb forequarter etc.) in to a tender and tasty dinner. This is a great way to cook because you can add a lot of vegetables to the slow cooker, add you meat, leave it to cook, and when you come home from work you'll have a delicious dinner and lunch for the next day or two, and minimal washing up, what's not to love?! Here is a good guide for the best meat to use in a slow cooker and a bunch of recipes.

5- Buy local - This is a good idea for a few different reasons (supporting the local economy, fresher produce, a stronger connection to the food we are eating etc.) but for the purpose of this post I will focus on price. While big supermarkets may appear to a more cost-effective way to buy fruits and vegetables, this may not actually be the case.

A recent study has found a strong correlation between an average store size and national obesity prevalence, the larger the average supermarkets in a country, the higher the rates of obesity. There are a range of explanations for this including: big shopping trolleys promoting larger shopping trips; shoppers urged to buy a larger quantity of something because of price; being overwhelmed by choice, so we may be lured into buying things we weren't intending on buying, and the list goes on.

This means that although some fruits and vegetables may be cheaper at the supermarket, we're likely to do a larger shop not as regularly, and the produce will often spoil before we've had a chance to use it. Which is food, and money, being wasted. The grocery bill will also probably end up being more, because supermarkets are amazing at enticing us into buying more products than we originally intended, which often aren't the most nutritious options either. 

Enter buying local. When we buy local, although the price may be slightly more (I actually find it is cheaper for meat), we generally only buy what we will need for the week because we have to haul it around the markets. It is also generally fresher, and I find that depending on where I buy my vegetables from they can last well for 1-2 weeks no problem. I also feel like there is more of a connection with the food and the grower, so you are (or I am, anyway) less inclined to throw food out. Buying the fresh food that you need and will use, plus less food wastage, it's a win win! In Canberra we are lucky enough to have the Capital Region Farmers Market every weekend at EPIC, so why not check it out this Saturday!    

Eating well on a budget is definitely doable, and you don't have to compromise on taste or quality. I'd love to know what your cost-effective tips are for eating well in the comments below!