Healthy Eating on a Budget

Eating healthily can seem like it’s so much more expensive than opting for the fast food, frozen meals way of life. The superfood powders, fresh produce, organic meats – it adds up! But it doesn’t have to be this way…

While some people have a knack for producing creative, healthy meals on a budget, there are easy ways to cut down on your food bill and boost your health at the same time.

These smart shopping tips will help you keep your body, your taste buds and your bank account happy!

But it’s too expensive to eat healthily… or is it?

Take one shopping trolley, fill with pre-packaged snacks, frozen chips, frozen pizzas, cans of soft drink, pies, bags of crisps, packets of biscuits, boxes of sugary cereal, and cartons of flavoured milk. Not only have you got yourself a recipe for a heart attack from your food choices – the shock of your grocery bill might do just as much damage!

On the other hand, if you filled the same trolley with fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables, whole grains including brown rice, pasta, cous cous and rolled oats, lean meats, legumes, low-fat milk, whole grain bread, and the occasional chocolate bar, your heart, health, and wallet will be a lot happier.

People tend to think that healthy eating is expensive, but it’s not. Compare the two trolleys of food:

Shopping Trolley 1 Shopping Trolley 2
Chips, multi packs

Crackers, multi packs

Frozen chips

Frozen pizza

Frozen pies

Soft drink cans


Sugary cereal

Flavoured milk

Custard, snack packs


Ice cream

Pre-made meal-to-go

Chocolate bar

Fresh fruit (apples, strawberries, oranges)

Fresh vegetables (broccoli, capsicums, carrots, zucchini)

Brown rice


Whole-grain cereal

Lean beef, diced

Chicken breasts, skin off

Low-fat milk

Tins of beans

Whole-grain bread

Dark chocolate


Total: $70 Total: $50

It’s clear that spending $50 on healthy and nutritious foods is better for both your wallet and your waistline than spending $70 on frozen meals and a couple of snacks and desserts.

The same applies to takeaway meals. A greasy $5.95 hamburger meal no longer looks like such great value when you realise for the same price you could have feasted on chicken, fresh or frozen vegetables and even a punnet of strawberries for dessert.

The true cost of unhealthy eating

Unhealthy eating comes at a high cost to your body, as well as being more expensive.

Many processed foods, such as pre-made meals and takeaway foods, contain high amounts of fat, sodium, preservatives and additives – all designed to make the food last longer on the shelf, look better, or be cheaper to produce. Unfortunately these extras are often added at the expense of the vitamins, minerals and fibre content your body needs to be healthy.

When you’re trying to control your weight, eating foods that are nutritionally dense is important for managing your calorie intake and helping you feel fuller for longer. If you’re swapping fresh fruits and vegetables for frozen pizzas and biscuits, your waistline isn’t going to be happy and you’ll also increase your risk of serious diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

Check out the money you can save and the health benefits to be had by making a few healthy swaps next time you’re at the supermarket.

Unhealthy purchase Healthy alternative Cost saving Health benefit
Frozen chips (1 kg): $3 Potatoes baked in jacket (1 kg): $1.50 $1.50 More: fibre, vitamin C

Less: fat

Flavoured chips, multi-pack (300g): $5 Sultanas, handy-packs (6 x 37g): $2.50 $2.50 More: fibre, B vitamins

Less: fat, sodium

Chocolate biscuits (1 packet): $3 Punnet of strawberries (250g): $2 $1 More: fibre, vitamin C

Less: fat

Soft drink, 10 cans (3.75 L): $10 Bottled water (3.75 L): $2.50 $7.50

(an even bigger saving for tap-water drinkers!)

More: energy, better digestion, appetite suppression

Less: fluid retention, sugar, artificial sweeteners

Crumbed chicken nuggets (500g): $6 Fresh chicken drumsticks (500g): $3 $3 More: protein

Less: preservatives, fat

Coco Pops cereal (785g): $7 Weet-bix (750g): $4 $2.50 More: fibre

Less: sugar

Frozen potato wedges (750g): $3 Frozen mixed vegetables (500g): $2 $1 More: fibre, vitamins, antioxidants

Less: fat, additives, sodium

Frozen roast chicken dinner (one serve): $6 Homemade chicken and vegetable stir-fry (one serve): $3 $3 More: vitamins, antioxidants, fibre

Less: fat, preservatives

Ice cream bar: $2 Reduced-fat yoghurt (200g): $1.50 $0.50 More: calcium

Less: fat, sugar

Packet meal base: $1.60 Dried herbs: $0.75 $0.85 More: natural flavour

Less: sodium, preservatives

Cream-filled lamingtons (6 pack): $4.50 Crumpets (6 pack): $2.50 $2 More: satisfaction

Less: fat, sugar

Macaroni and cheese (200g): $2.50 Baked beans (220g): $1 $1.50 More: fibre, protein

Less: fat, preservatives

Chocolate (250g): $4 Tinned peaches in natural juice (410g): $2 $2 More: fibre, vitamin C

Less: fat

Spaghetti Bolognese with 750g mince: $11.50 Spaghetti Bolognese with 400g mince, plus tinned beans: $9 $2.50 More: fibre

Less: saturated fat

You can save over $30 a week on your groceries just by swapping a few “unhealthy” foods for more nutritious options.

Of course, the real rewards will be the improvements you see in your health, energy levels and your weight!

Ten tips for smart shoppers

Here are some more tried-and-tested ways to get more value from your next shopping trip:

  • Be prepared. Planning your meals out and buying the food you need in advance can prevent you resorting to less healthy options when it comes to dinner time and you’re starving. Keeping pantry staples on hand, like tinned tomatoes, rice, tinned tuna, frozen vegetables and beans, also means you’ll always have something you can work with. With a few basic ingredients you can whip up a budget-friendly, low-calorie meal in no time.
  • Shop from a list. Make a shopping list and stick to it! Planning what you need to buy stops impulse purchases, like the tub of chocolate ice cream on sale. Don’t forget to list healthy foods for lunches and snacks. By packing your own lunch and kicking your morning latte-and-muffin habit you could save yourself upwards of $2000 a year!
  • Stick to the outside of the supermarket. In most supermarkets you’ll find the basics in the outside aisles – milk, vegetables and fruits, meat and bread. The inner aisles usually contain things like confectionary, chips and snack foods. Don’t tempt yourself by venturing down the aisles you don’t need anything from.
  • Buy in bulk. Items such as meat, potatoes and carrots are cheaper per kilo when you buy a larger quantity. Freeze any extras if possible, or split large purchases with friends or family. Likewise, you can make your own single-serve portions of snack foods by dividing up a more economical, larger packet as soon as you get home from the supermarket – save money and protect your waistline.
  • Get a leg-up with legumes. Legumes (beans and lentils) are tasty, versatile and cheap. At only 70 – 130 calories per 75g serving, you can fill up without fattening up. Soaking and cooking dried beans and lentils is the cheapest option, but tinned legumes are also economical. Just be mindful of the sodium content of some brands.
  • Use those veggies. Halve the amount of meat in recipes and add additional vegetables. More veggies means extra fibre, less saturated fat, and more antioxidants and vitamins for your body, plus more dollars in your pocket! Stir-fries, Bolognese and lasagne are all good dishes to try this tip.
  • Grow your own. Nothing beats the taste of home-grown vegetables and fruits. If you’ve only got a small yard or courtyard, look for varieties that grow well in pots. If they’re right there in your garden, you’ll have no excuse not to snack on a freshly-picked mandarin or carrot!
  • Buy in-season. Buying out-of-season fruits and vegetables often results in an expensive, imported products that can be disappointingly tasteless. Choose recipes that hero seasonal produce and enjoy the good taste and cheaper prices. Instead of spending money on chocolate bars, treat yourself to the more exotic fruits when they come into season, like mangoes, raspberries, custard apples, lychees and pineapple.
  • Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry. A sure-fire way to end up with expensive, high-calorie extras in your trolley is to visit the supermarket on an empty stomach! You’re better able to make sensible decisions if your stomach isn’t steering you towards the chocolate aisle.
  • Make it from scratch. Preparing a dish yourself rather than buying the pre-made version will usually save you money and calories. You can use low-calorie cooking methods to make your meal healthier, plus you’ll be doing your body a favour by skipping the preservatives and additives that are used to keep pre-prepared meals fresh.

Healthy meals in minutes

One of the biggest reasons we spend unnecessary money on unhealthy foods is because we’re pushed for time. The best way to avoid this is to have a few super-fast and cheap but healthy meals on hand you can resort to when you’re short on time.

These five ideas can each be prepared in less than the time it takes to get in your car and drive to the nearest fast food joint – and they taste better too!

1. Swish Fish

One of the fastest meals around, fish only takes a few minutes either side to cook, and is packed with omega-3s to support heart health and inflammation. You can jazz fish up by sprinkling it with herbs or spices before grilling or barbecuing. While the fish is cooking, prepare a crunchy salad to go with it.

2. Veggie Pasta

Put a pot of pasta on to cook. When the pasta is about 3 or 4 minutes from cooked, throw some broccoli florets, sliced red capsicum and frozen peas into the same pasta pot. Once everything is cooked, drain the whole pot and divide into serving bowls. Top each serve with tinned tuna and a sprinkling of low-fat grated cheese.

3. Speedy Pizza

Spread a piece of Lebanese bread (or Turkish bread or English muffins) with a little tomato paste, and top with your favourite low-calorie toppings. Try diced capsicum, tomato, mushrooms, lean ham, sliced olives, fresh basil or oregano. Finish with a sprinkling of grated low-fat cheese, and bake until the cheese is melted and browned. Serve with a side salad.

4. Fruity Chicken Salad

Make a salad with your favourite vegetables. Top with shredded barbecue chicken (skin and stuffing removed) and your favourite in-season fruit, such as orange segments, mango slices, crisp apple pieces or grapes. Sprinkle with a few chopped nuts and drizzle with a little fat-free dressing or lime juice.

5. Deliziosa Pasta

While your pasta is cooking, sauté some diced onion, sliced celery, and crushed garlic. Add tinned tomatoes, drained tinned red kidney beans, sliced black olives and chopped chilli (if you like it hot). When your sauce has reduced and thickened a little, stir through some fresh basil. Top with sauce, and sprinkle with a little Parmesan cheese.

For other economical, speedy and healthy recipes, check out the Recipe section. You’ll find a recipe to suit every taste, budget and time constraint.

It’s time to start investing in your health, your budget and your savings!

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