There is a commonly held belief that healthy eating equates to a hugely expensive commitment.
Indeed fresh foods, nuts, numerous specialty ingredients and organic produce can really add to the weekly grocery bill. The good news is that you don't necessarily need to spend a fortune to eat a very healthy diet. Rather you need to know a few tricks dietitians (like me) use to get maximum health impact for a minimal spend.
1) Plan two meals each week
The simple act of planning a couple of meals each week can be enough to save you plenty of coin over the course of a week. When we plan a meal or two in advance, not only are we able to use bulk ingredients such as vegetables that can be used in multiple dishes, but we avoid going to the supermarket on extra occasions which inevitably saves as from the tempting impulse buy.
Ideally your staple weekly meals will also be able to be then used as lunch leftovers which again helps with further savings. Popular family meals such as stir fries with brown rice, mince with pasta, tacos or lettuce cups or pies work well as dual meal options that also freeze well.
2) Order your staples online
Much extra money is spent when we go to the supermarket, late in the day, hungry and more likely to purchase strategically placed grocery items we do not really need.
Even if you like to purchase your fresh produce regularly, simply placing an online order for weekly staples such as grains, frozen vegetables, tinned goods, sauces, seasonings and spreads ensures you always have the basics for meals on hand, minus numerous extra trips to the grocery store.
3) Make meals go twice the distance
Generally speaking we cook far more than we need, and purchase much more food than we ever eat. The best way to deal with this scenario is to use whole serves of vegetables with your meals and then use the extra servings or leftovers of meals for lunches.
Not only do homemade lunches contain significantly fewer calories than lunches we order in cafes and food courts but they are filling and save plenty of dollars over the course of the week.
4) Stop wasting money on food
Consider how much money you spend on a lunch from a food court, or dinner picked up at the local Thai takeaway. Chances are if you pick up a take away at least once each week you are throwing away $20-$30 on a single meal, when you can easily make a meal for four, with leftovers for lunch with that same amount of money.
The same can be said for spending extra money on food staples such as grains, breakfast cereal, sauces, crackers and frozen produce from mainstream supermarkets when you can spend far less at discounted grocery outlets or purchasing these foods unbranded or in bulk.
5) Go to local markets
Chances are if you do some research you will be able to find a local growers market relatively close to where you live. Not only does purchasing seasonal produce from local producers help to support the local community but you will find that often the in-season produce is better quality and much cheaper than what is readily available to us through major food retailers.
For bigger families, or for those who live in larger cities, another option is to take a trip to the fruit and vege markets each week. Or better still, organise a co-op of a few close friends and take turns each month on stocking up on your fresh fruits and veges for a
fraction of the price.
6) Pay attention to specials
All of the major supermarkets do not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars advertising for nothing - make the most of the advertising material that finds its way into your letter box each week as you really can save a lot of money purchasing items when they are on sale.
Checking out the new "discount" style supermarket can too save much money on non-branded items that can be identical to the name brand alternative.
7) Get rid of non-nutritious extras
Cordial, fruit juice, biscuits, potato chips and confectionary are all food items that offer little nutritionally, but have relatively high price tags. Slashing these items from your weekly grocery shop will not only save you many unnecessary kilojoules but also a significant amount of cash - remember, if the food is in the cupboard, the likelihood is that you will eat it, even if it is "just for guests".
If you like to keep some biscuits or chips handy for visitors, keep minimal quantities only, preferably out of sight or purchase them only when you know someone will be visiting.
• Susie Burrell is a dietician and author