With the price of butter increasing 20 percent compared to this time last year, it seems we have reached the point where healthy food is more expensive than processed, refined foods. That $5 pizza is certainly cheap, but we can end up paying more in the long run with regards to our health.
If we rely too much on these foods, we are getting calories but not nutrients. They are also metabolically costly to consume — not only do they lack the essential micronutrients to support metabolism, but they place a heavier demand on our body to metabolise them, using more nutrients overall.
In the long term, this depletion in nutrients leads to many of today’s chronic health conditions and the increase in the prevalence of nutrient deficiencies. This costs the public health system through hospital stays and the individual through lost wages due to an inability to work, medication or prescription costs to correct or manage chronic health problems, and reduced lifespan due to poor health.
Another way to look at this is to think of your appetite. While that $5 pizza may seem inexpensive (as might the $3 bag of cereal or $1 loaf of bread), this higher calorie and carbohydrate load (that contains little nutrients, fibre or protein) will be quickly digested, filling you up at the time but leaving you hungry later and needing something else to eat despite its high caloric load.
Thus, people often end up spending more in the long run because they need more food to satisfy their appetite. The amount of protein in a food can really dictate how much we eat. We need to consume a certain amount of protein to deliver essential amino acids (building blocks of protein) to support cell repair, muscle growth and hormone production, and we will continue to eat food until this requirement for protein has been met.
Research shows people who eat foods lower in these amino acids end up eating more food overall. Though it might appear that fresh produce, dairy and meat is more expensive, eating a more nutritionally complete diet will be less costly in both the long and short term.
So how do we achieve this in the current climate of escalating prices? With a little time, research and planning, you can stretch your grocery dollar and make delicious, fresh food.
- Put aside a few hours in the weekend to do some research and food preparation. Prepare a dinner menu for the week and shop with that in mind, allowing for leftovers for lunches.
- Do a big shop once, rather than shopping multiple times per week. The less often you go, the less you will spend.
- Don't shop hungry. Have a snack before you go. A hardboiled egg, slice of cheese, some carrot sticks and peanut butter will all help fill the gap and stop you shopping on an empty stomach.
- Consider online shopping. Using the click and collect option will help you bypass the specials and pick up just what you need.
- Buy meat and fish at the end of the day when it is more likely to be reduced for quick sale. You can either cook it then or freeze it for later use.
- Purchase cheaper cuts of meat. See our recipe collection for interesting ways to cook them.
- Once home, spend some time preparing some of the dishes you have planned, effectively "buying" time during the week. You're far less likely to resort to convenience foods on a busy weeknight if you know you've got something already prepared.
- Don't put your slow cooker away just because it's spring. If you don't have one, take advantage of the sales; they are relatively inexpensive considering how awesome they are at enabling you to be prepared during the week. Slow-cooking your meat is one of the better ways to prepare it, as we don't get the accumulation of advanced glycated end products (AGEs) that we do when meat is cooked at higher temperatures. This causes cellular damage and increases oxidative stress in our body, therefore the less we are exposed to it, the better.
- Don't be afraid to eat organ meats, they are nutrient powerhouses and in some traditional cultures, the only part of the animal that would be eaten. While they don't contain the phytochemicals that fruit and vegetables do, they are a much richer source of bioavailable micronutrients such as B12, iron, zinc and the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. For recipes see the cooking with offal collection.
- The basic meat and vegetable meal doesn't have to be bland. Make your own dressings and condiments to add flavour. Hummus can easily be made with a can of chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic, and you can play around with the flavour by adding roasted beetroot or pumpkin. You can also cut the cost of pesto by using sunflower seeds instead of pine nuts.
- Consider buying in bulk when items are on special and freeze for later use. Products such as nuts, cheese, even avocado can be frozen for later use (which is perfect when you've got one that is a bit too ripe to use but would be great in a smoothie. Just scoop out the flesh and use a snaplock bag.)
- Get creative with vegetables that are available at good prices.
- Leeks and beetroot are relatively cheap. Roast and serve on top of salad leaves with lightly toasted sunflower seeds and an olive oil/balsamic vinegar dressing.
- Prepare a vegetable side with silverbeet using the method below.
- Thinly slice celery and carrots, toss in equal parts lemon juice and olive oil and add in a bunch of parsley, finely chopped.
- Finely chop a bunch of spinach leaves, an apple and a red pepper. Mix with a swede that has been peeled and grated. Make a dressing by blending half an apple, half a lemon, 2 Tbsp tahini, a pinch of salt, a clove of garlic and a little water until smooth.
- Shop around for vegetables, they can vary considerably in price from supermarket to grocer and farmers' market. Revisit my article on food waste for how to make the most of your produce.
Three ways with silverbeet
From 1 bunch silverbeet, gently cook the stems in a little oil and butter until tender. Add the torn leaves, season well and toss until the leaves have well wilted. Donot cover the pan or you will lose the beautiful dark green colour.
Mix silverbeet with other greens. You could use leeks, sliced broccoli, beans, sorrel, and fresh herbs. Proceed as above, starting with whatever will take longest to cook, in this case the leeks. Season well and sharpen with a squeeze of lemon.
Soak some currants in lemon or orange juice to plump up. Heat oil in a pan and quickly fry a little fresh or dried chilli. Toss in torn silverbeet leaves and the plumped currants and gently cook. Add some nuts (pine nuts are good), season and serve.
Through her nutrition consultation and subscription service of meal plans, nutritionist Mikki Williden helps people manage their diets in an interesting way, at a low cost. Find out more at mikkiwilliden.com