Buying seasonal fruit and veges and planning ahead are the best ways for families to eat healthily on a budget

New Zealanders trying to incorporate five servings of fruit and vegetables into their daily food intake do not have to break the bank.

An informal Herald survey found that a five-day meal plan for a family of four, including 5+ a day, was $32.61 cheaper than an unhealthy alternative.

Using an eating plan provided by 5+ A Day, the Herald compared the cost of three daily meals plus snacks and found a meal plan that included five or more servings of fruit and vegetables cost $168.24, while a processed and fast-food diet cost $200.85.

However, budget services said that as many as three-quarters of their clients can't afford the most basic groceries to feed their families after they pay rent, bills and make debt repayments.


The Herald exercise found while individual processed items may be cheaper - especially for breakfast, lunch and snacks - it cost far less to build a bigger and more substantial meal from healthier ingredients.

Grocery prices were for full priced items listed on the website and fast food prices were as per online menus or quotes over the phone.

To make pumpkin soup served with bread rolls and a spinach and beetroot salad was just $12.56, while three large pizzas from Pizza Hut was $15.

In total, it cost $77.02 to make five healthy meals compared to buying five takeaway meals for $123.30.

United Fresh New Zealand general manager Paula Dudley said the company's 5+ A Day campaign had been pushing the message to buy in season to break misconceptions about the price of fruit and vegetables.

"There is a real misconception out there that doing it healthy is expensive."

She said buying in-season produce was cheaper than trying to cook with imported ingredients.

"Part of being able to eat healthy is doing so cost effectively rather than eating takeaways and junky food which people perceive as cheaper but in the long run it's actually not," she said.

New Zealand Federation of Family Budgeting Services chief executive Raewyn Fox said of the 55,000 families the organisation assists each year, 75 per cent struggled to buy even the necessities.

"If you're talking about a difference between being able to afford healthy eating and a very basic diet, then it is very expensive," she said.

"If you are really restricted and feeding your family on bread and rice, that does tend to be cheaper."

It was common for some families to have less than $40 a week for food, she said.

"We try and help them get to the stage where they have a realistic amount of money to buy better food."

She said advice given to those families was to buy in season, visit local markets where produce was cheaper and to try to plan ahead.

Kids' health worth price of good food

Shane and Sarah Gault do not mind spending extra to incorporate an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables into their diets.

It helps that their two sons, Oli, 3, and Charlie, 16 months, are fans of fruit.

Mr Gault said the family did not count their fruit and vegetable portions, but always chose to make healthy meals.

"It just kind of happens that way," he said. "We do tend to plan our meals around eating healthy rather than explicitly trying to include fruit and vegetables.

"My wife and I, both our parents were fairly conscious so always grew up in homes with healthy food."

He said opting for healthier options tended to cost more. "Unfortunately processed food is definitely cheaper than good-quality fruit and veges. Buying good-quality ingredients is not ... cost-effective."

Fruit was Charlie's favourite snack, and the family could easily churn through 4kg of bananas alone each week, he said.

"His brother loves grapes ... we buy seasonally but it's a bit hard to say, 'No, 16-month-old, you have to go hungry because it's not in season'."

"If you can get them to eat fruit and it means you have to pay $2 extra per kg, that's it."

He believed legislation could improve access to the produce.

"The Government should get a no-GST initiative going because [cost] is a factor." Morgan Tait