It can be difficult to buy healthy groceries at the supermarket without paying through the nose once you reach the till. However, in a bid to show Kiwi households how they can eat nutritiously without breaking the piggy bank, Pak'nSave and the Herald have come together to discover what you should be doing to eat well and pay less.

Teaming up with the Herald, nutritionist Claire Turnbull and Pak'nSave sought to educate consumers on how to buy and eat healthily without blowing the budget.

Turnbull recorded each household's usual shopping and eating habits before making short recommendations they could follow.

She also learned about their lifestyles outside of the kitchen, making further recommendations around children and work-life balance.


The households included an urban family, retirees and a flat of students.

The Urban Family

The chance to improve her family's eating habits with the opportunity of reducing the shopping bill was too good for Shaz Austin to turn down.

Living in Mangawhai Heads, the fulltime mum would spend around $450 on groceries when buying bulk for the fortnight ahead.

And with a husband often on the road for work and a child with a fussy sweet tooth, it can be hard to please everyone.

"It's a bit of a struggle," Austin told the Herald. "It's quite difficult to shop to make sure we cover off everyone.

"How much we spend is definitely something [else] that we need to reduce. I wouldn't say we're pay cheque to pay cheque but we're very close."

Shaz Austin and her family, husband Dale and children Dylan, Vivienne and four-month-old Chloe. Photo / Supplied
Shaz Austin and her family, husband Dale and children Dylan, Vivienne and four-month-old Chloe. Photo / Supplied

The family is made up of five people, Austin, her husband Dale and their children Dylan, 9, Vivienne, 6, and Chloe, 4 months.

Vivienne was the child who gave her the most grief, the fussy eater predominantly sticking with tastes she was familiar with.


"If she likes something, that's all she'll eat - she's not one who will expand her tastebuds or anything like that," Austin said.

"Naughty foods taste better and it's easier for her to eat those, so it's a struggle with her, trying to introduce things maybe not so full of sugar."

The kids' lunchboxes were another area which needed a change - often Austin would be forced to just throw it all together with odds and ends.

She hoped the guidance from Turnbull would help turn things around.

After sending through a questionnaire to help diagnose the household's eating habits, Turnbull was able to make recommendations and suggestions.

For the Austin family, Turnbull suggested they try batch cooking at the weekend - making one new meal each week that was freezer-friendly.

By cooking more than you needed and placing batches of the remainder into the freezer, it could easily be defrosted at a later date.

Meanwhile, anyone with children could understand the hassle of feeding them snacks, and healthy ones at that.

Turnbull suggested homemade snacks, such as popcorn, unsweetened yoghurt and chopped up fruit could replace any of the sugary counterparts like biscuits and cake.

"[With the kids], it's nice to get a little bit of a guideline because I now realise it's actually not that hard to get good food into their lunchboxes," Austin said.

"I cannot wait to implement some of the things she told us about. It was very insightful, all the advice I got from her."

The Retired Couple

Pam and Graham Harrison are retired and live in Napier but often make the trek to their daughter and her partner's place in Wellington.

The pair were from the United Kingdom but moved to New Zealand to retire a couple of years ago, because they liked the lifestyle here.

Both try hard to keep active - including painting their daughter's newly renovated home - but had fallen into bad habits in the kitchen.

Snacking on biscuits and chocolate in the evening had become a bad habit - not because they were hungry, they just got into the routine.

Meanwhile, they felt their diet was "boring" and despite an effort to mix things up, the Harrisons often found themselves eating the same meals over and over again.

"You try to change things from week to week but always seem to head back to your favourites like spag-bol, stir-fries and those types of things," Graham said.

"The main thing we're looking for is a different variety of meals and to also aid us keeping our cholesterol in check without having to resort to medication."

Pam and Graham Harrison. Photo / Supplied
Pam and Graham Harrison. Photo / Supplied

Money wasn't as much of an issue as the couple spend between $200 and $250 each week when they do their shop. However, it'd be nice to save some money where possible.

They keep an eye on specials running on different ingredients and buy products of the highest quality when they are able.

Another key part of their diet was to try and keep their cholesterol in check, eating foods and meals which wouldn't raise it too high.

After meeting with Turnbull, the Harrisons were given five key points on where to make changes.

The first was replacing their chocolate and biscuit habit at night with a pot of herbal tea. Turnbull pointed out the trap of eating when you're not hungry and that breaking the habit could save you money as well as help the waistline.

Another tip was reducing the reliance on processed meats for lunch, instead using more canned fish and eggs which were equally as affordable but more nutritious.

Adding fish and egg meals into the week rather than eating red meat every night was another good idea, Turnbull said.

Adding pulses, like lentils and chickpeas, into meat dishes would also help.

And using affordable, seasonal vegetables in homemade slaws and salads would be a wise choice as they had time to make those for themselves.

"We've been given some really good ideas, just to vary what we can have [to eat] instead of the same two or three things," Pam said.

"I would never dream of doing some of the things she did but it's just so easy. Simple things like that make sense but I just never thought of it."

The Flat of Students

Anyone who has lived in a student flat knows the perils of living on a tight budget and the allure of high-carbohydrate dinners.

But by keeping an eye on what you buy and with the right knowledge, it can be easy to buy healthy, cheap food to keep your diet in check.

And that's what one Dunedin flat hoped to discover, with Turnbull's help.

Claire Hicks, a third-year psychology and sociology student at the University of Otago, said the flat's typical supermarket bill was $600.

Dunedin flatmates April Hyland (left), Claire Hicks, Hannah O'Leary, Brylee Lott, Mikaere Teki. Photo / Supplied
Dunedin flatmates April Hyland (left), Claire Hicks, Hannah O'Leary, Brylee Lott, Mikaere Teki. Photo / Supplied

"We had no idea we spent that much until [we spoke to Turnbull]," she said.

"There are five mouths to feed in the flat. Five rather large mouths, might I add, we always have seconds.

"We all eat together Monday to Friday in the lounge usually watching The Chase or Love Island and then fend for ourselves on Saturday and Sunday."

Due to their low budgets, they often left a good range of vegetables off the menu with only broccoli, carrots and asparagus regularly making the cut.

Dinners were budgeted to $25 for everyone but they often went over that. If they spent less, it was usually because they reduced the amount of vegetables bought.

It was often easier to stick with cheap, carb-heavy dinners as it was generally more expensive to buy whole foods, "rather than spending a good amount of your allowance on ingredients that may end up going to waste".

"Also with it being exam season, I'm way more inclined to buy study snacks consisting of chocolate rather than purchasing celery sticks."

Dinners were usually made around chicken or mince and the flat also went through "eggs as if they were going out of fashion".

To help battle the challenges they face, the flat was encouraged to sit down together at the start of the week and plan meals for the days ahead.

"Planning is essential to reduce the daily trips to the supermarket where you often end up buying additional things you don't need," Turnbull said.

"I have encouraged them to sit down together on a Sunday afternoon and plan their shared meals and own food and shop once a week."

They were also encouraged to use more pulses and frozen veggies in all of their evening meals - this would improve their overall nutritional balance.

It would also see the amount of meat they eat reduced significantly. Turnbull even took it a step further and suggested having a meat-free meal once a week.

After speaking with Turnbull, the flat realised it would be better buying in bulk and planning each meal at the start of the week to avoid supermarket runs every day.

"We are most excited about adding more veggies into our meals whilst also reducing costs and trying new recipes," Hicks said.

"It's going to be interesting applying all the little tips and tricks Claire has given us like trying to eat more intuitively, not just because we want a study break/distraction."

This article is part of a partnership between the NZ Herald and Pak'nSave aimed at helping people learn how to eat well for less. To see how the other households went, click here