How to eat healthy food on a budget

Many people think eating a healthy diet is expensive – the good news is, with a little planning and lateral thinking, eating healthily on a tight budget can be achieved.

Whether you’re young or old, single or have a family, there are lots of tips and tricks you can do to make your dollar go further while still maintaining a healthy, balanced diet.

In New Zealand, we’re lucky to have an abundance of beautiful, fresh produce at our fingertips. However, it can sometimes feel like you have to pay a lot to get your weeks worth of healthy produce. But, there are ways to eat healthily for less. 

Here are our top tips for eating healthy food on a budget:

1. Plan your weekly meals/budget

Making a weekly meal plan, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks is key. Work out your budget and stick to it. A plan enables you to see exactly what you need to buy and how much you can spend. It also gives you a chance to visually check you’re eating a balanced diet across the week. Some supermarkets supply free fruit for kids, so take them along on your shopping trips!

2. Stick to your shopping list

Once you have your weekly meal plan, the key is to stick to your shopping list. Try not to deviate. Make sure you do your grocery shop while you’re full. If you’re hungry, you’re more likely to buy unnecessary extras!

3. Grow your own vegetables/fruit

Growing your own vegetables and fruit can save you a lot of money. All you need is a patch of soil, sunshine, water and seeds or plants. You can grow veggies in containers if you're short of space or want a garden that's easy to move. You don't need to spend lots of money on expensive compost. You can make your own using food scraps and a DIY bin. Local community gardening groups often have spare seedlings to give away and can offer support and advice to help you get your garden going (on Facebook, search for 'community gardens'). It’s super easy once you get the hang of it, and you get fresh, in-season fruits and veggies that taste amazing! 

4. Buy in season/buy from a farmers’ markets

If you buy fruit and vegetables that are in season, they’re cheaper, tastier and better for you. That’s because they’re locally sourced and haven’t had to travel halfway around the world to get to New Zealand. Farmers’ markets are a great option too; the produce is often cheaper than the big supermarket chains and is always in season.

5. Join a fruit and veggie co-op

Possibly the cheapest option is to join a local fruit and vegetable collective. This is where fruit and veggies are brought in bulk for a much cheaper price than you would pay. Each week, you get a fabulous selection of in-season goodies. Contact your local Citizen's Advice Centre or search Facebook for 'fruit and vegetable co-op' for more information. 

6. Look for specials

Keep an eye out for foods on special. This can save you heaps of money. If it’s a really good deal, remember you can usually freeze what you can’t eat that week. Sometimes, the cheaper option is lower down on the supermarket shelf, so make sure you have a good look around.

7. Buy frozen fruit and vegetables

This can be a good cheap, healthy alternative to fresh fruit and vegetables. The advantage is they are frozen soon after harvest, so they are fresh and don’t go off.

8. Try supermarket brands

Sometimes there can be a big difference in price between the same products. The only difference is that one of them is a well-known brand. Often there’s no, or very little, difference in the quality.

9. Use leftovers

If you can avoid it, never throw away food. Almost anything can be eaten the next day for lunch or repurposed into something else. And there’s always your compost bin for non-edible food scraps to help with your veggie garden.

10. Don’t buy junk food or fizzy drinks

Sometimes it’s tempting to go for processed food and drink because it seems cheap and easy. However, processed food is often high in sugar, salt and fat and doesn’t provide any health benefits. Remember, water is on tap at home and good for you.

11. Save eating out as a treat

If you’ve carefully planned your weekly meals, the temptation to eat out is greatly diminished. Eating out is expensive, can be fattening and you don’t always know what’s in your food. The same goes for buying coffee – think about how much it adds up over a year if you buy takeaway coffee every day. Why not make it yourself and put that money towards the grocery bill.