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Healthy Eating on a Budget

by Viktória Lencsés and Philip McKibbin

The coronavirus outbreak has hit New Zealand hard. A lot of people have lost their jobs or part of their income, and it’s a financially stressful time for many of us. Luckily, this doesn’t mean we have to stop eating good, nutritious food.

The trick to healthy eating on a budget is to first think about what constitutes a good diet, and then work out how to keep it cheap. If you do things the other way around, you might end up living off two-minute noodles – and trust us, that’s not a good idea.

Beans! These are not only excellent protein sources, but they’re also rich in fibre and micronutrients such as magnesium and potassium. Legumes aren’t only nutrient-dense, they’re also filling while being low in calories, inexpensive, and very versatile. Legumes can be used as a central ingredient – e.g. in bean burgers, hummus, chili, or lentil loaves – or as an addition to other dishes to increase their protein content – e.g. red lentils in pasta sauce, mashed white bean as a soup thickener, or in salads. You can even use them in desserts, such as chocolate brownies, and mousse. Canned lentils, beans, and chickpeas are cheap, but you can save even more if you buy dried varieties in bulk and cook them yourself. One cup of dried legumes can give you up to 3 cups of cooked goodness! And they freeze well for future use. Whatever your budget is, legumes should be a significant part of it.

Greek and Lentil Soup

Next on the list: whole grains. Brown rice, wholemeal flour, and meal bread may be a bit more expensive than the more processed, white varieties, but if you can afford it, always choose whole grains. Whole grains supply fibre, B vitamins, minerals (such as iron, zinc, and magnesium), antioxidants, and good fats. Oats, too, are an excellent choice. To keep it cheap, look for deals and buy in bulk. Check out your local bulk food store!

Many fruits and vegetables can be pricey, but look for seasonal ones, as well as ‘specials’. Generally, starchy vegetables (such as potatoes, carrots, and pumpkin), onion (an excellent addition to most meals), apples, bananas, and oranges are affordable. Canned tomatoes can easily be added to soups, casseroles, and stews. And you can’t go wrong with frozen vegetables – they’re inexpensive, and they last for ages! (Frozen spinach, for example, is an excellent way to boost the nutritional content of any meal.)

All of us know that we should be eating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. But it’s important to look beyond quantity, and make sure you get variety, too. Plants have diverse nutritional profiles; each offers unique micronutrients and compounds. Eating 3 bananas and 2 servings of lettuce may tick off your ‘5+ A Day’, but it’s far from ideal.

Try to eat some cruciferous vegetables (such as cabbage, cauliflower, or bok choy), and dark leafy vegetables (such as kale, spinach, and rocket) each and every day. When it comes to fruit, we should aim to eat 1/2 cup berries (frozen berries are often the most affordable) and 3 servings of any other fruits. The more you can mix it up, the better!

Although nuts and seeds are expensive, they are only required in small amounts and can significantly boost your nutrient intake. They supply healthy fats, protein, fibre, and plenty of micronutrients. Ground flaxseeds are economical and adding a tablespoon to your cereal can provide the majority of your omega-3 intake.

Finally, herbs and spices are a great way to add flavour and colour to dishes without adding extra sugar or salt. They also provide antioxidants and have many health benefits! You probably already have some in your cupboard. Make use of them regularly.

Now, we hear you: lentils, chickpeas, and canned tomatoes may not sound like the most exciting ingredients – but the meals you can make with them won’t disappoint! Click here for some recipe ideas: http://www.vegetarian.org.nz/recipes/

One final tip: don’t let good food go bad. When you allow food items to go off, you may as well be throwing money on the compost! With a little planning, you can make the most of your food purchases and ensure you always have enough to eat well.

You can feed your family nutritious meals on a budget.

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