How to plan and stick to healthy eating on a budget

The growing cost of fresh food makes is putting a strain on the weekly budget, but pulling together a healthy budget meal plan is possible. Here’s how.

Whipping up a weekly shopping list for a healthy budget meal plan can be daunting without the right planning.

With a few tweaks to your usual menu to include less expensive and in-season ingredients, here’s how to get more, for less.

Plan meals before you shop

Unhealthy eating is the new smoking, a recent Australian report has found.

But according to one study, those who plan meals are more likely to stick to nutritional guidelines and to have greater food variety in the diets.

Dietitian and nutritionist Marika Day says preparing a meal plan in advance is imperative before you start writing a shopping list of necessary ingredients.

“It’s important to plan what meals you will be having each week in advance,” Marika, an AIA Australia health and life insurer ambassador, says.

“I also find it helpful to look at what I already have in my fridge and pantry, so I can use up the last of whatever I have left over from the previous week and avoid doubling up.

“This helps prevent food wastage.”

An egg-cellant all-rounder

Marika says using food all-rounders that can be prepared in a variety of ways can help keep your menu exciting and under budget.

“I personally believe eggs are the holy grail of food,” she says.

“You can use them in a zucchini slice for lunches, hard boiled on its own as a snack, a classic meal of eggs on toast, or mix it up by making some sweet French toast for breakfast.

“They’re just so versatile and healthy.

“They’re also currently a food item that’s not increasing in price too drastically.”

Tips to add flavour to a budget meal plan

Acclaimed chefs and Otao Kitchen Cooking School instructors Anan Phonyothan and Dylan Vickers say you don’t need to compromise on flavour if you’re trying to stick to a budget.

“Incorporating more vegetable-based proteins like legumes and wholegrains can add substance and bulk to your meals,” Dylan says.

“Soaking and cooking dried legumes is cheaper and ultimately more tasty than using canned ones.

“It doesn’t necessarily require more work, just a little more planning.”

Dylan says being open-minded and adaptable about trying new vegetables and whole ingredients is key.

“Often, what’s cheapest and tastiest are what’s in season,” he says.

”Tomatoes in July? Probably not. Get outside of your weekly supermarket excursion and explore some ethnic small businesses.

“You’ll find a trove of new flavour-boosting ingredients on the cheap.”

Anan says portion control is another way to keep costs down.

“Make sure portions aren’t too big,” she says.

Frugal and Thriving founder Melissa Goodwin says cooking with foods that are pre-seasoned can add extra flavour without the need to buy additional ingredients.

“For example, flavoured sausages will give a pasta dish a lot of flavour without having to add herbs.

Melissa also recommends being flexible with your meal plan.

“If you plan to have chicken but see a great mark-down special on pork, you’ll save more.”

Dylan and Anan’s top 5 shopping tips for meals on a budget

  • Don’t buy pre-made food.
  • Buy spices at Indian food stores.
  • Shop at your local Asian supermarket.
  • Learn to like healthy and affordable organ meats.
  • Buy seasonal and the make most of your meals with mainly vegetables.

Written by Andrea Beattie.