Wondering how to maintain a healthy diet on a limited budget? It’s possible to tuck into a healthy meal without burning a hole in your pocket. These are 7 smart ways to eat healthy and nutritious foods while saving some money.
1. Don’t buy packaged foods – make your own
We pay more for pre-packaged items for the convenience of it, but you can save quite a bit if you do the work yourself, says dietitian Jane Freeman. Instead of buying muesli, you can make your own with inexpensive and easy-to- find ingredients like rolled oats, honey and dried fruit. There are many good muesli recipes online and it’s not difficult to find one you like. Best of all, because you’ve made it yourself, you know it’s free from preservatives and other additives. Other ways to save on packaged foods: Grate your own cheese instead of buying pre-grated; tear up leaves from a whole lettuce instead of using salad kits, and cut up whole potatoes to make wedges instead of buying pre-cut frozen fries (which are usually loaded with oil and other unnecessary ingredients).
2. Be your own butcher
Buying a large cut of meat and sectioning it yourself is cheaper than buying pre-cut meat, says nutritional therapist Susie Rucker. If you don’t have the knife skills to do this, you can still buy a larger cut and ask your butcher to portion the meat for you. “A large boneless beef roast, for instance, can be portioned into small steaks. This will end up costing less than buying individual steak,” says Susie. The same goes for chicken. It’s cheaper to buy a whole bird and cut it into smaller sections at home, rather than buying a tray of already-sectioned parts. Then, simply freeze the individual portions and take them out whenever you need them.
3. Buy budget cuts of meat
Give cheaper cuts of meat a go. The best-value beef cuts include brisket, skirt, flank and shin, while good – value lamb cuts include the shoulder, chump and breast. If you’re buying pork, go for spare ribs, cheeks, chump and neck. Susie says that slow cooking is a great ways to make the most of these cuts. Place the meat in a crockpot or slow cooker with some water, herbs, onions and carrots, and cook it for a few hours over low heat, until the meat is super tender and falls off the bone. The result is a hearty stew packed with flavor and nutrients.
4. Plan your menu ahead of time
“If you know what you want to cook, you’re less likely to buy ingredients you don’t need, which will probably just end up in the trash,” says Jane. “When you go shopping for groceries, bring along a shopping list and stay focused. Buy only those items you need to prepare the meals you’ve planned.” To save even more, browse the weekly specials at the supermarket and plan your menu around those ingredients, she adds.
5. Look for cheaper superfoods
Superfoods can be expensive, but you can save money by choosing alternative ones. Instead of kale, for instance, which can cost as much as RM36 a bunch at supermarkets, you can opt for chye sim, kang kong or kai lan, all of which cost well under a few Ringgit per kilogram at supermarkets, possibly less at wet markets. Jane says these dark, green leafy vegetables are equally deserving of superfood status as they are high in vitamins and minerals, so you can eat them without feeling like you’re missing out. And instead of salmon, Susie suggests sardines and mackerel (ikan kembung), which are also rich in heart – healthy Omega – 3 fatty acids.
6. Buy red meat that is close to its sell – by date
In some cases you can save up to 50%, says Jane. The meat is still edible so you don’t have to worry about food poisoning – just be sure to freeze it once you get home if you don’t plan to use it right away. “Don’t try this with fish, though,” Jane warns. “Fresh fish is always the best, but you can get away with eating red meat that is close to its expiry date.”
7. Make two or more dishes out of one
Susie says it’s easy to make several tasty and nutritious dishes from one cheaper dish or ingredient. For example, you can prepare a big batch of chicken broth and divide it into three small batches. Blend one batch with cooked pumpkin and herbs to make a hearty soup, serve the other with spaghetti, diced chicken and vegetables for a comforting chicken noodle soup, and use the last batch as a base for congee. Another idea is to boil a large amount of cannellini beans, throw in a few handfuls of tomatoes, diced vegetables, rice or pasta to make minestrone soup; or mash a batch of boiled beans and combine it with veggies and tuna for wholesome tuna burgers.