South Africans spend on average 12.8% of their monthly income on food and non-alcoholic beverages, making it one of the top 3 expenditure groups alongside transport and housing.  With the recent VAT increase, inflation, petrol hikes and the rising cost of food, eating healthy is becoming harder and harder and South Africans are struggling to make that pay cheque last to the end of the month.   Here are some ways to fit nutritious and tasty meals into your lifestyle to suit your budget.

1.  Avoid Takeaways and Eating Out.

Groceries can be costly but eating out is even more expensive, especially when you add on starters, drinks and the tip.  In general, restaurant food and take-aways tend to be higher in fat and salt, and sugary drinks or alcohol that accompany them add on unnecessary calories.

2.  Cook from scratch at home.  

When you are making a deliciously cooked meal at home you can control the amount of fat and salt that is added to the food and adjust your ingredients to make it a healthy choice.  Scrap convenience foods like ready-made sauces, powders or “quick” meals which may have hidden sugars, salt and preservatives and avoid pre-chopped vegetables as they are usually more expensive.  Cook from scratch as much as possible using fresh ingredients.

3.  Use up leftovers and avoid wastage.  

Avoid over packing a fridge so that you are able to see when food is about to expire and use it up. Make sure you check your fridge, freezer and pantry BEFORE shopping so that you can use up ingredients and incorporate these foods in your meals for the week.  Recipes can be adjusted and certain foods like wilting vegetables (for example: celery, carrots, soft tomatoes) and leftover protein can easily be thrown into a soup.

4.  Cook more than you need and freeze the portions.

When you are making a large batch of supper, freeze a few portions in freezable Tupperwares, for nights when you are too rushed to cook.  Soups, stews, curries and mince from a bolognaise freeze well.  Over-ripe bananas can also be peeled, chopped and ziplocked in the freezer instead of being thrown away – these can be blitzed up in breakfast smoothies.  Try freezing leftover herbs in olive oil in ice blocks which can then easily be added to meals without losing flavour.

5.  Be prepared for work lunches.  

It can be tempting to grab a quick meal over lunch time or even skip the meal entirely.  Pre-package leftovers, a salad or low GI sandwich the night before with an extra fruit so that you are prepared for lunch and snack times at work.  Avoid the habit of drinking cool-drink, juice or flavoured water at lunch.  Rather carry a bottle of water.  You will save on the cash and the calories.

6.  Shop Smart.

Plan your meals at the beginning of the week so that you can shop accordingly using a pre-planned list.  This way you are less likely to stray from your list and avoid items you did not need in the first place.  Shop on a full stomach and when you are not feeling over-emotional to avoid impulse purchases.  Look for specials on combo fruit and veges (Everfresh always has great deals) and buy healthy staples with long shelf lives like brown or basmati rice, lentils (try Indian shops), long life low-fat milk, canned vegetables and legumes in bulk.  Compare your local supermarkets for the cheapest options.

7.  Buy in Season. 

Fruits and vegetables in season and those locally grown tend to be fresher and budget-friendly.  Certain vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, butternut, celery can be bought in bulk, chopped and frozen for easy addition to stews and soups.   For fruits and vegetables in season in South Africa, check out this website here!

8.  Eat meat-free.

Meat, especially red meat, tends to be the more expensive protein option.  Try beans, lentils or soya at least once or twice a week for a low-fat, high-fiber, vegetarian source of protein.  Dried legumes such as barlotti beans, black beans, brown or red lentils do not require hours of soaking and are fairly simple to cook from scratch.  Look out for specials on bulk canned legumes which are just as healthy and have a good storage life.   Stretch meat dishes (like mince), further by bulking up with legumes.  Kidney beans, chickpeas and butter beans are also delicious on a salad for lunches.

9.  Grow your own.

Starting your own vegetable garden can be rewarding, nutritious and help to save on your grocery bill.  Avoid buying herbs such as basil, parsley, origanum, mint and rosemary, rather grow them in windowsill pots and chop into your meals at dinner time.

10.  Avoid buying juice, cool-drinks, snacks and biscuits. 

Keeping these foods out the house will make sure you are not tempted to snack on them during the day as well as save you rands.  Be creative and bake healthy alternatives at home.  This way you can control the ingredients and make healthy adjustments like using whole-wheat flour or swapping out sugar for dried fruit.   Juice and cool-drinks are unnecessary sugar-loaded drinks and the costs add up.  Rather drink water.




Written by Maryanne Bull