Five budget-friendly ways to improve your nutrition

Add plant-based meals such as potato, kale and oyster mushroom pizza to the menu.
Add plant-based meals such as potato, kale and oyster mushroom pizza to the menu. Photo: William Meppem

Another day, another superfood, or so it seems. And while there is no shortage of new foods being marketed for their health-giving properties, these nutritional powerhouses can be a money trap. For some of us, this may be an especially difficult time to justify spending extra on special foods. The good news is that there are plenty of foods that are both nutrient-rich and budget-friendly, especially when you tap into some tricks of the trade.

Frozen assets

Canned tuna has the nutritional benefits of fresh, but without the price tag.
Canned tuna has the nutritional benefits of fresh, but without the price tag. Photo: William Meppem

While you can buy fresh produce at reasonable prices in season (hello strawberries), the rest of the year it can be expensive. Nutritionally, there is no significant difference between fresh fruit and vegetables and the frozen variety, which are snap-frozen at their peak, and generally, frozen fruit and vegetables remain reasonably priced year-round. So when it comes to superfoods such as broccoli, kale, spinach, cauliflower and berries, when they're not in season, it's much cheaper to buy them frozen.

Don't can the can

There are certain foods that come up time and time again on nutritionists' lists of foods we need to eat a lot more of. Seafood, particularly oily fish, often figure prominently. But seafood can be expensive, which is why canned fish, whether it be salmon, sardines, tuna, oysters or mussels, is a great option to help you save money while still reaping the nutritional benefits seafood offers. Other smart canned options that are a fraction of the price of fresh include beetroot, legumes, mushrooms and tomatoes.

Make your own smoothies with yoghurt and fresh or frozen berries.
Make your own smoothies with yoghurt and fresh or frozen berries. Photo: iStock

Back to basics

Ever noticed that the plainest, least-processed foods such as rolled oats, wholemeal flour, milk powder and plain yoghurt are a whole lot cheaper than mixed cereals, flavoured yoghurt, biscuits and protein powder? Basing your cooking around core staples, whether that be yoghurt for frozen desserts, flour for home-baked treats or milk powder for protein-rich smoothies, will save a significant amount of money over time, while helping to keep your diet less processed, lower in kilojoules, added fats and sugars, preservatives and artificial flavours.

Plan on plants 

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Protein-rich foods such as fish, meat and chicken are some of the biggest-ticket items on the shopping list. Including more plant-based meals on the menu each week – soup, baked beans, nachos or tacos made with kidney beans, tomato-based pasta with cheese or home-made pizza – is a simple way not only to significantly increase your intake of vegetables and dietary fibre, but to keep your weekly grocery bill down.

Snack attack 

Behavioural research has shown that the consumption of discretionary foods such as chips, snack food and biscuits is largely dependent on availability. In other words, the more of these foods you buy, the more you will eat. Buying processed foods such as these can seriously hike up your weekly grocery bill. But an easy way to reduce how much of this food you buy is to dodge the snack food aisles completely. Or if you must buy some, seek out the items that are heavily discounted and buy only what you need that week. Even better, try using the staple ingredients you already have, such as wholemeal flour and frozen fruit, to bake muffins and banana bread, make your own smoothies with yoghurt and milk, and servecheese with wholegrain crackers or toast with nut spread as easy, nutrient-rich snacks.

Dodge the supermarket snack aisle and make banana bread instead.
Dodge the supermarket snack aisle and make banana bread instead. Photo: Jennifer Soo

Susie Burrell is an accredited practising dietitian