Eating healthily can be a challenge at the best of times. Add on a tight budget or other difficult circumstances and it can seem nearly impossible.
Sleekgeek is here to help.
There ARE foods that are both nutrient-rich (healthy) AND budget-friendly.
You can avoid draining your wallet by combining these foods with money-savvy shopping strategies and minimising food wastage.
Here are some of our top tips:
1) Skip the premium produce if you can’t afford it:
While food quality like “organic”, “grass-fed”, “free-range”, “wild-caught”, etc, may contribute to better health…
The difference is actually very small compared to junk food versus healthier food in general.
We’d much rather that you’re able to sustain a decently healthy diet than have to give up the healthiest diet possible because you can’t afford it.
Plus, organic junk food is still organic. Don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking that anything labelled as “organic” (or gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, etc for that matter) is automatically healthy. It’s not always the case.
Something that we encourage our coaching clients to do is reward themselves with things that make them better. So rather than making good progress and then rewarding themselves with junk food (which sets them back on their goals), we encourage them to either use non-food rewards or to use that occasion to treat themselves to higher quality healthy foods that would normally be out of their everyday budget.
2) Eat more nutrient-rich rather than nutrient-poor foods:
Junk food with poor nutritional value can be the most costly to your health, regardless of price.
Consider junk food to come with a “health tax”.
Most junk foods are designed to be hyper-palatable and usually come in extra-large servings while containing very little useful nutrition.
This can lead to unnecessary over-consumption (unnecessary expenses), nutrient deficiencies, and expensive health problems further down the road.
While food can definitely be a pleasure to enjoy, if money is tight then you should prioritise utility and nutrition from food while seeking pleasure from more affordable or free sources instead.
Nutrient-rich foods, on the other hand, can be a bit more expensive upfront but they protect your health (your health is your real wealth) and keep you performing at your best.
Consider nutrient-rich foods to be an “investment”.
3) Focus on the low-cost, nutrient-rich superstars:
These foods are generally the biggest “bang for your buck” in each category.
- Proteins: Eggs, Tinned fish, Whole chicken, Tofu, Flank or tri-tip steak.
- Vegetables: Cabbage, Carrots, Beets, Lettuce, Frozen spinach.
- Fruits (focus on in-season): Bananas, Apples, Melons, Oranges, Frozen berries.
- Carbs: Brown rice, Lentils, Potatoes, Beans, Oats.
- Fats: Sunflower seeds, Peanuts, Butter / ghee, Milk (full-fat, plain, unflavoured), Yoghurt (full-fat, plain, unflavoured), Extra virgin olive oil.
- Easy Flavour Upgrades: Onions, Garlic, Spices, Herbs, Citrus.
There may be others too, but these are our go-to superstars for getting lots of nutrients at the lowest prices.
You’ll notice that all of these are on the Sleekgeek Food List.
4) Work with close-to-source ingredients:
The food refinement process doesn’t only generate less healthy foods, it also tends to create more expensive ones.
Our recommendation is to buy ingredients, not products.
If you are willing to buy single-ingredient foods and put in the time and effort to produce a meal of your own out of them, then you will significantly save on costs.
By using close-to-source ingredients in your meals, you’ll be working with more nutrient-dense, bang-for-your-buck foods that will increase satiety while also giving you the best possible nutrition.
5) Eat more satiating foods:
Some foods are more filling than others and some keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Generally, foods that are high in protein usually fill you up the most and keep you satisfied the longest.
However, other carbohydrate-dense foods might be rich in fibre which can also help you feel full and satiated.
Healthy fats can also help satisfy your body’s needs for taste, texture, or nutrients.
You’ll need to play around with different foods and combinations, taking note of which fill you up and make you feel the most satisfied.
We recommend creating well-balanced meals whenever possible that contain a bit of everything.
Check out the Sleekgeek Healthy Meal Template.
6) Learn to cook:
Convenience, pre-packaged, and done-for-you meals come at a huge premium.
You’ll almost always be able to buy individual ingredients and make meals from scratch for a fraction of the price.
Learning to cook is a true life skill and a big money saver.
Sure, for some people, time is money and paying for convenience might be worth it. But if you’re short on money and have extra time, then learning to cook is an easy way to save money and eat well.
If you need ideas for meals that are cheap and easy to cook in bulk, go to Pick n Pay, Checkers, Foodlovers Market, and look at what fresh meals, salads, etc, they have on display for people to buy. Then make that at home.
Or check out the Sleekgeek Recipes.
7) Plan your meals:
Planning ahead and being prepared for your next few meals can reduce the chance of being caught off guard.
Being unprepared and resorting to convenience buys (healthy or unhealthy) can be costly.
However, if you put some thought into what you’re eating each day and each week ahead of time, you’ll be able to come up with cheaper options and avoid food wastage.
We recommend keeping it simple and mapping out roughly what you plan to eat one week ahead of time. Even if you don’t stick to this 100%, you’ll be better off than someone who is just winging it day-by-day.
If you want some tips on weekly meal prep strategies, check out this infographic: How to Master Meal Prep.
8) Be a savvy shopper:
Most loyalty programs these days are really good and can help you save a significant amount of money.
However, don’t buy something just because it is on special.
Even if you’re “saving” by paying less than you normally would, you aren’t actually saving money if you didn’t need to buy it in the first place.
It’s a good idea to keep a list of common items that you DO frequently use / need so that you can buy with confidence when they are on special.
Keep in mind that shopping for deals can get expensive if it leads you to drive from one shop to the next all around your city, spending money on petrol when trying to save R10 on a deal.
For more shopping tips, check out the Sleekgeek Supermarket Survival Guide.
9) Avoid wasting:
If food is going mouldy, rotten, or expiring and you’re having to throw it away, there’s a good chance you’re either buying too much or not planning well enough.
Food wastage is unique in your expenses in that you don’t benefit from it at all.
10) Eat out less, or eat less when you eat out:
[Although this doesn’t really apply during the COVID-19 Pandemic, I’ve left this tip in for future benefit.]
Eating out is quite expensive, especially if opting for healthier dishes like steaks and fish, so naturally eating out less is a simple way to cut costs.
However, this is often a huge aspect of our social lives and sometimes eating out less is simply not possible.
In this case, consider eating less when you eat out, such as opting for just starters, sides or salads, or simply nothing at all.
To help with this, consider doing some research into the health benefits of Intermittent Fasting, or eating a cheap homemade meal before going out so that you do not need to order a big, expensive meal.
Also relevant is the Sleekgeek Restaurant Survival Guide for helping you make healthier choices when eating out.
11) Drink less:
Similarly to eating out, buying drinks (especially alcoholic ones) are an expensive luxury.
Some people (such as myself) get by with perhaps 4-5 alcoholic drinks per month, while others can easily go through 40-50 drinks per month.
The same goes for soft drinks or fruit juice. For some people, drinking water is the normal with soft drinks or fruit juice as the rare exception whereas for others it’s the opposite way around.
Depending on which end of the spectrum you’re on, your monthly budget for drinks could look dramatically different.
12) Tinned and frozen foods:
Contrary to popular belief, tinned and frozen produce (like fruit and vegetables) AREN’T necessarily less healthy than fresh produce.
According to Healthline:
“Freshly picked fruits and vegetables straight from the farm or your own garden are of the highest quality. However, if you are shopping at the supermarket, frozen produce may be equal to, or in some cases, even more nutritious than fresh varieties.
At the end of the day, frozen fruit and vegetables are a convenient and cost-effective alternative to fresh options. It’s best to choose a mix of fresh and frozen produce to ensure you get the best range of nutrients.”
Tinned or frozen foods are often cheaper, convenient to have on hand, and less likely to go to waste.
13) Buy local, in-season foods:
You would be surprised at how many fruits, vegetables and even meat or fish in our shops is imported from overseas at a premium.
If you are a lover of avocados, you will be very familiar with how much the prices fluctuate during the season and out of season (consider buying in-season avocados in bulk and preserving them in your freezer for cheap guacamole year all year long).
To give you an idea, the Whole 9 Life have a rough guide to what fruit and vegetables are typically grown in Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, and Year-Round. Keep in mind that this is more tailored for the seasons of the United States, but much still applies to us.
Keep an eye out for seasonal sales at the shops and consider venturing out to some of the local farms or farmer’s markets in your area where you can find an abundance of cheap, in-season produce.
14) Eat less meat:
Since meat tends to be the most expensive food group in general, going more plant-based can be more affordable.
As long as you are getting enough protein throughout the day from a variety of sources, you can quite easily go meat-less for one or two meals a day (or even several days a week).
You can also look for cheaper cuts and experiment with different cooking methods to make them more delicious. If you feel you are eating too little protein, then eggs are usually a cheap source of protein and also extremely healthy. If you are consuming small portions of meat, adding an egg on top is a delicious way to supplement the meal.
You can also look at the Plant-Based section of the Sleekgeek Food List for more ideas on how to get enough protein in from plants.
14) Eat more organ meat:
Most people don’t eat much organ meat any more and yet they can be very affordable at the shops.
At the time of writing this (24 March, 2020) you can get a 250g tub of fresh free-range chicken livers from Woolworths for only R35.
According to some, liver is one of nature’s most potent superfoods, packed full of nutrients and is a great addition to a healthy diet.
A great way to start experimenting with organ meat (that is more palatable for most) is with making liver pâté or to mix small amounts in with regular meat dishes.
15) Grow your own food:
Of course, nothing cuts costs like putting in a little bit of time and work to grow your own food.
According to LifeHacker, The 7 Easiest Vegetables to Grow for Beginner Gardeners are lettuce and other salad greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, green beans and zucchini.
SparkPeople agree, listing The 10 Easiest Vegetables to Grow as carrots, green beans, lettuce, cucumbers, spinach, tomatoes, radishes, bell peppers, summer squash and basil.
If there is anything else that you think I should add to this guide, I’d love to hear from you.