Does the price of healthy food seem prohibitive to you? The Herald on Sunday has partnered with PAK’nSAVE and the Heart Foundation to see if it is still possible to eat good, nutritious food while also saving money. We worked with three households from around New Zealand who volunteered for this project. This week, we follow up with each household to find out if the advice Heart Foundation National Nutrition Advisor and Registered Dietitian Angela Berrill gave them has helped them to eat better and save money.
Siobhan Kelly, Luke O’Sullivan and their son, 2-year-old Elvis O’Sullivan, live in Massey, West Auckland. Siobhan and Luke are a one-income household. Luke is a builder and Siobhan is a busy mum, focused on looking after 2-year-old Elvis. Luke’s son Aaron, 16, also lives with them some of the time.
Since her consultations with Angela, Siobhan is meeting her $180 budget every week now.
“I’ve noticed that we’re on budget pretty much every week now, and that’s getting some small luxuries in there as well. I think the reason for that is we’re using more legumes, and less meat. That changeover has been fantastic. I’m enjoying it more, I know my partner’s enjoying it more, and we’re having a couple of meat-free days a week now, which was something we always wanted to do for the environmental factor of it all, so we’re pretty happy with how it’s gone."
“The cost of each meal has gone down a lot,” Siobhan says.
Angela encouraged Siobhan to buy canned legumes (in spring water) as a way to save money on meat and get some vegetable protein instead. They’re enjoying recipes like Israeli Shakshuka made with lentils, eggs and a bit of salami. “It’s definitely a favourite because it’s really quick to put together,” Siobhan says.
Siobhan is making her own hummus, and Elvis is eating it too. Angela says giving kids hummus to dip vege sticks in is a great way to get them to eat more vegetables and legumes.
“I never realised how sweet the store-bought hummus was, until I tried making it myself. Our little guy loves it, he’s started dipping his carrots into it,” Siobhan says. To begin with, Siobhan found it challenging to adjust her family’s portion sizes – particularly in terms of how much meat she needed. “Cutting down on the amount of meat I was serving – to begin with that was the main challenge. Just getting the portion sizes right.”
And it was a little challenging to find recipes that all three members of the family enjoyed. But now that Siobhan has found the right dishes, she’s confident the changes they’ve made will stick with them in the long term.
“Overall, the changes have been so easy to integrate on a weekly shopping basis and cooking every night. That little bit of extra knowledge has made it a whole lot easier to stay on budget and know that my family is eating really good food,” she says.
“We’ve cut down on dried fruit, because of the sugar - particularly for Elvis. But we all love fruit, so we’re still buying fresh fruit. Sometimes, all Elvis wants to eat is a banana or a mandarin.
“We’ve been using more canned fruit, because it lasts longer. If I can’t find it in juice, I buy it in syrup but rinse the syrup off – which was something Angela suggested.
“Overall, I find I’ve been buying more canned goods and frozen veges, which means I’m wasting less fresh produce.”
Angela says that once these things have been put into practice for about three months, they tend to become lifelong habits. “When people can see the cost savings and how much healthy food they can get for their money by making some small changes, it’s a big motivator,” Angela says. Siobhan has since managed to reduce her grocery bill even further, to $150 a week on occasion.
Theresa Lynch lives in Hamilton with her two children, Kaitlyn Lynch, 15, and Lachlan Lynch, 9.
Theresa works part-time. Her children live with her for nine nights in a fortnight and with their father for five nights. Theresa shops fortnightly – on the week that the kids are due.
“I found Angela quite helpful. She sent me a heap of recipes from the Heart Foundation. I’ve got some ideas out of it, and learned more about where I’m going wrong a little bit.
“When you’re a chip lover, you have to buy those chips. I managed to stop buying them for a while, but they’ve crept back in. I still have them. Chips and dip are our downfall. It’s an after dinner thing for us. It’s hard to change your habits,” Theresa says.
Angela agrees that making changes can take time.
“Theresa was really hard on herself when I followed up with her. She’d had a busy couple of weeks and didn’t feel that she’d made much progress with the suggestions I’d given her. Life gets in the way sometimes – and that’s totally fine. I actually thought she’d done really well.
She’d managed to make some fantastic changes, such as encouraging her daughter Kaitlyn to have smoothies for breakfast, rather than going without. Theresa was also willing to try healthy snacks like carrots and hummus for the kids, rather than packaged snack foods.
“It may take Theresa a while to implement some of the changes, but she’ll get there. The main thing is, she’s had the conversations about healthy eating with the kids, and got them interested and involved in cooking, which is fantastic. “For many busy parents, their own nutrition is the bottom priority.
They’re focused on ensuring their children eat well and not so worried about their own meals. Time can be a big factor. Theresa and I talked about making extra food at dinner time, so that she has leftovers she can eat for lunch, or for dinner when the kids aren’t there,” Angela says.
Theresa is starting to make some progress. “I’ve actually started making something for dinner when the kids aren’t there, rather than sitting down and eating potato chips. It may just be eggs on toast or beans on toast, but it’s something. Still nothing like what I’d cook if the kids were home.”
“I know I need to buy more fruit and vegetables – but they’re just so expensive at the moment. I have switched to frozen broccoli and cauliflower, which is something I wouldn’t have normally done – that was Angela’s suggestion.
“I haven’t seen the savings yet, but I think it will probably play out over time. I am on a very tight budget, and I probably spend less than I should on food. I try not to spend any more than $150 a fortnight. I still have to go and get milk and a few bits, so I might spend $30 to $50 on the other week.”
Meagen and Brian Penney live just outside Rangiora in Christchurch on a 10-acre property, with their dog Molly and cat Roxy. Meagen is a sales rep and Brian is semi-retired.
“Some of the things Angela suggested, we were already doing. She suggested steaming and stir-frying as healthy ways of cooking, rather than cooking things in sauces – but we were already doing a lot of that.
“Overall I found Angela’s advice really helpful. She suggested looking at the Heart Foundation website. I had a look at the recipes and have downloaded some to try.
“And it’s a matter of reading labels when I do the shopping. I usually want to get in and out of the supermarket as fast as I can, I don’t want to be messing about.
Angela also suggested looking at the house brand or budget stuff. It makes sense if you can get it cheaper. “We’ve cut down on the meat we eat, we’ve added fish in a couple of times a week, and more soups. In summer, it’ll be more salads.
“I’ve also bought some budget brand products to try, to see if we like them. Hopefully we can save some money that way.” Meagen is making smoothies as a healthy breakfast option. At lunchtime, she is out on the road a lot for work and will often make something to take with her.
“I think Meagen’s quite good at making healthy choices though, even if she has to eat out at lunchtime. She’ll choose a salad or a wrap, which is great,” Angela says.
Reducing the number of treats they buy will be an ongoing challenge. Meagen is trying to gradually swap out potato chips for things like popcorn, frittatas, smoothies or celery and carrot sticks.
“It’s something we’ve got to keep working at and just think outside the square. We have been doing better with chips, I’ve got him eating hummus instead of dips. You can’t change everything in five minutes, it all has to take time,” Meagen says.
Top tips for healthier eating - and saving money
By Angela Berrill, National Nutrition Advisor, Heart Foundation
- Plan your meals. When you plan out what you’re going to eat for the week, it not only helps you to have more control over healthy choices but also helps to save you money, because you’re not being forced into buying something on the way home from work or succumbing to takeaways, which is ultimately going to end up costing more.
- Read labels. Look at the sugar, sodium and saturated fat content. Remember to look at the per 100g column, not per serve, because serving sizes vary between products. Look at the first ingredient on the list – that’s the one that’s most prominent in that food. So if you’re looking at peanut butter, you’d want the first ingredient to be peanuts.
- Less is best. When it comes to the three Ss of sugar, sodium and saturated fat, less is best per 100g.
- Eat more legumes. For heart health, the Heart Foundation recommends that adults eat legumes four to five times each week. They’re a great source of protein. Switching some of the meat in our diets for plant-based protein can be better for us, more affordable and a more sustainable environmental option too.
- Make hummus. If you make it yourself, you know what’s in it. There’s a recipe on the Heart Foundation website. Serve it with vege sticks as a snack. It’s a great way of getting kids (and adults) to eat more legumes and vegetables.
- Follow the 40 percent rule. When you’re at the supermarket, make sure 40 percent of what’s in your trolley is fruit and non-starchy vegetables. It’s an easy way of knowing you’re on the right track.
- Buy in season. Shop seasonally to help you save money. Purchasing fruit and vege out of season is often more expensive.
- Buy frozen and canned. Frozen and canned foods are often just as nutritious as fresh, and they are usually cheaper. They can also be a good non-perishable option to have on hand, when a food may be out-of-season or not available.
- Get creative with leftovers. Do you find that you throw a lot of fruit and vegetables away each week? Make a point of finding a way to use up the fresh produce you have left, from root to stem, before it deteriorates. Use the leftovers from dinner as your starting point for tomorrow’s lunch.
- Watch your portions. By watching your portion sizes you can make your food dollar go further - you may find you can stretch out the protein component of a meal over several meals. The Heart Foundation has created recommended portion sizes to help make this easier for you and your family.
- Cook from scratch. By cooking from scratch, using mostly whole food ingredients, you are not only able to control what goes into your meals but it’s often cheaper too. Check out the Heart Foundation website, which has a wealth of healthy recipes to choose from. See www.heartfoundation.org.nz/wellbeing/healthy-recipes/
Read part One of the Eat better for less: Battling the grocery bill series here.
Read part Two of the Eat better for less: Battling the grocery bill series here.