We all know that a healthy diet is the key to good health and perhaps a long and disease-free life. A healthy diet should include nutrient-dense foods from the five major food groups, namely:
- Fruit and vegetables.
- Starchy food.
Eating a variety of foods from each of the five food groups daily in the recommended amounts helps to promote good health and helps to reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
Most of us want to follow a healthy diet but think that healthy foods are expensive. However, the truth is you don’t have to break the bank to eat healthily. Armed with the 10 strategies below and with consistent effort, you will be able to dish out budget-friendly meals that are nutritious, filling, and delicious for the whole family.
1. Plan your meals
Planning ahead is essential when it comes to saving money on your grocery bill. Pick a day each week to plan your meals for the upcoming week. With the daily menu, make a grocery list of everything you need to cook those meals. Don’t forget to scan your fridge and larder to see what you already have. Most of the time, you will find foods hidden at the back of your fridge or cabinet that can still be used. It’s best to plan your meals around vegetables that are starting to wilt and foods near the expiration date. Only purchase what you know you’re going to use to avoid discarding what you buy and don’t use.
2. Choose fresh over frozen and processed.
Skip the snacks and frozen foods section at the supermarket and focus on fresh foods that are high in nutrients like fresh vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grains, and eggs. Fresh foods are not only more nutritious than frozen foods, they are cheaper than frozen ones. A bunch of 500gm spinach only costs RM4 whereas a pack of 500gm frozen spinach costs RM9.20. Choose local produce over imported ones. Seasonal produce is also cheaper.
3. Choose where you shop
With a tight budget to play around with, you can ditch the high-end supermarkets to get high quality and imported ingredients. Buying fresh produce and groceries at wet markets, night markets and hypermarkets can get you a better bargain and sometimes even fresher produce.
4. Choose colourful foods that are nutrient-dense
Colourful foods are generally fruits and vegetables that contain many of the vitamins and antioxidants we need – with few calories. There are plenty of affordable nutrient-dense colourful foods that you can purchase that are healthy and easy to add to your diet. For vegetables and tubers, you can choose sweet potatoes, carrots, zucchinis, pumpkins, tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, onions, bell peppers and sweet corns. Fruits that are affordable include guavas, apples, oranges, cucumbers and bananas, although banana is technically an herb distantly related to ginger. The nutrients in vegetables and fruits work together to strengthen our immune system and protect against cancer, heart disease, vision loss, hypertension and other diseases.
5. If you can’t afford organic fruits and vegetables, choose non-organic ones
With the pandemic jolting the world upside down and people losing jobs, you may not be able to go fully organic anymore if your earnings have been reduced. Non-organic produce is cheaper and safe to eat if it is rinsed, rubbed, or scrubbed thoroughly for pesticide residue to be removed. A study from researchers at the University of Massachusetts suggests another method that may also be effective: soaking them in a solution of baking soda and water.
6. Eat and repurpose leftovers
Do not discard the roast chicken breast that no one in the family likes. Toss them in a container and eat them tomorrow. Get creative with the way you use leftovers. You could repurpose the chicken breast into a chicken mayo sandwich or chicken wrap or fry them with rice or noodles. Pork or chicken used in soups can be transformed into delicious meat floss by frying them in the wok with some seasoning.
7. Eat a filling and nutritious breakfast
Studies have shown that eating a meal in the morning stimulates your metabolism more than eating the same meal in the evening. Eat a wholesome and filling breakfast to avoid eating an excessively heavy lunch and dinner, which will cost even more. When your tummy is filled up with nutrient-dense food in the morning, you tend to snack lesser or skip snacking altogether in between meals. Great breakfast ideas that are inexpensive, quick to prepare, and filling are oats (simple instant oats with milk, overnight oats or granola), low-fat yoghurt with nuts and fruits, boiled eggs, steamed sweet potatoes, and sprouted wheat sandwich.
8. Cook at home
Homecooked meals are hands down the best. You have full control over every aspect of the food preparation, thus homecooked food is healthier, cheaper, and more hygienic. You eat with complete peace of mind.
9. Keep an edible garden
An edible garden will ensure that you and your family have the best possible quality in herbs, fruits, and vegetables. You don’t necessarily need a large garden to keep an edible garden. Even if you live in a tiny apartment, you should be able to grow herbs like spring onions, coriander, mint leaves, ginger, sand ginger, and some leafy green vegetables at the balcony in small pots. Did you know that there are some veggies and herbs that you can regrow from kitchen scraps? Try them out with the base of spring onions, beets, celery, lettuce, and coriander!
10. Eat vegetables to substitute meat
Meat, especially organically farmed ones can be expensive. But protein is a must, so consider non-animal sources that are not only healthier but cheaper. Beans, lentils, chickpeas, mushrooms, and jackfruits can be the perfect swap-out for meat and they’re bursting with nutrients and flavours.
The Bottom Line
A healthy diet doesn’t have to be expensive. There are plenty of affordable, nutrient-dense foods that you can purchase without breaking the bank. Healthy eating is affordable if you know the tips and tricks. Your time spent sheltering at home now during the pandemic is the best time for you to start eating clean and healthy.
Shireen Yong is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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