Healthy eating on a budget


Plan your meals in advance and make a grocery list accordingly so that you can stick to your budget and avoid impulse buying of unhealthy foods. — Positive Parenting

When people are asked why they do not eat healthy foods, many claim that it is expensive.

However, this is untrue; healthy eating can be budget-friendly, as long as you follow some simple guidelines.

Healthy eating is important for a healthy lifestyle and disease prevention.

This has become even more pertinent as we face the continuing threat of Covid-19, which has significantly altered our lives these two years.

A healthy diet is as important as good hygiene when it comes to prevention of sickness and infections.

However, there is a misconception that healthy eating is expensive and unfeasible for the general public.

The core of the issue is not cost, but having the right knowledge and making a consistent effort.

During these times of financial uncertainties, we need to correct our perceptions about healthy eating habits and encourage everyone to eat healthily.

A mistaken belief

Why does the impression that healthy eating is expensive still persist?

One of the reasons is the belief that foods labelled or promoted as “superfoods” or “health foods”, which usually carry a higher price tag, are always healthier.

Some people also equate price with nutritional value, believing that expensive imported foods are better and healthier – that’s absolutely not true!

Sure, these “superfoods” or imported produce may be rich in nutrients, but we can also get local produce with comparable nutrient content without denting the wallet!

There are also those who believe that healthy eating means consuming tonics and supplements.

These are not only costly, but certainly not necessary for everyone.

A smart consumer recognises that branding, claims and high prices do not determine the nutritional value of a food or produce.

What we need to do is to apply smart shopping skills and nutrition knowledge when it comes to buying and consuming foods.

The following tips can guide you to eat healthy within a budget.

> Shop smart

The first step towards affordable healthy eating is smart shopping.

A smart shopper obtains reasonably-priced, healthy and nutritious foods/ingredients for the family.

> Choose where you shop

You do not have to go to a high-end supermarket to get ingredients of high quality.

Purchasing groceries at wet markets, night markets and hypermarkets can get you a better bargain, and sometimes, even fresher produce.

> Plan your purchase

Prepare a weekly/biweekly meal plan and come up with a grocery list before going to the market.

Follow the list and avoid impulse buying!

> Select fresh over processed

For example, get fresh tomatoes instead of ready-to-eat pasta sauce.

It is way healthier and cheaper to make your own sauce.

> Buy in bulk

Certain products are cheaper to buy in large quantities, especially during sales.

However, plan your consumption to avoid over-purchasing and wastage.

> Pick cheaper alternatives

Cheaper does not necessarily mean less healthy.

Perhaps, you can alternate meat in your daily meals with legumes, which are cheaper and of comparable nutritional value.

> Opt for generic brands and local products

They are generally cheaper than branded or imported products, but the quality and nutritional value are of the same level.

> Read the labels

Check the nutrition information of each packaged product you are planning to buy and compare with others to get the best nutritional value and reasonable price.

Wok it up

The next step in pocket-friendly healthy eating is to cook at home.

This is generally cheaper than eating out or ordering food delivery.

More importantly, you have control over every aspect of food preparation, thus making your meals healthier and more hygienic.

Let’s take the example of a dish of spaghetti bolognese.

Here’s the estimated budget when you cook this dish at home for four people:

  • Spaghetti pack: RM4
  • Tomato (fresh/paste): RM6
  • Ground meat: RM7
  • Garlic and onion: RM2-3
  • Herbs and spices: ~RM1

This comes up to a total of about RM20, which works out to be about RM5 per person.

Compare this to the price of RM18-25 for one dish of spaghetti bolognese before tax at a restaurant.

And here’s a home-cooking tip for you: Prepare larger portions and make use of the leftovers.

For example, leftover grilled chicken from dinner can be used to make chicken sandwiches for lunch the next day.

But be mindful to store and reheat leftovers appropriately.

One positive thing about the movement control order was that more people started cooking at home.

Practise the tips above to save on cost and cook more often.

But also remember to always apply the basic principles of healthy eating, i.e.:

  • Have a balanced and varied diet
  • Take more fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Use healthier cooking methods, and
  • Use less sugar, salt, oil and fats.

Healthy eating can be affordable if you have the know-how and are willing to put in the hard work required.

Dr Roseline Yap is a nutritionist and Nutrition Society of Malaysia honorary treasurer. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only, and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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