4 Jul 2022

Expert feature: Meals on a budget

From Afternoons, 2:30 pm on 4 July 2022

When money is tight, the weekly grocery bill is one of the first things to try and cut back on.

Nutritionist Amanda Brien shares some budget-friendly tips for shopping wisely and eating well.

two people buying fruit in the supermarket

Photo: Jack Sparrow / Pexels

Most of us know we should be eating more fruit and veges, Amanda says, but it can seem like takeaways are not only easier than cooking but cheaper.

The problem is our long-term health is where we pay the price.

"Look at your supermarket trolley or basket and if you've got mostly fruit and vegetables there, and less processed foods, you're going to be on the right track," 

Amanda's tips for grocery shopping and cooking on a budget:

Plan your meals ahead

We've all been guilty of going along to the supermarket to "pick up a couple of things" and leaving with a cart full of things we don't really need, Amanda says.

Planning at least some meals for the week ahead will help guide you to buy just what you need at the supermarket.

Meal planning can seem overwhelming, especially if you're not naturally a planner, so start with what you can get your head around, maybe a couple of nights of the week.

Online ordering from the supermarket can help you be more strict about sticking only to what's on your list and also help you keep track of what you're spending, she says.

"Shopping online means you have less temptation."


Make your supermarket shop reflect a healthy plate

a woman holding a capsicum

Photo: Greta Hoffman

The ideal plate is half vegetables and fruit, a quarter carbohydrates and a quarter protein, Amanda says. 

This ratio should be reflected in what you're buying at the supermarket.

"Look at your supermarket trolley or basket and if you've got mostly fruit and vegetables there, and less processed foods, you're going to be on the right track."

Go generic

Don't bother with organic products as they have no additional nutritional benefits, Amanda says.

Instead of branded products, go for generic 'home brand' items, which University of Auckland researchers found to be significantly cheaper but very similar in nutritional content.

Learn to love leftovers

Amanda is a big fan of cooking more than you need for dinner so you have leftovers either for the next day's lunch or the freezer.

This also releases you from so much decision-making around food.

"If we can cook less often, have more portions, there's less food choices… and it can be super easy the next day just to have leftovers ready to go in a container for lunch."

If you're home on a weekend day and just pottering around, she recommends making another meal to freeze for a busy night.


Maximise your oven

If you're confident with multitasking in the kitchen - and have the bench space - think about baking a cake or a loaf a while you've roasting veges, for example.

Once you've removed everything from the oven and turned it off, leave its door open to let the heat out and help warm your house.

woman putting food in the oven

Photo: Alex Lam

Opt for oats 

no caption

 Perfect Porridge Photo: Rebecca Elliott

"Oats are really simple, easy to prepare and in wintertime can be a really comforting breakfast meal", Amanda says.

They're a lot cheaper than packaged cereal and go well with many things, including peanut butter, mashed banana and cinnamon.

"Oats are a really good source of fibre and protein and both of those things help you feel full."

Recipe idea: Perfect Porridge


Enjoy eggs

Fridge-raid Frittata by Melissa Hemsley

 Fridge-Raid Frittata Photo: Supplied

Eggs are a super-versatile high-protein food and great with leftovers in an omelette, Amanda says.

"They're just packed with nutrients and a lot cheaper than meat."

Recipe idea: Fridge-Raid Frittata

Befriend beans

Megan May's Smokey baked beans

 Smokey Baked Beans Photo: Supplied/Tam West

Legumes and beans are great plant-based sources of protein, Amanda says.

They're also high in dietary fibre, which most New Zealanders' diets severely lack.

Beans aren't just for vegetarians, either. A tin of lentils or kidney beans is a good way to extend a meat dish, Amanda says.

"It'll get you a few more portions out of that meal and be a lot cheaper than doubling the price of the meat in there."

Recipe idea: Smokey Baked Beans


Where to find healthy recipes:

Love Food Hate Waste

The Heart Foundation

Full O Beans (a Heart Foundation cookbook downloadable as a free PDF here)

Cheap Eats (a Heart Foundation cookbook downloadable as a $1 PDF here)

Eat Well for Less NZ (a book by Ganesh Raj and Michael Van De Elzen)