When it’s 7pm and you have a ravening horde to feed, there’s no denying that fast food can be a life-saver. It’s readymade and mostly delicious. And anyway, healthy food is reserved for the rich, right?

Wrong, actually.
I’ve discovered that choosing healthy food over fast food on a budget is entirely possible and it doesn’t have to involve miserably chewing on lettuce leaves and pretending it’s delicious.
Here’s how we do it:

Hunt for specials
Food is stupidly expensive these days. Rather than settling for climbing prices at our regular haunts, we wait around for specials and grab those. Last week, I picked up two bags of beetroot for R10. One bag turned into a chicken and beetroot salad, and we’ll be making beetroot soup from the other. This week, bananas are on special: R15 for two bags. Banana muffins, anyone?

Finding food specials is easy. Our free local newspaper regularly includes supermarket marketing brochures, and specials are advertised on all supermarket websites.

But don’t grab specials just because they’re there
You don’t have to dive for the specials just because they’re out there. Coming home with a kilo of kale just because it’s cheap when everyone gags at the thought is a waste.

If you shop around, keep your fuel price in mind. Driving 15 kilometres to get that R8 bag of spinach doesn’t really make sense, does it?

Eat in season
Over summer, the price of avos was ridiculously high. Now that they’re coming back in season, the price is falling. Out of season fruit and veg might be available, but they’ll be imported, so the price will climb. If you avoid foods that aren’t in season, you’ll miss them, but they’ll taste so good when you eventually eat them again, and your budget will thank you.

Grow and make your own
We have chillies and thyme growing at the moment in our veg box in the back yard. Last year, we had lettuce and tomatoes. It’s extremely satisfying (and free!) to pick something out of your own backyard to add to your dinner plate.

Making your own food basics can help you save a little here and there too. Bread flour costs about R12 a kilo. A loaf of homemade bread takes half of that. And who doesn’t love the smell of freshly baked bread?

Think differently
…and be prepared to be a little evil. “Liver” is a swearword to my kids. I’ve been known to buy lamb liver for less than R20 and pretend it was beef. The kids wolfed it down. They were horrified when I told them afterwards what they’d eaten, but I’d successfully got an iron-rich meal into them. Today, I bought a kilo of chicken livers for R15 and hid it in the freezer before they could spot it. Evil grin.

If you’re eating healthily, not all your meals have to include all the food groups. The price of potatoes sky-rocketed in the past few weeks, from around R38 for a 7-kilo bag to about R60. Rather than spending so much on potatoes during that period, we ate meat and salad, or added bread rolls when we were craving carbs. And we didn’t die!

Fast food is expensive
Don’t be fooled by the name: “fast food” is fast, but it takes a massive bite out of your monthly budget. A Big Mac meal costs around R49. Compare that with the chicken salad we made last week: chicken fillets, beetroot, mixed salad leaves, a tin of chickpeas, with some feta we already had in the fridge came to R57. That meal fed five people and there were leftovers for my work lunch.

As much as my kids love their Nando’s, they certainly don’t weep when a bowl of pea and ham soup is placed in front of them. They know that healthy food can be just as yummy as a burger and I know it makes my bank manager happy.

Janine Dunlop

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Janine recently left a 20 year career in libraries to become a communications manager. In the evenings and on weekends, you’ll find her supervising homework times three, and writing freelance for various publications.
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