How to Eat Well and Save Money on Food

How to Eat Well and Save Money on Food
Mrs Gratton-Wilson with groceries Save More Money on Food
Mrs Gratton-Wilson with groceries, 1947. Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library Victoria.

As I mentioned for my 2016 Transplantiversary, I’m hoping to make some significant lifestyle changes to get down to the hospital recommended weight (and I’ve set up a monitoring page to track it publicly). I’ve ordered new cookbooks to help! During my cookbook shopping, I found a review of Jamie Oliver’s Everyday Super Food (affiliate link), which dismissed it (1 star) because if you made the dishes as described in the book, they were too expensive. I bought it anyway, because as someone who is chronically ill, I don’t think that food is something that should be economised on. I think you can save more money on food by changing the way you spend it than you can by spending less on it. And stay well while you do it too.

Decide Whether Your Food is Fuel or Nourishment

I don’t know anything about the person who thinks that meals cooked from scratch with fresh ingredients are expensive, but I would wager that they think food is fuel. Their pantry is probably full of high-calorie mass-produced food, especially snack foods and that they eat a lot of microwave dinners. They may be diabetic, have high cholesterol and potentially breathing problems.

If you think of your food as nourishment, or as part of the process of caring for yourself or your family, it changes the way you think about what kinds of food have a place in your home. You might be willing to spend a little less on “junk” food so that you can spend a little more on fresh. You might choose to snack on hummus and crudités instead of potato chips (crisps). Or have spice macerated fruit for dessert instead of chocolate cake.

Remember That Money is Time

Some people like to use the expression “Time is Money” to excuse themselves from things or to justify their endless rounds of busyness. But the reverse is often true of fresh food. You pay extra for added service that saves you time. Let’s use a chicken as an example. A whole chicken has two breasts (each has a fillet and tenderloin), two wings (tip, mid-joint, and drumette), two legs (thigh and drumstick). Or you can buy it in quarters; 2 forequarters (breast with wing) or leg quarters (leg and back).

I did a quick on-line supermarket survey, and today I can buy a fresh whole chicken for $4/kg. In the same “brand”:

  • Breasts: skinned $12/kg, diced $16/kg, stir-fry strips $16.50/kg, Thai spiced $18.75/kg, tenderloins $19/kg, crumbed tenderloins $20.50/kg
  • Legs: drumsticks $4/kg, boned thighs $10/kg, skinned thighs (whole or diced) $14/kg,
  • wings $6.30/kg,  minced $11/kg, livers $15/kg,

You can save a lot of money by spending the time to portion a chicken yourself. All you need is a small sharp knife and some practice.

Plan Your Meals Better

When it comes to planning their food shopping, many people have only the vaguest idea of what they need; milk, bread, eggs, pet food, Coca Cola, and snack foods. Up to a point, I didn’t think about what I was going to eat either, how much good it was going to do me, or how I was going to minimise waste.


There’s a lot of advice out there about healthy eating. According to Bob Green in 20 Years Younger (affiliate link) each day I should eat:



If I am going to meet those requirements it’s going to need a lot of planning to divide across three meals and two snacks a day. Let alone 21 meals and 14 snacks a week. That amount of food is almost overwhelming, isn’t it? And that’s just me – your serves might be more!


Cost Effectiveness

Planning allows you to buy what you need and only what you need. You could buy a whole chicken, set aside a little time, and cut it into pieces yourself. You can use your jar of Thai spices to flavour the breasts. Additionally, you can plan meals to cut waste by using up leftovers. If you roasted the chicken, you have leftovers for sandwiches or casseroles and bones for stock.

You can also shop for produce when it’s in season (and therefore cheaper), buy in bulk from wholesalers, and buy direct from the producer at farmers markets where the produce will also be fresher and therefore more nutritious.

Time Management

Planning also saves you time and effort because you know exactly what you are going to cook and have all the ingredients on hand. You save time shopping because you shop less often, your list makes you shop more efficiently, and you avoid last-minute shops where you buy extra food you don’t need or want.

Eat Less

Funnily enough, another criticism of Jamie Oliver is that his serving sizes are too small. But in terms of health, serving sizes are serving sizes. If they seem too small, that’s because you are used to eating too many of them.

According to Bob Green, ONE serving of cooked meat is 1 oz (30 g), chicken 1 ½ oz (45 g), or 2 oz (60 g) of white fish (among other things). Correspondingly, my DAILY serving of protein would be 6 oz (170 g) meat, 9 oz (255 g) chicken or 12 oz (340 g) of fish.

Going  back to today’s chicken shopping, a “single” serve of chicken breast is 11 oz (310 g) or 122% of my daily serve. Having said that, the store advises that your actual purchase will be in the range of 10¼ – 12¼ oz (290 – 350 g) or 114% – 137%.

Most people would see this as an appropriate portion size, and eat it as one meal – after all, that’s what it says on the packet. They wouldn’t consider that they also ate an egg for breakfast and a steak sandwich for lunch. Even though meat can lose as much as 30% of its weight during cooking as its moisture evaporates, you would still exceed your daily serves.

If you don’t want to fuss too much with calories, you can use your hands to determine serving sizes. This is more or less the approach my hospital appointed dietician recommends for eating out. She thinks you should weigh everything until you can see what a serving size looks like.

Develop Eating Routines or Habits

A lot of people like to preserve their decision-making capacities for as long as possible, so they follow clear habitual routines. These include things like wearing the same clothes every day, using checklists, and setting time limits on some activities. Or eating the same meals.

I’ve set myself some calorie targets and started working towards them. I’ve discovered that I eat almost exactly the same meals at breakfast and for lunch, so can easily stay within my targets for these meals and my snacks. Dinner gets messy and complicated because I am still very bad at guessing serving sizes.

One way to avoid this is to use the same meal plan each week – Simpson’s pork chop Friday anyone? Or perhaps a monthly menu plan for when you get bored with pork chops.

My Developing Approach

Clearly, I’ve chosen to make food nourishment over food. I have planned menus for a while, and thanks to Mrs Frederick of Kitchen Ergonomics and Housework Outfit fame, I have included plans for leftovers – it really does make a huge difference. I’ve got some calorie targets, and am excitedly waiting for my new cookbooks to start working out some dinners.

Do you do any of these things? Have you thought about your nutrition at all? Let me know in the comments.


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