By Jo Whitton

“Healthy eating is too expensive.” We’ve probably all said that at one time or another, but the reality is that the typical Aussie diet is expensive too… in more ways than one.

After struggling with many diet-related health issues in our family, I learnt the importance of using ‘food as medicine’ and decided that a healthy, whole food diet was the best way to reduce both medical bills and grocery bills.

I began working out how to source quality ingredients on a single income for my family of six… 20 years later we’re still going strong!

Here are some tips for those of you who are just beginning this journey and finding it all a bit daunting.

Keep it simple. Buy basic whole foods, cook simple meals, mostly plant foods with some good quality animal products, as close to their natural form as possible.

Snack on whole foods (fruit, nuts, seeds, yoghurt, cheese), and save the treats for weekends and special occasions.

Drink mostly water, and make your own juices, smoothies, kombucha and kefir.

Minimise packaged foods, especially highly refined products. If your shopping includes lots of convenience foods (whether they are ‘junk foods’ or packaged health foods), it’s going to get super expensive.

The more processing, packaging and marketing, the higher the cost. Aim to buy ‘ingredients’ instead of ‘packages’.

Jo recommends shopping for food which is grown locally and in season. (Photographer: Sabine Bannard)

Shop local and in season for fresh produce. If it’s in season and locally grown, it’s going to cost less than produce shipped in from interstate or overseas – and it will have more flavour and nutrients!

Buy produce at your local farmers markets, through local Community Supported Agriculture schemes (CSA), and directly from local producers.

Learn how to preserve and ferment fruit and veggies for great money-saving and health benefits.

Buy pantry items in bulk. Buying in bulk will save you more money than just about anything else! For the last 20 years I’ve bought everything from flours, starches, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, cacao powder, coconut flakes, honey, oils, detergents, tinned foods, salt and lots more in bulk.

If you can’t find a local co-op to join, try asking your local health food or bulk foods store for bulk prices, or you can order online and make a combined wholesale order with friends. Buy raw honey in bulk from a local beekeeper.

If you don’t love cooking, make it a social activity and invite some friends over. (Photographer: Sabine Bannard)

Buy meat in bulk. Look for local farmers raising grass fed/pastured meat and free-range chicken and eggs and ask them about buying in bulk and also check with your local butcher.

Talk to your local fishmonger about best options for bulk, wild-caught fish. Split orders with friends to make them more affordable, and easier to fit in the freezer!

Start a veggie garden, or plant a few things in pots, like herbs, lettuce, spring onions, chives and cherry tomatoes. Plant some fruit trees if you have the space. And if you possibly can, get some chooks to eat the scraps and supply you with eggs!

Learn to enjoy cooking from scratch. It’s cheaper, it tastes better, and it can be very therapeutic! If you don’t love cooking, make it a social activity and invite some friends over for a bulk cook-up once a week and divide the food between you.

You’ll save a lot of money by baking your own breads, pizza bases, muesli bars, cakes, biscuits, crackers and muffins, and learning to make basics like jams, sauces, mayonnaise, yoghurt, ghee, custards and dips.

Bulk out more expensive ingredients with less expensive whole food ‘fillers’. Cook soups, casseroles, curries, chillies and stews with a small amount of meat bulked out with beans or lentils and lots of veggies.

Bulk out more expensive ingredients with ‘filler’ foods, like plenty of vegetables, beans or lentils. (Photographer: Sabine Bannard)

Work out your weekly household budget, and what you can afford to spend on groceries. To work out your budget, start by writing down your purchases each day for 1 month to get a clear idea of where your money goes and where you could cut back. Try to stick to your grocery budget each week. A good exercise to practice spending mindfully is to take cash out for your weekly grocery shop at the start of the week and only use cash for food purchases… it makes you really focus on reducing unnecessary spending!

Meal plan, and shop to your plan! Do a weekly ‘stocktake’ of what’s in your fridge, pantry and freezer and plan your meals around what you have on hand. That way you will reduce food waste and not double up on ingredients when shopping. Aim to shop once a week if possible – the more often you go to the grocery store, the more unnecessary items you’ll end up with.