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  • Writer's pictureTania

Eating well on a budget

Here are a few key strategies to make your food dollar go further...

Stretching the family food budget can be a source of a lot of stress. Here are five strategies that can help.

Eat seasonally

You can save money by eating mostly fruit and vegetables that are in season. Out-of-season produce costs more as it often requires controlled growing conditions (think pale and tasteless glasshouse grown tomatoes in winter), or a lot of food miles (imported stone fruit for example). Granted, there are some items that we just don't grow here in little ol' New Zealand - bananas are a very popular example - but you can still save a lot while having a few non-seasonal options in your menu. Another way to take advantage of seasonal produce is to preserve it for when it's out of season. This doesn't have to involve preserving jars and long hours in a hot kitchen, it can be as simple as cutting up fruit and veggies and popping them into old icecream containers or freezer bags, and freezing them for later. Although, if you're into the preserving thing, high five to you!

Become familiar with which fruit and vegetables are in season and when - you can download calendars from and

Grow your own

I may be biased, but there's nothing like walking out to your veggie garden and picking some fresh produce to eat for dinner. Think a crisp lettuce salad with fresh herbs, a nice fat and juicy corn cob, or some sun-ripened (and still warm) tomatoes. You don't need to have a huge amount of space either - some things grow really well in pots (tomatoes) or even in stacks of old car tyres (potatoes). Have a look at some New Zealand gardening websites - and are two examples - and start small. You never know, you might catch the bug and be swapping produce with your neighbours!

Plan your meals

The old adage "failing to plan is planning to fail" really applies here. How many times have you walked into the supermarket to do the weekly shop, and thought "crikey, what do I need?" You end up buying a whole lot of stuff, and when you get home you still don't know what you're going to cook that night! I've been meal planning for years, and I know from experience it helps in three major ways: it saves money, as I don't buy stuff I don't need; it prevents food waste (kinder to the environment while also saving money); and it solves the 5 o'clock question "What's for dinner?"

Cook from scratch

Learning to cook from basic ingredients is an important life skill. Sometimes you have a person in your life who can pass these skills to you, and sometimes you don't. A study by Sarah Hanrahan (a Nutritionist for the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation) showed there has been a decline in cooking literacy amongst younger New Zealanders. Luckily there are lots of ways you can add to your skill-set in the kitchen, from talking amongst your family and friends (some of them may have a real enthusiasm for cooking they'd love to share), to browsing websites like and for some simpler recipes, and working your way from there. Healthy Food Guide is another great site (a subscription is required, but this can be as little as $23.40 a year for a digital-only subscription). Once you master some basic skills, you'll gain confidence in the kitchen.

Stretch the expensive ingredients

Some ingredients (I'm looking at you, meat) can be expensive all year round. You can stretch them by adding other ingredients that will take on the meat flavour, making the meat go further. Think of adding a drained tin of cannelini beans to a casserole, some dried red lentils to a bolognese sauce (they cook to a lovely thick consistency and the kids won't even know), or extra veg (like carrots, frozen corn or beans) to a stir-fry. You'll not only save money, you will be more likely to get your 5+ A Day!

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