How to eat well for less


How to eat well for less

Published August 2023 | 4 min read
Expert contributors Jenna Stein, accredited practising dietitian at Bite Me Nutrition; Fran Dargaville, nutritionist
Words by Katherine Chatfield

Eating well doesn’t have to be expensive. Forget pricey ingredients and choose seasonal produce and ingredients that can make your meals stretch further.

If you think life is getting more expensive, you’re right. Australia is ranked as the 13th most expensive place in the world to live – and recent cost-of-living hikes have made household grocery budgets even tighter, with many of us looking for ways to eat well for less.

In the past 12 months, Australian supermarket food prices have increased by almost 10 per cent, according to a report by investment bank UBS, and it’s the healthy food that has been impacted; the price of fruit and vegetables has risen by 4.9%, bread and cereals by 11.8% and dairy by 14.9%.

But cutting back on healthy food to save money could be having a serious impact on our wellbeing. More than one in three cancers could be prevented with positive lifestyle changes, including eating a balanced diet, according to Cancer Council Australia, who says that eating two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables a day can help prevent 2,600 bowel cancer cases per year. Fresh fruit and vegetables contain antioxidants that may reduce the risk of many diseases, including heart disease and certain cancers.

"Eating well typically means implementing aspects of the Mediterranean diet," says accredited practising dietitian Jenna Stein. "This includes eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, healthy fats like nuts, seeds, avocado and extra virgin olive oil, and wholegrain breads and cereals. It can be good to reduce your intake of red meat and eat more lean proteins such as fish, seafood and poultry."

The good news is, even if you’re on a budget, you can still eat a healthy, balanced diet. Here's everything you need to know about how to eat well for less.

Choose frozen fruit and veg

"Frozen and tinned fruits and vegetables are the perfect budget-friendly way to meet your two serves of fruit and five serves of vegies a day," says Jenna. "Frozen vegetables are blanched before they are frozen, helping them retain their nutritional value. Canned products undergo a longer cooking process to ensure any bacteria that might cause contamination is destroyed, and this results in more nutrients being lost." However, that doesn't mean they’re not worth eating. "Pick the option that fits your budget, and that you enjoy," says Jenna. "If the alternative is no fruits or vegetables, then something is always best! Just look for items with no added salt or sugar."

Buy seasonal and imperfect fruit

"Seasonal produce is usually significantly cheaper," says Fran Dargaville, a nutritionist. "Don't be afraid to go for the 'ugly' fruit and veg, which are often sold at a lower price despite being just as fresh and nutritious as the regular produce on the shelves."

Don’t dismiss long-life milk

"Long-life milk can be a great, lower-cost alternative to fresh milk," says Jenna. "It has almost the same nutritional value as fresh milk, but with less folate and other B vitamins, due to the way it is processed. If you eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of vegetables, dairy products, meats and grains, this shouldn’t be a concern."

Choose snacks that keep you full you for longer

Snacking on sugary or fatty packaged foods can be expensive – and can mean you’re hungry again a short time later. The key to keeping your snack budget low is to choose filling foods that can be eaten slowly over a period of time.

"Cheese, popcorn and hummus with crackers are all relatively inexpensive ways to snack on something satisfying," says Fran. "Just remember to read the ingredients label and go for options that are whole foods-focused with minimal additives."

It’s also worth considering items that might not traditionally be considered snack foods, says Jenna. "Canned beans and vegetables, tinned tuna or some ready-made soups are also good, healthy, inexpensive lunch or snack options."

Bulk out your meat dishes

Make your meat go further by adding other ingredients, suggests Jenna. "Beans and lentils can help bulk out spaghetti or taco mince, curries and stews. Tofu is another great inexpensive way to add protein to meals. It tastes great in stir-fries, or you can blend it into soups – you won’t even know it’s there!"

Consider buying cheaper cuts of meat, too. "Chuck and brisket are nutrient rich and a great way to save on your weekly shop," says Fran. "Pop them in a slow cooker so they stay tender."

Jenna adds: "Cheaper cuts of meat typically have higher amounts of saturated fat. Try to choose meat with the least amount of visible fat, so you can cut the fat layer away before cooking."

Plan ahead

Taking time to plan meals for the week and write out a shopping list means you’re less likely to buy things you don’t need. This saves money and also helps prevent food waste. "Once you have your groceries, batch cook your meals for the week," suggests Fran. "Aim to make large quantities of each meal and opt for foods that freeze well such as curry, chilli con carne and bolognese. Portion them out into individual containers so you know exactly how long each batch will last."

Our members don’t have to be unwell to see great value from their cover. Our HCF Thank You loyalty program gives eligible members access to offers and discounts on essentials like e-Gift cards for groceries. We want members to save money wherever they can, while rewarding their membership tenure.

Nutrition support

If you’re overweight and want to reset your eating habits, we can help. Eligible members can get free access to our Healthy Weight for Life programs to help you improve your quality of life. These programs are available to members who are overweight and have osteoarthritis^ or are at risk of developing a chronic condition^.

We also know losing weight and keeping it off over a long period of time can be challenging. That’s why we're offering eligible HCF members access to the evidence-based CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet.

You can get a 20% discount on the cost of the 12 Week Program ($160 instead of $199) with eligible extras cover+ or through the HCF Thank You loyalty program*.

If you have hospital cover, are aged 18 and over, have a Body Mass Index of 28 or above, and have multiple lifestyle risk factors, you may be eligible to join the Total Wellbeing Diet Premium Plus 16 Week Program for free^^.

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^ Eligibility criteria applies. For more information see

+ Must have extras cover to receive the 20% discount through eligible extras offer and must have purchased the program on or after 1 July 2023. Depending on the level of your extras cover, HCF may reimburse the cost of the 12 Week Program up to your available Health Management Program limits. Some out-of-pocket costs may apply. Excludes Overseas Visitors Health Cover.

* Eligibility criteria applies. You can access HCF Thank You offers after you’ve been a member for a week, and if your premiums are up to date. Excludes Ambulance Only and Overseas Visitors Health Cover. Offers and partners are subject to change without advance notice. See the HCF Thank You terms and conditions.

^^ Must have hospital cover, be aged 18 and over, have multiple lifestyle risk factors (eg. smoking, physical inactivity and poor nutrition) and a Body Mass Index of 28 or above. Excludes Ambulance Only, Accident Only and Overseas Visitors Health Cover.

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