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Heart-healthy meals on a budget

Eating well doesn't always have to be expensive – and this Money Week 2021 we're here to prove it.

Maria Bernard, from the Heart Foundation's Pacific Heartbeat team and Sala Davai, from MoneyTalks, have teamed up this Sorted Money Week to give you their tips to eat well on a budget.

Maria and Sala both work closely with the community and have come together to prepare a simple, affordable meal and to share their tips to help whānau eat well on a budget.

The ingredients for this delicious apricot chicken recipe cost less than $15 and the meal will feed four adults for less than $4 per serve. You can make the meal even cheaper if you already have some of the ingredients to hand or by using similar ingredients from your food cupboard (see ideas below).

"Today we're focusing on cooking something that is nutritious and something that is on a budget," says Sala. "With MoneyTalks, we usually encourage families to save money by cooking with seasonal food. Canned food can be a great way of using vegetables that are out of season."

"I love cans because they store well in the cupboard, they're cheap, you can get them at all times of the year and most importantly they're really affordable," says Maria. "Canned veggies are also great for making heart-healthy meals."

Here are Maria and Sala's six top tips for eating well on a budget:

1. Buy fruit and vegetables that are in season

Some fruits and vegetables like bananas and spinach are available all year round. But for many fruits and vegetables you can save money by buying them when they are at their cheapest and in season. If you need an ingredient that is out of season, try to find a cheaper alternative that is in season or use a canned or frozen option. For example, when cauliflower is expensive, use frozen cauliflower.

It can also help to have a few meals on hand that are flexible and can be made with any in-season vegetables like stir-fries, pasta dishes or soup.

a fruit market stand

2. Use frozen and canned foods where you can

Canned ingredients like canned tomatoes, apricots and chickpeas are a cheap way to get in nutrition and flavour. They last a long time in your food cupboard so stock up when they are on special or when your food cupboard is getting low.

Just like canned foods, frozen vegetables like peas are a nutritious and affordable option to keep in mind for your meals too.

Our favourite canned and frozen foods are:

  • canned beans and legumes (chickpeas, black beans, red kidney beans, lentils)
  • canned tomatoes
  • canned fish (tuna, salmon and mackerel)
  • canned vegetables (beetroot, corn and asparagus)
  • canned fruit (peaches, apricots and pineapple)
  • frozen vegetables (peas, corn, broccoli and spinach)
  • frozen fish
  • frozen whole chicken or chicken pieces.

Home-brand and supermarket-brand canned and frozen foods are just as good as premium brands and are much cheaper. For example, home brand tomatoes cost as little as 80 cents per can and other brands can cost up to $2.50 per can.

tins of vegetables and beans

3. Choose cheap cuts of meat

Eating meat doesn’t need to be expensive. There are plenty of budget-friendly cuts of meat.

Chicken drumsticks are a good source of protein and one of the cheapest cuts of chicken. For example, chicken drumsticks can be around $5.70 per kilogram and chicken breast can cost up to $13 per kilogram. 

Chicken drumsticks can be cooked several different ways. Here are some of our favourite recipes:

4. Buy meat in bulk

If you can afford to buy in bulk, you can often get items for lower prices. Buying meat in bulk may help you to save money. Keep an eye out for meat specials and if you have freezer space, you can freeze the meat you don’t need right away into meal-sized portions.

Grains like oats, rice and flour, canned foods and other dry goods are also great to buy in bulk and can save you money in the long run too.

minced meat in freezer bag

5. Extend the meat in your meals

Canned chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils can help extend the meat in your meals and make them go further. They are a cheap source of protein and fibre to help keep you fuller for longer.

A can of chickpeas costs around $1.10 and just needs to be drained and rinsed before using.

Other ways to make your meat go further include grating carrot, adding frozen vegetables, or adding a can of chopped tomatoes.

6. Use what you have in your food cupboard

One of the best ways to stick to your food budget is to base your meals around any ingredients you already have that need to be used up. Before you go shopping, check what you have and write a list.

For Sala and Maria's apricot chicken recipe you can use the following similar ingredients:

  • Use rice, mashed potato or wholemeal buns instead of couscous.
  • Use any other fresh or frozen vegetables instead of peas.
  • Use lentils or other beans instead of chickpeas.

What else can I cook on a tight budget?

Cheap Eats is a collection of recipes designed to feed your family for less than $3 per serving, without losing taste, quality or nutrition.

If you want to learn more about eating on a budget, visit MoneyTalks.

Get the Cheap Eats cookbook

Get the Pasifika Tastes cookbook

Read 8 ways to spend less on food