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How to fuel your body in your 20s, 30s and beyond

Learn how to up your intake of healthy foods on a budget

Two young women smile as they prepare food in the kitchen
Two young women smile as they prepare food in the kitchen

If you regularly discover the fresh fruit and veggies you bought a few weeks back are no longer crisp in your crisper, don’t despair – we’ve all been there! Some days it just feels easier (and cheaper) to get takeaway than to cook a healthy meal from scratch.

Data from Australia’s food and environment dashboard shows that Aussie households spend about 60% of their food budget on discretionary unhealthy foods and drinks, including takeaways, fast food, snacks, barista coffee and sugar-sweetened drinks. The problem is that these foods are energy-dense and nutrient-poor, meaning they might fill you up, but they don’t nourish you. 

Let’s say you work out your household spends $100 a week on discretionary food and drinks. That adds up to $5,200 a year! Is there some of that money you could be putting towards other things you need to pay (mortgage, bills) or want to save for (holiday, car, furniture). Then there's the added benefit of cutting back on discretionary food items means you will feel a whole lot better in yourself.

It can feel overwhelming and time-consuming to eat healthily on a budget, which is why we enlisted the help of University of Newcastle Laureate Professor of nutrition and dietetics Clare Collins, AO

In addition to being an internationally recognised nutrition scientist, Clare is also the brains behind the No Money No Time program (NMNT), proudly supported by nib foundation. NMNT is a free website full of nutrition blogs that translate cutting edge research into practical easy-to-read advice and quick, inexpensive, healthy recipes. There’s also plenty of information about diet myths, food hacks and FAQs to address confusion around food, nutrition and the latest fads. 

Here are Clare’s top tips for increasing your consumption of healthy foods and cooking delicious, nutritious meals that fit within your current budget and time constraints.

1. Complete the Healthy Eating Quiz

It’s hard to improve your healthy eating habits if you don’t know what you’re supposed to be improving in the first place. That’s why Clare recommends completing the Healthy Eating Quiz as a first step to find out how healthy your diet is. Once you’ve completed it, you’ll receive a score with personal feedback on your current eating patterns, as well as suggestions for ways to increase your food variety and boost your score. Take the Healthy Eating Quiz now.

2. Eat the rainbow

Did you know, people who increase their intake of vegetables and fruit also report increased life satisfaction, happiness and wellbeing? Aim for five serves of vegetables a day (1 serve = ½ cup cooked or 1 cup salad) and try to have a bigger variety of veggies each week. And sorry, but potato cooked different ways (mash, wedges and baked) is still only potato (nice try!). 

Instead, try to eat a rainbow. “No single food contains all the nutrients we need to keep our bodies finely tuned,” Clare explains. “When you eat a bigger variety of vegetables, as opposed to only two or three types a week, you get more of the phytonutrients that help to keep your body healthy.”

3. Try new foods (even if you hated them as a child!)

How many times do you avoid foods just because you think you don’t like them? Something you thought tasted gross when you were six years old could be your new favourite food, especially if you cook it in a new way.

Clare explains that as we get older, our taste buds also become less sensitive, so flavours that used to be overwhelming could taste completely different now. Repeated exposure also helps you learn to like them. The next time you’re at the supermarket, pop a few veggies you haven’t eaten for a while into your trolley or check out NMNT recipes for a new twist on classic recipes.

Learn how to up your intake of healthy foods on a budget

4. Prepare more of your own meals

Clare recommends planning meals and snacks ahead of time, based on the five nutrient-rich core foods: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean sources of protein (fish, chicken, meat, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds, legumes, dried beans and lentils) and dairy products (yoghurt, cheese and milk). Here are a few of her food preparation tips: 

  • Plan your meals for the week and write a matching shopping list so you have the ingredients you need. 

  • Portion out healthy snacks like nuts, home-popped popcorn or veggies (think carrot or celery sticks with some dip) so you always have a snack on the go. An apple can be carried around in your backpack or handbag and is the perfect 3pm snack.  

  • Always have some quick and easy ingredients handy at home in the cupboard or freezer, like a pizza base, pasta, baked beans and tomato paste, so you’re less tempted to open up the food delivery apps. Check out the NMNT DIY pizza builder guide

  • Avoid watching your fresh produce wilt in the fridge, and cut down on food waste by buying some frozen vegetables. Frozen veggies are usually picked or harvested at peak ripeness then snap frozen within hours, so they maintain maximum nutrient levels. Find out more about the differences between fresh and frozen vegetables

The key to saving money and eating healthy is planning ahead. This is where NMNT can help you get organised. NMNT have launched a 6-week nutrition RE$ET challenge! The goal is to help reboot how you think about food, eating patterns and nutrition, while saving money on your weekly household food budget. 

Just complete the NMNT Healthy Eating Quizbefore 4 March 2024 to go into the weekly prize draw.

Winner, winner, cheap dinner!

Ready to start cooking? Here are a few No Money No Time recipes to get you started. The best part is, they’ll cost you less than $3 per person to make.

Vegetable Frittata

Packed with eggs and veggies, this meal will only set you back $2.20 per serve.

A quiche dish

A smoothie served with a straw

A lasagna dish

A serving of san choy bow on a plate

A plate of healthy wraps