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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’re regularly discovering 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.

Research shows that on average, Aussie households spend 58% of their food budget on discretionary (or junk) foods and drinks, including takeaway (14%) and sugar-sweetened drinks (4%).

If you’re not sure how much you’re spending on discretionary food and drinks, keep track of your expenses for a week. Include money spent at supermarkets, restaurants, cafes, convenience stores and vending machines.

Let’s say you work out you’re spending $50 a week on junk food. That might not seem like a lot, but it’s $2,600 a year that you could be putting toward an overseas holiday, a new wardrobe or a car. Not to mention that by cutting back on junk food, you’ll also look and feel a whole lot better.

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

In addition to being a nutrition whiz, Clare is also the brains behind nib foundation program No Money No Time; a free online platform with quick, cheap and easy healthy meal ideas. There’s also plenty of information on diet myths, food hacks and FAQs to address any confusion around food and nutrition to make healthy eating easy.

It takes some planning and a bit of organisation, but everyone is capable of taking some control of their eating. Here are Clare’s top tips for upping your intake of healthy foods and cooking delicious and nutritious meals on a budget.

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. “If you can eat a bigger variety of vegetables, as opposed to only two to 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? If you thought something tasted gross when you were six, that doesn’t mean you won’t like it now.
Clare explains that as we get older, our taste buds become less sensitive, so flavours that used to be too strong could taste completely different now. Repeated exposure also helps you get used to them. The next time you’re at the supermarket, pop a few veggies you haven’t eaten since you were a child in your trolley – you might surprise yourself.

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 other 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, 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 UberEats.

  • If you’re sick of watching your fresh produce wilt in the fridge, then 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.

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.

A quiche dish

Vegetable Frittata

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

A smoothie served with a straw
A lasagna dish
A serving of san choy bow on a plate
A plate of healthy wraps

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