Starting from scratch cheaper, better than ready-made meals
CONTRARY to popular belief, convenience foods, ready-meals and diet supplements are not more affordable than cooking from scratch with fresh, real ingredients. As part of my weight-loss journey, I recently argued with a friend that what he had just eaten as a ready-meal (which barely seems to provide enough for a solitary person) could be replicated at home by myself and for the same price - and that I could produce the meal for four people.
It's a common trap to fall into. Once I would stock up on ready-meals for me then find myself expending the same time cooking just for the kids then heating up a ready-meal for myself as it would take to cook a family meal. So I decided to stop using them, save money, and become a better, more organised, healthy eater.
Making healthy home meals
The average ready-made meal costs about $6.50 a portion (sometimes less when on sale). For $6.50 you can easily make a family-size portion of the following healthy meals at home yourself:
- Lean mince tacos with salads and salsa.
- A variety of pastas (I personally love making pastas with lots of fresh vegetables such as zucchini, but with no meat).
- Soups - very affordable meals that are low-fat and full of goodness.
- A variety of salads with lean meat (and add another protein like light cheese or boiled egg).
- Vegetarian pizzas - load them with vegetables and make them on wholemeal bases.
Buying fresh produce
Where and how you buy your produce makes a big difference, as does the types of foods you source. Local markets and ethnic stores can be wonderful places to shop - fish, produce and even kitchen staples are often much more affordable than at your regular grocery store and more than likely fresher.
Shop in season
Find out what fruits and vegetables are in season locally and integrate them into your diet rather than sticking to old favourites which may in fact be more expensive.
Blanche then freeze vegetables
If fruits and-or vegetables are ridiculously cheap, I sometimes buy a large amount then blanche and freeze them - they can be used later as you would shop-bought frozen vegetables. I've learnt to be observant about the "price per kilogram" indicator featured on grocery store labelling these days. If broccoli is $6.98 a kilogram fresh, yet only $4.02 a kilogram frozen, by all means choose the frozen version.
Set aside an hour's planning time once a week to look up and plan what you're going to cook, write it down, and stick to it. Sometimes when I'm doing my exercise routine, I race the meal - I prepare and put a meal in the oven and work out my hardest until the meal has finished cooking. Eating something fresh and made with "real ingredients" is mentally helpful to keep you on track and motivated.
Fresh foods make you feel better, and if you feel happier you'll be more inclined to keep your new habits rather than slink into old ones. This is all pretty much common sense, but consider this perhaps as a reminder of how to keep your wallet heavy and your weight light. The way I keep on track is by putting some money aside (the amount it would cost to buy just three ready-meals a fortnight - $15) and use that money as an incentive. I've promised myself a gorgeous outfit once I reach my goal weight. Because as busy mums, we often forget to treat ourselves… and the way I see it, if I keep up the excellent work and reach my goal weight, that's definitely something worth treating myself for.
Jody Allen is the founder of Stay At Home Mum: http://www.stayathomemum.com.au