Eat better for less: Battling the grocery bill - Part One

Does the price of healthy food seem prohibitive to you? The Herald on Sunday has partnered with PAK'nSAVE and the Heart Foundation to see if it is still possible to eat good, nutritious food without breaking the bank.

NZ Herald
Posted 28 Aug 2017

The price of fresh vegetables has been high this year, thanks to a run of bad weather. 
Cyclones, endless rain and snow have affected growing ­conditions and in some places, wiped out crops, pushing prices up.

But it is still possible to eat well and save money.

We put the call out to PAK'nSAVE shoppers via Facebook for volunteers, and chose three households to be part of the project.

They have shared their shopping habits with us, and over the course of the series they will be analysed and advice offered.

"We worked with Heart Foundation National Nutrition Adviser and Registered Dietitian Angela Berrill to look at how each household normally eats and shops," said Foodstuffs NZ managing director Steve Anderson.

"Angela then suggested changes each household could make to improve their nutrition and save money."

Berrill gave each family a couple of weeks to implement those changes before following up to find out how they got on. Today, we meet the families in the first of our three-part series.

Siobhan Kelly, Luke O'Sullivan and their son, 2-year-old Elvis ­O'Sullivan, live in ­Massey, 
West Auckland.

Kelly and O'Sullivan are a one-­income household. O'Sullivan is a builder and Kelly is a busy mum, ­focused on looking after Elvis. O'Sullivan's son, Aaron, 16, also lives with them some of the time. 

 

Kelly is ­responsible for the family's shopping, and cooks most of the meals.
She budgets $180 a week for groceries and always shops at PAK'nSAVE Westgate.

She plans the family's meals and manages to stick to her budget most of the time - the most she'll spend is $200 or $220 on occasion, if she has run out of essentials or is doing some baking.

"We're a one-income family. Whatever I'm buying, it needs to be affordable," Kelly says.
She is conscious of the sugar content in foods. She reads labels, looking for sugar and sodium.

"I like to make sure I have control over what's going into our mouths, making sure it's healthy, so that's why I like to take control of the shopping.

"I try to be mindful of the amount of sugar that we are eating, also trying to be as ethical as possible.

"I don't want to buy products that have palm oil in them.

"I love pigs, but I also like pork, so I buy free range as often as possible.

"I want to make sure the decisions I'm making about the food we're eating are healthy, and help our environment rather than hinder it."

Kelly manages to avoid top-up purchases between her weekly shopping trips.

"I do meal planning so I try to get what I need in one go. I don't like going to the supermarket all the time," she says.

"I'm quite mindful of wastage, too. Often I have vegetables that start to rot away in the fridge, so I'm really trying to limit that as well.

"Sometimes I have Busy Mum Syndrome and at the end of the day I can't be bothered cooking the meal that I've planned, so we will pop out and get takeaways.

"But we can't afford to do it often, it is a treat."

Kelly sends Elvis to daycare for a few hours each week, and packs a lunchbox for him.
"I'm lucky that Elvis is a fantastic eater. I try to make his lunches interesting.

"He gets cherry tomatoes, cheese sticks - not just sandwiches all the time. I put a lot of snacking foods into Elvis' lunchbox for daycare.

"I try to choose snack foods that have no added sugar in them. He loves fruit and eats lots of sultanas, dried apricots and dates, too."

When Aaron is at home, Kelly gets a few extra groceries.

"Feeding a teenager can be difficult.

"My ethos of avoiding sugar and no palm oil doesn't fit with a young man who's hungry, so I find that we buy things like noodles, which we wouldn't eat, but which we need to have for him so that it fills him up.

"And of course, no matter how carefully I plan a meal, he still likes to put tomato sauce on everything.

 

Theresa Lynch lives in ­Hamilton with her children Kaitlyn, 15, and Lachlan, 9.

Lynch works part-time. Her children live with her for nine nights each fortnight and with their father for five nights.

Lynch shops fortnightly on the week the kids are due.

She spends no more than $150 each fortnight at PAK'nSAVE Mill St, with a top-up shop of $30-$50 the other week.

She uses the calculator on her phone as she goes around the supermarket, to make sure she's within her budget.

"We don't eat a lot of takeaways - it comes down to money.

"We have takeaways maybe once a month."

Lynch tried using specialist stores for her fresh produce, to see if she could reduce her bill.

"I've tried going to a butcher for meat. And I've tried going to a fruit and vege shop, but I found that although the produce was cheaper, it didn't last as long.

"When the fruit and veges start to get a bit past it, we make smoothie creations with the NutriBullet."

Lynch buys plenty of budget brand items, especially for basics like tomato sauce.

"Lachlan's a tomato sauce nut, and so am I, a little bit. We use a budget tomato sauce and honestly I don't think there's a lot of difference in it."

Lynch's children have distinct likes and dislikes. "Kaitlyn's really not much of a breakfast eater. She's not a morning person." Lynch says Lachlan doesn't like chicken, steak, eggs, kumara or pumpkin. But he's a big fan of toast with honey or Marmite.

Lynch admits her downfall is potato chips. She likes chips and dip as an after-dinner snack.

"And I think I drink far too much coffee," she says.

"We used to have fizzy drink, but I stopped that years ago. We do buy Raro, but I know I should find a better alternative.

"When the kids aren't with me, I eat whatever's left. I try to eat what's in the cupboard. I'm guilty of not really eating meals.

"I won't cook tea just for myself, which is something I know I need to work on."

Lynch is hoping the dietitian will give her ideas to make meal times more interesting.
She is pleased Kaitlyn is showing an interest in cooking - particularly since doing cooking classes at school. Kaitlyn's a fan of cooking things like sticky chicken or carbonara for dinner.

Lynch is looking forward to getting new ideas for different meals her kids will enjoy. 
"We were starting to get sick of eating the same meals, so this has come at a good time.

 

Meagen and Brian Penney live just outside Rangiora, near Christchurch, with their dog, Molly, and cat, Roxy.

They have been ­together about six years. They have been in ­Rangiora for about two years but have lived in ­Canterbury most of their lives.

Brian Penney has three grand­children who live in Kaiwaka, north of Auckland. He is semi-retired and a bit of a jack of all trades. He has several projects on the go on their 
4ha property.

Meagen Penney is a sales rep.

She shops weekly at PAK'nSAVE Rangiora and spends $250-$300 a week.

"Sometimes we need extra meat, and the cost of fruit and vege at the moment is huge," she says. She buys some fresh produce at a fruit and vege market.

"We do generally eat pretty healthily. I don't fry anything in oil or fat, but use the airfryer instead [which cooks without needing any additional fat], so meat is done in there, or out on the barbecue.

"We eat a lot of veges and salads.

"I'm definitely keen to bring the bill down a bit and see if there's anything we can do to eat a little healthier," she says.

She does the lion's share of the cooking, although her husband is happy to take charge of the meat on the barbecue.

Brian Penney prefers simple flavours, having grown up on a farm, eating meat and three veges.

"If we had mince, it would just be cooked with water," he says. "If I scramble an egg, it will just be egg, whereas Meagen will add all sorts of things to it."

Read part Two of the Eat better for less: Battling the grocery bill series here.