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

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 05 Sep 2017

Last week, we introduced three households who told us about their shopping habits. This week, Heart Foundation national nutrition adviser and dietitian Angela Berrill gives advice to help them eat better and save money.

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

They are a one-income household. O'Sullivan is a builder and Kelly is a busy mum.
Kelly enjoyed getting advice from Berrill about healthy snacks, portion sizes and the salt, saturated fat and sugar content of various foods.

 

Berrill has two small boys of her own, and had lots of helpful tips on what to feed Elvis.

"Each of the three families we worked with had different drivers," she says.

"Siobhan was already very budget conscious, and was focused on ­providing nutritious food for her little one, and sending him to daycare with healthy lunch box snacks."

Kelly reads food labels and tries to choose healthy snack foods.

Berrill says she's doing a pretty good job, but she needs to be aware of the ­sugar content in dried fruit.

"While it doesn't usually contain any refined sugar, is still high in natural ­sugar. Dried fruit can also get stuck in little ones' teeth and is not so good from a dental perspective," Berrill says.

"I wouldn't worry about the natural sugars in whole fruit, but dried fruit is essentially nature's candy. I'd keep it as a treat only.

"Siobhan is interested in a wholefood approach, so she was already label reading and looking at the ­ingredients list and sugar content.

"There were things she wasn't aware of, though. She was very focused on ­sugar content and so I encouraged her to remember to look at things like saturated fat and sodium, too - less is best.

"And to always look at the per 100g column, not per serve, when comparing products."

Kelly likes to cook with butter, so Berrill spoke to her about replacing saturated fats such as butter, animal fats and coconut oil with such unsaturated fats as olive oil, and to incorporate more legumes into meals, as well as more fish.

"Siobhan was very willing and was ­interested in nutrition and budget, so she was incredibly motivated, which helps when you're trying to engage someone in changing their habits."

Theresa Lynch lives in Hamilton with her two children, Kaitlyn, 15, and Lachlan, 9. Lynch works part-time. Her children live with her for nine nights in a fortnight and with their ­father for five nights. She shops ­fortnightly on the week the kids come.

Berrill had lots of suggestions for the Lynch family.

"Theresa was already very budget driven and was up with all the tricks like using frozen and canned ­vegetables to reduce her bill.

 

"The issue for her is that her children have strong likes and dislikes, so it can be difficult for her to make changes. It can take 15 tries when introducing a new food to a child before it becomes accepted."

Lynch says Lachlan's favourites are honey or Marmite on toast.

"Angela says these both have a bit too much sugar or salt, so she has ­suggested ­peanut ­butter ­instead.

"None of us really like peanut butter but I've bought a jar and it's sitting in the cupboard.

"We're going to give it a go."

Berrill told Lynch not to worry too much if the kids don't want meat - and to try to feed them other types of iron-rich protein instead. "So we'll try things like legumes and see," Lynch says.

The kids enjoy making smoothies with leftover fruit, so Berrill suggested adding milk, yoghurt, oats, nuts or ­vegetables instead of just fruit and ­water, to make them more filling and nutritious.

"We've also started putting cereal and yoghurt in a container for Kaitlyn to take to school, because she's really not a morning person and doesn't want breakfast when she gets up.

"I never used to eat breakfast myself either," Lynch says. "But I'm doing a lot better these days.

"I don't really like Weet-Bix, but every morning I eat it without fail.

"Angela suggested hard-boiled eggs as a snack for the kids. But they're just not keen. Lachlan doesn't eat eggs at all. I think Kaitlyn would eat them, but she's not keen on taking them to school."

Berrill also suggested carrot and celery sticks with home-made hummus as a healthy snack in the kids' lunches, and gave plenty of tips about what to look for when reading food labels.

"I leave work, go and get the ­groceries, rush home and unpack them, and then go and grab the kids from school, so I don't have a lot of time at the ­super­market.

"But Angela sent me a good email with links to the Heart Foundation ­website with tips on what to look for.

"So I'm going to spend a bit more time next time I go to the supermarket and read the labels.

"I think you get stuck on brands, you know where they are in the super­market, you just grab them and run.

"But sometimes there might be something right next to it that's healthier and cheaper. Sometimes it's a matter of ­tasting a different one that's cheaper, and you find that you like it."

Berrill suggested looking for things like lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, fruit and vegetables in cans. They're nutritious and cheap and can be stored for a long time.

"And she suggested buying a bigger can of things you use all the time - it's sometimes cheaper," Lynch says.

After-dinner snacks are one area they could work on - and it's not just Lynch's penchant for potato chips.

"Lachlan also loves icecream, which of course has too much sugar, so it's an occasional thing. The same is true for jelly, which Lachlan likes.

"Angela says I should treat icecream and jelly as treats, and try things like frozen banana for dessert instead of icecream." Berrill also suggested fruit crumble and baked apples as better dessert ­options, and her after-dinner snack ­ideas included boiled eggs, vege fritters, grain-based crackers and cheese, fruit and yoghurt, fruit kebabs and natural popcorn.

Meagen and Brian Penney live just outside Rangiora, near Christchurch, with their dog Molly and cat Roxy. Meagen is a sales rep and Brian is semi-retired but keeps busy with various projects on their 10-acre property.

"I thought Meagen and Brian were doing pretty well on the whole," Berrill says. "There were a few areas to refine, such as snack foods and portion sizes, and incorporating more legumes.

"I'd say budget wasn't necessarily a key motivator for them, but Meagen was keen to improve their nutrition."

Meagen Penney says Brian likes potato chips and she buys them every week. "Angela suggested carrots, and hummus instead of other dips."

Other ideas included popcorn, ­unroasted nuts and seeds, boiled eggs, vege fritters, mini pizzas made with wholegrain pita, vegetables and cheese, grain-based crackers and cheese, fruit and yoghurt.

Berrill also suggested buying frozen vegetables to reduce the spend.

"I never normally do it, but fresh ­broccoli has been so expensive lately so I bought some frozen, instead. It's been quite handy - I've thrown it in a few things," Meagen Penney says.

"Angela also suggested that we reduce our meat intake to a maximum of 500g of cooked meat per person a week, and include fish, preferably oily, twice a week.

"I try to remember to stop and buy fresh fish on my way home a couple of times a week. Brian cooks it on the ­barbecue, with lemon juice. Angela also suggested we should eat more legumes and vegetarian-type meals.

"I'm okay with that, but Brian's a bit more fussy, so it's just adding things in slowly and doing what we can. What he doesn't know doesn't hurt him!

"Brian's from a farm. He just likes meat and three veges. At the moment the only way we eat legumes is in a home-made vege soup, but I think we'll get there, gradually. Brian doesn't cook much if I'm not around.

"If I didn't cook it'd be honey on toast for him every night," she says.

Berrill says the traditional Kiwi diet does tend to be high in meat.

"These days the advice has shifted towards ­including plant-based sources of protein such as legumes. They're a good choice for sustainability, health and afford­ability."

Sometimes Kiwis aren't sure how to use them but after talking through practical ideas, such as using chickpeas in a curry or hummus, or lentils to make mince go ­further, they're willing to give it a go.

"It helps to remember that about 40 per cent of your shopping should be fruit and non-starchy ­vegetables," ­Berrill says.

"And if you're trying to get more fish in your diet remember that it's okay, and usually cheaper, to buy your oily fish in cans, such as salmon and ­sardines - so long as you choose the ones that are not in brine."

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