I've got $40 in the bank till pay day. Help! What do I eat?

We’ve all felt the pinch at one time or another. That’s why ALDI has enlisted the help of dietitian, Melissa Meier, to break down how you can make it until next pay day without caving in to those takeaway menu deals on the fridge.

Words by Melissa Meier, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Founder of Honest Nutrition

Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you have to let your healthy eating slide. In fact, some of the healthiest foods are also the cheapest. So, here’s my dietitian-approved top tips on what to buy when funds are limited.

Grains and cereals

Fancy artesian breads and trendy grains (like quinoa and buckwheat) might be off the menu, but you can still get your grainy fix when you’re on a budget.

One of my top recommendations is rolled oats – a whole bag of which costs just over $1 (winning!). I’m a big fan of oats, not only because they’re loaded with gut-loving fibre, but quality carbs to keep you feeling full and energising b-group vitamins, too. They’re the perfect breakfast staple!

A loaf of wholemeal bread is another cheap go-to. It’s the perfect base for a homemade sandwich to take to work for lunch each day (plus, you’ll save dollars by avoiding a trip to the food court).

And if the budget allows, pick up a bag of long grain brown rice for another quick and easy smart carb to add to lunch or dinner. Think stuffed capsicums or stir-fries.

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The dairy section

Dairy is super important for strong bones and teeth thanks to its calcium content – but yoghurt and cheese are rather pricey. That doesn’t mean you have to go without calcium, just reach for plain old milk instead. Paired with oats or cereal, milk is a great way to start the day.

I often encourage dairy foods as snacks, too. That’s because they’re also a good source of protein which can help to keep you feeling full and satisfied until your next meal. Nothing is easier than a quick fruit smoothie, made with one cup of skim milk and some frozen fruit.

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Protein punch

You don’t have to opt for expensive fillet steaks to get enough protein. For a thrifty protein boost, my go-to staples are:

  • Tinned legumes – what I call a ‘true superfood’, beans, chickpeas and lentils are packed with muscle building protein, quality carbohydrates to keep you feeling full and fibre for a healthy gut. I love to throw them into salads or use them in place of mincemeat in dishes like shepherd’s pie or spaghetti bolognese.
  • Tinned tuna – the perfect value packed, protein-rich pantry staple. You can leave tinned tuna in your desk drawer and add it to a salad or sandwich at lunchtime.
  • Eggs – the humble egg is super affordable yet nutrient-rich, containing Vitamin D which is key for bone health, iron for oxygen transport and heart-healthy fatty acids. Whip up a tasty omelette for breakfast, enjoy hard-boiled eggs for snacks or throw together a frittata for dinner with lots of seasonal veggies.
  • Whole chicken – a cheaper alternative to breasts or thighs, you can cook a whole chicken at the start of the week and use it as a key ingredient in multiple meals over the days to come. Think: lunchtime chicken sandwiches or healthy Friday night chicken pizzas. Season with dried herbs or wholegrain mustard, for a punch of flavour without wasting money on expensive marinades.

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Fresh (or frozen) produce

It’s a no brainer that eating enough fruit and vegetables is super important for your overall health. They’re full of fibre for a healthy gut, disease-fighting antioxidants and a range of vitamins and minerals to keep your body working it’s best – and being strapped for cash is no excuse to not reach your five a day! But, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when looking for a bargain.

The first is pretty simple: shop with the seasons. That’s because when fruit and veg are in season, they are readily available, so the price drops. It’s just basic economics!

The second is don’t be afraid of the frozen food department. After all, it’s very economical. People are often surprised when I tell them it’s perfectly healthy to eat frozen fruit and veg. Why? Because frozen fruit and veg are usually snap frozen as soon as they’re harvested, locking in nutrients. They also don’t spend all of that time deteriorating in transit. So, they’re equally as healthy as fresh produce – and can be a better choice if you’re trying to ration your dollars. Plus, they come pre-chopped!

I find a lot of people struggle with reaching their two serve of fruit and five serves of veg a day – but with a little forethought, it really is a cinch. A handful of frozen berries scattered over your morning cereal and a piece of fruit for morning tea and you’ve already hit your daily fruit target.

In terms of veggies, it’s key to get started early – don’t bank on dinner to get in all five serves! I often encourage people to include veggies at breakfast (veggie omelettes are my go-to), and snack on veggies throughout the day.

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If you need a helping hand, here’s my basic shopping list:

  • Rolled oats
  • Wholemeal bread
  • Brown rice
  • Pasta 
  • Reduced-fat milk
  • Tinned legumes (chickpeas, lentils and beans)
  • Tinned tuna
  • A dozen eggs 
  • Frozen fruit and veggies
  • Whole Chicken 

If you’re heading to the shops solo and on an empty wallet, this list will set you back only $38.18* at ALDI. So, next time your budget is looking a little tight, remember your healthy eating habits don’t have to fall by the wayside. Just remember my top tips for shopping like a budget-conscious dietitian!

*Cost breakdown (Fresh produce prices based on New South Wales pricing on 09/01/19)

  • Goldenvale Rolled Oats $1.08
  • Bakers Life Wholemeal Sliced Bread 650g $1.39
  • Imperial Grain Brown Rice 1kg $2.19
  • Remano Spaghetti 500g $0.65
  • Remano Italian Diced Tomatoes 400g $0.60
  • New Season Pulses (Lentils or Cannellini Beans) 400g $0.73-  (x4 $2.92)
  • Broad Oak Farms Fresh Whole Chicken $3.79 per kg
  • Portview Flavoured Tuna 95g $0.85- x (5 $4.25)
  • Lodge Farm Cage Free Eggs 700g $3.39
  • Farmdale UHT Light Milk 1L $0.99  (x2 $1.98)
  • Orchard & Vine Mixed Berries 500g $3.49
  • Market Fare Mixed Vegetables 1kg $1.59 ( x2 $3.18)
  • Market Fare QuickSteam Vegetables (3x 150g steam bags) $1.79
  • Fresh strawberries $1.99
  • Fresh bananas 1kg $2.99
  • Fresh Pink Lady Apples 0.5kg $2.50