Contrary to popular belief, convenience foods, ready meals, diet supplements, etc. are not more affordable than cooking from scratch, with fresh “real” ingredients. As part of my weightloss journey, I recently argued with a friend that what he had just eaten as a ready-meal (which barely seems to provide enough satiety for a solitary person) could be replicated, at home, by myself, and for the same price as his ready-meal I could produce the meal for 4 people. The next time he visits, I’ve volunteered to demonstrate how I could create the entire meal in my slow-cooker and feed the entire family the same nutritious, tasty meal for the same price as one ready-made serve.
It’s a common trap to fall into. I started out the same with my dieting this time round. I’d stock up on ready-meals for me, yet then find myself expending as much time as it would take to cook a family meal as I did cooking just for the kids then heating up a ready-meal for myself. So I decided to stop using them, save money, and become a better, more organised, healthy eater. We set our minds onto the “diet track” and automatically gravitate towards the popular ready-made, calorie-controlled frozen meals. These average at about $6.50 a portion (sometimes less when on sale, but on average, around this mark). For $6.50 you can easily make a full, family sized 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 and other garden vegetables, but with no meat)
- Soups are very affordable meals and low-fat / full of goodness. Carrot, Tomato & Zucchini and also Tomato and Spinach are two of my favourites.
- A variety of salads with lean meat (slice it thinly so it distributes throughout the salad and add another protein like light cheese, or boiled egg.
- Vegetarian pizzas – load them with vegetables and make them on wholemeal bases.
Where and how you buy your produce makes a large 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. When making dinner choices aim for tomato based pasta sauces over creamy ones, create fresh vibrant salad dressings based on vinegarette with touches of lime and sweet chilli rather than mayonnaise based dressings. “Brown Bag It” rather than buying shop-bought lunches when it comes to work lunches for the family – and when preparing theirs, prepare your own to avoid running out of time during the day to prepare yourself a nutritional lunch, and try and get the family on board when it comes to eating well. Shop in season – find out what fruits and vegetables are locally in season and integrate them into your diet rather than sticking to old favourites which may in fact be more expensive.
If fruits and/or vegetables are ridiculously cheap, I sometimes buy a large amount then blanche and freeze them – they can then be used later as you would shop-bought frozen vegetables. That being said, nutritionally frozen vegetables are not at all nutritionally defunct. And one thing I’ve learnt to be observant about is 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.
Water is integral to weight-loss, but buying bottled water is unnecessarily expensive. If you do buy bottles, look out for when the bulk packs are on special (recently I purchased a 24 pack of bottled water for $6.99, however in South Australia you get 10c back for every bottle you take to a recycling depot, therefore I got $2.40 cash-back on the bottles and my water essentially only cost $4.59). Being even more frugal (if your tap water is not pleasant for drinking, like in the area of Australia I live in) you can buy the cheap boxes of water and refill bottles as you go along. I have 3 dedicated water bottles so there’s always one in the fridge cold, one being drunk, and one just been refilled and put back in the fridge.
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 now when I’m doing my exercise routine (as covered in the previous blog post) I “race the meal” – I prepare and put a meal in the oven and work out my hardest until the meal has finished cooking.
Furthermore, eating something fresh and made with “real ingredients” is mentally helpful to keep you on track and motivated! Fresh foods provide you with excellent serotonin boosts! Proteins such as low-fat turkey, seafoods, low-fat or non-fat milks, and foods rich in boron (such as broccoli, nuts, and legumes) are great for energy and happiness – proteins are essential for amino acid building, which in turn produce dopamine, norepinephine and epinephrine – which increase alertness and promote contentment. Boron-rich foods on the otherhand are known for increasing brain activity and improve concentration and determination. Foods rich in folic acid and/or selenium are impressive mood-boosters and have even been known to combat a depressive mood. 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 a reminder of how to keep your wallet heavy, and your weight light… The way I keep on track at late is by putting some money aside (the amount it would cost to buy just 3 ready-meals a fortnight – $15.00) 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!
I hope you’re all keeping up the great work too! Until next time, eat yourself happy and healthy!