Shopping with care


We don’t need the media to alert us to the fact that the cost of living is going up, we can all see that our money does not go as far as it used to. Food costs have certainly sky rocketed with price rises affecting the cost of our basic healthy foods, with dairy products really taking out first prize for its increases. We all have to be more aware about the way we shop and how we are going to spend our money.

According to the Household Economic Survey for the year ended June 2007 the average weekly spend on food was $156.00, which was 14% of the average weekly income. However for those households in the bottom income bracket the average weekly spend on food was $68.00 per week, quite a lot less than the national average.

So what are some things you can do to help ease the burden on your wallet when it comes to feeding your family?

The Household Economic Survey showed that restaurant meals and ready-to-eat food accounted for 24 percent of total food expenditure ($38 per week). This is quite a significant portion of the average food budget. Many people cite the belief that making meals from scratch takes longer and can cost more, hence they prefer to use ready to eat meals or takeaways. Making meals from scratch does not need to take long and will generally lead to a healthier diet with lower levels of either one or all of the following nutrients: salt, fat and sugar.

Buying a ready made pizza from the supermarket may cost you around $7.00 for a large one. Making one from home which can have more toppings and will generally be larger in size will cost around $5.00. This includes toppings of ham, pineapple, onion, tomatoes and cheese.

If you have a carefully stocked pantry and fridge then homemade meals will not necessarily cost more to prepare. Knowing what your core basic ingredients are for your usual recipes is a key factor. Have a master shopping list so that you are prompted to check everything rather than relying on your memory to remind you what is getting low. If you are super organised write your list out in the same order as the aisles in the supermarket – this makes shopping quicker and if you don’t need anything from that aisle you don’t need to go down it and get tempted with things you don’t need.

Before you go shopping plan your menu and try to think of everything you will need over that week – including cleaning supplies and toiletries. By planning your menu you can identify all ingredients you need for the week. You need to then stick to the menu to ensure you don’t go back to the shops. Refer back to your master shopping list and check off what you need that week. If you need to go back to the supermarket for just one item you can almost always guarantee you will leave with more than what you went in for.

When you plan your shopping list remember to cover three meals a day. Look carefully at breakfast cereals; the ones targeted for children can be expensive and may not be very filling or nutritious. There is nothing wrong with porridge, weetbix or even good old cornflakes or rice bubbles. Try making your own muesli.

School lunch boxes that have roll-ups, strings, muesli bars or chippies in them are not very cost effective. These foods are not filling or satisfying. Remember back to when you were a child and how our staple lunch box consisted of sandwiches, fruit and a biscuit.

Now that many supermarkets have taken out the butchery section and only have pre-packaged meat you have to look carefully to check what size is best for your family. When considering the amount of meat you need to buy, visualise it in terms of the size of the palm of each person’s hand. For an adult woman this might equate to around 110g, for a man 150 grams and for children it could vary anywhere from 60-90 grams depending on their age. Using canned fish can be a cheaper option than fresh fish. When making casseroles you can halve the amount of meat you need by adding a can of beans to the dish such as cannellini, haricot or soy beans. Also consider what specials your local butcher may have on that week, this could be a cheaper option than using the supermarket as a one stop shop.

If fresh vegetables are expensive consider looking at frozen vegetables; these are just as nutritious as fresh vegetables.

If you have options then choose your supermarket carefully. According to the April 2008 Consumer NZ Magazine the cheapest supermarket was again Pak’n Save, with Countdown generally coming second in most of the regions surveyed.

Look at different brand prices and see what is best. The home brands can be a very good option and are not necessarily a poorer quality product at all. Carefully check out the store specials – don’t just assume because one brand is on special it will then be the cheapest option. When things are offered on a ‘buy 3 and save’ basis you need to consider if this is a staple item you use frequently and therefore worth buying, and you need check out the price of other single priced brands which could still be cheaper.

Shopping with children in tow can’t always be avoided but it often seems to add to the bill. Tell them you need to stick to the list and don’t submit to their pester power, or negotiate a treat that you agree to buy before going in, or keep them occupied by getting them to find things for you so they have less time to pester you. Or reward them with a trip to the park if they don’t ask you for anything not on your list.

Stop and think what are the key things that you need to buy and what can you do without. Can you avoid the alcohol aisle, do you need fruit juice, cordials, soft drinks or confectionery. These foods have become so ‘normal’ in our diet that we tend to forget sometimes that they are not everyday foods and that they are treats. Certainly all of us like treats every now and then; if you buy one then try to make it last and really savour it.

Finally, although it won’t save you any money, consider involving your child in the cooking. Teaching them to cook and giving them the skills to interpret and read a recipe will help set them up for life and give them very important skills for the future so they can feed their families in the years to come.


Fiona Boyle

Fiona Boyle is a registered dietitian and nutritionist. She runs a private practice and gives nutrition advice to individuals and families to help meet their health needs and personal goals.

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Categorised: Grown Ups

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