by Tracey Kellett, Registered Nutritionist

Here are some helpful tips for spending less money on food and groceries without compromising your nutrition. 

1. Cook once, eat twice or three times

Depending on the size of your whanau and whom you are cooking for, this rule is perfect for portioning and freezing your meal leftovers. This is especially good for one-pot meals like Mexican mixes, chilies, curries, and casseroles and can even be done with staples like whole grains. Cook more than you need, split the rest into portions, and freeze. Having pre-cooked portions of frozen brown rice or quinoa in the freezer can make the next meal just a little bit quicker when you only have to think about the protein and veggie part of the meal. Portioning your leftovers to freeze also means you have work lunches ready to go or spare healthy meals for your hungry teenagers. 

2. Avoid the supermarket

Wherever possible, buy fresh produce from a local fruit and vegetable store. You are supporting local and saving big on your grocery bill. Compare prices; some of the chain fruit and veggie stores have prices that may be higher than your local fruit and vegetable store. If you’re missing one or two things from your recipe, use what you have at home. Just popping into the store for a few things increases your chances of impulse buying and could easily add $50 to the grocery bill. If you can, shop online to avoid impulse buys. When you do have to go to the supermarket, make it a planned shop and take a shopping list.

3. Have a relaxed plan

Decide on meals for the week with your whānau. Write a shopping list and stick to the plan (as much as possible). Planning leaves little room for impulse buys and throwing out unused food at the end of the week. The plan needs to be relaxed so you can take advantage of what’s on special at the supermarket or what vegetables/protein is available. Try not to get too hung up on specific recipe ingredients if the price for these has shot up. There’s plenty you can substitute with, so bring a go-with-the-flow attitude to your shopping. 

4. Compare prices of foods in the same category

A food category is the same type of food across different brands. For example, canned tomatoes are one food category; yoghurt is another. For most packaged items, the price tag includes the price and the price per 100g, 100 mL, or 1kg. This is usually in tiny print, so you may need your glasses for this one. If you have the patience and time, check these to compare brands to get the most for your money. This is also useful when choosing between different sizes of the same product. Once you’ve got a good idea within the category you are shopping for, you won’t have to check all brands every time, maybe just the one you usually buy and the one that is on special that week. 

5. Bulk up with beans

Beans are not only super good for you, but they are cheap! Buy them dried from independent grocers that sell in bulk and save even more. Add to salads, casseroles, and mince dishes, blend in pasta sauces and soups, and mix in with mince dishes to help your mince go further. Beans are a great source of plant protein and are about a 50/50 carbohydrate/protein composition food. Canned beans, like lentils and chickpeas, are more convenient than cooking dried beans from scratch but cost a little more. Remember our first tip? You can always cook up a big batch of dried beans, portion them out for freezing, and use them later. 

6. Buy in season

Thanks to our current food environment, many of us don’t know what’s in season and what isn’t. Usually, the cheaper vegetables and fruit are the ones in season, and those produced in Aotearoa are another good sign they are in season. have a helpful seasonal calendar you can look at before you hit the stores. 

7. Quick-sell items

These are consumable products close to their best before or use-by dates. Make sure you will eat/cook/freeze anything you buy on the use-by date. Food can usually be eaten a few days after the expiry or use-by date. Food can be eaten for some time after its best-before date; it just may not look or be at its best. Quick-sell items are usually going for a lot cheaper than their retail price. There are independent stores dedicated to quick-sell food items across New Zealand. Most places that sell food will have a dedicated area for quick-sell items, usually at the front of the store. 

8. Get to know the contents of your fridge

We are all guilty of saving half a can of something in the fridge and throwing it out a week later. Spend some time getting to know the contents of your fridge before you cook. Let the food that needs to be eaten inspire your meal choice. New Zealand households throw out an average of $644 worth of food each year. Visit Love Food Hate Waste for great ideas on how to use all of your vegetables and reduce your household food waste. 

9. Food-share

Use food share apps like Olio and Foodprint. Olio is a platform where people give things away for free, including food. FoodPrint rescues food from retailers that would otherwise be thrown out. The best eateries usually sell out quickly on the app, so get to know your local cafe’s end-of-day routine to grab your favourite salad for a fraction of the regular price. Take the food you don’t need to your local Pātaka Kai (food pantry) and pick something else up. Be mindful that some people in the community rely on these for kai, so try to give more than you take. 

10. Looks aren’t important

Like conventional beauty standards, we’ve been sold a “look” that our fresh fruit and veggies must adhere to be acceptable for supermarket shelves. But when it comes to health and cooking considerations, looks don’t matter. Check out the Odd Bunch bags of produce that don’t fit into the tight supermarket selection criteria but still taste and act the same. Look for local delivery companies operating on the same premise, such as Wonky Box. They deliver seasonal fruit and vegetables that, as the name suggests, are full of character. 

11. Grow your own

Depending on your living environment, this may be easier said than done. Start-up costs are involved for soil or growing containers if starting entirely from scratch. You don’t have to buy seeds, as much of the produce you buy can be used to plant your garden. We recommend that you research what you can grow in your space. You may be able to grow more than you think, or at least some fresh herbs or salad leaves. Tuigarden has a helpful planting calendar for different regions in Aotearoa. 

For more information about nutrition and arthritis, contact our Arthritis Assist team by calling 0800 663 463, email us at or visit our section on Nutrition and Arthritis

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