Eating on a healthy budget
by Rachel Jesson
in Blogs

I was recently asked by the producers of the television programme Real Health to come up with an insert on eating healthily on a budget. It was one of the easiest inserts I’ve done, because eating simply is actually not expensive at all.

Pulling vegetables from the ground and off trees, and munching on meats that once roamed the pastures is the way we should all be eating today if our ultimate aim is health. It’s once we start moving into man-made produce that things not only get expensive, but also impact on the environment. For instance, purchasing something in a brightly coloured box often means that what is inside that box is overly processed, toxic or sugar-laden, and loaded in synthetics to try bring a small amount of nutrition back into the lifeless product; and the box ends up being more expensive than the product inside of it.

When we go to our local market, we don’t often purchase fruits and vegetables that are suffocating in unnecessary packaging. I know when we buy kale, carrots or beetroots, it is bunched together with a piece of string. Items like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, cucumber all come in their raw, naked forms. We buy loose avocados, lemons, pomegranates and so forth. All the produce is well priced because it’s seasonal and farmed in close proximity to where we stay. When you purchase your fresh produce from a commercial store, most of it comes from a central depot, so you’re not able to trace it and it is covered in plastic. Not only does this plastic have negative effects on the environment, but it deepens your pockets as well. So in the end you are paying for both the packaging and the produce.

The same would apply to canned items. It is far cheaper and cleaner to purchase dried beans, as opposed to the canned version. A bag full of 500g of beans ranges from R12 to R15, whereas you pay more for the tin and you get more meals from the dried version. I used beans as an alternative to eating meat once a week. I found some raw jugo beans, raw corn and raw peanuts. I soaked the corn and beans for a full day and cooked them all together, including the nuts, in a grass-fed homemade chicken stock. Not only did this amplify the flavour of the dish, but it sent the nutritional density of the food off the charts!

So, I introduced people to simple ingredients that really pushed the bar in terms of fuelling and nourishing your body in the best way possible. And I made a huge pot full. We couldn’t eat it all, so I froze the rest in appropriate portions for us to enjoy at another time. And what may knock your socks off even further is that a huge pot of beans, corn and nuts only cost R20 to make! Nothing costing R20 these days is particularly nourishing and wholesome. This is a crystal-clear example that eating healthily doesn’t have to be expensive.

I had a huge spread of fresh produce on the table; oranges, lemons, carrots, beetroot, apples, pineapple, gooseberries, strawberries, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, onions, fresh herbs, ginger and garlic, plus a number of dried beans like black and red beans, chickpeas, lentils, samp, mung beans and dahl. The entire spread didn’t exceed R150.

The spinach, gooseberries, strawberries, stevia, fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary and oregano, were all picked from my own garden. Some of these items are over six years old, so they really are free. How it ‘pays’ you to grow your own produce. Not only is the nutritional density of each at its max, but the flavours are so incredibly intense. Sprigs of thyme or rosemary bought from a supermarket hardly smell like anything, but pulling them out from your own garden is another whole scent experience on its own! These herbs have also lasted right through winter, so they are freshly available all year round. Thyme, oregano and mint grow like a creeper, so make wonderful ground cover if you have open, sandy spaces that you need filled. All they need is watering once a week and that’s all the effort that’s required. There is a myth that growing your own produce is tiresome and requires loads of your time. It doesn’t! I would like to trample that myth right there. There is also something truly wholesome about getting your hands dirty. And if you have kids, they will love doing this part with you. Once the plants are in, all you need to do is to pull out the occasional weed while watering, and you’ll reap the wonders. It’s an olfactory and taste sensation that is beyond description.

I also traded lemons with my sister because she has a huge tree full, that she could never conquer on her own. I share my chillies and other produce with her. You can get your neighbours involved and create a community of exchanges. Discussing what you would each like to grow enables you to generate variety each season. There really are many plants that grow too rapidly to eat them all, so instead of wasting them, you can share them.

These were a few of the examples that I shared in my insert on eating healthily on a budget. When you look at all this produce at face value and you obtain it from the correct sources, it is actually an incredibly cheap way of eating. So go out there, start getting your hands dirty in your garden; even if you begin by planting a single herb, it’s something. Start experimenting with growing, or enjoy a weekend morning at your local market and then become creative in your kitchen. Your healthy options are endless!