Eating healthy on a budget

It’s no secret that sustaining a nutritious diet can be challenging when on a budget. As a busy student it is especially important to make food choices that support brain function while ensuring these food choices are as stress-free as possible.

It is easy to get caught up on food rules and diet plans with an overwhelming media influence nowadays, however, conforming to these rules introduces an unhealthy relationship with food and promotes disordered eating. On top of diminishing your mental health, diets focused around ‘super foods’ or bad science ploys are often apart of a major money making scheme. Rules focused around food choices undermine our ability to trust our bodies physical and emotional cues, that tell us how much to eat and when. This ultimately impacts our mental and physical health, as rules surrounding food often make us obsessive and steal the joy and pleasure out of eating.

It is important to keep a balance of nutritious foods as well as foods that just taste delicious and make you happy. So enjoy that girls/guys-night-out pizza and birthday cake because these foods are just as much a part of a healthy and balanced diet as kale and quinoa.

So how can we stick to a relatively healthy diet that we crave, on a budget? Here are my tips, based on my own uni student budget and experience.

Buy fresh produce while it is in season 

Produce is much cheaper when it in in season so make the most of it while it is available. When there are good deals available or your favourites are cheaper, make the most of the opportunity by stocking up and freezing them for later months. For example, fruit can be frozen for smoothies, corn can easily be stripped and frozen, and beans/broccoli can be cut up and stored in snap lock bags to use later as quick steamed veggies to add to meals.

Shop locally where you can

Scout local vegetable shops and farmers markets before turning to expensive ‘health supermarkets’. Fresh produce is usually just as good quality, organic available and much cheaper at these venues. Plus you get the satisfaction of supporting local businesses. A Sunday morning walk to the local markets can set you right up for the week plus get the family involved.

Buy ugly veggies

At your supermarket or local markets look for ‘juicing’ veggies and fruits. Often these are only cheaper due to some small imperfection or a funny shape but otherwise perfect to eat and just as nutritious.

Protein tips on a budget

When you’re buying meat, make the most the most of the whole animal by using left over bones to make homemade stock, bone broth or soup to keep in the freezer. You can also stretch cheaper cuts out by adding other protein rich plant options or substituting meat entirely.

Consider planning a few meat-free meals a week by using legumes, seeds or nuts as your meat substitutes, or bulk your meat dishes out by adding them to dishes that suit.

Some examples include:

  • Seeds such as; chia, hemp, sunflower, sesame, pumpkin and flax.
  • Lentils/green peas
  • Quinoa
  • Chickpeas and other beans
  • Tofu/tempeh
  • Edamame
  • Nuts

Most of these are often inexpensive and a great way to bulk up meals meaning a little can go a long way.

Grow your own produce

Herbs are usually an especially pricey condiment that adds up quickly over time, so growing your own in a small pot or garden can save you big time if you enjoy using them in your cooking.

If you have the space, a small veggie patch is also a fun way to incorporate more produce into your diet with little cost. It is also a great way to get the kids involved with their food and they will love eating food they helped to grow.

Keep your fridge and pantry organized

Keeping your spaces organized will help you know exactly what you have and what you need. This will save you from buying things you already have, which would later go to waste.

Buy in bulk

Buying your food in bulk often saves money, wastage and multiple supermarket trips. This means you not only save yourself some cash but also unnecessary plastic entering the environment and fuel in your tank too! Bonus.

Stores such as The Source, Bin Inn and Good For are great options when wanting to purchase whole foods in bulk such as, nuts, flours, seeds, sweets, spreads and oils.

Another option is to get together a group of like-minded foodies and split the costs of bulk-brought food or produce for an even cheaper shop each week.

Cook in bulk to save time

I often cook large batches of food for the week and keep it in my fridge or freezer for quick and easy meals. For example, meals such as lasagna, meatballs, fritters and soup are some simple staples to keep on hand for quick meals. This saves stress during the week when a quick meal is needed between lectures, work or study.


Below are some cheap and simple whole food recipes.

The prices are based off some of approximates of the most affordable products in NZ supermarkets and bulk food stores (some of these products may be available for a lesser cost if you purchase the supermarket home-brand).


Cacao chia pudding


Chia pudding is super easy to make and lasts in the fridge for 1 week. I usually make the recipe in bulk and dish out spoonfuls for a quick and easy breakfast. Chia seeds are packed with omega 3 and protein, making this dish a gut supportive and satisfying meal.

4 Tbsp Chia seeds ($2/100g non-organic or $2.9/100g organic GoodFor Store)

½ cup coconut milk ($0.60/100ml)

½ cup coconut cream ($0.60/100ml)

1Tbsp Maple syrup or honey

2 tsp cinnamon ($0.65/10g)

1Tbsp cacao powder raw ($3.21/100g organic GoodFor Store)

Add chia seeds, coconut milk, coconut cream and sweetener to a jar. Sift in dry ingredients and mix thoroughly to combine.  Place lid on jar or cover and leave in fridge for approx 1-2 hours before serving.

Topping options: Frozen berries, seasonal fruit, seeds, yoghurt, museli/granola.




Popcorn is a favourite snack of mine, watching the kernels pop is super fun for adults as well as kids. Not only is this quick snack a better alternative to the plastic-lined popcorn bags brought in stores, it also allows you to choose your favourite flavours/toppings and mix it up depending on what you feel like. Popcorn is also a great source of fibre!

1/3 cup organic popcorn kernels ($0.87/100g organic)

3 Tbsp coconut oil ($2.40/100ml organic)

Heat the oil in a large pot on a medium-high heat. Allow any solid oil to melt.

Place a few kernels into  the oil and wait for them to pop.

When they pop, add the rest of the popcorn kernels.

Shake pot to spread kernels evenly.

Cover the pot with a lid and remove from the heat for approx 20 seconds.

Return the pot to the heat and the popcorn should begin to pop soon after. Occassionally release steam from the pot and shake the pot to spread around the kernels.

Once the popping slows to approx 5 seconds between pops, remove the pot from the heat.

Pour popcorn into a large bowl and serve.

Flavour options: butter, cinnamon, herbs or pesto, salt and pepper,


Roast pumpkin soup


This easy, warming soup is perfect for the cold winter months when you need a meal that will warm you from the inside out. I often keep this in the freezer and dish it out when a quick but satisfying meal is needed. Pumpkin is a great source of vitamin C, so perfect for supporting a struggling immunity during winter.

1 pumpkin ($4.99 each in season)

1 onion, sliced thinly (2.49/kg)

1 cup chicken stock ($0.40/100ml)

1/2 cup coconut cream ($0.60/100ml)

1 tsp curry powder ($0.45/10g)

Salt and pepper to taste

Mixed winter frozen vegetables ($0.50/100g)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C fanbake.

Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Skin pumpkin and cut into cubes. Lay pumpkin pieces on pre-lined baking tray, a roast in oven for approx. 20 minutes or until soft.

In a large pot add roasted pumpkin, onion, chicken stock, coconut cream, curry powder and salt and pepper. Puree pumpkin with a stick wizz. Bring soup to a simmer and mix to combine, simmer for 10 minutes or until warm through.

Steam frozen vegetables and add to soup once served.

Topping options: parmesan (or other cheese), coriander, bacon pieces, toasted shredded coconut, coconut cream or organic cream, fresh herbs.



A note on buying organic

Organic foods are more often than not much more expensive than non-organic foods.

If your budget allows for it, choosing organic is important to reduce the amount of pesticides, GMOS, hormones and chemicals in your diet. Organic foods are also better for the environment as fewer pollutants enter the soil and waterways. Organic diets have shown to be especially beneficial to those who suffer from allergies to foods, chemicals or preservatives.

If you find it unaffordable to purchase all organic food, some of the best produce to consider buying organic are the ‘Dirty Dozen’, while you can save money on spending extra for organic when it comes to the ‘Clean 15’. Check out which fruit and vegetables feature on these lists below.

The Dirty Dozen are the foods that have been found to contain the highest amount of pesticide residues. You can often find organic produce at local vegetable stores or farmers markets for a similar price as regular produce. The Clean 15 are the produce that are found to contain the least amount of pesticide residues so can easily be enjoyed non-organically.

Dirty Dozen Clean 15
Strawberries Avocados
Spinach Sweet corn
Nectarines Pineapples
Apples Cabbages
Grapes Onions
Peaches Frozen Sweet Peas
Cherries Papayas
Pears Asparagus
Tomatoes Mangoes
Celery Eggplants
Potatoes Honeydews
Capsicum (Bell Peppers) Kiwi fruit



About our guest blogger: Zoe is a passionate advocate of developing a healthy relationship with all foods and enjoying a balanced wholefoods-based diet.

Zoe is a third year student at Massey University, studying a BSc majoring in Human Nutrition and Sport & Exercise Science, with an interest in child and women’s nutrition, as well as using nutrition to support mental health.