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How to stay healthy on a tight budget

The COVID pandemic has had some devastating effects and many people who may have previously been able to provide healthy meals for their families are now unable to do so.

I recently put together meal packages for a client to provide nutritionally complete food packages for families struggling to put food on the table since the COVID lockdown started. I have since seen so many community members most generously giving back and offering food vouchers or food packages to help out those in need.

I have come up with a basic shopping list, a meal plan and recipe ideas to help achieve a nutritionally balanced diet with a tight budget. I am hoping this will help serve as a guide for families to buy foods that will provide a well-balanced diet. This can also be used to help other small organisations distributing food packages, providing insight into what foods to include. Feel free to share this with anyone who may be in need.

Staying healthy is a priority now more than ever and nutrition needs to be emphasized.

This type of shopping list and meal plan is not what I would generally be putting together for my clients and it was eye-opening to get a sense of how you are able to cover all the food groups on the smallest budget possible. It has definitely made me rethink my own spending on groceries.

People may have different budgets to work with. This shopping list and meal plan is based on the lowest budget, so I have not included meat, chicken or fresh dairy products. Even if your budget is not as tight, we are living in an uncertain time financially and this hopefully gives you a sense of where you can reduce spend on food. I hope that you can take away some ideas away from this post, start saving on groceries and also trying out new meal ideas.

Some ways to be more savvy with your food budget:

  • Include cost effective protein sources such as legumes (dried are more cost effective), tinned fish like pilchards or sardines (pilchards are more cost effective), peanut butter and eggs. Keep these portions small. No more than 60 to 100g are needed per meal.

  • Choose fruit and vegetables that last longer and are more cost effective such as apples, pears, pineapples, oranges, carrots, butternut/pumpkin, cabbage, onion, beetroot, gem squash and always aim for a variety of colours.

  • Choose high fibre grains and potatoes to bulk up meals and keep you fuller for longer. Grains used in combination with legumes will provide all essential amino acids (even if not used in the same meal, but spread over the day) so start trying out some meatless meals such as lentil/bean curries, stews, ragus and soups.

  • Plan your meals ahead for the week and make a shopping list accordingly. This will reduce waste and even work out a budget for the week. Depending on your budget, you could aim for a set number of meat-free days or try to keep a few of your meals lower budget.

  • Prioritize fruit, vegetables, proteins and high fibre grains over luxury items such as sweet treats and beverages.

Food package for 1 person for 1 week R122.83 (Based on checkers prices)

  • 500g dried legumes (lentils/white beans/split peas)

  • 500g uncooked brown Rice OR 1kg potato

  • 100g peanut butter

  • 4 Eggs

  • 200g pilchards (1/2 tin)

  • 1.5 x 400g tin Baked beans in tomato sauce

  • 28 slices bread

  • 70g full cream milk powder

  • Vegetables 2.5kg (I suggest a mix of carrots, cabbage, onion, tomato, beetroot for most affordable options)

  • Fruit 700g (I suggest apples for most affordable option)

Multiply these food servings depending on the number of people to feed in a household. Below I have worked out a grocery list for R500 worth of food that will feed a household of 4 adults.

R500 worth of groceries for 4 adults for 1 full week of nutritious meals

Here are some tasty ways to use the vegetables that are on the meal plan:

  • Cabbage & carrot slaw (dress with white wine/apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper)

  • Steamed julienne carrots

  • Roasted carrot fingers/wedges with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper

  • Carrots & onions used in vegetable biryani or egg fried rice or vegetarian cottage pie

  • Cabbage in stews/soups

  • Roast beetroot in olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper (can also use cold as a salad, sliced with some fresh herbs)

  • Tomato & onion used in lentil/bean curry or lentil cottage pie

  • Chopped tomato & onion salsa with eggs/pilchards on toast

  • Pan fried tomato & onion in an omelette or with pilchards on toast

  • Pickled vegetables (onion/carrot/beetroot/cabbage)


Here are some recipe ideas that I found which can be made using the ingredients on this meal plan:


Resource used for ration scale per person


I hope you are all keeping safe and healthy during this time xxx

For personalised meal plans for any budget, contact me directly:

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