Always spend on fresh produce instead of processed foods. (Photo from

WE are all feeling the financial pinch from the rising costs of living — more so if you have a family to feed.

No matter what, eating is an expenditure we need to manage.

Our food choices have a direct impact on our nutrition and health. So what can we do to eat healthy while tightening our purse strings? Here are some tips I’d like to share with you:


One of the best ways to save money and eat healthy is to cook at home. Having more home-cooked meals is definitely cheaper than eating out. By doing so, you can control the ingredients you use, creating a more nutritionally-balanced meal.

Look up online videos for simple recipe ideas that you can try or modify to your liking.

Cook a little more so that you have extra portions to keep in the fridge for another meal. This saves time so you don’t have to cook from scratch every single day.

For example, you can cook a large pot of chicken curry. That same chicken curry can be served with multiple meals on other days.

For example, one day you eat it with rice and vegetables. On another day, you can serve it with toasted bread or with homemade nasi lemak. Whoever said eating at home is boring? The possibilities are endless if you just give it a thought!


Planning your meals for the week will help you have a better idea on what to buy and stock up on. Many people waste money by over-buying produce and then throwing them away when they rot or become over ripe.

Take a look at the food you have in your kitchen and work them into your planned meals. For example, if you have cans of sardines in your pantry, how about making sardine sandwiches or a sardine sambal as meal options within the week?

Once you have an idea of the meals you’re going to make, list down the ingredients you will require on a grocery list.


I often advise patients and clients to go grocery shopping with a list in hand. This helps you to only buy the foods you really need.

Trust me, when you are in a grocery store, it’s very easy to get tempted and end up buying food you don’t need.

Food manufacturers and supermarket retailers are aware of our impulsiveness — that’s why they have promoters, fancy coloured packaging and delicious scents to seduce us into buying these foods.

But if you’re on a tight budget, your main goal is to not end up spending money on food you don’t need. The rule of thumb is to not go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. Hungry shoppers are at their lowest when it comes to will power!

To save time and money, also consider shopping online. You may find better deals and save money on parking.


Buy more fresh produce than processed ones. You’d be surprised how much more money you can save. For example, buying a fresh pineapple is cheaper for the amount of servings you get compared to a can of pineapples.

Processed foods may seem more convenient but they come at a price and with a lot more added ingredients that have an impact on your health such as food additives, salt, sugar and colouring.

Some stores will have a discount area for produce and breads that may be too ripe, slightly bruised or a day old.

Do check them out as they are still edible and can be used in your cooking. This is how penny-wise cooks save on their grocery bill for the family.


Good nutrition comes from eating various foods such as grains, proteins, vegetables, fruit and dairy. While we are bombarded by slick marketing terms such as “superfoods” that give the impression that only certain types of foods are optimally healthy, the truth is you don’t have to set your pocket on fire to eat well.

Local produce is just as nutritious, if not more. For example, a guava has a higher amount of dietary fibre and vitamin C than an orange.

Buy more local fresh produce to get more value for your ringgit.

Also, check out farmers’ markets (pasar tani) where you can get better-priced local produce direct from the source.


Apart from processed foods, meats are a big expense in your grocery bill. Eating less meat within the week is another logical way to save money.

For some of your meals, consider having other protein-rich foods to replace meats such as beans, legumes, eggs, milk, tofu, nuts, canned fish or anchovies.

Protein from plant sources such as beans, legumes, nuts and seeds are also cholesterol-free and lower in saturated fat than meats.

Choosing more plant proteins to replace meats is a good way to cut down on consuming too much cholesterol and saturated fat.


Another advantage of cooking a little extra is that you now have the option of packing food to work. Leftovers make a great lunch for the next day.

Pack your own sandwiches instead of having breakfast outside. You will save money and will most likely eat better with food that you prepare yourself. (Photo from

Many of my clients who practise this not only save money but are also better able to stick to their dietary goals as they can control their portions.

Look at your individual eating habits. Apart from lunch, do you eat breakfast out as well? One of my clients used to eat breakfast out on a workday as she leaves the house early to beat the traffic jam. Now she packs a simple sandwich so that she does not have to spend unnecessarily on breakfast as well.

She is happy to report that she has lost weight from not eating so much roti canai and having sugary hot beverages in the morning, which was her typical breakfast on workdays.

Her effort to save money has resulted in her feeling better about herself health-wise. To a dietitian like me, that’s a double winner!

* Indra Balaratnam is a consultant dietitian who believes in simple practical ways to eating well and living healthy. She can be reached at

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