The soaring costs of food is forcing South Africans to make some tough choices when it comes to their food baskets, says Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) president Maria van der Merwe. According to research, barriers to healthy eating include the cost of healthy food, low levels of nutritional knowledge, culinary traditions, social pressures, and lack of time for meal planning and preparation.
Many of the barriers to healthy eating have to do with perceptions rather than facts, she adds. An example of this is believing that healthy eating is more expensive when there are many affordable ways to make healthier eating choices.
“Currently, the high costs of living in South Africa are stimulating changes in what food we buy, and how often we eat out or choose ready-made foods such as takeaways over preparing meals at home,” she says.
Many people think that healthy eating is expensive, but it does not have to be, says Van der Merwe. Preparing meals at home is more affordable than buying ready-made foods or eating out, and it also increases the likelihood of making healthy eating choices.
Those unhealthy habits
Given the country’s high prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension and Type 2 diabetes, which are impacted by an unhealthy diet, it is vital that the current high cost of food doesn’t become a barrier to healthy eating, says Professor Pamela Naidoo, CEO of The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa.
Naidoo explains how healthy nutrition and physical activity can be used to reduce the risks of developing NCDs. “Around 225 South Africans die from cardiovascular disease every day,” she adds.
“ The major causes of cardiovascular disease are overweight and obesity, as well as high blood pressure. In general, South African diets tend towards a low consumption of fresh vegetables and fruit, but a high intake of salt, fat and refined carbohydrates.”
Naidoo further states that parents and caregivers need to make a conscious effort to influence their children’s eating habits from a young age. Households looking to cut their budgets due to rising costs should first consider reducing or stopping their consumption of alcoholic drinks and tobacco, replace sugary cold drinks with fresh, clean water and swop fresh vegetables and fruits for salty snacks or sugary treats.
Here’s how you can get creative
Carol Browne of the Nutrition Society of South Africa (NSSA) shares 14 tips for planning and preparing quick, healthy, and affordable home meals:
- Draw up a monthly food budget and weekly or monthly menu plan that fits your budget and do your best to stick to it. Choose simple recipes to save time.
- Planning your menus and food preparation helps to reduce food waste, which is essential when you are on a tight budget. Don’t let leftovers go to waste, and store foods properly to make them last longer.
- When you go food shopping, always use a shopping list that is based on your budget and your menu plan. Don’t shop for food when you are hungry.
- Look out for specials, and if possible, buy in bulk and share bulk purchases with relatives or friends.
- Choose a variety of foods that are affordable and in season.
- Consider including a meat-free day at least once a week.
- Include dry beans, peas, lentils, and soya which you can use in many dishes such as salads, soups, stews, and curries. As they are high in plant protein, they can be used as a meat replacement in a dish, as a meat extender, or as an ingredient in their own right.
- Include plenty of different vegetables and fruit in your daily meal plan.
- Whenever possible, cook extra food for another supper or lunch the next day. Freeze extra portions that can be quickly reheated for another meal. This saves on energy costs as well as your time and prevents food waste.
- Use the right size pots and pans on the stove-top to save energy. Keeping the lid on pots of stews and soups allows for quicker cooking times and less energy use.
- Practice portion control to avoid overeating.
- Use methods of cooking such as steaming, boiling, grilling, and baking rather than deep fat frying to reduce your use of cooking oils and fats.
- Use herbs and spices to flavour your food instead of salt.
- At all ages, children need easy access, in their homes and at school, to a variety of suitable foods, including plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, which can be grown at home, at school or in the community. Involve your children in meal preparation and enjoy sharing meals together without distractions such as screens.
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