With rising fuel and food costs, lower and middle-income households can expect the food price blues to continue for the rest of the year. This is according to the president of the Association of Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), Maria van der Merwe, who observes that the South African food and non-alcoholic consumer price index has been increasing at a higher rate than the headline consumer price index since April 2020.
“This implies that the proportional cost of food has been increasing more than other consumer goods and more than household income. We have seen that the price of sunflower oil, chicken, beef offal, instant coffee, oranges, dried beans, and cheddar cheese all increased by more than 10% on a year-to-year basis from April 2021 to April 2022; compared to the 6% upper annual inflation band of the South African Reserve Bank.”
Focus on nutrient-rich foods
If you haven’t yet taken a good look at your household budget to find ways to cut costs, this may be a good time to get this done, says ADSA spokesperson and registered dietitian, Zitandile Mfono.
She adds that the key when it comes to your family food budget is to reduce and contain costs without giving in on quality.
“There’s never been a better time to put your focus on nutrient-rich foods. What you want to do is find financial savings by cutting back on those foods that are nutrient-poor and energy dense, that are working against the aim of your family making healthy food choices,” says Mfono.”
“Reducing your purchases of low nutrient density snack foods, sugary drinks, sweets, take-away meals, and store-bought baked goods will free up some of your budget so that you can more easily afford a varied nutrient-dense diet. What you want to avoid is swapping out quality, nutritious food items for cheaper ones that offer you less nutritional benefits. It is entirely possible to tighten your belt and still eat healthily.”
Simply changing some of your food shopping habits can help you get a significant amount of additional value, adds Mfono.
“Just one example is storing potatoes in a brown paper bag in a cool, dark cupboard. They can last for up to a month without turning green, deteriorating, or developing buds. Well-organised fridge and freezer spaces enable you to shop and cook in bulk, saving you time and reducing your fuel and energy costs while avoiding food waste.”
Tips for sticking to your budget
Registered dietitian, Retha Harmse, serves on the ADSA executive committee and provides these tips for healthy eating on a tight budget:
Don’t sacrifice your fruits and veggies:
- Remember that fresh produce is VAT free.
- Try to focus on eating fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits.
- Whole vegetable and fruit options are better for your pockets than pre-packaged foods on your shelf.
- Form a grocery stokvel with friends, family, and neighbours so that you can buy vegetables and fruits in bulk and share them among your households.
- Look for specials on frozen vegetables and stock up if you have a freezer.
- Grow your own greens.
Grains and cereals are your best friends
- Fibre-rich wholegrain options such as wholewheat bread and brown rice keep you fuller for longer and provide all the nutrients you need.
- Maize has the added benefit of being fortified with essential nutrients and oats are an excellent source of fiber and will keep you fuller for longer.
- Dry goods can be stored for long periods, so buy in bulk and look out for special deals.
- Try to include a variety of grains in your diet, such as millet and pearled barley, pearled wheat, and sorghum.
Expand your protein sources
- Chicken, eggs, dairy, legumes, and fresh fish intake is often the easiest way to reduce your food cost.
- Have at least one meat-free day during the week and eat plant-based proteins such as soya, beans, and lentils instead, along with a wholegrain starch.
- Nutritious beans or lentils can also be added to meat dishes such as mincemeat, curries, soups, and stews to make the meat go much further while adding to the nutritional value of your meal.
- Consider tinned fish such as tuna, pilchards, or sardines if fresh fish is not available or affordable.
- Milk sold in plastic sachets is often cheaper than milk in bottles or cartons.
- Buy the large tub of yoghurt as this is cheaper than buying smaller portions.
Use fats sparingly
- This is an important guideline for healthy eating and the soaring prices of cooking oils are a good motivation to put it into practice.
- Look for ways to reduce frying foods by steaming, boiling, microwaving, and grilling instead.
- Use small amounts of canola oil when cooking, which has a similar composition of healthy unsaturated fats compared to more expensive options like olive, nut, or avocado oils.