Monday, 2 December 2013

The real cost of junk food

While some consider it cheap, easy and delicious, I think junk food is just that- junk! I'm talking fast food in all it's fatty glory- burgers, chips, pizzas, pastries, fried takeaway and soft drink. These foods are empty kilojoules with plenty of saturated fat, salt and sugar, but lacking in key vitamins and minerals and most definitely not a balanced meal... And they're making us fat!

While most people can recognise that these foods are doing them damage, or at least aren't the healthiest choice, many are blinded by the misconception that unhealthy (or junk) food is cheaper and more convenient than creating healthy meals.

But I'm going to tell you that just ain't true! 
I worked as one of the lead researchers on a healthy food basket project in regional NSW earlier this year to develop a nutritionally complete 7-day menu, complete with recipes and a shopping list that when priced at a local large-chain supermarket could feed a family of four for $8 per person per day. 
I'm talking 3 meals, 3 snacks and common healthy versions of foods that we all eat and enjoy. That's right- I'll let that sink in for a minute.

While my theory- that healthy food can be just as cheap, if not cheaper than unhealthy food- is yet to be scientifically proven (the next project, to cost an 'unhealthy' food basket, is already in the pipeline), I thought I'd do some preliminary research just to show you what I mean.

Below is a comparison of two diets- on the left one day from the project's healthy homemade menu for the 'mother'- a hypothetical 35 year old female, and on the right a fictional (possibly over exaggerated for some of you, but people really do eat like this) unhealthy diet. I compared these diets qualitatively (i.e. how many serves of fruit, veg and dairy) and quantitatively (i.e. how many macro- and micro-nutrients they contained) but also, and most importantly, in terms of cost! But why should I blabber on when you can see it for yourself...

Design by Thomas Guest

So, while you're considering that, why don't you also consider my top tips for eating healthily on a budget and without hours spent in the kitchen:

  • Allocate your food budget according to the healthy food plate: spend most on wholegrain breads and cereals, fruit, veg, lean meat and low fat dairy, and least on oil, margarine and 'treat' foods (like those in the unhealthy diet above!).
  • Buy non-perishable staples such as rice, pasta, flour, tinned legumes and tomatoes in bulk and when on special- and remember that when it comes to these items, the home brand is often just as good if not better!
  • Use the price of products per 100g to compare, especially when buying in bulk (see here for more advice on label reading).
  • Stock your freezer with lean meats (already sliced and in meal-sized portions), wholegrain bread (it lasts so much longer!), frozen berries and other over-ripe fruit (like bananas) and veg (try pre-slicing in portions too).
  • Plan your meals for the week, write a shopping list and stick to it!
  • Buy fruit and veg in season as they are usually cheaper- frozen and (in natural juice or reduced salt) tinned fruit or veg is just as good as the fresh stuff if you're short on cash.
  • Pack your lunch for work or school the night before- leftovers make great lunches (just like in our 'healthy' diet above)!
  • Try buying items with the least packaging as these will be cheaper e.g. block cheese over sliced or grated, large tub of yoghurt over individual tubs, large bags of nuts and dried fruit over portion packs (just make sure you still stick to the serving size on the packet!)
  • Add lentils, chickpeas or kidney beans to dishes like soups or casseroles to make the meat go further and reduce the amount of saturated fat and add more fibre!

1 comment:

  1. Very good post! You have clearly shown how dangerous is junk food for us. It not just costs more but it is placing our health at stake. It is high time that we should replace it with healthy food.