Dishing up some dinner time facts

Comparing three different meal options for a South African family of four. If you think that healthy eating is more expensive than fast food, think again. A healthier meal can be more affordable as well as quick and easy if you plan in advance.

Nestlé South Africa compared the cost and nutritional values of three typical meals for a family of four and here is what they found:

  • Beef burgers, chips and soft drinks top the list for most expensive: R221.20 for four portions and a whopping 4624 kJ per portion.
  • The home cooked roast chicken with pap and sauce, and a crisp coleslaw side dish was half the price, at R103.95 and 3737.7 kJ.
  • The third meal, a vegetarian butternut and pulse bake with coriander Basmati rice and a carrot salad side, came out tops. It cost R72.54 and boasted a meagre 1945.2 kJ count*.

“There is a common misconception that healthy eating is expensive, but in fact the opposite is often true,” says Naazneen Khan, Wellness Manager at Nestlé South Africa. “You can save money by buying healthy food for the whole family and cut down on calories by cooking at home and preparing your meals using healthy methods like steaming and grilling instead of frying.”

Last year Statistics South Africa reported in its monthly food and beverages survey (covering a sample of public and private enterprises preparing meals and drinks for immediate consumption in South Africa) that takeaway and fast-food outlets grew from October 2012 – 2013, boasting the highest annual growth rate (5,4%)**. This was followed by restaurants and coffee shops (5,1%) and Catering (4,9%), proving that South Africans are increasingly relying on fast food meal options. Fast food may not be cheaper or healthier than a home cooked meal, but the fact that it’s almost instantly available is a major advantage in today’s fast paced society.

With easy-to-follow 30 minute recipes available on the internet and a little planning and food preparation on the weekend there’s no reason why you cannot have quick and healthy meals ready in minutes after you arrive home from a busy work day.

“Also keep in mind that you can get many more meals out of a bag of maize meal, a packet of rice and a bag of potatoes, whereas a takeaway meal is a once-off purchase that only provides an instant meal,” Naazneen says.

Here are Naazneen’s top tips to ensure that your home cooking is easy and nutritious:

  • Cook in bulk and freeze portions – easy to reheat for a quick lunch or dinner time meal – especially during the week
  • Try to stick to lower GI carbohydrate foods such as grainy bread, Basmati rice and pasta as they are an affordable source of energy and nutrients
  • Cooked rice in a sealed container will last for at least three days in the fridge, so make a large amount on a Sunday evening and enjoy hassle free cooking during the week
  • Beans freeze well. Save yourself a lot of time by buying dry beans, cooking them and freezing them
  • Plan your meals in advance so that you can defrost food in the morning and do some of the prep work before you go to work
  • Canned or dried lentils (follow on-pack directions) can be quickly added to mince to give a fresh taste to dishes such as bolognaise
  • Frozen vegetables have a much longer shelf life than fresh vegetables, are just as nutritious as “fresh” vegetables

Half the battle is won by planning your week’s meals in advance and having a well stocked pantry and freezer with everything you need.

Here are Naazneen’s smart shopping tips to save you time when you shop and limit your calorie intake while you’re at it:

  • Prepare a shopping list to deliver the weeks menu and stick to it
  • Plan meals and snacks so that you’re not tempted to buy junk food in between meals  or to replace meals
  • Shop on a full stomach as you buy more food when you’re hungry
  • Bulk buy non-perishable items such as rice and pasta
  • Shop around for meat and vegetables. Your local butcher or farmers’ markets may have cheaper and fresher fruit and vegetables
  •  Lettuce goes off quicker than cabbage, so plan to have salads with meals on the days immediately following your shop and keep longer lasting veggies for later in the week
  • Buy fresh fruit and vegetables when they are in season as they are generally less expensive and of better quality
  • Restrict your purchase of “extra/snacky” foods such as cakes, biscuits, chips, soft drinks – they have limited nutritional benefits and are often packed with kilojoules
  • Add inexpensive vegetables and legumes (chick peas, lentils, kidney beans and butter beans) to meat-based dishes to add variety, decrease cost and extend the number of portions

“Start to plan your meals in advance the next time you go shopping and make it your goal to provide healthier meals for your family,” she says.

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