How to make budget-friendly healthy meals 

Woman shopping at supermarket with baby and holding shopping list

We know that consuming a wide variety of healthy food and drinks is important to supporting our health and wellbeing but with many household budgets under more pressure than ever, eating healthy balanced meals can feel like less of a priority. 

The good news is that nutritious food and drinks can be affordable, and with a little planning they fit easily into a balanced and cost-effective diet.    

Here are 6 tips for getting the most out of your meals, and your budget. 

1. Plan your meals for the week

Writing a meal plan for the week helps to save time and costs, while avoiding tempting takeaways under a time crunch.   

In planning your meals: 

  • Use the ingredients which you already have in the kitchen, by checking the pantry and freezer for items before you shop. 
  • Add legumes and vegetables to your shopping list to mix into recipes and for extra nutrition and make the meal  
  • Consider which days of your schedule will allow time for cooking and which days are best for a simple meal or leftovers. 
  • Save your favorite recipes in one place so you know where to go when you need ideas for quick meals.  

Try using our family meal planner to get you started.

2. Be prepared and save effort

Plan to ‘cook once and eat twice’.  

If you have time, try doubling the portion of the meal being prepared. That way, you can freeze leftovers to defrost on a busy night or enjoy them for lunches. This was, you always have a nutritious meal on hand.  

3. Write a grocery shopping list  

Start writing grocery shopping lists before you shop and following them to stay within budget, and not forget anything you need for your meal plan  

Check your grocery list against your meal plan before you go shopping and factor in recipe serving sizes, such as whether you will be preparing single or double batches and freezing for later. 

If you go to the supermarket with a list, you are more likely to avoid last minute and impulsive purchases at convenient stores. 

4. Be an effective shopper 

Knowing the tricks of the trade can help to save money when you do hit the supermarket. Some ways to be a smart shopper include: 

  • Compare supermarket specials before you go shopping. Most supermarkets have the option of online shopping and online catalogues to make price comparisons easy. Product specials tend to go in rotations, so your favourite brans might be on special at one supermarket in one week, and another supermarket the next. When your favourite products are on special, buy in bulk. For example, buy extra lean beef mince when it is on special and freeze it to defrost for next week’s meal plan. 
  • Know which fresh fruit and vegetables are in season and be flexible in changing your meals to include available produce. Check tinned and frozen varieties as they are just as nutritious and often a portion of the price.  
  • Check the clearance section in supermarkets such as displays of imperfect fruit and vegetables or refrigerated goods.  

5. Don’t dismiss canned and frozen fruit and vegetables 

Canned and frozen fruit and vegetables are preserved as soon as they are ripe making them just as nutritious as fresh produce and often cheaper. 

Certain fruits and vegetables can be also brought when in season and frozen for later use, for example, mangoes and corn. 

Frozen and canned vegetables are often an ideal and cost-effective addition to meals like chicken fried rice or vegetable stir fry. 

Frozen fruit can also be a delicious addition to smoothies or breakfast toppings. 

Remember, check the labels of canned produce to avoid added salt, sugar or syrup. If possible, rinse canned products under cold water before use to remove some of these unhealthy residues (like canned beans). 

More tips for storing, handling and serving food safely are outlined in the Australian Government’s Food standards and safety.2 

6. Make your meals go further or have a meatless meal 

Plant-based meals can be more affordable than those based on meat and fish, and they can also be a rich source of protein. 

Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils and beans or meat alternatives like tofu are high in protein and also a reliable source of fibre, additional vitamins, minerals, and usually they are sold at a cheaper price. 

Be inspired by some of our recipes like chickpea curry, veggie burgers or a meat-free stir-fry.3 

Cost effective healthy recipes are also available on the No Money No Time website and include roast vegetable pasta and vegetable crepes.4 

Another cost-saving idea is to layer meals with extra legumes and vegetables to make the meal go further whilst also boosting their nutritional value 

For example, try enriching your chicken pasta bake with extra vegetables in the sauce to help turn 4 servings into 5 or 6 or make your beef chili more generous by adding extra beans.  

By investing in balanced meals, you stand to benefit from a wide range of health and wellbeing benefits including increased energy levels and improved mental and physical health. 

The good news is that nutritious food and drinks can be affordable, and with a little planning they fit easily into a balanced and cost-effective diet.    

Note: The Australian Government’s Money Smart has resources such as a personal budget planner. If you or anyone you know could use some help to find food relief in your area, contact the Queensland Government recommended Emergency Relief providers.5,6 


  1. Examples of meal plans: Week 1 and Week 2 
  1. Australian Government Food standards and safety 
  1. Health and Wellbeing Queensland recipes 
  1. No Money No Time recipes 
  1. Australian Government Money Smart  
  1. Queensland Government Emergency Relief