Eating well: Minimal cost, maximum nutrition (part I)

(DISCLAIMER: this is not vegan friendly, and won’t comply to a banting diet either. It is, however, suitable for vegetarians and pescatarians, as well as for anyone who has a lactose intolerance)

I’m a student, and I constantly come across a difficult nutritional dilemma when I’m doing my groceries: do I buy cheap, or do I buy healthy? I hate that the two are so often mutually exclusive.

However, it is in fact possible to save money – and not just the way in which “student cookbooks” advertise, which often isn’t even that affordable at all. I’m talking simple, tasty, balanced cooking that gives you enough wiggle-room to treat yourself to Nutella, or other cheat-eats that you usually try and avoid when scraping the barrel for spare change.

I am a firm believer in the “everything in moderation” approach to eating, and so this kind of cooking includes pasta, rice, canola oil, olive oil, pesto, milk… all of the things “healthy eating” diets would often recommend you stay away from. As long as you’re staying active and not bingeing on any one food-stuff, you can eat all of those things guilt-free. Trust me. It’s a thing. I promise.

Anyway, here are a few recipe ideas to think about adding to your next grocery-shop, and I’ll be putting up a few more shopping posts other the next few weeks. They’ll include easy recipes, as well as what my shopping list week-by-week looks like. Enjoy! And let me know if you try any of these, and how they go!

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1. One-tray baked veggies

This is my go-to dish when I need a lot of food for next-to-nothing. Not only is it the healthiest way of cooking veggies (apart from steaming), it is one of the easiest ways to stay out of the kitchen and one of the cheapest ways to bulk up your meals with the best vitamins and minerals for your body. 

I usually mix beetroots, carrots, onions, butternut, zucchini, and potato depending on what is in season or on special at the time, but it really only requires the vegetables, 2 tbsp of canola oil, salt and pepper, and honey if you have or balsamic vinegar if you want to – but the last two are optional. Moreover, you prep everything for 2o minutes, and then leave it in the oven for a couple of hours – it literally requires no more attention than that. You can watch a movie, or chat to friends, and let the veg bake away.

When I use about 3kgs of vegetables, I have enough for 3 to 4 nights of veggies, which I usually boost with some bread, or put over some pasta, or eat with a soya burger. Even throwing the veg next to some egg-on-toast will complete your food pyramid, and will literally cost you pennies, if at all.

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2. Frozen banana bowls

I buy 35 bananas every weekend, and freeze them in pre-cut packages so that I have 5 frozen bananas every day. It costs me about R30-R40 (you can do the exchange rate on Google, if you want to), and means I get a pretty decent 5-a-day helping, albeit a little one-sided. However, I also get apples and pears, and adding those to the mix means yet another cheap-but-healthy addition to my weekly diet. 

I freeze them so that a) they last, and b) so I can throw them into a blender. To this, I add some lactose-free milk (or other milk substitue), some water (to save on the milk), oats, a raw egg, another fruit if I feel like it, some cinnamon if I feel fancy, and a pinch of salt. You can serve in a glass or in a bowl, and you literally get your fruit, your carbohydrates, your protein, and your good fats. It taste amazing and is also such a simple thing to throw together if you take the time on a Sunday to cut and freeze all your bananas. This is definitely one of my favourite breakfast/lunch meals. 

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3. Aubergine and chickpea bake

This one takes a bit of prep, and a little organisation, but it’s an absolute BOMB of a recipe – and can either feed a group of friends, or have your week’s dinner ready.

Slice the aubergines (I used 3 big ones for 8 portions) to just less than a centimeter thick and sweat them, and then you can dice the garlic, onion, and spring onions. Fry them for 10 minutes, and then throw in some chopped tomatoes and two tins of baby tomatoes. Add your chickpeas and simmer until they boil down. You can turn on the oven now, and get your soya milk-egg mixture and flour ready. Heat another pan (while your tomato mix still simmers) and pat the aubergine slices dry. Dip them in the egg, the flour, and fry them for a couple minutes each side. As they finish, layer them in an oven dish and once you’ve covered one entire layer, slap on some of the tomato mix. Continue until everything’s gone, and then bake at 150 degree for an hour. 

Not only is it a really well-balanced mix of protein, veggies, and carbohydrates, but it literally tastes like something out of Jamie Oliver’s restaurants – and not just because I like my own cooking, although that probably helps (haha). It’ll impress even the toughest of your food-critic friends, trust me, and won’t dent your wallet at all considering the amount of food you get out of this.

Oh, and it’s 100% vegetarian. Cool, huh?

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