Eating unhealthy diets due to budget constraints undermines our physical well-being and casts a shadow on the overall quality of life, JOSEPHINE OGUNDEJI writes
It is alarming that 63 per cent of the Nigerian population is living in multidimensional poverty, with over 40 million households classified as poor, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. This situation is further exacerbated by the economic challenges that the country has been facing for about two decades.
A recent United Nations report emphasised the severity of the situation, pointing out that the country’s accelerating inflation, which stood at 28.92 per cent as of December, has exacerbated the overall economic hardship.
Food inflation has been the major driver of the country’s inflation, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. It was 33.93 per cent in December, up 10.18 per cent from 23.75 per cent in the corresponding period of the prior year.
The high costs of food have been linked to insecurity in the North, where most of the country’s agricultural produce are grown, and aggravated by the removal of fuel subsidies that shot up transportation fares.
This development has made it difficult for many Nigerians to afford good diets. They now eat whatever they can lay their hands on, not minding its nutritional value.
Amid these challenges, culinary experts have offered practical solutions for maintaining a healthy diet on a budget.
Buy in bulk
A chef, Motunrayo Adisa, said eating healthy was a crucial aspect of maintaining overall well-being, providing the body with the necessary nutrients for optimal functioning.
According to Adisa, it involves a balanced consumption of various foods and beverages, ensuring that the body receives the right amounts of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and other essential elements.
She said, “Contrary to a common misconception, eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive. In Nigeria, a country blessed with an abundance of seasonal fruits and vegetables, maintaining a nutritious diet can be pocket-friendly.
“For instance, with just N100, one can acquire two medium oranges, a cost-effective and nutritious option for an individual. Similarly, families can meet their fruit needs for less than N500, promoting health and financial sustainability.
To her, a practical approach to eating healthy on a budget involves buying certain foods in bulk. “This strategy not only offers economic advantages but also allows for the preservation of nutrients if stored correctly.
“Items like tomatoes and peppers can be purchased in large quantities, blended, and frozen until needed. Staples like yams can be stored in cool, dry places, ensuring longevity. Furthermore, meat, fish, and chicken can be bought in bulk and properly stored, minimizing waste and maximising cost-effectiveness.”
She counselled that perishable items should be strategically purchased and stored so that individuals can achieve a balance between affordability and nutritional value.
The chef also stated, “Preparing food at home is another key element in the quest for a healthy and budget-friendly diet. Homemade meals are not only more affordable than frequently dining out but also provide the opportunity to control the ingredients used.
“Knowing exactly what goes into the food preparation empowers individuals to make healthier choices without exceeding their budgetary constraints. Cooking at home is not only a financial decision but a step toward a healthier lifestyle.”
Plan your meals
Adisa also suggested that a meal plan, which is essential for healthy eating.
“Additionally, having a well-thought-out meal plan is essential for successful budget-friendly and healthy eating. Designing a food timetable allows for the distribution of various food groups, ensuring a well-rounded and nutritionally sound diet.
“A meal plan can help individuals make informed choices about what to buy, cook, and consume, preventing impulsive and potentially less healthy decisions. It also aids in reducing food waste by aligning purchases with planned meals, promoting efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
“In conclusion, eating healthy on a budget is achievable through thoughtful strategies. Leveraging the availability of affordable seasonal fruits and vegetables, buying in bulk, preparing meals at home, and implementing a well-structured meal plan are key components. These practices not only contribute to financial savings but also prioritise health, emphasising the importance of nutritious choices for long-term well-being,” she enunciated.
Stick to your list
Forbes Health reported that the most important aspect to eating healthy on a budget was showing up to the store with a plan in mind.
It noted that to optimise a budget-friendly grocery list, the following were essential:
Decide: Decide which meals you want to cook for the week.
Write out: Write out all the ingredients you need for each recipe.
Select one ingredient type: See which ingredients you can mix and match from your list. For example, if one recipe calls for a cup of spinach and others call for a cup of baby kale, just choose one of the greens and use it for both meals.
Condense your list: Condense your list further by seeing which ingredients you may already have or want to substitute. For instance, if a recipe calls for a grain base, such as brown rice, but you have a different grain in your pantry, opt for the one you have instead.
Eat before going to the store: Do not go to the grocery store on an empty stomach. You are more likely to pick up extra products when you’re hungry. Try planning your next grocery trip after a meal and see how your aisle strolls change when you are full and satisfied.
Invest in leftovers
According to Forbes Health, the dual advantage of investing time in leftovers not only does it save time, but it also serves as a money-saving strategy by curbing food waste.
The report noted that this method becomes effective when one can creatively repurpose or transform past meals or individual ingredients into new culinary creations.
It stated, “But just like recipe planning can help prevent you from tossing hard-earned money in the trash (in the form of food that’s gone bad), it is important to have a plan for your leftovers. If you double a recipe, make sure you will be home the next night or the following night to enjoy it.
“You can also make extras of individual base ingredients and turn them into something new the next day. For example, if you make a grain bowl with veggies and protein one day, maybe the next day you turn those leftovers into a salad or tacos. Feel free to experiment with your leftovers.
“If you constantly find yourself cooking and never having a day off, consider increasing the amount you are cooking each meal. Something as simple as doubling the recipe can save you from cooking on hectic days.”
To successfully store leftovers safely and healthily, invest in a variety of airtight food-grade containers and bags and make sure you put them in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible to prevent harmful bacteria growth.
It’s perfectly fine and advisable to put hot food right into the refrigerator, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Prioritise home-cooked meals
The Chief Executive Officer of Prudy’s Cuisine, Prudent Agbuza, said in the face of challenging economic conditions, maintaining a nutritious diet on a budget is not only possible but also crucial for overall well-being.
She conveyed the idea that maintaining a healthy diet doesn’t necessarily have to be costly.
Agbuza emphasised that through making intelligent choices, being open to experimenting with new meals, and implementing strategic planning, one can adequately nourish them without incurring excessive expenses.
She said, “Prioritise home-cooked meals over dining out. Preparing meals at home allows for better control over ingredients, cooking methods, and portion sizes, which helps save money in the long run.
“Home meals don’t have to be monotonous. You can look for budget-friendly recipes online, join the Cook on the Budget community by Chef Prudy or utilise cookbooks that focus on using affordable, available, and nutritious ingredients to make appetizing meals.
“In addition, plan your meals and create a shopping list before heading to the grocery store/general market. Stick to the list and avoid impulse buying, as this can prevent overspending on unnecessary items.”
She also advised that one should consider buying items in bulk or opting for store brands, which are often more economical without compromising quality.
“Also, you can get professional help to curate meal plans according to your purchasing power and health needs,” she added.
According to Agbuza, explore local markets, discount stores, or farmer’s markets for fresh produce at lower prices compared to supermarkets.
“Don’t forget to take advantage of sales, and discounts, to save on shopping expenses. Eating healthily on a budget requires planning, creativity, and resourcefulness. By making informed choices, prioritising essential nutrients, and being mindful of expenses. It’s possible to maintain a nutritious diet despite economic challenges, ensuring both physical health and financial well-being,” he noted.