Does it cost more to eat healthily?

A few days ago, we decided to treat the family to Nando’s. Being one of those weight-conscious women, I wondered whether I should opt for a Discovery Vitality-approved meal: chicken breast, flame-grilled mealie and Portuguese salad. It costs R44,95, which is a little on the pricey side, considering that you can get a chicken burger for R24,95 or a chicken burger and chips for R35,95.

Which begs the question: is healthy eating just more expensive? Is this the price we must accept we have to pay for a meal that’s lighter on calories?

The deal is sweetened by the Vitality HealthyFoods benefit — depending on your Vitality status (blue, bronze, silver, gold or diamond), you can get a discount on your Vitality-approved meal (you pay the retail price and get the discount in the form of cash back in your bank account). Say you qualify for 15% — that means the chicken breast will cost you R38,21.)

Of course, if you really want to save lots of money, you probably shouldn’t buy takeout — the average meal (across brands like Nando’s and KFC) is R35 or more and for that price you can buy a whole chicken (R21,99) and a 250g Greek salad (R19,99) at Pick n Pay. Or you can buy a kilo of frozen potato wedges (R23,99). That’s a meal for a family of four.

And while you’re in the store, you might as well pick food that’s both affordable and healthy. Yes, ready-prepared food is quick and easy, especially when you’re tired, but it’s quite possible to plan so you can cook and freeze. With the festive season almost upon us, it’s really tempting to opt for takeout or pre-packaged food one just has to heat up.

I chatted to Justine Drake, who edits Pick n Pay’s Fresh Living magazine, and she said that if you’re trying to lose weight (or keep it off at this time of year), don’t even try fad dieting — it’s costly and you generally put the weight back on. At the same time, try to make time to cook.

“Buy wholegrains like dried lentils, beans and barley, and add them to meals for bulk and flavour,” she says. “Also opt for chicken and fish, which are better for you and cheaper than beef and lamb. And buy fresh, loose vegetables in season — this is a very cheap, healthy way to eat. Buy the veggies loose, instead of in packaging, to cut costs and minimise the loss of vitamins and antioxidants. Also, when you buy seasonal, you really do cut costs.”

Eating healthily need not be expensive — try to get the whole family involved, as it’s just that much more motivating. And don’t think I’m knocking Vitality — their HealthyFoods benefit is an excellent option that rewards healthy eaters, with Vitality points for fruit, veg and other health-conscious grocery items, like fat-free milk. With food prices going up, it’s nice to get some money back for looking after yourself.

* Smart Money has tested Justine Drake’s new cookbook, Simply Good Food, which has been launched by Discovery Vitality, and we can confirm it makes a great Christmas gift. It retails for R162,50 and is available at selected Pick ‘n Pay stores and good bookshops countrywide.

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