Let’s face it: most people these days find themselves wanting to save money and lose weight. Unfortunately, those two thoughts often seem at odds with each other. Eating better can come with a hefty price tag, when specialty products and obscure (and expensive) vegetables are touted as “the” way to shed kilos. Not only that, but it can be very confusing trying to work out what foods are actually good for you! It seems to involve a lot of science and mathematics as you scrutinize labels, add up calories, balance those figures against other nutritional factors…. all while standing in the supermarket aisle, with a definite sense that you’re wasting precious time that could be better spent elsewhere.
I’m not a scientist. I’m not a financial guru. I’m just a gal, looking to use some common sense to get back to the simpler things in life. And I reckon I’ve about figured this out. Read on, and see if you agree.
Snacks are more important than meals
Woah! Did I really just say that? Why yes, yes I did. And I’ll say it again: snacks are more important than meals. Think about it for a moment – what do you usually eat at meal times? Breakfast might be a bowl of cereal or some toast. Lunch could be a sandwich/wrap or a salad; and dinner basically boils down to carbs (usually rice or wheat-based), meat, and some vegetables. Sure, we can tweak things, we can make healthier and/or cheaper choices for those meals.
But take a look at what you eat in between meals. If you are prone to nibbling on chocolate, sweet or savoury biscuits, muesli bars, liquid breakfast replacements, or any of the weird and wonderful array of packaged snacks available to us these days, then you may be overspending and overeating.
Packaged snacks will usually contain excess amounts of salt, sugar and highly refined ingredients such as white flour, and can cost hundreds of times more per gram than fresh foods like fruit and vegetables, or even the ingredients you would need to make those snacks at home. For example, let’s have a look at a muesli bar that I rather enjoyed, before learning to check labels – the Uncle Toby’s chewy choc chip bar. (This is the new and improved “healthier” version, with reduced fat, salt and sugar)
Did you spot how many times sugar is added, in different forms? I’ve counted 7, including glucose, glycerin, invert sugar and honey. Overall the percentage of sugar (17.2% or 17.2 grams per 100 grams) is a little over the Australian Government recommendation of 15% (or 15 grams per 100 grams). Fat is 1.5 grams more than the recommended 10 grams per 100, although it is low in saturated fat.
Even the new and improved “healthier” bar still has more than the recommended amounts of sugar and fat. Now consider the snacks you eat which don’t even try to be healthy.
The 53 gram bar is the one you’ll find in the confectionery aisle at Woolworths or Coles in the standard pack. Immediately you can see that the first two ingredients are sugar; barley malt extract is also a form of sugar. The total for just one bar is 30.6 grams, nearly 60% of the whole item! Remember that the recommended sugar level is 15% or less. Fat accounts for more than a quarter of the bar, and nearly half of that is saturated fat.
Now let’s take a look at a natural snack option – the humble banana. Conveniently wrapped, easy to peel, hard to make a mess with, a banana is a pretty good go-to, and just look at these stats:
A banana has no fat, and comes in well under the recommended 15 grams of sugar per 100 grams. It also contains fibre and important vitamins and minerals. Clearly it has a lot more going for it than the muesli bar or the chocolate. But what about price?
Coles sells the Uncle Toby’s chewy choc chip muesli bars 6 for $4.39, or $2.37 per 100 grams.
Woolworths sells the 53 gram Mars Bar for $2, or $3.77 per 100 grams.
Over summer, banana prices averaged $3/kg, or 30 cents per 100 grams.
Make your snacks and eat them, too
So let’s suppose you didn’t want to just eat healthy, natural foods like fruit, nuts and seeds. What do you eat to satisfy those sweet cravings? If packaged snacks are unhealthy and ludicrously expensive, and you’re looking for something tasty to grab on the go, what options are available?
Your best bet is to set aside a little time each week – say, two hours on the weekend, or whatever suits your schedule and requirements – and get into the kitchen. Find a recipe online and get your bake on! Make muffins, cake, biscuits, slices, home-made muesli bars, tarts – whatever floats your boat, really! Because when you make your snacks at home, you know exactly what goes into them, and you can choose healthier recipes to start with, and/or modify the ingredients to suit your needs. Want to cut back on sugar? Substitute sugar in the recipe for Stevia powder. [I found the best results were from using half sugar, half Stevia, for consistency and flavour] Need to up your fibre intake? Swap some or all of the flour for wholemeal flour. Add in wholesome ingredients like nuts, seeds, dried or fresh fruit. Oats – one of those underappreciated super foods – go so well in a huge variety of baked goods!
Not only are home-baked goods usually much healthier than packaged, store-bought snacks, they are much cheaper to make, depending on the ingredients you use – and generally speaking, those ingredients will go a long way.
Small changes can make a big difference
If you’re still skeptical about the difference that can be made simply by swapping out unhealthy snacks for fruit and healthy homemade treats, give it a go. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised! Give it a few weeks and you’ll probably find yourself feeling more trim, as well as saving a few dollars at the supermarket. And who doesn’t want that?