1 August 2014

Healthy eating for your family on a budget in Canberra

| JessicaGlitter
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In the comments on my previous story about local shopping many commenters claimed that a single trip to a big supermarket provided the best prices throughout the cart.

I have journeyed through the markets, malls and local shopping centres, clipboard in hand, addressing quality but focusing on entry-level price points.

Shop around for cereal staples: supermarkets usually win

For pantry staples like pasta, polenta and so on, you usually find that the higher quality version available in your boutique deli is available in supermarkets at the same price, but supermarkets have a cheaper entry-level product at a bargain price that delis and health food shops can’t match.

This is doubly true if you’re into healthy “convenience” options like frozen or canned fruit and veggies or pasta. (As in you can literally halve your spend.) You save an even higher percentage on convenient party foods like chips and cake mix.

The supermarket is also the smart place to buy a sack of rice or little treats like sauces and seasonings that make a healthy, cheap meal that little bit more easy and fun.

They aren’t just about the unhealthy choices though: even gluten-free and vegan friendly processed foods are cheaper at supermarkets. If your family eats muesli or simple cereals like puffed grains I’d recommend a bulk buy from Healthy Life or another health food shop specialising in bulk buys but most breakfast cereals are significantly cheaper at the supermarket.

Just over a year ago Supabarn reported that they were the cheapest provider of the top 67 grocery basket items so if you haven’t been lately you may be pleasantly surprised.

A loaf of bread: It depends what you like

It was extremely difficult to compare breads at markets vs supermarkets because they’re all so different but I found comparable prices between supermarkets and markets on the handful of basic options surveyed.

The good local bakeries such as Mosaics and Dom’s are available in a number of IGAs and greengrocers, and there are now a number of boutique bakeries operating in Canberra with 210 Degrees most popular among my friends. Bakeries, even little local franchise bakeries, also provide a service desk with ingredient and allergy lists to help you find a loaf if you have special dietary needs, a bonus not available at supermarkets.

Markets are an easy winner for protein foods and most animal products

Meat/dairy are luxury foods and plant-based options are generally cheaper and healthier but if you’re hoping a meat dish will keep your family feeling spoiled, the Dieticians Association of Australia and US Department of Agriculture (click here for the poster with USDA data) suggest mixing legumes with your meat or replacing with legumes altogether.

Setting that aside for a moment, I compared Fyshwick Markets with Woden Plaza. The butcher I visited (Mike’s Meats) had cheaper prices and promised better quality on the small number of items surveyed. Butchers also offer great customer service to help you take advantage of specials including meal suggestions if you’re not used to preparing an unusual cut.

Deli Planet’s entry level price point on hams and cheeses was similar to the supermarket but again they would say their products are nicer than a supermarket offers at the same price.

With lentils available by the kg, health food shops are easily your best bet. Supermarket prices are pretty close, but the variety isn’t as good and the monthly trip to buy legumes and nuts can easily be achieved with a trip to the health food shop.

Supermarket prices were remarkably favourable for milk though.

Market the all-round winner for fresh fruit and veg

Your 8 serves a day of fresh fruit and veggies can prove very expensive or extremely frugal depending on your shopping style. Supermarkets do have one or two very attractive specials each visit, but I checked the prices of a comprehensive selection of fruit and veggies and was surprised at the consistency with which the market beat the supermarket.

During my visit, supermarket prices were disappointing even compared to the greengrocer next door and well above the prices of greengrocers in more favourable rent accommodations. In Woden, Fresca Fruita provides better fruit and veggies than the supermarkets next door but is conveniently located for single-stop shopping should you wish to buy staples and groceries in a single trip.

Stepping away from the mall down to the Fyshwick markets, I found some amazing bargains at Farm Fresh and Trugolds. Shop around the entire market for the very best deal (don’t forget to start by scoping out the amazing seasonal specials out front and take advantage of the sellers offering try before you buy) or shop quickly in whichever stall is quieter, you can be assured that both shops offer great prices well ahead of the competition.

Or just shop at Trugolds for the stories Freddie will tell you as he feeds your kids apple slices.

If you’re more of a locavore or organic buyer, you might enjoy a visit to Choku Bai Jo, Organic Energy or As Nature Intended. These shops attract an organic premium and don’t have enough variety to fill my weekly fruit bowl but you can’t deny the freshness of food straight off the farm! I went to As Nature Intended on the way to a visit with my niece and was easily the favourite Aunt when I gave her the best strawberries in town, so there is a good reason to pay that $9 a punnet.

Hidden gems a must-visit for local value

One hidden gem I stumbled across last week is the Jabal Halal market in Mawson. If your local shops has a little greengrocer like Jabal Halal, then lucky you! I happened to pass by this shop completely by accident when out with the mother in law and was pleasantly surprised by the seasonal bargains on display. Can readers recommend any other local winners?

Conclusion: Let our local shopkeepers do what they do best

Supabarn is an easy winner for packaged groceries, but to get value for money out of a healthy diet, don’t neglect your local greengrocer and health food shop, support local bakers and get your money’s worth on treats by visiting the local delis and butchers.

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