June 23, 2008

No-Frills Meals Keep the Bill Low

By Irdiani Mohd Salleh

KUALA LUMPUR: Keep meals simple with fewer frills. With the rising cost of food, this is the key to eating healthy on a budget.

National Heart Institute dietetics and food services senior manager Mary Easaw-John said a simple dish of fried rice with onion, chicken and mixed vegetables was a complete meal without having to add expensive ingredients.

"If you put in prawns, meat and eggs, it becomes more expensive and high in calories and cholesterol. If you want egg in your fried rice, just put in one instead of two," she said, adding that eggs were a cheap source of protein.

She said economising had become a must, especially for those with large families, because of the rising costs of food and fuel.

"We must learn to give up the luxury foods, or frills. We should cut down on expensive things like seafood and only have it once a month," she said.

Another way to save is to go vegetarian once or twice a week.

"It is healthy and cheap. Tofu, tempe and dhal are good sources of nutrients," she said.

"It's not wrong to have one rice meal a day. But if you want to cut down, you can substitute it with chapati, tosai, bread or noodles."

Eating home-cooked food was another way to save money, especially for working people, she said.

"Try to have a breakfast of cereal or bread at home. For lunch, bring something like sandwiches from home. This is more nutritious and cheaper than eating in restaurants. In between meals, just drink water instead of teh tarik or carbonated drinks."

She said she didn't understand why Malaysians seemed shy about bringing food from home.

To prepare nutritious meals at minimal cost, buy food items when they are on sale.

"Just make sure produce like chicken, meat and seafood are fresh. When you bring them home, chop, clean and store them in the freezer," she said, adding that frozen chicken could keep for about a month.

"Vegetables are best cooked the same day you buy them to get the best flavour."

Easaw-John said dry groceries like canned food, salt and sugar could be bought on a monthly basis. Fresh items should be bought once every week or fortnight.

"It can save you petrol. Gone are the days when we get to do our marketing every morning.

"Buy at shops, hypermarkets or pasar tani that are close to home. Don't travel 20km just to get a 10 per cent discount as it won't make any difference."

She said consumers should plan what they wanted to buy based on their budget.

"You should distinguish between your needs and your wants. It's hard to change when we are used to eating lavishly. But with the increasing prices of almost everything, we need to get back to basics."

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