+ Well Nourished ⎮ How to eat a whole foods diet on a tight budget

How to eat a whole foods diet on a tight budget

Three of the most common excuses I’ve heard over the years for not eating well is ‘I don’t have the time’, ‘I don’t have the money’  and ‘I have a crappy kitchen’.  Well I’ve just put all three obstacles to the test!

Just recently I accompanied my daughter and her swim team to Adelaide for the SA State swim titles as team cook. I took on this role knowing little about what was ahead, but I learned a lot, including it is entirely possible to eat very well with only a tiny kitchen to cook in, very little time and a very tight budget. I’ve had loads of requests to share this experience, so here it is.

So I was in charge of shopping and feeding 7 hungry, active 11-12yr olds /and 3 adults for 5 days on a budget of $500 (that works out to $10 per person per day – for ALL meals and snacks).

The kitchen
The kitchen was indeed tiny with next to no equipment beyond basic crockery and a few pots (we stayed in 3 x 2 bedroom holiday appartments and I did all the cooking  for the group from one apartment). I’m so glad I took my Thermomix, it helped a lot with chopping and general food prep (especially as I didn’t have a grater). In anticipation of working in a kitchen with limited wares, the coach organised two big baking dishes and loaf tins for me also. The knives/ peelers/ chopping boards were awful, next time I’ll take my own too.

I had no storage containers so there was a lot of improvising with leftover or pre-prepped food stored in pots and pans (with foil under the lids to make them airtight). Serving plates were also absent so salads/ veggies were served on baking trays and dressing were made in coffee mugs. If there’s a will there’s a way.

I also had very limited time to cook as their swim schedule was so hectic.

Each day we left home at 6.30am and returned by about 2pm so they could rest. Then they needed to be taken back to the pool by 4pm for finals (I was also one of the drivers) and we were rarely home before 9pm. So I cooked mostly in that 1-2 hour break after lunch and also did some chopping preparing for lunch after dinner was cleared up.

The meals
Breakfast, lunch, mid arvo meal and snacks
So for breakfast we were up at 5.30am and generally had eggs on toast, spinach, cheese, tomato (combo of) and a fruit smoothie (made with yoghurt, frozen berries, banana, milk). I bought weetbix but 80% of the box was left behind so even though the kids requested I buy it, they didn’t actually eat many.

Lunch and snacks I always had cut and ready the night before. As the kids all swam at different times they all ate small amounts in advance of their individual events (food was on constant rotation amongst the group). So most days I had self serve wraps (mountain bread with various salads and roast chicken or tuna). I had dips, veggie sticks, and cookies (my Anzacs and Cookie monsters) for snacks. I also made vegetable and bacon frittatas in the loaf tins so I could just slice off however much they felt like at the time.

When we got home at 2pm they were all exhausted and hungry. So I tried to be semi-prepared the night before for this break so they had something decent to eat, especially as dinner was so late. Most common meals:

  • Fried rice (I cooked the rice the night before and cut up broccoli, carrots, bacon etc so I could just fry it with onion, garlic, soy sauce and whip up an omelette to shred through when we got home).
  • Wraps – that they could make themselves (like they did at lunchtime).
  • I also topped wraps with chicken/ cheese and baked them to melt the cheese and they added any grated carrot/ spinach to it.
  • We also had some leftovers from dinners (a bit like a smorgasbord so they picked what they felt like).

Then they all went to bed for an arvo sleep and I prepped for dinner as we were home so late, and I had to feed them and get them to bed asap.

Day 1 – I filled both the roasting trays with Chicken Drumsticks, vegetables, stock, thyme and baked them. I served it with baby spinach, cous cous and roasted potato wedges. Kind of like this recipe here and here.

Day 2 – Lasagne and salad.

Day 3 – My Chicken, Bacon and Veggie meatloaf (but I made it with less expensive, yet highly nourishing turkey mince). Served with a roast vegetable salad.

Day 4 – Baked Potatoes which I served with tuna mayo, grated cheese, grated carrot, diced tomatoes, leftover lasagne, and roast chicken.

Day 5 – Hamburgers.

Shopping and keeping within the budget
I would have loved to do all of my shopping at a Farmers Market as I do at home, but being in a strange state and also limited by the time, I actually had to shop at a Woolworths that was nearby the pool. I bought a lot of fresh produce from the ‘less than perfect’ (fruit and veggies that is irregularly shaped) section of the supermarket which was actually really great. I stuck with the most affordable produce, so sadly avoided stone fruit.

I bought very large (bulk) packs of everything like meat, eggs, butter, blocks of cheese, yoghurt, milk, bags of fruit and veggies (worked out cheaper by the kg). It was cheapest believe it or not to buy cooked roasted chooks (which I never thought I would do) – but given my time restrictions, lack of space in the oven and tight budget, that was the best option. The kids all told me they wanted berries so that was our ‘luxury’ item – ha ha. I really didn’t think it would be possible but it was, even with the berries the budget held.

The most expensive things were actually anything in a package – I wanted to make my own popcorn, but didn’t have a big enough pot so I did buy a couple of bags of popcorn and also some rice crackers. Because of our lack of storage containers we also bought dips (again it would have been cheaper to make though).

The other thing to remember is that there was a fair bit I had to leave behind too – like the last of the herbs and seasonings I bought. I think with a semi-stocked pantry (with oils/herbs/spices/condiments etc;), I would have had money to spare!

Kids winning medals and in fine form
I have to admit I was exhausted at the end of the week but really pleased to be able to support the kids nutritionally. Some of the kids (who were not used to eating whole foods) were a little hesitant with some of the meals, but having no choice, they chowed down and admitted to actually enjoying the food.

The kids all had a cracking swim meet with most of them swimming personal bests in every race, we had quite a few medals  – all despite the gruelling schedule and extreme mental and physical fatigue. I like to think the good food had something to do with it!!


So that’s my experience on feeding a crowd with a tight budget. I’ll most likely be nominated for the job next year so any tips you could give me in the comments below would be very welcome. 

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  • Rachel

    Brilliant! You are amazing! I’m going to use some of these ideas for everyday eating!

  • Ilka Mills

    Your amazing Georgia – well done! Thank you for sharing – very inspiring.

  • Tracey

    This post is amazing!!! Thank you so much for sharing your ideas, some really helpful advice, you sound like an amazing mum!

  • Daleen

    Georgia, you’re a genius! Very inspiring , thank you for sharing xx

  • Jessica

    A great post, thankyou Georgia. I’m also heading off on a State Age Trip with our squad shortly, I’ll be sure to use this as a guide : ) BTW: Our daughters are the same age and swim almost identical times, it was uncanny : )

  • Ilse van Staden

    I wanted to share this great post with a friend, but the link takes me to “Share coconut rough”, so I’ve just copied the URL. Thank you.

  • Brigitte James

    WOW! That’s a hectic schedule. I hope you had some kind of help from the sidelines. You must be still getting over that trip now! Simply amazing!!! And yes, I’m learning the same as the kids who figured out it’s not so bad after all – now my girl has just started school. I’m, varying her mayo, lettuce and cheese (wholemeal) sandwich away from that a bit and adding a bit of leftover chicken, sausage or something else into it because, if she doesn’t eat it, she’ll stay very hungry! Next, I’ll step away even more and do something that’s not a sandwich … Maybe a wrap and then maybe something she can eat with a fork … Slowly, slowly … She misses me so much, so i don’t want to go too crazy too quickly. 🙂 I feel so grateful to have this site as inspiration. It’s how I love to eat. Thank you.

  • Penny McKay

    This post is so helpful Georgia, thank you so much, sounds like you did an amazing job. Our family income has recently reduced and I have had to make some sacrifices and this post had some great tips 🙂

  • Gina Hughes

    I absolutely love this post and just about to share it on my page … it just shows what can be done as long as you don’t feel “defeated” at the beginning … just do what you can and don’t worry about what can’t be done! Thank you so much Georgia for documenting your experience … awesome! xo Gina

    • Thanks Gina, yes I never felt defeated, tired though. It was a tough gig. Thanks for sharing G x

  • Lee-anne

    Thankyou for your insight, it’s a tough gig. I cooked for a hungry group in Vanuata, and my best advice is to take your own favourite knife, pot etc. it’s a bit hard if you have to fly tho, Thermomix would have been great but I was cooking with a generator, but I was sure glad to come home, back to my thermo.

    • Your welcome Lee-anne. Yes the knifes are definitely coming next time!! x

  • Oh thanks, hope it helps a little. Sonia from Natural New Age mum has a free ‘How to Eat Healthy Wholefood on a Budget’ guide from memory when you subscribe to her list you might find helpful too. G x

  • Thanks Daleen, glad you enjoyed it G x x

  • Shazam – what state are you in Jessica? Hope the blog helps your team too x

  • Eleanor

    This is a brilliant post thank you Georgia. As a coach (basketball) it’s so relevant for all of us involved in junior sport, and I will be sharing this with othe coaches and team managers in our club for sure. Thanks again!

  • Thanks Eleanor – to be honest I didn’t realise how well received this post would be. I’m actually do a talk at the swim club as there are a lot of confused parents out there of budding athletes receiving a lot of mixed messages. You might also like this old post too http://wellnourished.com.au/feeding-sporty-kids/ G x

    • Eleanor

      Thanks Georgia. I agree – I see a lot of different ideas of what people think is fuel for young athletes and mainly through lack of education. Keep up the great work!

  • Sorry – I’ve just fixed it. Technology and I often don’t see eye to eye x

  • So thrilled you are finding inspiration and encouragement from my site Brigitte.I got a little help – one of the swim coaches helped me with chopping veggies at night after dinner (to take to the pool for lunch the next morning), but with a kitchen so tiny , the cooking really was a once person job. G x

  • Clorinda

    Wow! I’m exhausted just reading about what you needed to orchestrate! What a legend mama you are! I have no tips but I do have a big round of applause 👏🏼 for you!

    • Ha ha! I must admit I got a little exhausted re-capping it all. Thanks, pretty proud of myself and at the end of the day, I learned a lot G x

  • Justine

    Thanks for this informative post!! We are on a tight budget (i aim for $10 a meal)with 4 kids 11,9, 7 and 3 (9 yr old one being a keen squad swimmer) so I’m always keen for help and advice! Love all that you do so tirelessly in helping us feed our families more healthy! x

    • Thanks so much Justine and it’s my absolute pleasure. I really appreciate your encouragement G x

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