10 Tips on Creating Healthy Meals on a Budget: An Interview with Dr. Shirley Isi Ejoh

Eating healthy should not be an option for anyone; it is absolutely necessary for health, vitality and long life. Our desire for good health and a good life can sometimes be threatened by the challenges that life throws at us but as the saying goes ‘where there is life, there is hope.’ With regards to eating healthy in financial challenging times, there is still hope for getting the best out of foods you have and can afford to nourish yourself and your family.

I had a chat with Dr. Shirley Isi Ejoh on creating healthy meals on a low budget and she shared some tips.  Dr. Ejoh is a lecturer in the Department of Human Nutrition, University of Ibadan. Her interests are in traditional foods particularly traditional leafy vegetables and their contributions to micronutrient intakes; health promotion through nutrition education and family gardening activities.

She shared some tips on creating healthy meals on a budget:

  1. First Things First, Know the Basis of a Healthy Meal

To create healthy meals for yourself and your family, you need to know the basis of a healthy meal. You meals should have all the nutrients your body requires for growth, maintenance and general health. When your meals are continuously deficient in some particular nutrients or a group of nutrients, this will translates to malnutrition and poor health. The most important things to note are: variety, moderation and balance.


  1. Know the Food groups and identify the cheaper alternatives
Food Groups
Credit: The Nigeria Community and Facility Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) Counselling Package

Variety gives you access to many nutrients that foods have to offer. The more diverse your meals are, the more you are likely to improve your micronutrients status. Dr. Ejoh encourages us to choose foods from different food groups. Each food group has different foods with similar nutrients.  In each food group, there is always a less expensive alternative. For example if you want to make a soup for your family, looking at the vegetable group, okra with a leafy vegetable soup is a cheap option compared to a soup like Egusi-vegetable or Ogbono-vegetable soup. Also, Fresh cod fish (panla) would also be cheaper than catfish or beef.

“In the case of stews, tomatoes are quite expensive now, but garden eggs are available now. So with a little quantity of tomatoes, and garden eggs as support will reduce the cost considerably” she said. Other alternatives for tomatoes in stews are carrots (if they are in season) which gives a lovely taste but slightly different colour from the usual red pepper mix. Pawpaw (if they are in season, would be cheap) can also be blended with some tomatoes for stews.

“We see that the alternatives increase the vitamins and minerals contents of our meals as well as other beneficial constituents like antioxidants and phytochemicals. These are small but mighty constituents of our foods and though they are needed in small quantities they help to maintain our health and preventing diseases. Since our food meals comprise of starchy staples (‘swallow’)and side dish (sauces/soups), these sauces/soups are the ones that supply most of our micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).” She shared.


  1. Utilize the Biodiversity Around You
Indian Spinach (Amunututu)
Credit: google sites
Winged Termites
Credit: Wikipedia

She also talked about looking out for alternative and cheaper sources of food such as small snails that are around us in their natural vegetation or bushes that can be collected, edible insects and wild indigenous leafy vegetables such as the wild amaranths (Tete or green), Wild lettuce (Yanrin), waterleaf (gbure), indian spinach (amunututu), try soya – milk, tofu (soy cheese) as alternatives to meat/ fish sometimes or use beans when you can’t afford meat/fish as examples. She encourages families to build vegetable gardens and eat varieties of vegetables to improve the micronutrient status of their families.

Edible Palm weevil Larvae credit: imambaksh.com
  1. Plan your Family or Personal Meals

This will help you mix and match your foods within your budget in a healthy way, once you know the available and cheaper alternatives within the food groups.

  1. Do A Food Inventory

You need to take an inventory of those ingredients already available at home, what you need to buy in addition or what ingredients you can improvise with in order to save cost.

  1. Utilize Seasonal Foods

Seasonal foods are always cheaper. Try to maximize the use of seasonal foods, especially fruits and vegetables. If you cannot afford whole fruits e.g. whole watermelon or pineapple; some of the vendors sell them in slices (cheaper). A note of caution about cut fruits/ vegetables is hygiene! Ensure they are freshly cut and properly covered before purchasing them (to avoid consuming contaminated fruits/ vegetables).

  1. Source your Foods from Cheaper Location

Identify areas where you can get best value for your money and target the ones that are convenient for you.

  1. Go Local or Traditional

Going local or indigenous instead of foreign and exotic might save you some money. You would also get cheaper and more nutritious foods in the bargain

  1. Buy in Bulk
Credit: Vanguardngr.com

If you can, buy your foods in bulk. This would save you some money and time that it would take you to go for an extra market run. To avoid having so much perishable foods in store, you can buy with friends and share. Note that some perishable will require storage like refrigeration.

  1. Use Your Leftovers instead of discarding them

Some people say that African women do not let foods go to waste. If this is true, then African families are in luck.  You can re-prepare left over foods using fresh ingredients and lots of spices. This will reduce waste and save you some money. Find ways to utilize your leftovers instead of discarding them.


Dr. Ejoh is currently working on a Nutri-Garden and Family Nutrition Education Series.

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