22 January 2024

A guide to budget-friendly eating for the elderly

8 min read

Quality nutritious food for a cheaper price? Now that sounds like a win-win situation.


Increased cost of living

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the cost of groceries has increased by 8% year in a year. For anyone living on the margins, every increase in essentials means one less essential. 

Concerns about increased cost

With the increased cost of living, Australians shoppers are reshaping their priorities: cutting back on snacks, discretionary foods, meat, and premium goods. On the bright side, people are eating at home and eating their leftovers more often.

How is it affecting the elderly?

Results from the latest National Seniors Social Survey reveal that 80% of older people have been impacted by increasing living costs, with the number who are “severely” impacted expected to rise over the next year. Health costs, energy prices and groceries were the three top worries.

Seniors have a limited income with the majority living on pension. The increased cost of living is majorly affecting some:

  • Requiring a return to work
  • Compromising on shopping items, cutting discretionary foods and opting for cheaper goods.
  • Cutting breakfast or lunch as multiple meals every day is not affordable.  


Healthy eating

A healthy diet keeps you healthy. Without a doubt, your diet shapes your physical, mental, and social well-being.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), poor diet increases your risk of chronic diseases and other conditions, such as:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Some cancers
  • Mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.


Why is healthy eating important for seniors

Healthy eating is particularly important for older adults to prevent diseases and poor health. As we age, our lifestyles change. Our bodies normally change. Things do not work as they used to.

  • The body does not absorb nutrients like it used to which makes it hard to meet your Recommended Daily Intake of vitamins and nutrients.
  • It may be more difficult to get out to buy groceries.
  • Appetites may reduce or disappear.
  • Health issues may also make it difficult to eat or enjoy foods.
  • Loneliness or isolation may lead to reduced eating.  Regularly connecting with other people through eating reduces this loneliness and isolation.


What are the nutritional needs for people aged 70 years and above?

Nutrition needs vary depending on someone’s age and gender. The Australian Dietary Guidelines outline specific nutritional needs for older people. In a nutshell, they advise older Australians to:

Enjoy variety of food from the five food groups:
  1. 1. Vegetables – aim for 5 cups per day.
  2. Reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke, preventing some types of cancer with a positive effect on blood sugar.
  3. 2. Fruits – aim for 2 medium size fruits per day.
  4. Offering a range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that lower inflammation.
  5. 3. Grains – aim for 3-4.5 serves (1 medium potato, 1 slice of bread, ½ cup of noodles, pasta, or rice).
  6. Acting as the main source of energy. They are also high in fibre.
  7. 4. Meat and alternatives – aim for 2 serves of meat and meat alternatives (65g of red meat, 80g of chicken, or 110g of fish).
  8. Good source of zinc, iron, and vitamin B12. Fish is your friend. Regular consumption of fish may reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, and loss of vision.
  9. 5. Milk and dairy products – aim for 3.5-4 serves (1 glass of milk, 1 tub of yoghurt, or 40g of cheese).
  10. Products like milk, cheese and yoghurt are good for bone health.


Dietary advice for older adults:
  • Limit foods containing saturated fats and trans fats (biscuits, cakes, pastries, pies, processed meats, fried foods, potato chips, crisps, and other savoury snacks).
  • Drink 6–8 cups of fluid a day. As we get older, we may not feel as thirsty as we once did, but the body needs fluids. Water is essential for hydration, digestion, and blood volume.
  • Use less salt. Too much salt can increase your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. Choose reduced-salt food when shopping and flavour your cooking with herbs and spices instead of salt.
  • Monitor alcohol intake. Australian guidelines recommend no more than two standard drinks on any given day for healthy men and women.
  • Include eggs in the diet. Egg not only taste great, but they are also packed with protein for strong muscles, choline to slow cognitive decline, and antioxidants! How good!
  • Protein, protein, protein! With limited activity comes muscle loss, which can increase the risk of falling and broken bones. Protein is essential for building, repairing, and maintaining healthy bones and muscles. Spread the protein intake across the day to maximize absorption.


Sources of protein include:

  • All meats, fish, eggs, and seafood
  • Milk and dairy products
  • Beans and pulses
  • Nuts and seeds, and wholegrains.
  • Maintain healthy weight and muscle strength through physical activity. Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking or light weights, is good for bone health.
  • Have teeth or dentures checked regularly to continue to enjoy a wide variety of foods.
  • Aim for 10 to 30 minutes in the sun for the Vitamin D fix.


Is fibre important?

The main role of fibre is to keep the digestive system healthy. It is even more important for older people as the digestive system slows down with age. To keep your bowels active, include plenty of fibre in your diet. Good sources of dietary fibre are:

  • Canned beans
  • Wholegrain cereals
  • Wholegrain bread
  • Fresh fruit and dried fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Dried peas, beans, and lentils


Common, cheaper grain products such as brown rice, wholegrain bread, oats, and popcorn, offer the same wholegrain goodness and a good fibre source.

Is eating healthy expensive?

Research shows that healthy diets can be more affordable than unhealthy diets in Australia, but other factors, such as convenience and promotion, may be as important as price in determining food choices.

Affordable and healthy meal ideas

Planning well, using what is available, and only buying what is needed can help meeting budget. Look out for quick and easy healthy recipes for one or two people and try to eat regularly with family and friends if possible. If extra food is cooked, store in the freezer for later use.

Think about your meals as an opportunity to give your body fuel for function and as a social activity you can enjoy with others when possible.

You may like to try these quick affordable ideas for a protein boost:


  • Add yoghurt or milk and canned fruit to cereal.
  • Try eggs, baked beans, sardines, leftover meat, or cheese on toast.



  • Leftovers
  • Cheese, egg or ham sandwich
  • Make an open sandwich of tinned tuna, tinned salmon, or sardines.
  • Tinned soup with cheese sandwich 



  • Egg stir-fry
  • Minestrone soup
  • Shepherd’s pie with chopped vegetables
  • Tinned tuna/salmon pasta mornay
  • Falafel served with hummus, tahini or garlic sauce.



  • Ice-cream, yoghurt, or custard with fruit for dessert.
  • Glass of milk or a banana smoothie.
  • Cheese and crackers.



  • The best drink seniors can consume is water. Water is essential for overall wellbeing:
  • It prevents dehydration and keeps your body at a normal temperature.
  • It lubricates and cushions joints.
  • It eases constipation and prevents kidney stones.
  • However, if you are looking for a different beverage to enjoy, some healthier options include:
  • Milk – Milk is a good source of protein, vitamin B12, and iodine. It is also the main contributor for calcium in the Australian diet.
  • Plant-based milk – such as soy milk or almond milk. They are lower in saturated fat and an alternative for those with lactose intolerance.
  • Infused water – infused water adds flavour and helps you consume more. It also helps with immunity, blood sugar regulation and weight management.
  • Green tea – the antioxidants it contains, promote a healthy heart and liver.
  • Fresh juice – freshly squeezed juices are healthier than bottled varieties. They offer vitamins and minerals and keep you hydrated.


Dietitian tips for healthy eating on a budget

Tips and tricks that can make healthy eating a bit cheaper:

  • Make a shopping list and stick to it.
  • Choose home brands products.
  • Buy seasonal fruits and vegetables. They are always cheaper!
  • Choose canned or frozen fruits and vegetables. Convenient, cheaper, and last longer.
  • Choose canned tuna, salmon, sardines, and herring. They might be expensive from the deli, but have you tried them canned? Affordable and nutritious. They give you as much heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids as fresh fish, and sometimes more. They also work against inflammation and the formation of blood clots inside arteries.
  • Cook your meals and enjoy!
  • If shopping is an issue, keep your pantry stocked with foods that will last a long time such as:
  • Baked beans and bean mixes
  • Rice, spaghetti, pasta, flour, rolled oats and breakfast cereals.
  • Powdered milk and custard
  • Canned soups
  • Pastes (such as reduced salt peanut butter)
  • Vegetable oil such as olive oil or canola oil.


How can a Dietitian help?

If you need help choosing a healthy diet or preparing healthy budget-friendly meals, Dietitians are here to help.

An Accredited Practising Dietitian could assist you with a meal plan tailored to your lifestyle ensuring that you meet all your requirements.