Economics of happy meals

IN MY Facebook newsfeed there is yet another quote from yet another dead white guy that everyone is giving a virtual thumbs up to.

This time my social network is collectively nodding to an observation by Irish writer Oscar Wilde: "Nowadays people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing."

Implicit in Wilde's assumption is that taking a keen interest in the price of laundry detergent or gala apples somehow blinkers you to the bigger issues.

Now, while the controversial writer faced some serious social challenges, I'm pretty sure Wilde never worried about his keycard being declined at the grocer.

In the Northern Rivers, perhaps more than most places, I believe we're coming closer to an economics of happiness where being thrifty, healthy and socially responsible aren't necessarily at odds.

According to a report released last year, the number of farmers markets more than doubled between 2004 and 2011. Markets, places where connection to the land and community is strengthened, are also places to grab a bargain.

Like many schools across the country, my daughter's preschool has introduced a litterless lunchbox policy to reduce packaging and waste.

Coincidentally, rethinking packaged snacks is also a money-saver for parents.

But like my rejection of Wilde's quotation, I may be alone in my optimism.

According to the latest Australian Products of the Year survey, price and convenience are two major factors driving consumers to purchase products, even if it means compromising their health.

Almost three-quarters of Australians (74%) would eat healthier and buy more premium-quality fresh produce and protein if they were less expensive, with 41% believing it was cheaper and easier to buy pre-packaged meals rather than cooking their own dish.

More than half those surveyed (53%) said they didn't have time to cook meals from scratch so they bought something convenient, even if less healthy.

Do you think penny pinching can also be a healthy and socially responsible pursuit? Or do you think I'm as clueless as a wealthy Irish dandy shopping for specials at Aldi?

Healthy budget ideas

DIY frozen vegies: If your favourite fresh vegies are on special and you have some spare time, try washing, chopping and freezing them for an instant quick stir-fry.

Frozen berries cost much less and they're just as nutritious for you and much less likely to spoil.

The bruised produce in the quick-sale basket may look unappealing but no one will know the difference if you cut out the brown bits, freeze them or add them to a smoothie.

It may sound a little Martha Stewart at first, but making your own muesli bars is so much cheaper than buying off the shelf. Make a heap and store them well.

Sunday cook-off? After the farmers market, cook up a heap of soup or stew and freeze it in small containers for when you are time-poor.

Rethink Tupperware. There are some great new containers on the market that make it easier to take leftover soup to work or school, without the fear of leaks.

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