Cheap as chips? No more! Potatoes the next veggie to fall to cost of living pressures
The humble spud…. cheap, quick and easy to prepare, it’s no surprise that the potato has been an Australian household staple for many years. One of the world’s most favourite and highly utilised foods, they are loved for their versatility, their flavour and adaptability to be used as an ingredient in thousands of dishes from hundreds of cultures. The traditional Aussie dinner “meat and 3 veg” would be lost without its potatoes; however, families across the country may be forced to go on a Ross and Rachel “break” with their beloved spuds as potatoes are the next cab off the rank to succumb to inflation and the rising cost of living pressures.
2022 has been a difficult year for the country as we continue to recover from devastating floods, bushfires and the ongoing impact of the covid-19 pandemic on top of international wars and general inflation, with many of us feeling in the hip pocket at the checkout. The cost of meat, seafood, fruit and vegetables has skyrocketed in the past couple of months, and we are now no stranger to forking out $10 for an iceberg lettuce, $12/kg for broccoli and upwards of $35/kg for green beans. Absurd? Absolutely! The latest veggie to hit the headlines today is the potato with prices expected to increase by up to 30% in the coming weeks as a result of the wet winter weather, supply shortages and inflation pushing up production costs (including fertiliser, petrol and energy costs rising by 50%). So, what does this price hike look like for you? You can expect to pay approximately $12 for a bag of spuds.
The pressure of providing healthy, nutritious and balanced meals and achieving the recommended fruit and vegetable targets each day (go for your 2 (fruit) and 5 (veg)), has put an increased pressure on the family budget. With ongoing price hikes expected, shoppers need to become savvier with their buck and there are many ways we can ensure we are eating healthily and affordably.
What’s to love about Potatoes?
Potatoes are one of those vegetables that even the fussiest of children love; however, they are no stranger to a bit of hate from the media, with many diet trends and influencers giving them a bad rap. This is because potatoes are rich in carbohydrates (starch) which is a nutrient so many demonise for causing weight gain and spiking blood glucose levels. On the contrary, when eaten in appropriate amounts and as part of a balanced diet, carbohydrates are an excellent source of energy and are the primary fuel used by our bodies. Potatoes are naturally fat-free and a great source of dietary fibre, vitamin C, potassium (more than a banana!), B vitamins and magnesium. In short, they are great at providing that antioxidant effect to protect our cells from damage, they assist with digestion, have heart health benefits and even cancer prevention.
Diversity of the spud is one of its many appeals. Mashed, baked, roasted, steamed, boiled or fried, you can have them as a cheesy bake, crunchy chips, scalloped or in a salad. They can be the star of the show or a scrumptious side dish and allow lots of flavours to hitch a ride on their back. The way we cook and prepare potatoes can significantly change their nutrient profile. It is recommended to keep the skins on for retention of the nutrients and added fibre. Also, try steaming, roasting and baking as well as going light on the added fats and oils.
Replacements and substitutions
If $12 for a bag of fresh potatoes is not working with your grocery budget, there are many healthy and nutritious alternatives that you can try!
You can find potatoes in a variety of forms in the freezer section of the supermarket – including chips, wedges, hash browns, ready-to-roast, mashed and even ready-made foods such as bubble and squeak or potato gratins. Be mindful that these forms of potato are often processed with added fats and sodium which can make them a less-healthy alternative. Opt for oven baking or air-frying instead of deep or shallow frying to reduce their overall fat and energy content.
Is canned potato a thing? You bet! You can find canned baby potatoes in the canned vegetable section of the supermarket. Like most canned products, they have salt added as a preservative but are otherwise in their whole form and are a great option for a side dish or a quick and easy potato salad.
Sweet potato! Orange in colour but similar in nutrients, sweet potato can be treated the same as regular spuds. They have a sweeter flavour and a softer texture, great for mashing and baking. They are rich in vitamin A which gives the bright orange colour and are lower-GI compared to regular potatoes which makes them a good option for diabetics.
Other potato alternatives
Polenta (Corn meal)
This is an Italian staple which polenta is cooked with water or stock to make a smooth porridge like consistency. It can be flavoured with butter and cheese just like mashed potato and is great for sucking up sauces and gravies.
(mash, roasted, baked, steamed)
Same method, different veg. Use frozen cauliflower if fresh is out of season.
A cheap and healthy alternative to mashed potatoes using canned beans and vegetable stock. This is high in low-GI carbohydrates, fibre, protein and is vegan friendly! Delicious when flavoured with garlic and lemon.
Sweet potato or zucchini “chips”
Slice the veg into chips or wedges, spray with olive oil and oven bake. Add your own seasonings and flavours to suit your own tastes.
Pasta is naturally low-GI which is a great option for maintaining our blood glucose levels. It is inexpensive, easy to prepare and carries sauces and flavours well.
Grains (rice, quinoa, couscous)
Affordable and quick to make! These grains can be flavoured with herbs, spices and seasonings to enhance the flavour. Alternatively, they make a great salad!
Transform your meat and 3 veg to a meat and veg stir-fry with noodles or rice. Use frozen veg for a budget friendly yet healthy alternative.
Sub out your potatoes for a dinner roll or slice of bread! For a fibre boost choose wholegrain and wholemeal varieties where you can.
Lauren Goffredo, Accredited Practising Dietitian for OSCAR Care Group