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I thought I’d share an eating experience I had over the weekend that really made me think about the assumption that “healthy eating is more expensive” in Australia. Indeed, this is a common view help by many, and often one of the excuses for less healthy eating practices.

On Friday night I enjoyed a meal out with my colleague at a lovely contemporary Italian-style restaurant in our local area. I chose the Special for $29. It was delicious! A roast Duck Risotto with spinach, tomatoes, walnuts and truffle oil. Sometimes risotto can be a very rich, and creamy dish, high in fat (and calories), however this was more of a tomato/stock based risotto and, although very flavoursome, not too heavy. The walnuts and truffle oil provided favourable healthy fats (omega-3 and mono-unsaturated fats). The duck was tender and lean and the tomatoes and spinach were plentiful. Not only was this meal delicious and healthy, but I finished feeling very satisfied and did not need starter or dessert.

On Saturday night, our family of 4 (my partner, our 4.5yr old and our 2.5yr old) was away in a small fishing village where we keep our boat moored and often spend weekends there as our little get-away. We ate dinner in the only available venue – the local pub. Now, despite being a dietitian, I don’t mind the odd pub or club meal, especially those that are children friendly and relaxed. In fact I much prefer to eat with my family in a relaxed pub-like venue than a fancy restaurant which I find quite stressful with a 2.5yr old and 4.5yr old.

However, I still like to order food that has at least some nutritional value. So I ordered the grilled snapper which came with fried calamari rings, chips and side salad for $28. Note that this was $1 short of my roast duck risotto the previous night. The meal may have contained grilled fish (usually a healthy option), but it was tasteless and nutritional value stopped there. The side salad was a token bit of lettuce and grated carrot and perhaps 1 wedge of tomato, covered in a tasteless creamy dressing (high in saturated fat). Obviously fried chips and calamari have little nutritional value and are very high in calories. The whole meal was then covered in a ‘hollandaise sauce’ which had clearly come out of a commercial sauce bottle, rather than home-made. I ended up being unable to finish the chips or the calamari because I’d had enough of fried food, although I left the pub actually feeling hungry and very unsatisfied.

Now, I know this pub was catering for a totally different and possibly lower socio-economic clientele than my Friday night’s restaurant, however, that is exactly my point! The meals served at the pub were no cheaper than the nice restaurant fair, and far less enjoyable in terms of flavour and satisfaction, and far less nutritious! If they are really catering for a lower socio-economic crowd, why not make the meals at least affordable! The Steak options were equally expensive: at $34 per meal.

While I’m on a rant, I’d like to comment on Australia’s poor quality Pub food. As I said above, I enjoy the odd pub meal. While living in the UK for 3 years, pub fair was a weekend staple and a surprisingly satisfactory meal, typically home-style cooking such as casserole with steamed vegetables; roast meat/chicken and vegetables; fish with salad. Chips were on the menu but generally as a side dish, and not a staple meal accompaniment. And these quality meals were reasonably priced too, and always family friendly!

So, the point of this is simple: 1) Healthy food is not necessarily cheaper and 2) Australian pubs need to pick up their game if we are to improve the health of our Nation!

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