Scrounge together your loose change, Australia — all those cheap takeaway meals are adding up in a big way.

It’s been revealed that Australians are spending more than $7.16 billion on fast food meals every year. That works out to everybody in Australia spending $311 a year on fast food meals.

In 2013, we bought 1.2 billion fast food meals. That’s 3.3 million fast food meals a day, or 52 a year for the average Aussie.

Those numbers come via the Heart Foundation, who are encouraging Aussies to press pause on their fast food consumption and just think for a second about what they’re putting into their mouths.

“Eating out is a big part of today’s Australian lifestyle,” admits Heart Foundation dietitian Shane Landon. “It’s the toast you buy with your coffee on your way to work, the sandwich you pick up at lunchtime and the takeaway you grab on the way home.

“However, a lack of knowledge and understanding of the nutritional value of foods prepared and served away from home means many Australians who eat out regularly do not realise or consider the impact of this on their overall diet and long term disease risk.

“The danger is when eating out; we may throw caution to the wind. Portion sizes are larger and in most cases, the meals you are served will contain more energy, saturated fat and salt than meals you prepare at home.

“Which is why we want more people to feel confident about preparing foods at home so that the healthy choice is the easy choice.”

It’s probably safe to say that most fast food purchases are made simply because we haven’t bothered to prepare anything ahead of time, which is why for Healthy Weight Week (February 16-22), the Heart Foundation is encouraging Aussies to prepare food at home for seven days and just watch the effect it has on their wallets and waistlines.

If you’re at a loss for ideas, the Heart Foundation’s recipe finder should be a godsend (and eliminate your excuses).

Queensland Health’s Preventive Health Unit is also getting on board Healthy Weight Week.

“Having a weekly food plan with smart food choices will help to keep you and your family healthier and happier, as well as saving you money and time,” says Kaye Pulsford, director of the Preventive Health Unit.

“Planning for the week and making a shopping list helps to avoid food wastage and purchasing unhealthy products.

“Stocking the freezer with nutritious foods is a great way of ensuring you can prepare healthy dinners fast.”

You can find Queensland Health’s nutritionist-approved recipes and tips for planning your meals at healthier.qld.gov.au.

Here are a few of the Heart Foundation’s tips for keeping your home cooking healthy:

  • Choose healthier oils like sunflower, olive or canola when cooking or making salad dressing;
  • Include a variety of colourful vegetables in every meal;
  • Instead of adding salt for flavour when you cook, use a variety of dried and fresh herbs;
  • Choose lean meat or protein options and trim the visible fat;
  • Make sure you watch your portion sizes;
  • Take a piece of fruit for morning or afternoon tea and cut up things like cucumbers, carrots and celery into sticks and have them with some low fat dip as a healthier snack option. Cherry tomatoes and snow peas make good snacks as well.

Will you be taking the Healthy Weight Week pledge to prepare all your meals at home for a week? Let us know in the comments below!