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Eating well

November 18, 2016

10 tips for healthy eating on a budget

Suffering from sticker shock at the supermarket? You can afford good nutrition, with these tips from registered dietitians.

Food, gloriously expensive food. According to Statistics Canada, the Consumer Price Index (an indicator of changes in consumer prices experienced by Canadians) for food – everything from meats to fish to dairy products to produce to staples like oil, coffee and tea – rose by 10% between 2011 and 2015. Ouch.

And while the numbers for 2016 aren’t in yet, the Annual Food Report, an economic brief from the University of Guelph’s Food Institute, forecast that the average Canadian household would spend $8,631 on food (of which $2,416 would be spent on restaurant food). That’s $345 more in 2016 than in 2015.

But you don’t have to sacrifice healthy choices at the supermarket. “Many Canadians feel they have no choice but to buy processed foods because they believe they can’t afford good nutrition,” says Gina Sunderland, a Winnipeg-based registered dietitian. “But there are many ways you can stretch your food dollar without sacrificing your health.”

Here are just 10 ways – all dietitian-endorsed!

1. Cook once, eat twice.

Make twice as much dinner as your family needs so you can all enjoy the leftovers for lunch the next day. Making quinoa as a side dish? Double it, and use the leftovers as the base of a lunch salad. Roasting a chicken? Use your oven more efficiently and roast 2 chickens. You’ll not only have leftovers for the next day, but also for the freezer. This way, you'll be able to avoid the expensive, often unhealthy, food court choices at lunchtime.

2. Freeze half your bread.

Who doesn’t end up throwing out the last few slices in a loaf of bread because it’s gone stale or mouldy? The fix: When you buy bread, immediately put half into the freezer to be used as toast, and use the fresh slices for sandwiches. “I actually buy day-old breads and bagels at a reduced price; they’re perfect for toast and French toast,” says Toronto-based registered dietitian Sue Mah, president of Nutrition Solutions.

3. Pay attention to “junk mail.”

Instead of throwing grocery store flyers into the recycle bin, look for deals on meats, canned beans, canned fish, and fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. “If you don’t receive flyers, check out smartcanucks.ca,” says Toronto registered dietitian Michelle Jaelin. “It posts specials from many grocery stores, allowing you to comparison-shop.”

4. Save on meats.

“Eating less meat is good for your wallet and for the planet,” says Mah. For example, if you eat meat 4 times a week, go for just 3 times. And consider using cuts that are less popular but cheaper. Flank steak, chicken thighs, veal shank or pork hock are just as nutritious – supplying iron, zinc and protein – as breast, strip loin or tenderloin. “They do tend to be a little tougher, but they tenderize if braised over a longer time,” suggests Mah.

5. Do the can-can.

Meat provides protein. But protein comes in cans, too. “Canned tuna, sardines and salmon are sources of protein,” says Jaelin, “and, as a bonus, they provide omega 3 fatty acids, calcium and vitamin D.” Scan the grocery store shelves for deals on canned beans and pulses (like lentils and chickpeas), too. These are versatile, fibre-packed sources of protein and iron without the price-tag (or fat content) of fresh meat.

6. Rediscover root vegetables.

They are typically cheap, and are so versatile. “Just think of all the ways to prepare potatoes, for example: mashed, boiled, baked, scalloped or made into soup,” says Sunderland. “Why not make a medley of roasted root vegetables? Cube some beets, carrots, rutabaga and squash, toss with your favourite dried herbs and a drizzle of oil, and roast them in a big tray.”

7. Store food properly.

Reducing food waste will save you money. Did you know apples spoil 10 times faster in the fruit bowl than in the fridge? And that potatoes like a cool, dark spot so they don’t soften and sprout? More tips: “Butternut squash and sweet potatoes, excellent sources of the antioxidant beta carotene, will last for at least 2 weeks,” says Mah, “But leafy greens tend to wilt within a week.” So, shop accordingly.

8. Choose a “ripeness range.”

When buying produce for her family – pears, for example – Mah will choose a couple that are ripe and ready to eat, and some that have yet to ripen. “This gives you a supply of pears to last the week without going to waste.” And, pick vegetables that let you control the amount you put into your grocery cart, such as green beans, mushrooms and Brussels sprouts. Bonus tip: Bananas overly ripe? Peel them and freeze them to use in smoothies. Apples too soft? Make them into apple sauce. Can’t use the whole bag of carrots? Slice and freeze them, blanching them first in boiling and then ice water, for best results.

9. Go for frozen foods.

“Fruits and vegetables are frozen at their peak of freshness so they are just as nutritious as fresh,” says Jaelin. You can easily add frozen veggies to main dishes like casseroles and stews, and use frozen fruits in oatmeal, yogurt, baking and smoothies. Great choices include edamame, peas, corn and berries.

10. Stock up in season.

Produce is at its cheapest when it comes into season. As your favourites reach their peaks, buy them in bulk, and spend a few hours prepping and freezing. When winter rolls around, you’ll be glad you did. “I freeze grated and coined carrots to add to soups, stews and spaghetti sauces,” says Sunderland. When tomatoes are ripe, make sauce or puree, or even oven-dry them and bag up your creations to freeze for use in many dishes. “I process enough to last through winter,” Sunderland says. “It’s a great way to bring the fresh taste of summer produce to your family’s meals all year round.”

Whether you’re concerned about your weight, you’ve been told you’re at risk of developing diabetes (take the 2-minute online CANRISK questionnaire to find out) or you just want to feel better about what you eat, these tips will help you keep both your body and your bank account healthy.

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