Food, gloriously expensive food. And the costs just seem to keep rising.
But you don’t have to sacrifice healthy choices at the supermarket.
“Some Canadians may 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 – that will keep your body and bank account healthy.
1. Turn leftover food into new meals
Make twice as much dinner as your family needs. Why? 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 two 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 slices in a loaf of bread because it’s gone stale or mouldy? Here’s the fix: When you buy bread, immediately put half into the freezer. Use the fresh slices for sandwiches and use the slices in the freezer for toast.
“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. Check for grocery store deals
Don't be quick to throw away grocery store flyers into the recycle bin. You can use them to find deals on meats, canned beans, canned fish, and fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. You can also find most of these flyers online at a store’s website. Take a look at various flyers to comparison shop and see which one offers the best deals.
You may also want to search online or call up grocery stores in your area to see if they price-match deals. (Price-matching happens when stores offer to match or even beat the prices of its competitors.)
4. Save money on meat
“Eating less meat is good for your wallet and for the planet,” says Mah. For example, if you eat meat four times a week, go for just three 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," says Mah. "But they tenderize if braised over a longer time.”
5. Try sources of protein other than meat
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?” suggests Sunderland. “Cube some beets, carrots, rutabaga and squash. Toss them with your favourite dried herbs and a drizzle of oil. Then 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?
“Butternut squash and sweet potatoes, excellent sources of the antioxidant beta carotene. They’ll last for at least two weeks,” says Mah. “But leafy greens tend to wilt within a week.” So, shop accordingly.
- Did you know you can avoid food-borne illnesses by storing, cleaning and cooking your food properly? Here are some tips for salmonella prevention.
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. You can also use frozen fruits in oatmeal, yogurt, baking and smoothies. Great choices include edamame, peas, corn and berries.
10. Stock up on fruits and vegetables that are in season
Produce is at its cheapest when it comes into season. As your favourites reach their peaks, buy them in bulk. Then 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, you can 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.”