The rate of inflation in Canada is slowing down, says Statistics Canada. That’s good news for all of us who are digging deeper for everyday purchases. What’s not easing off, though: food prices. The overall Consumer Price Index dropped from 6.3% to 5.9% in January 2023. But food prices were still 10.4% higher than a year earlier.
We can blame high food prices on things like poor harvests due to climate change and fertilizer shortages. When the price of discretionary things like cars and plane tickets goes up, we can put off buying them. We still have to buy food, though, no matter the price. But there is one powerful way to keep grocery bills down: Eat more of what we buy. That is, waste less.
The average Canadian household wastes an eye-popping 140 kilograms of food per year. That’s according to a 2022 report from the National Zero Waste Council. The cost: more than $1,300.
The most common items wasted by weight are:
- Vegetables (30%)
- Fruit (15%)
- Leftovers (13%)
- Bread and baked goods (9%)
- Dairy and eggs (7%)
With the price of eggs alone up by 15.6%, it’s like throwing grocery money in the garbage.
Individually, we can’t do much about crop failures or supply issues. But we can waste less and so save more. Here's how.
1. Shop with a grocery list.
The best time to stop food waste is before you go grocery shopping.
Making a list helps curb the urge to impulse shop. It also reduces the chance that some of your groceries end up rotting in the fridge.
Make it a smart list. Start by shopping your pantry and fridge. See what’s on hand, and what needs eating up soonest. Then plan your meals accordingly, and make a list of what you’ll need to pick up.
Old-school paper lists still work, but you can also use digital resources to organize your shopping. Find an online grocery list template that you like. Or try an app, like AnyList, for more effective shopping.
Another tried-and-true tip: Shop on a full stomach!
2. Store your food so it lasts longer
Putting away your groceries right away — and storing them in the right places — also helps curb food waste. You could, for example, keep an insulated bag in the car to stow perishables in warmer weather.
Keep fruits and vegetables fresher longer. Store fresh fruits and vegetables in separate crispers. Most produce fares best stored in plastic bags, but there are a few exceptions. You can store mushrooms in paper bags in your fridge. Want to keep your leafy greens crisp? Rinse them, wrap them in paper towels and tuck them in a plastic bag.
Read the fine print. Check the package label carefully to see whether to freeze or refrigerate an item. That’s especially helpful if you’ve never bought it before.
Organize your fridge. Keep dairy or milk near the back of the fridge, where it’s coldest. Save the doors for food that doesn’t spoil easily, like condiments.
Organize your pantry. Stow longer-lasting veggies, like potatoes, onions and winter squash, in a cool, dry place in your pantry. And store rice, quinoa, and other grains in airtight containers that keep moisture (and weevils) out. A simple inventory list of herbs and spices in your pantry can help avoid buying what you already have.
- Read more: 10 tips for healthy eating on a budget
3. Make food labels work for you
Unit pricing is a good idea, right? You can compare the price per unit among various sizes or brands of whatever you need. But be aware that the item with the lowest unit prices isn’t always your best buy. What if you can’t resist buying perishables in large quantities? You can share the wealth (and cost!) with a friend or neighbour.
Another label on many packaged foods that’s responsible for a ton of waste: the “best-before” date. Before throwing out perfectly edible food, keep this in mind: there’s a big difference between best-before and expiration dates. Just because something is a few days past its best-before date doesn’t mean it’s not fit to eat. But, the texture, flavour or vitamin content may not be at their best. The government’s website explains the whole thing clearly.
To avoid waste, check for items nearing their expiration and relocate them front and center in your fridge to use them up. With just a little space on a sunny ledge or balcony, you can grow your favourite herbs. That way, you can snip off only what you need and avoid spoiling whatever you can’t use.
- Read more: Growing community in a community garden
4. Get creative with leftovers
Some food goes to waste when you don’t cook it before it spoils. Other waste comes from throwing out leftovers. The solution? Be intentional about using produce before it goes bad. And eat up leftovers promptly. It helps to write the date and, if it’s not immediately apparent, the contents on containers of leftovers. As well, keep a close eye on any potatoes, onions and garlic you keep in the cupboard. Only buy as many potatoes as you can realistically use in two weeks.
When it comes to using leftovers, get creative. Try a “combo platter” for dinner with assorted leftovers. Soups, stews and curries are great recipes to rescue tired veggies like celery and carrot, and use up tomato paste.
While food prices remain high, it’s smart to find ways to save. These tips can help save money right now, regardless of what’s going on in the world. They can also lessen our impact on the environment. If we eat more of what we buy, we will end up buying – and spending – less. And these good habits will continue to serve us well when food prices eventually settle down.