Money-saving tips for food shopping amidst soaring food prices

Photo by Ben Schumin

We are certainly living during challenging times. First there were lost jobs and reduced work hours due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Supply chains issues went hand in hand with Covid and now war is fueling unprecedented energy costs which is adding to the soaring cost of food.

Food insecurity is becoming more widespread.

With the Dietitians of Canada Nutrition Month theme of Ingredients for a Healthier Tomorrow, looking at access to healthy food is a key component.

According to PROOF, an interdisciplinary research team investigating household food insecurity in Canada, the definition of household food insecurity “is the inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints. It is a serious problem in Canada that negatively impacts physical, mental, and social health, and costs our healthcare system considerably.”

The research team points to most recent national measure which was taken in 2017-18, when 1 in 8 households were food insecure, which translated to over 4.4 million Canadians, including 1.2 million children, living in homes that have difficulty putting food on the table because of a lack of funds.

And that was before Covid.

Food banks across the country are seeing an unparalleled need for their offerings.

Making smart choices with budgets in mind has become a necessity for more and more Canadians just to put food on the table.

Here are some tips to help you fill your grocery cart through these trying times.

Always have a shopping list
Firstly, it’s key to have a shopping list which can offer a variety of benefits including helping you to cut down on impulse buying. A time-saving tip is to keep the basics of your shopping list on your computer or smart device and then add to it as needed.

There are some fundamentals to keep in mind when you plan your shopping list. Using a menu plan – even an outline of sorts- can provide the framework for meals and shopping. It’s also a way to avoid food waste and assure some variety – an important component of healthy eating that allows for a range of nutrients to be consumed.

Basing your shopping list on seasonal ingredients and weekly specials, advertised in the newspaper or online, can also be a big help. But evaluate whether an item on special is worth the detour. If you’re saving only a small amount, it might not be worth the extra cost in transportation, especially these days.

Also consider package sizes when making purchases, keeping in mind that while larger packages may seem more economical, in some cases, they may actually be wasteful. For example, while a 2-L container of milk may be cheaper than a single one, if you don’t use it quickly enough, the milk may spoil. Bags of milk, on the other hand, may allow for a longer shelf life as they remain unopened.

Here’s more money saving food for thought.

Vegetables & Fruit

• Frozen fruit and vegetables can provide top notch nutrition and avoid waste. Avoid sweetened, pre-seasoned or sauced selections as they may costlier dollar wise but also in terms of sugar, sodium and/or fat.

• When buying fresh, try to stick to those in season. For example, berries can be very pricy indeed when they’re imported but are more affordable and certainly tastier when they’re in season. Consider freezing your own when they’re in season.

• Think about splitting larger containers of produce when in season. For example, during the summer, share a basket of tomatoes with a friend or neighbour.

• When buying fruit, purchase pieces of varying ripeness so that they aren’t all ripe at one time – a simple way to avoid spoilage.

Meat and Alternatives

• Use pulses or dried peas and beans more often. Cooking them from scratch and then freezing them in appropriate sized, labelled and dated containers makes for an economical and nutrition-packed meat alternative.  You can also use them to extend smaller portions of meat or poultry. Using canned options still offers a cost savings over meat but be sure to rinse them well to lower the sodium to counts you can achieve by cooking dried legumes.

• Practicing portion control is a terrific cost saver. Keep serving sizes to a maximum of 100 grams – around the size of a deck of cards. When purchasing larger packages of meat or poultry, divide up the raw food, wrap well, label and place the extra in the freezer. Freeze leftover cooked foods as well.

• Buy less tender cuts of beef, such as blade, chuck, flank and round, or pork butt, loin or rib and use cooking methods that will yield tasty results. When buying chicken, go for the whole bird and then cut it up at home and freeze pieces for later use.

• Canned sardines and mackerel can be money-smart selections for your heart healthy omega-3 fats. Canned pink salmon and light tuna are also cheaper alternatives, although they do contain smaller amounts of these fats than white albacore tuna or red salmon. As with other canned foods, be sure to rinse and drain canned fish to lower the sodium content.

Milk and Alternatives

• Opting for lower fat milk such as skim, 1% or 2% saves dollars. Using skim milk powder and water and mixing it with regular milk can also offer a more pleasing taste at less cost.

• Go for plain yogurt instead of flavoured varieties which are usually packed with added sugar. Simply add your own fruit and spice up the mix with options such as a dash of vanilla extract or cinnamon and sweetener.

Grain Products

• Freeze, rather than refrigerate, whole grain breads and rolls to keep the product fresh tasting. Simply remove one or two slices at a time from the freezer as needed.

• Buy whole grains like brown rice and quinoa in bulk and keep refrigerated. Choosing less processed products can also benefit both your health and food costs. For example, large flaked oats are not only cheaper than instant but they are digested more slowly and consequently lead to a slower rise in blood sugar.

• Pre –sweetened cereals tend to be pricier than unsweetened counterparts. Add your own dried fruit for a sweeter taste and increased nutrition.

• Buy whole grains like brown rice and quinoa in bulk and keep refrigerated.

• Purchase items like pasta in larger amounts when on sale as they have a longer shelf life.

Extras and decadent delights

The cost of spontaneous purchases can certainly add up, especially if you make them on a regular basis. For instance, a daily muffin and a specialty coffee can take a big bite out of your food budget. The same goes for soft drinks, snack foods and baked goods. But on the other hand, being too frugal can, without a doubt, take away some of life’s simple pleasures. Weigh the pros and cons of your favourites and see where you can make some switches. As we will soon be heading outdoors for more social outings, going for a coffee at your neighbourhood shop may offer some time with friends but enjoy a home-baked muffin or cookie at another time and just have the hot beverage. Just don’t go out hungry. Otherwise you may not follow through on your good intentions.

Tags: ,

Categories: Food Security, Nutrition Month

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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