As a nutritionist, I’ve heard many times over that folks “can’t afford to eat healthy.” Sure, the cost of food here in Canada is on the rise and it might feel like your grocery bills have never been higher. But there are ways to eat well on a tight budget without resorting to boring, repetitive, bland dishes – I promise you! At times, it requires a bit of creativity… but that’s the fun part!
Here are six tips and tricks I use to keep my own grocery budget in check:
Buy in-season, local fruits and veggies.
The now infamous $10 cauliflower of this past winter is a perfect example: buying produce when it’s been flown in from all corners of the world can be quite expensive. Try taking full advantage of in-season foods. Not only are they at their lowest prices, they’re also at their best quality. Fresh food tastes incredible AND has higher nutrient levels. Local farmer’s markets are ideal for shopping in-season. At this time of year, stock up on asparagus, cucumbers, peas, lettuce, green beans, cherries, rhubarb, and strawberries (try searching for a local farm that will let you pick your own straight from the patch!). You can shop in-season 12 months of the year, but if there are foods you just have to have all year round, try buying in bulk when their season arrives and freezing or canning to extend your enjoyment.
Use legumes and gluten-free grains.
Non-perishable staples like beans, lentils, brown rice and quinoa make terrific additions to meals. They are inexpensive sources of protein and fibre, and they have a wonderful ability to stretch one meal into several. They add volume to a meat dish as well as give that feeling of “fullness” during a vegetable-based meal. Purchase these items in bulk rather than in a pre-packaged container and you’ll create even more slack in your budget.
Love your leftovers (and re-purpose them!).
When it comes to getting value for your money, this is where preparing your own meals really outshines any restaurant or convenience food. You can cook once and feed yourself (and your family) for two, three, or even four meals. Just make more than you’ll consume right away – double or triple the recipe if you have to – and portion the leftovers into single servings to enjoy all over again. If you find you tire of eating the exact same meal several days in a row, try repurposing! If you’re having grilled chicken for dinner, cook an extra piece and chop it onto a salad for next-day lunch. If you’re making brown rice to accompany chili, set some aside to use for a stir-fry later in the week. I repurpose my food constantly because I love saving time and throwing together meals in minutes. It also gives my diet some variety, which they say is the “spice of life”!
Never shop for food without a plan.
I have a feeling that “not planning ahead” is a major culprit behind overspending in the grocery aisles. Make a habit of planning your meals for the week, checking your fridge and cupboards for what you need, writing a grocery list, and sticking to that list as much as you possibly can. This process helps eliminate food waste, saves you money, and ensures you’ll never have to have the “we’re out of food, guess we’re ordering in” conversation again! An added tip to help with sticking to your shopping list: have a meal or snack beforehand. This practice will go a long way in reducing those pesky impulse purchases that are rarely healthy and always bad for the budget.
Institute Meatless Monday and Veggie Vendredi.
It’s no secret: animal products cost more than most plant foods, particularly if you’re consuming organic/grass-fed/pastured meats. Here, I will not advocate for or against vegetarianism, nor will I advocate compromising on quality and buying cheaper, conventional meats. Instead, I propose an alternative for meat-eaters: aim to eat like a vegetarian at least two days per week (such as Mondays and Fridays, a.k.a. “Vendredi”). You’ll save money and, let’s face it; we can always use more veggies in our lives!
Beware of “snack creep.”
I really love snacking. But few things add up faster in a grocery cart than packaged snack foods. We’ve all been advised to “shop the perimeter” of the grocery store and avoid the middle aisles – this is great advice for not only your health, but also your finances. Certain snacks may be healthier than others (e.g. dark chocolate, trail mixes, kale chips), but they’re often even more costly than their not-so-healthy counterparts. Be careful and selective when choosing store-bought snacks and, wherever possible, find recipes, shop for ingredients, and make them yourself. Far cheaper per serving and probably a lot tastier, too!