Inflation is starting to show signs of slowing down, but grocery stores are still a major source of financial trouble in our lives.
Food experts have said that eating healthy is top of mind for Canadians, but how do you do that while saving money? Dietitians have suggestions for people trying to find the cheapest sources of nutrition, especially in the winter when most fresh produce is imported and expensive.
Canned and frozen foods can be just as nutritious
Maude Morin, a registered dietitian with JM Nutrition in Toronto, encourages people to think about the most basic details when shopping for groceries: make lists and stick to them; make meal plans that are flexible to account for items that are on sale; and monitoring of unit prices by measures of kilograms or grams.
She says that last point is important when comparing the prices of fresh and frozen items. Frozen items are usually cheaper, but fresh broccoli is sometimes sold. If it’s sold by the head, savvy consumers should be able to calculate how many grams it contains and determine if it’s a better deal than frozen.
If it turns out that frozen food is the best option, that’s okay; You may have already heard that any stigma towards frozen and canned foods is probably unwarranted.
These foods come with the double benefit of often being cheaper, while lasting longer in your freezer and pantry to help prevent waste.
However, not all of these products are the same. For one thing, Ms. Morin says that canned and frozen items can often have much more sodium to help with preservation, particularly frozen meat and seafood. Ms. Morin says raw or lightly processed frozen meats are still a great alternative to fresh meat because shelf stability will help bring prices down.
She adds that with canned vegetables, many of the nutrients are sometimes lost in the liquid in the can. To maximize the nutritional value of a can of vegetables, consider adding the liquid to a stir-fry or to the water you use to cook rice.
Shelf stability is the most important factor for winter savings
Food that lasts a long time in stores and is easy to transport will always be cheaper in winter when much of our produce cannot be grown locally.
That means root vegetables like onions, potatoes, carrots, and others will be cheaper in the fresh produce aisle, while the frozen aisle will be your best bet for other types of vegetables.
There are also an increasing number of leafy vegetables and tomatoes being grown in Canadian greenhouses, so they can be kept reasonably priced through the winter, says Ms Morin. Meanwhile, cabbages, bananas, and apples are other things that remain cheap due to the ease of shipping.
When it comes to tracking sales and seasonality, Kelly Picard, a Registered dietitian with Alberta Health Services, says variety is literally the spice of life, and studies show that a diet with a constantly changing variety of foods is beneficial to health. She says shoppers should track sales in their product aisles and pick up those items when they’re cheap, rather than focusing on tracking specific items that might not be a good value at any given time.
Try not to get hung up on protein, but these are cheap sources if you must.
Ms. Morin says that people tend to overemphasize how much protein they need in their diets. By reducing the amount of meat we eat, we can continue to have a balanced diet and save on this expense.
Other great sources of protein include lentils and beans, especially dried beans if you have time to soak and cook them.
Meanwhile, people looking for cheaper animal protein might want to consider canned tuna, sardines, and even canned chicken.
“It’s not as appetizing in all types of foods, but it all comes down to eating skills and learning how to make it taste good,” he said. Mrs. Morin.
“And don’t underestimate the portion. A can of tuna can be extended to about three servings.”
Meat can be an easy way to feel full, and Ms. Morin said whole wheat bread (or white bread with added fiber) can also be a substitute for white bread because it makes you feel full longer.
Reducing food waste is the easiest way to control spending
Daiva Nielsen, an assistant professor at McGill University’s School of Human Nutrition, said a recent study showed that the typical Canadian household throws away $1,800 worth of food a year because it went bad, got fed up with leftovers or for other reasons.
“It’s the same as buying fancy coffee and never drinking it every day,” says Prof. Nielsen.
Ms. Picard also says that many people don’t know how long food can last before having to throw it away. She recommends using a website called stilltasty.com if you have any food that is about to expire. The resource will explain if she can remove some mold or salvage produce that looks a little wilted.