A family of four used to be able to spend $890/month on food costs before the pandemic, but this number is now up to $950/month, or 1/4th of a minimum wage income. With costs seemingly still going up, you might be wondering how you can stretch your dollar at the grocery store. Finding low-priced meats, exploring plant-based proteins and choosing produce strategically can all lead to a cheaper grocery bill.
When it comes to meat, you pay for convenience. A whole chicken is often a better buy than chicken breasts, which is still less expensive than seasoned or breaded chicken. Go with what you have time to prepare, and consider cheaper cuts like chicken thighs, pork loin and beef round roasts. Tenderize tough, but well-priced, cuts of meat by marinating with lemon juice and spices for a few hours, or cooking slowly in lower heat. Keep an eye out for sales and consider buying in bulk and freezing the extra.
Canada’s Food Guide shifted to recommending more plant-based protein instead of focusing mostly on meat. These are often more affordable once you understand how to use them. Similar ideas apply for these options, for example, buying dried beans in bulk is less expensive than canned and especially bean salads. Compare unit prices (cost per 100g) near the sale price for different options, and keep in mind brands like No Name that are usually cheaper. To make good use of these vegetarian proteins, make bean and rice casseroles, vegetarian chili or bean burgers. Consider adding lentils into pasta sauces, soups and stews. Oven baked crispy chickpeas coated in parmesan cheese can be a nice snack or topper for salads as well.
Produce is another increasingly expensive food group, however they are vital for optimal health because they are like mother nature’s multivitamin. There’s nothing wrong with relying on cheaper options like frozen or canned, however look for options without added salt, juice or sugar. For fresh options, combine cheaper produce like celery, bananas or apples (from bags) with nut butters for a balanced snack. Look for sales, usually items in season, and focus on options like large bags of carrots, onions or potatoes which have long shelf lives. Save money by cutting your own carrot sticks or making salads yourself, and find ways to be intentional about using leftover produce in your fridge. Add forgotten vegetables into soups, salads and stir fries. You can also regrow green onions, lettuce and celery by placing their roots in a glass of water near a window.
Despite rising food costs, it is possible to save some money by being intentional at the grocery store and at home. Give yourself time this week to try one or two of these tips! If money is still too tight, don’t be afraid to explore options like the food bank or any extra funding you may be eligible for as well.
Michelle Broughton, Registered Dietitian