Take a bite out of your grocery bill

As food costs soar, use these tips to lessen the pinch of shopping for your family’s meals

By Edie Shaw-Ewald

When the cost of a cauliflower jumped to $8 in late 2015, people noticed. The falling value of the Canadian dollar and drought in California contributed to large price increases in fruits, vegetables, and nuts last year.

Experts don’t expect food prices to come down in 2016. The Food Institute of the University of Guelph predicts the price of food will increase by two to four per cent in 2016, which means an approximate annual household increase of $345 spent for the same food purchased in 2015.

You may feel that it is going to be impossible to feed your family a healthy diet with these rising food costs. Tummy-filling cheap food may look like a better deal than veggies and fruit. It will take some flexibility and planning, coupon clipping and shopping around, but with a few of these strategies you might even create a healthier diet.

Hold a family meeting to discuss the situation and brainstorm ideas.

Children of all ages can learn, understand and bring their own ideas to the table. 

Talk about the family budget. Reassure them but be open about the situation. 

Other areas of spending can be discussed, too, including non-essentials such as vacations, movies, dinners at restaurants, coffee and snacks at cafes. When parents explain these issues in an age-appropriate manner and the entire family makes the decisions, you can expect more agreement and less resistance.

Plan meals with the food you have in stock first. Then take a look at the flyers and meal plan around the foods that are on at a reduced price. Make sure to plan uses for your leftovers. 

Reduce food waste. You’re probably wasting more than you think. Several reports and research studies have shown that Canadian households waste approximately $1,500 worth of food each year. Meal planning, proper food storage, making use of leftovers, and dedicating a shelf in the fridge to foods that need to be eaten soon will help to reduce your family’s food waste. 

If you just have odds and ends and don’t think you can put a meal together check out SuperCook.com. Click on the food items you have and recipes from popular recipe websites will be provided based on those items.

Don’t be loyal to certain brands. Try the yogurt that is on sale, the bread that is half-price and the no-name brands. 

Go meatless several meals a week. This is good for your food budget and your health. Dried beans, peas, and lentils are inexpensive sources of protein and other nutrients. For convenience you can buy the canned versions. But if you want to save even more money, learn how to prepare the dried versions.

Remember “best before” is not an expiry date. Pick up reduced items and either eat them soon or package them for the freezer.

Choose seasonal and local when possible. Plan to eat lots of root veggies, hardy greens, winter squash, and apples in the winter.

Frozen vegetables and fruit are good options when that food is not in season.

Choose the imperfect. Some stores are offering imperfect produce to their customers at a reduced price. It’s perfectly good items that may be a little misshapen or slightly blemished and are sold at a lower price. Farms and stores will reduce their food waste levels if we all become less picky about the shape of our peppers and apples, which will eventually lead to lower food prices.

Know the average food prices. Create a list of foods that you buy and keep track of their prices so that you know when the price is actually a bargain.

Pay attention at the cash to make sure that the correct prices are scanned, especially if it is a reduced item as it may not yet be in the system as reduced.

Grow your own food. Instead of buying annuals, pick up some seeds, and grow your own vegetables. If you are new to gardening, ask for some advice from a seasoned gardener.

Think of healthy food as an investment in your family’s future. Try to cut back in other areas before cutting back on healthy vegetables and fruits. 

Meet with your grocery store dietitian. They are there to offer advice on meal planning and healthy eating.