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Inflation is beginning to show signs of slowing down, but grocery stores are still a major source of financial pain 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 grocery shopping: making lists and sticking to them; making meal plans that are flexible to take into account items that are on sale; and tracking unit prices by measurements of kilograms or grams.

She says the latter point is important when comparing the prices of fresh and frozen produce. Frozen goods are usually cheaper, but sometimes fresh broccoli will be on sale. If it’s sold by the head, savvy consumers should be able to work out how many grams that contains and figure out whether it’s a better deal than frozen.

If it turns out frozen is the better bet, that’s okay – you may have heard by now that any stigma toward frozen and canned foods is likely unwarranted.

These foods come with the double benefit of often being cheaper, while lasting longer in your freezer and cupboard to help prevent wastage.

Not all of these products are created equal however. For one, Ms. Morin says canned and frozen goods can often have much more sodium to help with preservation, particularly frozen meat and seafood. Ms. Morin says unprocessed or lightly processed frozen meats are still a great alternative to fresh meat because the shelf stability will help bring down prices.

She adds that with canned vegetables, many of the nutrients are sometimes lost into the liquid in the can. To maximize the nutritional value of a can of vegetables, consider adding the liquid to a stir fry or into the water you use to cook rice.

Shelf stability is the most important factor for winter savings

Foods that last a long time in stores and are easy to transport will always be cheaper in the wintertime, when it isn’t possible to grow much of our produce locally.

That means root vegetables such as onions, potatoes, carrots and others will be cheaper in the fresh produce section, while the frozen aisle will be your best bet for other kinds of vegetables.

There is also an increasing number of leafy vegetables and tomatoes being grown in Canadian greenhouses, so those can stay reasonably priced during the winter, says Ms. Morin. Meanwhile, cabbages, bananas and apples are other things that remain cheap because of the ease of shipping them.

When it comes to following sales and seasonality, Kelly Picard, a registered dietitian with Alberta Health Services, says variety is quite literally the spice of life, and studies show that a diet with an ever-changing variety of foods is beneficial for your health. She says shoppers should follow the sales in their produces aisles and pick up those items when they’re cheap, instead of focusing on tracking down specific items that might not give good value at a given point in time.

Try not to obsess over protein, but these are cheap sources if needed

Ms. Morin says people tend to overemphasize the amount of protein they need in their diets. By cutting the amount of meat we eat, we can continue having a balanced diet while saving on this expense.

Other great sources of protein include lentils and beans, especially dried beans if you have the time to soak and cook them.

Meanwhile, people who are looking for cheaper animal proteins can consider canned tuna, sardines and even canned chicken.

“It’s not as palatable in all types of meals, but it all comes down to food skills and learning how to make it taste good for you,” said Ms. Morin.

“And don’t underestimate the portion. A can of tuna can be extended to around three servings.”

Meat can be an easy way to feel full, and Ms. Morin said whole-grain bread (or white bread with added fibre) can also be a substitute for plain white bread because it makes you feel full for longer.

Cutting food waste is the easiest way to control spending

Daiva Nielsen, an assistant professor at McGill University’s School of Human Nutrition, said one recent study showed the typical Canadian household throws out $1,800 in food a year because it went bad, they got sick of the leftovers or other reasons.

“That’s the same as buying a fancy coffee and never drinking it every day,” Prof. Nielsen says.

Ms. Picard also says many people are unaware how long food can last before having to be thrown away. She recommends using a website called if you have any food on the brink of expiration. The resource will explain whether you can just cut away some mould or salvage produce that looks a bit withered.

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