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food for thought

Expect a noticeable increase on your holiday grocery bill this year. The main ingredients of traditional holiday meals cost more than they did a year ago and for some, the price hike is hefty.

Another variable that will affect your food bill, of course, is the number of guests you’ll be hosting. With relaxed restrictions, larger family gatherings will call for a bigger bird, a larger ham or beef tenderloin and more of all the trimmings.

Rising costs for labour and food processing (for example, higher cost of crops to feed animals) and supply-chain issues are the main culprits behind sticker shock at the grocery store.

According to Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax, the prices of fresh beef and poultry have increased by 17 and 13 per cent, respectively, since the beginning of the year.

The price of pork has risen, too. Since January, fresh cuts of pork now cost 3 per cent more and for processed pork products (such as your holiday ham, bacon, sausage), the increase is steeper.

Research from Dr. Charlebois’ lab, reported this fall, revealed that, compared to last year, more Canadians are trying to save money on groceries by buying less meat, switching to house brands, using coupons and purchasing discounted foods with best-before dates within a few days.

Preparing healthy holiday meals doesn’t have to break the bank. The following nutrition-minded tips will help you spend less on your menu over the upcoming holidays – and into 2022.

Buy a smaller bird

If your traditional holiday meal revolves around turkey, downsize your order. Turkey growers have adapted to producing smaller turkeys for smaller gatherings. Larger birds are less abundant and, therefore, more expensive.

One bright spot: Thanks to this year’s bountiful harvest, you won’t have to pay more for fresh cranberries to make sauce for your bird.

Consider roasting a smaller turkey or a less expensive protein option. If you’re hosting a larger gathering, you might do both.

Lean pork tenderloin, pork loin roast or a pork crown rib roast are turkey and beef alternatives that are less expensive. They also make for tasty holiday leftovers.

Serve plant-based dishes

Beans and lentils are considerably less expensive than meat, poultry and fish. And they’re exceptionally nutritious, delivering plenty of plant protein, along with filling-fibre, folate, magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. Ditto for tofu and tempeh.

“Families are better tooled this year for preparing meatless meals; they’ve spent more time in the kitchen during the pandemic and are less committed to eating meat,“ Dr. Charlebois said.

Your holiday menu doesn’t need to be entirely plant-based. Including a few dishes on your menu that feature plant protein takes the emphasis away from the meat.

You’ll find plenty of holiday-worthy plant-based recipes online, such as vegetarian “Mushroom Wellington,” “Tempeh Turkey,” vegan stuffing, sweet potatoes with lentils and butternut squash with chickpeas.

Highlight vegetables

Here’s some good news: The produce aisle is the only section of the grocery store where prices have remained flat. So there’s no reason not to plan for a variety of colourful vegetables on your menu.

Include leafy greens (such as beet greens, spinach, Swiss chard) for their exceptional content of vitamin K and lutein, a phytochemical that helps preserve vision and brain health. Bright orange vegetables (such as sweet potato, winter squash, carrots) deliver plenty of beta-carotene, which the body uses to make immune-supportive vitamin A.

Other seasonal vegetables to add to your holiday and winter menus include parsnip, turnip, beets, green peas and cabbage.

Frozen vegetables (and fruit) are equally as nutritious as their fresh counterparts but come with a lower price tag. Using frozen produce is convenient and can prevent wasting fresh produce that can go bad in the fridge.

I like to keep on hand frozen kale and spinach (great for smoothies and stirring into soups), as well as berries, mango and avocado.

Buy canned and frozen fish

Oily fish such as salmon, trout, sardines and herring are exceptional sources of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid important for brain health.

Choosing canned salmon, sardines or BC albacore tuna (which is low in mercury) more often than fresh fish can help trim your food bill. Frozen fish, both oily and leaner white fish, is also an economical choice.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD

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