Since May, Canada’s food inflation rate has been close to 10 per cent. Dairy and restaurant meals have seen the largest price hikes, followed by baked goods and vegetables.
The rising cost of groceries means many Canadians are looking for ways to save money.
Data from the September Inflation Report, released by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, suggests that three out of four Canadians have made significant changes to how they grocery shop due to higher food prices.
The nation-wide survey of 5,000 people found that in the past year, many shoppers are buying less food, using more coupons and loyalty program points, as well as purchasing more privately labelled store brands and foods in bulk.
According to Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, who directed the research, “the number one thing people are doing now to cope with higher food prices is wasting less food.”
Some people have also made changes to their diet to combat food inflation. Seven per cent say they are now skipping meals, a habit that could shortchange them of important nutrients.
There are several ways to navigate food inflation without sacrificing nutrition. That said, some of the budget-friendly strategies I might have suggested in the past may not apply today.
A recent trip to my local grocery store revealed little to no difference between the price of, ounce per ounce, fresh and tinned salmon. I also noted that, by weight, pumpkin seeds were as much, or more, expensive than almonds, cashews and walnuts.
“That’s not surprising,” Dr. Charlebois says in an interview . “Premium foods are now less premium priced due to the fact that so many products are now expensive, and not one grocery store is the same. In the past year, many consumers are now visiting more than one store.”
The following strategies can help you save on your food bill.
Buy in-season produce.
Now is the time to enjoy seasonal produce such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, parsnips, winter squash, beets, apples and pears.
Locally grown vegetables and fruits are less expensive than those out-of-season which have been transported long distances to your grocery store. They’re also at their peak in terms of nutrients and flavour.
Don’t overlook frozen options for out-of-season fresh produce, which can be considerably less expensive than imported vegetables and fruit. Frozen produce may also be higher in nutrient content than its fresh counterparts since it’s flash-frozen right after harvest.
Trade meat for beans.
Beans and lentils (i.e., pulses) are considerably less expensive than meat, poultry and fish. They’re also incredibly nutritious, offering plenty of plant protein, fibre, folate, magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron.
Set a goal to add more plant-based meals to your weekly menu to reduce how often you eat animal protein. Include tofu, edamame and tempeh, too.
If you buy dried pulses, you’ll need to soak them before cooking. (Lentils don’t need to be soaked.) If using canned, simply rinse and drain them; they’re already cooked and ready to be added to soups, stews, chili, tacos and salads.
Replace sardines for salmon.
If you rely on salmon to get your omega-3s, consider swapping some of it with tinned sardines. Ounce per ounce, sardines are typically half the price of canned salmon and fresh Atlantic salmon.
Along with 21 g of protein, three ounces of sardines deliver 834 mg of omega-3 fatty acids, 324 mg of calcium, three days’ worth of vitamin B12 and almost a days’ worth of immune-supportive selenium.
Eat sardines on whole grain crackers, serve them on a bed of greens, sauté them in olive oil and garlic or toss them into a pasta.
Include sunflower seeds.
Compared to nuts and pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds are much less expensive. They’re also an outstanding source of vitamin E, an antioxidant needed for healthy immune and brain function; one quarter-cup supplies 80 per cent of a day’s worth of the nutrient.
Reduce food waste.
Make a weekly meal plan and write a grocery list to match. That way you’ll buy only what you need. (Meal planning can also help save money by breaking the habit of eating out.)
If you don’t eat everything you cook, freeze it for later use instead of throwing it away. Use vegetable peels and scraps to make stocks and broths.
Buying frozen produce also helps reduce food waste. Unlike fresh produce, it doesn’t spoil quickly. Plus, you use only what you need at one time and store the rest.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD