Not everyone has the financial freedom to purchase fresh produce and meat at the current over-inflated prices. The low Canadian dollar coupled with drought in California and the Canadian beef-producing provinces have put some foods out of reach for low-to-average income earners. High prices are also leaving a bad taste in the mouths of consumers who have the means. You have to want strawberries really badly to pay $9.99 for a one-pound box.
With a bit of education and the luxury of time, you can become a savvy shopper and continue to enjoy healthy whole and minimally-processed foods.
Start by researching before you shop. You can manually compare grocery store flyers or conduct a more efficient price-comparison exercise via a free app. I use Flipp to view local flyers on my cellphone as well as search for a particular food in order to instantly find the cheapest advertised price. A few grocery stores offer price-matching. Show the cashier the best price available elsewhere and that’s what you’ll be charged. That’ll save you from running from store to store in pursuit of sales. If you have the time, you may also want to peruse the aisles of your local grocery store on different days for non-advertised specials. I sometimes find lean ground beef, veal scaloppini, whole chicken and boneless chicken and turkey breasts marked down by 50 per cent because they are about to expire. You can cook them the same day or stock up and freeze them. My friends tell me that they find similar discounts on kosher meat as well.
In January, cauliflower became a hot topic in the media. At $7 for a small head, this cruciferous vegetable became the poster child for exorbitant price hikes. Consumers, including myself, were doing double-takes and experiencing sticker shock at the grocery store. Soup kitchens, food banks and restaurants were substituting more affordable alternatives for cauliflower, as well as for celery, cucumbers and other over-priced produce. Gary Clement’s comic in the National Post depicted a couple telling a loans officer, “We’re thinking of putting a down payment on a cauliflower.”
Over several weeks, I kept my eye on the price of cauliflower and sure enough, it slowly came down. In late January, it ranged from $5.99 at a major grocery store chain to a somewhat more reasonable price of $2.49 at an independent store; however, many other produce prices remained high.
I asked Christine Devaney Towsley, registered dietitian for Loblaws College Square and Loblaws Merivale, to share some tips for healthy eating on a budget:
• Frozen veggies are a great alternative and are just as nutritious as fresh. Keep several varieties on hand to throw into pastas, soups and stir-fries. Canned veggies are also a good option. Just give them a rinse to remove some of the sodium; or buy varieties that are packed in water only. Veggies that are generally available at a good price year round include carrots, onions, potatoes, beets, mushrooms and cabbage. Having these on hand in your pantry can help you boost your plate with vitamins, fibre and antioxidants;
• Purchase less expensive cuts of meats and cook them using a slow cooker to help tenderize;
• Chickpeas, beans and lentils contain iron, protein and zinc, just as meat does, but they are more affordable, and also provide lots of fibre. Some ideas of how to use these include meatless chili, black bean soup, hummus or chickpea stir fry;
• Firm tofu is another great meat alternative that is versatile and will take on whatever flavours you’re marinating or cooking it with. Other affordable sources of protein are sunflower and pumpkin seeds, nut butters and eggs;
• Plain, un-battered frozen salmon filets or canned salmon are both great options. Quick canned salmon meal ideas include salmon salad sandwiches, mixed green salad topped with salmon or pan seared salmon patties;
• Whole grain pasta, barley, oats and brown rice are affordable and nutritious.
Gone are the days when I’d throw food into my cart willy-nilly and throw out a lot of it after it rotted in my fridge. Instead, I plan better, buy less and use it up.
Jewish Family Services of Ottawa has access to several food security programs for those who are struggling to feed themselves and their family. The Tikvah program offers support to those in our Jewish Community who are low income. For more information, contact Andrea Gardner at 613-722-2225, ext. 321.