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Person on a tight budget at the grocery store holding a basket with celery inside. Illustrated lettuce, onion, garlic, and an apple are below.

January 23, 2023 • read

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12 tips for healthy eating on a budget

With leftover bills piling up from the holidays, talks of a recession, and a noticeable increase in food prices, it can be tough to make healthy food choices at the grocery store. Fresh, healthy foods tend to cost more, yet opting for cheaper, processed foods can take a toll on your health.

So why have groceries become so expensive? Read on to find out, plus learn about the risks you take when choosing unhealthy foods, and get helpful tips for healthy eating on a budget.

Why do groceries cost more lately?

If you feel your heart racing as you watch your groceries being rung up at the register, you’re not alone. Canadians are paying 10.9% more now at grocery stores than a year ago. On top of that, food prices are the highest they’ve been since August 1981. Those are some scary stats. Food inflation’s biggest culprits include cereal, baked foods, fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy, and meat.

Food prices started to rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has only worsened. There are a few reasons why food costs have increased again recently. Canada imports a lot of food, but the Canadian dollar is currently weak, so naturally, importing costs more. Drought conditions in parts of the world that produce foods are another reason — less inventory means retailers will have to pay more for their goods. Labour shortages and increased wages at many grocery stores are another big factor.

Additionally, the Russian invasion of Ukraine caused a spike in food prices. One reason is that Russia’s the largest global wheat exporter — Ukraine’s fifth largest. The invasion of Ukraine caused uncertainty in wheat markets, causing unstable prices.

What does eating unhealthy foods put you at risk for?

With food costing so much, your immediate reaction might be to go for the cheapest options, like processed, packaged foods. But poor nutrition is no joke. Eating unhealthy foods puts you at risk for a host of health issues, like obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and more. In fact, 80% of hypertension (high blood pressure) cases alone are associated with unhealthy diets.

Diet, paired with physical activity, could prevent:

  • 50% of type 2 diabetes
  • One-third of cancers, including bowel, lung, and breast
  • 10% of heart disease

What’s more, 30,000 deaths could be prevented or delayed each year if Canadians consistently followed dietary recommendations.

Additionally, a balanced diet can help you manage chronic diseases and prevent complications. Making changes like limiting highly processed foods, eliminating sugary drinks, or eating more fruits and vegetables can go a long way to help your health.

Tips for healthy eating on a budget

Times may be tough, but it’s still possible to eat healthy on a budget here in Canada. A registered dietitian you can see on Maple, Simon Belanger, offers up his tips to help you get the most bang for your buck and your health.

1. Make a shopping list and stick to it

This also means avoiding going to the grocery store when you’re hungry. Research shows you’re more likely to buy high-calorie foods when shopping hungry. You can eat healthy on a budget with a shopping list, so make one and have a healthy, filling meal before heading to the grocery store.

2. Check online flyers before you shop

Big grocery stores offer new deals each week, and there are even apps that make it convenient for you to check multiple grocery store deals at once. Using flyers is also a great way to add variety to your diet — seeing healthy foods on sale might make you buy things you hadn’t already thought of adding to your weekly rotation.

3. Download food waste apps

These apps are linked up to local grocery stores, restaurants, bakeries, and more, with deals on foods that are about to expire. Don’t let the expiry date fool you — these foods are offered on the day or day before they expire, and they’re safe to eat. And you can save as much as 50% of the original cost, all while helping the planet.

4. Price match

Yes, you too can be that customer who gets items for cheaper just by shopping around first. Keep in mind that the store you frequent needs to have a price-matching policy, and it has to be for the exact item. Then, all you need to do is show the cashier that same item, and voila! Your price match should be honoured.

5. Look at the unit price

You might be enticed by an item that’s on sale at your favourite discount grocery store, but it could still be more expensive per unit — the cost per unit of weight or volume — compared to the same item of a different brand that isn’t on sale.

6. Cook a plant-based meal once a week

Meat is even more expensive due to inflation, so meatless Mondays are a great idea. Choose plant-based, high-protein foods like beans, lentils, and more. If you really enjoy meatless meals, consider going flexitarian, vegetarian, or vegan — doing so can sustain your health and cut grocery bills by 14%.

Just remember that if you’re making a significant dietary change, it’s best to speak with a registered dietitian first to ensure you meet all of your nutritional requirements.

7. Stock up on foods that are on sale

Choose shelf-stable foods or foods that can be frozen. While buying in bulk might seem like a lot at once, items you frequently use will get eaten up eventually, and you’ll save money in the long run.

8. Shop generic food brands

These are often cheaper but similar in nutritional quality. Comparing prices on generic and brand-name products can make a world of difference — buying generic food brands can save you anywhere from 20 to 30% on your bill.

9. Become a loyalty member

Many stores have credit cards with points or a separate loyalty card that allows you to get points and save money on future trips. So the next time the cashier says, “Would you like to sign up for our loyalty program”, say yes!

10. Choose fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables

These are all nutritious options. Frozen produce also doesn’t spoil as quickly. This is great, especially if you’re throwing out fresh produce too often. You can also choose canned items lower in sodium and fruits in water instead of juice or syrup.

11. Make use of your freezer

While buying frozen fruits and veggies is great, freezing fresh meals and food items is equally beneficial. Many items you might not have thought could be frozen, can be! These include cream cheese, leftover egg whites, cooked potatoes, cooked pasta, milk, and more.

12. Browse the discount rack

Produce sections often have a discounted rack. Sometimes the items might not look “as pretty” — they might be a little bruised or ripe — but they’re still fine to eat. As well, if you get to some stores early, you’ll often find 50% off meat stickers for those expiring in a day or so. Even if you don’t plan on eating them that day, they’re perfectly fine to freeze.

What are some healthy, affordable meal substitutes?

Now that you’ve got the groceries, it’s time to put them together. You can make many tasty recipes using affordable meal substitutions. Here are some ideas to help you get started:

  • Make black bean burgers instead of beef burgers
  • Opt for canned tuna fish cakes instead of crab cakes
  • Create a delicious stir fry with chickpeas as your protein
  • Choose breakfast for dinner — eggs are more affordable than other animal proteins
  • Add beans to your salads, wraps, or soups

Don’t be afraid to get creative and add extra flavours from your spice rack — just watch the sodium. You might not know what tastes good until you try it!

How Maple can help you stick to a healthy, affordable eating plan

Healthy eating is a lifestyle, but it doesn’t have to be an expensive one. With the right tools, you can still buy nutritious foods while sticking to a budget — and it’ll be worth it since food has such a major impact on your health.

If you’re unsure of which healthy foods you should be putting on your list, speaking to a dietitian on Maple can help. Our dietitians are registered healthcare professionals who can assess, diagnose, and treat nutritional concerns, and create a customized meal plan to fit your budget and nutritional needs.

Don’t pay the price of your health — connect with a dietitian on Maple today and start reaching your healthy eating goals without breaking the bank.

This blog was developed by our team and reviewed by a medical professional.

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