Think back to the last time you went grocery shopping. Were you shocked by the bill? The cost of groceries is skyrocketing, with inflation dramatically driving up the price of basic items like vegetables, fruit, and meat. Shopping for nutritious foods while staying on budget has become increasingly challenging, especially for families.
But while you may be dreading your next trip to the grocery store, there are simple ways to shop for healthy and delicious foods while keeping costs low.
Make a game plan
“Plan, plan, plan,” says Dina Daniello-Santiago, a registered dietitian with Manitoba Blue Cross’s Employee Assistance Program.
Meal planning helps you get organized so that when you do make that trip to the grocery store, you can focus on what you really need and avoid going rogue and over budget.
It may seem daunting to plan multiple meals in advance, but the more you do it, the more routine it becomes. A good way to start is to read the flyers for your local grocery store and find foods that are available, seasonal and on sale. Search for recipes that use those ingredients and make your grocery list.
Another great way to make sure you are staying on budget, is to make a “roadmap” of the store itself. Knowing where the products you need are located will help you to roam less and resist the urge to purchase tempting foods that are costlier and less healthy. As Daniello-Santiago reminds us, “everything in the grocery store is strategically placed to lure you into purchase.”
The classic advice suggesting you shop the perimeter of the grocery store still holds up. This is where you will find healthier options and fresh ingredients. The centre aisles of a grocery store are where shopping can become tricky. This is generally where processed foods are located and while items like cookies and soda may seem affordable, they are often loaded with sugars and fats making them unhealthy choices. Processed foods can also contain ingredients that are linked to cancer, tooth decay and obesity and may have adverse effects on bone health.
“The key is to buy foods that have the least amount of ingredients, and ingredients you can actually pronounce,” says Daniello-Santiago.
So how can you shop smarter and get the most out of the food you buy? Daniello-Santiago offers the following suggestions:
- Check your pantry, refrigerator and freezer and see what you already have on hand. Don't forget to look at the expiry dates. Find recipes that use those ingredients, and use them up before shopping for more.
- Eat a meatless meal at least once a week. It can really help your wallet! Try adding cheaper protein to your meals such as beans, lentils, eggs or tofu.
- If there is a sale, buy more of an item – but only if you know you will eat it.
- Get creative and think about how you can use leftovers. For example, roast chicken with rice and vegetables for Sunday night’s supper, then make chicken sandwiches for Monday’s lunch, then on Tuesday, use the bones to make chicken soup and throw in any leftover rice and vegetables.
- Canned, frozen and dried fruits and vegetables are great options. While frozen and canned fruits and vegetables have a “bad” reputation, they are actually picked at their peak. This means they contain just as many nutrients as fresh fruits and vegetables but are often less expensive.
- Once whole fruits and vegetables left on the counter are fully ripened, transfer them into the fridge to help extend their life by a few days.
- When foods in the fridge are not eaten right away, transfer them into airtight containers that are freezer safe and store in the freezer for 3-6 months.
- Get adventurous when produce is over-ripe. Blend fruits and vegetables into nutritious smoothies, or vegetables into hummus. Or make fresh jam or homemade salsa: the ideas are endless!
“When you have a plan, you are less likely to overspend and rely on fast food or convenience meals,”says Daniello-Santiago.
Whether or not the cost of groceries remains high, making small changes to the way you shop is worth the effort – for your health and your wallet!
Counselling support from Manitoba Blue Cross
If you’re looking to improve your nutrition with a registered dietitian, we can help. Manitoba Blue Cross members with Employee Assistance Program or Individual Assistance Program coverage can get nutrition counselling support. Begin the process here.
Unsure of your coverage? Confirm your eligibility in your mybluecross® account.