Nfld. & Labrador

Portioning, planning and seasonal produce: How to feed a family amid rising grocery costs

The low Canadian dollar and seasonal foods can make shoppers feel like they're breaking the bank at the grocery store, but there are some tips to still eat well on a budget.

Food prices

Here and Now

6 years ago
1:39
Families from coast to coast are paying more for their weekly groceries. Dietitian Lauren Davidson and food blogger Barry Parsons give some tips on how to beat the high cost of food. 1:39

The low Canadian dollar and the ever-rising cost of food has families across the country taking another look at what they're putting on the table.

St. John's-based food blogger Barry Parsons says shifting food prices have changed how he cooks for an audience, with a greater emphasis on more recipes focused on leftovers.

"That's something we're seeing an increase of on the blog, actually, more searches for leftover recipes — I think 10 or 15 per cent in the last six months," said Parsons, who publishes the popular Rock Recipes site

Research released in December by the University of Guelph Food Institute forecasts food inflation will continue to rise through 2016, and that families should expect to pay an extra $325 on food this year as a result.

Through his work as a food blogger and the author of two cookbooks, Parsons said detailed receipts show the price of food has been gradually changing for a number of years.

Barry Parsons, food blogger with Rock Recipes and author of two cookbooks, says he's noticed a steady change in the price of food over the last five years and has modified some recipes to include more cost-efficient options. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"We've noticed from 2014 and up until November 2015 at least a 20 per cent increase in food costs," he said.

In particular, Parsons said he's noticed a gradual change in how much people pay for processed food — and how much you pay for it.

"Bacon in the last three to four years has been resized from about $5 for a pound to about the same cost for about 375 grams," he said.

Barry Parsons says with two teenagers at home and a food blog to run, he's looking for the cheaper option on the grocery shelves. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"When you look at it over time and [see that] the cost goes up to about $7 or $8 now for that 375 grams, bacon has basically doubled in that time."

When it comes to his online recipes, Parsons said he's changed what he cooks to save himself some money, as well as for his readers, by switching to lower-grade cuts of meat.

"Beef in particular has gone just crazy," he said. 

"In the summer time, we do a lot of barbecue sort of recipes on the website and those sorts of things we've switched more to pork-oriented barbecue," said Parsons.

Frozen instead of fresh

A recent focus on the $8 head of cauliflower in some Canadian grocery stores may seem outlandish, but factor in an ongoing drought in California and the price may not seem so surprising.

Toronto dietitian Lauren Davidson said people can make the most of their grocery shopping by opting instead for locally-grown, seasonal produce that's just as healthy as imported options.

If that isn't possible, frozen fruits and vegetables are a "perfectly healthy" option.

Nutritionist Lauren Davidson says frozen fruits and vegetables are a more affordable option, and are just as healthy as fresh produce. (CBC)

"We minimize how healthy they can be. In fact, most vegetables when they're frozen are picked at their prime peak, so their nutrition quality is actually quite good," she said.

"And then they're frozen, so it lasts."

Meats can also be replaced with lower-cost protein options, Davidson said, like lentils, beans, chickpeas or other legumes.

But when people do opt for fresh produce and proteins, Davidson said it's important to make it part of the routine to wash, cut and portion the food as soon as you get home. She added that the longer food sits unprepared in the fridge, the more likely it is to spoil before it's used.

If there's things that you can buy in large amount that can be stored for later use, perfect.- Nutritionist Lauren Davidson

"The biggest message I always promote to people is plan ahead," she said. 

"Plan ahead for what you're going to do for your meals for the week and make shopping lists accordingly so that you go to the grocery store with an intent of buying what you need to buy," said Davidson.

That way, shoppers pick up fewer extras and avoid impulse purchases. 

"You also know what you have left at your home that you don't have to replenish yet."

And when it comes to buying in bulk, Davidson said sitting down and doing the math is worth your while.

"Shop in bulk when the price is right," she said.

"You do need to do a little bit of comparison shopping and looking at prices because sometimes the bulk isn't necessarily cheaper, but if there's things that you can buy in large amount that can be stored for later use, perfect."

Lauren Davidson says buying locally-grown, in-season fresh produce will be the most cost-effective option, aside from buying frozen. (CBC)

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