Nova Scotia·Q&A

How to put delicious meals on the table as inflation drives up costs

As inflation continues to rise — having hit a 31-year high — putting delicious meals on the table is more expensive than ever in Canada. Chef Raquel Fox offers tips and tricks on how to eat on a budget.

Chef Raquel Fox offers tips and tricks on how to save money at the grocery store while still eating well

Toronto chef Raquel Fox says breaking down your own meat and cooking soups all year round are ways to extend your budget. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

As inflation continues to rise — having hit a 31-year high — putting delicious meals on the table is more expensive than ever in Canada.

Food prices have increased almost 10 per cent in the past year, forcing some Canadians to change how they eat.

Portia Clark, host of CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia, spoke with Toronto chef and cookbook author Raquel Fox about how to make delicious meals while on a budget.

Their interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What's your sense of how people are changing the way they shop and eat because food is so expensive now?

Well, I feel as if they're really starting to shop economically. We're searching for coupons and sale items right now, and I think that people are really going with less impulse buying, less waste, and we're certainly looking toward putting more plant-based meals into our diets. I know with me, I'm planning weekly menus now and less trips to the supermarkets. 

Impulse buying — why can that be something that adds a lot to your bill rather than what you've planned to buy and sticking with that?

Avoid and ignore those what we call "super traps" when we get to the register. There's all the sale items. There's all the, you know, buy-two-for-this-price, and you can really fall into that. So we want to stick to a budget.

We know meat is really expensive and dairy — and besides the impulse buying and avoiding the super traps — where would you cut back when it comes to meat, for example? 

I still treat myself to my proteins, my meats, and what I find very effective is purchasing whole meats again — going back to basics like what our parents did, what our grandparents did — and we can process those meats ourselves. 

For instance, instead of purchasing that salmon fillet at $11 per pound, purchase a whole salmon. And it's really fun, there's so much out there on the internet to show you just how to process your own salmon, how to process fish. Just vacuum-seal it, put it in different bags, date it, of course, for food safety purposes.

And you can break down a whole chicken as well and cut it up for parts, and you'll be amazed at how far your dollar stretches.

And then the bones, I suppose, you can use to make a stock and then you've got soups. Soups can be great for budgeting, too, right? 

Oh, yes. Make those stocks. It's really so simple and you can enjoy soups all year-round. During the summer months, they'll be lighter soups and we have our own stock, our own protein.

What about tin things, like beans?

We definitely save more when we purchase more beans, any greens and, you know, do pantry cooking. And with beans, I prefer to go for the dried bagged beans. You save money — canned beans are more expensive. 

I'm always encouraging Canadians to shop locally and support a lot of our Canadian farmers because they have to make it through this as well. So when you purchase beans, just look for — wherever you are — look for that Canadian label and purchase bagged beans. They're just as good and to me, more flavourful.

Oh, more flavourful since you soak them overnight? 

Yes, absolutely. You get more proteins, more and more nutrients, the colour is more vibrant. You can soak black beans, you can soak kidney beans. I mean, me being from the Caribbean, whenever we cook with our beans and rice, our rice and peas, we use the red kidney beans and the colour is so much more vibrant. You don't need any type of assistance with food colouring like a browning or anything because the beans give your rice that beautiful colour. 

That sounds awfully good with some chicken on the side. And finally, is there a recipe that you bring back quite often that brings some of these concepts together?

As I mentioned I'm from the Caribbean, we love our rice and beans and rice and peas. So there's Jamaican rice and peas recipes. We have delicious Bahamian peas and rice recipes. They're all in my book Dining in Paradise, and when we talk about soups, oh my goodness, there's so much variety of foods that are meals, and as a matter of fact, we even eat soups for breakfast. Prepare a nice bean soup, a nice protein-packed soup, [using] stewing meats — so they're not as expensive as other meat, they're more cost-effective — and you could just make a big old batch of soup that lasts anywhere from six months to a year in the freezer.

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia

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