Saving money on food can be a blessing in disguise – with the right dollar-stretching shopping strategies you’ll spend less while improving the nutritional might of your grocery cart.
What’s a famished runner on a budget to do? Here are some ways to slash your grocery bill, but still eat like a champion.
Go to healthyshopper.ca: The printable coupons help you save on all kinds of salubrious runner staples such as yogurt, cereal, canned fish and soymilk from some of the healthiest brands out there. You can keep printing the coupons and reusing them.
Go Easy on the Goji Berries: Exotic berry products like acai and goji are popping up on store shelves everywhere. But the next time you’re considering that $15 bag of dried goji berries, know this: Despite the high price tag of these tonier fruits, there is no proof that they are any better for you than more economical berries like strawberries and blueberries grown here in North America.
Raid the Bulk Bins: Without the added cost of packaging and advertising, often-overlooked bulk bins remain one of the best places to save big on nuts, oatmeal, pasta, lentils, dried fruit and baking supplies. Plus, you’re completely in control of how much you scoop up, so if a recipe you fancy calls for just a small amount of an obscure ingredient like star anise, you’re spared spending more on larger packaged amounts that may sit in your pantry for eons.
Be a Flextarian: Because meat always takes a big bite out of a food budget, commit more space in your grocery cart to plant-based protein sources such as beans, lentils and tofu. A bonus: Research shows eating a diet skewed towards more plant-based foods may lower your risk for diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Not sure what to do with French lentils or a block of tempeh? Go to vegcooking.com to beef up your vegetarian cooking skills.
Make a List: A study in the Journal of Consumer Research determined that shoppers who show up at the supermarket with a grocery list are less likely to make impulsive buys. Try organizing your list by food groups to avoid walking back and forth through the store and being further tempted by nutritional villains.
Buy Store Brands: Despite their lowbrow image, ever-economical store brands of pasta sauce, bread, canned beans and peanut butter can be just as nutritious and tasty as the name brands. In fact, generic replicas are often sourced from the name-brand companies. Still, investigate those labels to make sure you aren’t sacrificing sound nutrition to save money.
Get Back to Your Roots: Asparagus and broccoli in winter can cost double their in-season price. During the deep freeze, try eating cheaper, yet just as nutritious, options such as root vegetables and winter squash. And while spinning your wheels in the produce aisle, look for large bags of apples, potatoes, carrots and onions, for significant per-pound savings. Consider splitting the cost and sharring what you can’t use with family, friends and neighbours.
Join the Dark Side: For some reason, health concious shoppers treat dark poultry like it’s been sprinkled with cyanide. Sure, dark meat has more saturated fat than white, but the difference is only one measly gram per 3-ounce serving. So substitute some of the pricier chicken breasts with less expensive, much more flavourful dark drumsticks, thighs and legs. A caveat: to slash significant fat calories, peel off the skin before gnawing on these.
Shop Late: Later at night, anything that needs to be sold before closing time, like pre-made fruit salads, will be sold off at rock bottom prices but will still be fine to eat for the next day or two. Also, ask for deals. Store managers should be pleased to unload wilting lettuce or softening avocados for less than the sticker price.
Fill Up First: Never grocery shop when hungry. Research shows that you’ll spend more if you’re walking the aisles starving.
Cast Your Line for Whole Fish: Whole fish, head, tail and all, can cost half as much per pound as fillets or steaks. Once home, just season the swimmer and toss it on the grill or in the oven. As a perk, the bones and skin boost flavour. Any good fishmonger worth his fillet knife will gut and clean a whole fish for you, gratis. Try whole rainbow trout for its boatload of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats.
Look Up and Down. Larger-sized items, which typically offer a lower price per unit, are usually placed on the highest and lowest shelves. Smaller sizes and big brand names, with a higher price per unit, are usually awarded prime placement at eye level.
Raid the Discount Fruit Bin: True, those bananas, melons and strawberries might be on their last legs, but they can still add a nutritious lift to your diet. Try this: puree overripe fruit and freeze in ice cube trays. When a smoothie craving strikes, blend your nutritious ice with other ingredients.
Less is More. You’ll almost always pay a premium for convenience at the grocery store. For example, a bag of unprocessed carrots will cost less than a bag of baby carrots and a lot less than pre-cut carrot sticks. Same goes for yogurt and juice – large tubs and cartons often ring in less per unit than individual serving sizes.
Leave the Tykes at Home: Consider grocery shopping without your children. They’ll be attracted to brightly coloured packaging, which is almost always associated with unhealthy, overpriced foods. And if they leave you feeling rushed, you might be more likely to grab items without thinking first about price and nutrition. A better place to take them is a local farmers’ market where they’ll be exposed to healthier, whole food options.
Reach Back: The same items may have different expiration dates. Reach into the back of the shelves where you might find selections with go-bad dates that are further off. A move that can cut down on expensive food waste.
Powder Power: Buy sports drinks like Gatorade to energize your stride in their much cheaper powder form, not pre-made bottles. You’ll also do your part in cutting down on the billions of single-use plastic bottles that find their way into landfills and the world’s oceans.
Check Your Receipt: Though almost always an honest mistake, being overcharged for items during checkout happens more often than you think.
Divide and Conquer: Beware of the common merchandise trick of placing companion products such as chips and salsa side-by-side, tempting you to buy both. Remember: strawberries, good, shortcakes, not so much.
Keep walking: Contrary to what many shoppers think, products highlighted at the end of the aisle are not always on sale. Walk down the aisle and do your own price and nutrition comparison with competing brands.
Watch Out for Greenwashing: Food labels such as “grain-fed,” “free-range,” and “all natural” can automatically raise the cost of the food. Sadly, too often these nebulous terms lack any real meaning and are not worth the extra cost.
Black Bean Burgers
Here, black beans are a cost-cutting stand in for traditional beef. There’s still great burger flavour but much more dietary fibre.
Makes about six patties
1 cup dried black beans
1 cup diced mushrooms
1 tbsp cumin
½ tsp cayenne
1/3 cup quick-cooking rolled oats (not packaged instant)
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
In a bowl, soak beans overnight. Drain and rinse beans and in a saucepan cover them with water. Bring the beans to a boil, cover and simmer over low heat until softened, about 20 to 30 minutes. Add the beans to a food processor along with mushrooms, cumin, cayenne, oats, salt and pepper. Process until smooth but still grainy. Add bean mixture to a bowl and mix with egg and cilantro. Form into patties and cook over medium-high heat for about three to four minutes per side. Serve on whole-grain buns with desired toppings.
Nutritional Information for a Single Serving
Carbohydrates 45 g
Fat 3 g
Fibre 4 g
Protein 14 g
Sodium 250 mg