Tips for stretching your food budget as grocery costs skyrocket

Within two weeks, I saw the price of lotus root drop from $5 a pound to $7.

Which my father made fun of. When Grandma was still alive, you couldn’t convince her to pay more than $2 for it, he said.

Grocery costs have increased for everyone, while supermarkets are seeing increased profits.

I’ve been asked to offer some advice on how to cut a few bucks off grocery bills, but of course some band-aid advice from the Star’s resident reporter doesn’t get to the root of the problem.

As Paul Taylor, executive director of FoodShare Toronto, told the Star, it’s more important to look at the systemic issues that make people unable to afford food to begin with.

Taylor cites low wages, lack of affordable housing and reliable public transportation, and traditionally low-cost food businesses that are shut out of gentrifying neighborhoods as issues that need to be addressed when talking about increases. food costs.

“Obviously everyone wants to save a buck or two, but we don’t want to have conversations about how the salaries are largely unlivable,” Taylor said.

While these tips won’t solve everyone’s problem with rising grocery costs, I’ve compiled a few ways to help you out until drastic changes are made to long-standing issues like housing. , wages and transportation.

Properly store products

Has anyone else noticed that the quality of products has gone down lately? (On a single Reddit form I came across there were over 1,000 comments on this since March). We are still feeling the effects of shipping delays, workplace COVID outbreaks, and labor shortages in our food systems.

So what to do when products have a shorter shelf life?

Freezing is one solution.

Peppers were on sale last summer ($3 for a bag of six, I always remember a good deal) so I bought a few bags, washed and sliced ​​them, and stored them in resealable bags ( which I also reuse) in the freezer to last me until the following March.

Sure, when thawed they get soft, but they’re perfectly good when sautéed (same for leafy greens, if they’re too soft to go in a salad, just cook them). Herbs like ginger and chili peppers also freeze well, perfect if you don’t use a lot at a time.

Leafy herbs such as parsley and dill will last at least a week longer when placed upright in a cup with about an inch of water and covered with a plastic bag in the refrigerator (remove twist ties twisted or elastic bands in which they are sold). You can also freeze them as well. Heartier herbs like rosemary will do best when wrapped in a paper towel and stored in a resealable bag.

Think of recipes that would use lots of herbs at once (tabbouleh for parsley, potato salad for dill) so they don’t spoil before you can eat them.

Soft kale and leafy greens can be revived by soaking them in ice water. Ripe fruits like avocados can last a day or two longer when stored in the refrigerator (store a sliced ​​avocado in water to prevent oxidation). And bananas and apples should be stored separately because they emit ethylene which speeds up the ripening process of other produce.

Weigh the cost and benefits

The cost of, for example, a bag of crisps may be cheaper at a grocer across town, but if you take into account the time spent traveling or the money used for gas or public transport, is it really worth it?

I happened to be in downtown Chinatown one weekend and saw the price of red peppers was $1.70 a pound, much less than the big supermarkets where I live. But I don’t know if I would make a two-hour round trip on the metro just for that.

There’s also the conventional wisdom that buying in bulk is cheaper (note the price per gram listed below the price on store shelves), but that won’t be very helpful if the food is going to spoil before it’s eaten. .

Weigh what is the best use of your time and energy. Buying more doesn’t always mean saving money if it ends up in the trash.

Be flexible with recipes

I’m torn on how prepared you should be when going to the grocery store.

I definitely take stock of what I already have to avoid unnecessary purchases and tailor a meal around, say, a bag of dry pasta I already have or vegetables that are about to wilt.

But I also scan what’s special in the supermarket that day or on the markdown aisle, and improvise what to cook with it (if in doubt, sauté it or turn it into soup) .

A few weeks ago I needed peppers, but seeing the $7.50 price for two led me to use radishes instead (a bunch for $2 and change). I got the similar peppery crunch I wanted in a salad for less.

Learning to be more flexible when cooking is a big help, rather than shopping from a rigid list that doesn’t take into account what’s on sale or in season. This is also why I prefer to do my shopping in person: if I see that there is a bag of arugula on sale, I will take it instead of spinach on my list.

team up

My mom may still not be able to understand email, but she is prolific when it comes to WhatsApp groups. She has several group chats with her friends and family focused on sniffing out and sharing food deals.

When someone sees that there is a good price on oil, rice, or greens, they alert the group and ask who wants to come in, saving time (and money for gas) to the other people. At least once a week, my mother drops off the groceries at her sister’s, and vice versa.

Before the pandemic, when I worked in the Star office, one of my colleagues and I always kept up to date with all the offers we saw at nearby Loblaws. Fifty-cent bottles of Mio and post-Easter dollar candies? Yes please. To be honest, it’s also a good way to talk about things outside of work.


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