Food isn’t getting any cheaper in 2024. Here are some ways to eat healthy on a budget

Food isn’t getting any cheaper in 2024. Here are some ways to eat healthy on a budget

Soaring food prices have prompted many Canadians to alter their grocery shopping habits this year.

To spend less on their food bill, shoppers are reducing the quantity and quality of foods they buy and switching to less expensive alternatives. Many are also diversifying the stores they visit to find more affordable groceries.

Food prices are expected to keep rising in 2024, but by less than this year.

Canada’s Food Price Report 2024, produced by researchers from Dalhousie University, the University of Guelph, the University of British Columbia and the University of Saskatchewan, forecasts that overall food prices will rise by 2.5 to 4.5 per cent (compared to 5 to 7 per cent this year).

Expect to see the steepest increase among vegetables, meat and bakery foods, all anticipated to rise in price by 5 to 7 per cent. Fruit and dairy are predicted to have the lowest price increase, at 1 to 3 per cent.

And the cost of an already pricey restaurant meal is forecasted to jump by 3 to 5 per cent.

The following strategies can help keep your food budget on track without abandoning your 2024 healthy eating goals.

Embrace frozen vegetables

According to Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, project lead on Canada’s Food Price Report and director of Dalhousie’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab, “it’s expected there will be lower price volatility in the frozen aisle and more budget-conscious options for consumers.”

Beyond being budget-friendly, frozen vegetables (and fruits) offer other benefits.

They’re available year-round when local seasonal produce isn’t, they have a longer shelf-life (8 to 12 months in the freezer) which helps prevent food waste and, in the case of frozen vegetables, they’re quick to cook.

Plus, commercially frozen produce retains most, if not all, of its nutrient content since is it harvested at its peak of ripeness and flash frozen immediately.

If frozen vegetables bring to mind green peas, carrots and corn – boiled until bland-tasting – that’s doesn’t have to be the case.

Today there are plenty of choices in the frozen vegetable aisle, including spiralized butternut squash and zucchini, sliced beets, riced cauliflower, sweet potato chunks, grilled eggplant, Brussels sprouts, chopped spinach and kale and a variety of vegetable medleys.

And you’re not limited to boiling or steaming frozen vegetables. Sautéing, roasting, even grilling will bring out their best flavour and texture.

To prevent frozen vegetables from losing their flavour and crunchy texture, don’t defrost them before cooking.

To sauté, add frozen vegetables to a tablespoon of cooking oil in a skillet and cook uncovered for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Roast frozen vegetables between 400 to 450 F for 20 to 25 minutes, turning halfway through. Toss them first in olive oil, then add to a preheated baking sheet.

Add frozen vegetables to soups and stir fries, smoothies, omelettes and frittatas (thaw before adding frozen vegetables to egg dishes).

Substitute meat with less expensive proteins

If you eat red meat on a regular basis, rotate chicken and turkey in your menu more often. While poultry is included in the meat category of Canada’s Food Price Report, it’s beef and pork that are driving the price increase.

When you do eat red meat, stretch your food dollar by eating smaller portions.

Replace half the meat (or more) in tacos and burritos with plant protein such as black beans or pinto beans, diced firm tofu or crumbled tempeh. Swap half the meat in stir fries with shelled edamame or cashews.

Protein-rich nuts, seeds and whole grains (e.g., farro, freekeh, teff, sorghum, quinoa) can also substitute some of the meat in meals.

Less expensive animal proteins to swap for red meat include eggs, cottage cheese and Greek and Icelandic yogurt. Fish and seafood are anticipated to increase in price by 3 to 5 per cent in 2024.

Eat home-prepared meals more often

If takeout or dine-in restaurant meals are regular fare during a hectic week, make a plan to enjoy more home-cooked meals.

Map out weekly meals in advance. Think about how you can cook once and make two or more meals out of it.

Batch cook bean soup, pasta sauce, chickpea or lentil salad or turkey or veggie chili on the weekend and freeze to serve for quick lunches or weeknight dinners. Grill or bake an extra serving of chicken, fish or marinated tofu at dinner for lunch the next day.

Cook a batch of whole grains in your Instant pot; cooked whole grains will last three to four days in the fridge.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD


Kerri Waldron

My name is Kerri Waldron and I am an avid healthy lifestyle participant who lives by proper nutrition and keeping active. One of the things I love best is to get to where I am going by walking every chance I get. If you want to feel great with renewed energy, you have to practice good nutrition and stay active.

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