Economical Eating: How to waste less & spend less on food Print

ctv-morning-newsWith the rising costs of food you may have noticed your grocery bill has gone up significantly over the last few years. Couple that with the expense of food waste, since we are all guilty of failing to use all the food in our fridge and pantry to avoid spoilage.  

Here is how to eat a healthy diet, grocery shop more economically and reduce throwing out rotten produce and food waste.

Which foods have become more expensive on our grocery bill?

According to the University of Guelph Food Institute‘s 2016 Food Price Report the average Canadian household will spend $8,631 on food of which $2,416 will be spent at restaurants in 2016. In summary the average Canadian household is predicted to spend up to $345 more on food in 2016.

In general, overall food costs are going up, especially fresh foods such as beef, seafood, fruits and vegetables. Since the vast majority of produce is imported into Canada, these foods are very sensitive to currency fluctuations and with a sinking Canadian Loonie these will continue to be expensive this year. Rising food costs are also linked to climate change such as the drought in California as well as consumer demand for more local products and concern over the ethical treatment of animals and more natural ingredients.

For a review of the cost and percentage change of a range of foods over time visit: Statistics Canada: Food and other selected items, average retail prices (% change) and Statistics Canada: Consumer price index, food, by province (Canada).

Is food waste a big problem in Canada?

According to recent food waste research:

  • $31 billion worth of food is wasted in Canada each year (about 40% of food produced annually in Canada)
  • About 47% of food wasted in Canada occurs in households
  • Households in Canada waste approximately $28 of food per week

Reducing food waste has the potential to save your household money and also plays a significant and often under-reported role in environmental sustainability. Since food waste creates higher carbon and methane there is economic and environmental benefits to wasting less food.

What can I do to reduce food costs and waste in my household?

1. Buy seasonal, use flyers and apps

Shopping cart with dollar signSeasonal produce tastes better and will be more cost effective.

Plan your meals based on sales for the week and consider downloading an app such as Flipp or RedFlagDeals to help you easily review flyers and sales.

Swap recipe ingredients and try:

  • Canned tomatoes rather than fresh tomatoes for cooking
  • Frozen veggies rather than fresh are nutritious options
  • Canned legumes such as lentils can stretch the amount of ground meat used in recipes
  • Plan more “meatless Monday” or vegetarian meals using legumes
  • Use strong cheese (such as Asiago, blue, Parmesan) over mild cheese to allow for more flavor with less cheese

2.  Assess the pros and cons of buying in bulk

Just because it is on sale or in a volume discount package doesn’t mean it is a good deal if you are not using the product in its entirety.  Think big but buy small is a good mantra when it comes to managing food waste.

Have a “mid-point” plan for items purchased in bulk that you may struggle to use up:

  • Large bag of apples – peel, slice or freeze for applesauce, adding to oatmeal or making an apple crisp
  • Large container of grapes – place on skewers and freeze as “grapesicles”
  • Berries – freeze for smoothies, pancake topping or parfaits
  • Discount bag of red peppers – grill and freeze strips for pizzas or pasta
  • Spinach – sauté and add to a frittata or spinach dip

3.  Let the vegetable drive dinner

Throwing out rotten produce in your fridge drawer? Often when I ask people what they are having for supper later today they don’t have an answer and if they do, they often don’t mention the veggie. Usually the response is that they are having “steak, chicken or pasta.”

One of the most important questions to ask yourself before your go to bed is what is for supper tomorrow? As you begin thinking of this idea be sure to check your fridge inventory to determine what produce needs used first. Then pair a protein and a grain or starch to balance the meal.

For example if your red peppers need to be used then you might decide to do black bean quesadillas, grilled peppers and chicken on a bun with a side salad, or alternatively, make a veggie frittata.

4. Understand proper storage of fruits and veggies

  • Tomatoes – store on the counter (not in the fridge since cold temperatures reduce flavor and stops ripening).
  • Asparagus – store in the fridge standing up in a mug or measuring cup with some water.
  • Corn – keep in the husks for 2-3 days since once husked it needs to be consumed quicker. The sooner you eat corn once picked the better since natural sugars turn to starch.
  • Apples – store refrigerated as they soften 10 times faster when at room temperature. Apples can last 2 or more weeks and sometimes for months in perforated plastic bags in crispers.
  • Avocados – to maximize flavor store avocados on the counter until ripe and then they can be stored in the refrigerator 2-5 days.
  • Herbs – place stems in water and cover with a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week. Fresh basil is cold sensitive so keep at the front of the fridge.
  • Garlic – store at room temperature in a cool, dry and dark place (refrigeration causes sprouting).
  • Onions – store in a dark, dry and cool place or refrigerate and keep away from other fruits and veggies (especially carrots, apples, grapes) since they can impart their flavor easily, especially once cut.
  • Potatoes – only new potatoes should be stored in the fridge. For mature potatoes store in a paper bag in a dark, dry and cool place (refrigeration causes dark spots and an unpleasant sweet flavor when cooked). For all potatoes keep away from heat since this can cause sprouting and keep away from light, which can cause green spots to occur that must be cut away before consuming.

5.  Learn what the best before/expiry date really means

Learn more about how long certain foods last to improve your confidence around food safety. Check out the website and app stilltasty.com for some insight into the shelf life of thousands of foods. Contact the professional home economists at the Atco Blue Flame Kitchen for free advice on questions about food safety.

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