People often link healthy eating with a high cost but eating well doesn’t have to be difficult or costly. How? Food planning, meal preparation and reducing food waste can help you eat healthy while staying budget friendly. With some planning and creativity, healthy eating and reducing food waste may be easier than you think.
According to research by the National Zero Waste Council in 2022, 63 per cent of Canadian household food waste is avoidable. The most wasted foods are vegetables (30 per cent), fruit (15 per cent), leftovers (13 per cent), bread and bakery (9 per cent) and dairy and eggs (7 per cent).
To reduce your waste, consider these steps:
- Before you step inside a grocery store
- Try to shop weekly or less often by creating a meal plan using online meal ideas and make a grocery list. Households that shop weekly spend less money than those who shop more frequently.
- Check flyers and use food apps like Flipp and Checkout51 to compare store prices.
- Find recipes that explain how to use all the parts of a food, like using stems and peels in a recipe. If you are short on time, freeze them to use in the future. Many discarded pieces of fruits and vegetables can be used in baking, smoothies, stews and soup stock.
- Lessen your meat consumption through “condi-meat” (using meat as an accent instead of a main).
- Repurpose leftovers to make them more appealing. Leftover pasta sauce, chicken or ripening vegetables can become pizza toppings and served as a “new” meal.
- Monitor your food waste for a week and use these insights to adjust your grocery list and recipes. If you are throwing away wilted produce, consider making vegetable-based recipes—like stir-fry or wraps—earlier in the week.
- Think about how much food you buy and how it’s stored
- Some vegetables and fruits—like bananas, melons, tomatoes and avocados—cause other produce to ripen quickly. Keep them away from produce like unripe bananas, broccoli, cucumbers, leafy greens and carrots to keep this produce fresh for longer.
- Keep your fridge below 4 degrees Celsius and your freezer at -18 degrees Celsius to prolong food life.
- If it works for your budget and household, stock up when foods are on sale. Consider buying meat, grains, cereals, nuts, snacks and frozen vegetables in large amounts as it often means lower pricing. These can be repackaged and frozen or stored in single portions.
Convenience is costly
It is often easier to turn to healthy premade foods—they are quick and convenient—but they tend to be costly. According to Forbes, ordering delivery from a restaurant is almost 5 times more expensive than cooking at home and a meal kit is 3 times more expensive than cooking from home. Think about the foods you buy and use these tips to lower food costs associated with convenience:
- Instead of tossing old produce and buying fresh, save money by basing your meals around aging produce and meat. You could also freeze ripe fruits or vegetables before they spoil and use them in future recipes.
- Cooking or baking extra food and freezing it in single portions gives you convenience foods at home without the extra cost. Search “big batch cooking” or “freezer meals” for recipe ideas.
- Make meals at home to take with you to work or school instead of eating out or buying “to-go” drinks and snacks.
- Buy whole foods rather than prepared foods to cut down on costs. For example, shredded cheese costs more than a block of cheese, and a head of cabbage costs less than a precut bag of coleslaw.
As you aim to cut your food costs while still eating healthy, here are tips to help you stay on track:
- Ask friends and family members for ideas on how to reuse leftovers and lessen food waste.
- Learn to cook your favourite takeout. From PF Chang’s lettuce wraps to Wendy’s wedge fries, Google has countless DIY versions of your favourite foods.
- Look at your grocery receipts and add up the snack food, like desserts, chips and pop. Compare these costs to the amount spent on whole foods, like meat, fruits and vegetables. Knowing how much money you spend on “extras” can help lower costs.
- Alberta Blue Cross® plan members can access great resources from a savings tracker to ideas on meal planning and healthy recipes through the online wellness program Balance®.
By reducing, reusing and rethinking meals, you can eat healthy while on a budget. Eat less meat and try to avoid buying snack foods or convenience foods. Reuse leftovers in new meals to lessen food waste. Plan your weekly meals before grocery shopping and explore new recipes. Try the tips that fit your lifestyle needs to help you navigate healthy eating without the high cost.
- Check out our lifestyle management page for free publicly available resources.
- Access a meal planning tool at Alberta Health Services.
- Visit UnlockFood.ca for a family-friendly meal plan and recipe e-book for using leftovers.
- Learn more about meal kits, company comparisons and coupon codes with Meal Kits Canada.
- Explore creative ways to use leftovers and learn more about lowering food waste with StillTasty and Love Food Hate Waste.
- Watch a webinar on improving food storage or eating well on a budget and explore Second Harvest’s resources.
- Find courses and resources through Alberta Health Services’ South Health Campus Wellness Centre. On page 20, you’ll find a delicious red lentil and butternut squash soup recipe that can be frozen and eaten in smaller portions as a convenience meal.