You’re not the only one feeling the squeeze.
Spending on food is the 3rd largest spending category of the average Canadian household’s income after shelter and transportation and almost 3 out of 4 Canadians have made significant changes to how they grocery shop due to higher food prices according to a September 2022 survey by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.
Cooking your own meals at home can be a great way to save money as it is much less expensive than buying takeout or delivery. However, grocery shopping can easily become as or even more costly if you don’t make a plan ahead of time, stick to your list and know where to look.
Here are our tips, apps and resources to help you lower your monthly grocery bill and make grocery shopping less stressful.
More: Ways to Save Money (coming soon)
First, determine your grocery budget
Start by taking a look at your recent grocery receipts or credit card statements to see how much you’ve been spending on groceries.
Compare the lower cost trips to the higher ones, take note of which items could be classified as “wants” and “needs” and which ones you buy most often and spend the most on.
You can also get an idea of an average grocery budget by basing it on your income. Canadians should spend roughly 10% to 15% of their gross income on groceries. So the average your family earns $50,000 before taxes, you could aim to spend around $5,000 to $7,500 per year ($417 to $625) per month at the grocery store.
More: Best Budgeting Apps in Canada (coming soon)
Find discounted food
Look for discount stickers on meat, bread and baked goods that will go past their before date in the next day or so. You can eat some right away and freeze the rest.
Get 50% off food that is nearing its best before date from nearby grocery stores, in my area NoFrills and Your Independent Grocer.
You get cheap food and grocers make some money on items that would otherwise been thrown out and written off, reducing their carbon footprint by reducing food waste, a massive issue in Canada.
If you’re shopping in store or a store is not partnered with FlashFood, perishable staples such as bread, dairy (yogurt and cheese), meat and ready-to-eat meals are heavily discounted as they near their expiry – typically around 50%.
Look for a rack with day old bakery items. Bread is fine to eat and works well for toasted/grilled sandwiches, dipping in soup, croutons and French toast.
When you buy produce you should go, in order, to the discount rack, then the sales, and then everything else. Imperfect vegetables are good for soups and stews and imperfect fruit can be cut up and frozen or used to make smoothies. Small external blemishes such as a bruise or even mold can easily be cut away and the rest will still be fine.
The app has over 1 million app downloads and a 4.8 rating.
Too Good to Go
Too Good to Go connects restaurants and stores in your area that have surplus unsold food that is either approaching or just past its best before date with consumers who are not too picky about what food they receive, want to try new things or save some money on your food bill.
The number and quality of offers depends on the providers participating in your area. In my area, Metro grocery stores are posting “surprise bag” offers in the app that include an assortment of surplus baked goods such as pastries, bread and cookies. One reviewer got $30 worth of food including for $6 including fish sticks, fruit, chicken salad and gummy vitamins.
Even if there aren’t many providers or offers in your area yet, it’s worth installing the app so you can get a notification when new offers do pop up. By doing so you can save some money and help reduce some of the 2.3 million tonnes of edible food wasted each year in Canada.
Based in Denmark, the app has over 10 million app downloads and a 4.8 rating – definitely worth checking out.
Buy what’s on sale in flyers with Flipp and reebee
Full price? No dice!
Flipp and reebee provide interactable digital versions of the weekly flyers from your favourite local stores so you can find and track what items are on sale. You can then save individual products to a shopping list to refer to later.
New flyers are posted on Thursday, so make sure you buy either that day or early Friday to get the best deals that are 50% off or more because they’re bought up fast.
To compare prices, search for the name of a product, eg. “1% milk 2L” and it will show you all the deals available at the various local stores, letting you quickly compare prices and find the best deal for you:
Lastly, you can create a watchlist of certain product names or keywords with different levels of specificity and get notified when an item goes on sale that fits that description:
Flipp’s interactable flyers can be found on many grocery store’s websites including NoFrills and Walmart, from which you can add items to your cart directly.
Confirm the prices are good with Grocery Tracker
Now, just because an item is on sale, doesn’t mean it’s actually a good deal.
Grocery Tracker tracks the price histories of items (total price and unit price) at your local grocery stores including NoFrills, Loblaws, Sobeys/Safeway and Walmart to help you determine if a sale really is the best deal in town in the last 30 to 90 days. This is something other apps like Flipp are lacking.
This way you don’t have to be as familiar with prices, keeping receipts, your own grocery price book, or remembering what is and isn’t a good price on milk, eggs, chicken, etc.
Prices fluctuate more than you might expect:
Signing up for an account lets you save items to “baskets” (think: shopping lists), so you can refer back to them and get an email notification when they go on sale.
To compare prices between stores or find the cheapest store in your area, you can create identical baskets for each local grocery store to find which store has the lowest total cost for your next shopping trip.
Compare prices on a per-unit basis
The unit price tells you how much a product costs per “unit”, such as per 100 grams (g) or 100 millilitres (mL).
Unit prices make it easier to compare the prices of similar products from different brands in different size containers and help you determine which is a better deal. It is the best way to identify shrinkflation, where manufacturers increase the per unit price of a product by reducing its quantity by changing its packaging, while leaving the item’s price unchanged.
Many grocery stores in Canada display the unit price in small print under the retail price (in small print), but do so voluntarily as unit pricing is only mandatory in Quebec.
I find that unit pricing is much more prominent and easier to read when grocery shopping online:
This is handy as even the often-suggested buying in bulk to save money doesn’t always hold true. For example, contrary even a product as simple as No Name Quick Oats, the larger, 2.25 kg “Club Size” package is costs more per gram than the 1 kg package – even when it’s not on sale:
Plan meals based on the foods that are on sale
Meal plan based on what’s on sale and cheap at the grocery store first and then plan meals for the week or month after based around those items, rather than the other way around. It’s not the easiest way to meal plan, but it is the cheapest.
Planning out what you’ll make also helps cut down on impulse purchases and spontaneous takeout. When the inevitable “what’s for dinner?” gets asked, you’ll have a definitive answer rather than “I don’t know, I’m hungry now – I’ll just order takeout”.
This is probably the single best way to save money on groceries.
Research cheap and healthy meal ideas
Now that you know what’s on sale, ask yourself: what meals can I make with those items?
This is where having a collection of go-to, tried-and-true recipes comes in handy.
If easy to make, affordable meals are what you’re looking for, Eat Cheap and Healthy subreddit (/r/EatCheapandHealthy) is home to over 5.5 million members and is full of excellent recipe ideas and tips to plan meals, save time, reduce waste and what to do when you bought a lot of X ingredient when it was on sale. Threads include:
Canadian Youtubers Adventures in Groceryland (Nova Scotia) and Jessica Wanders (BC) offer no spend pantry purge challenges, grocery hauls and meal ideas. YouTube channels Great Depression Cooking by the late 98 year old Clara and TheWolfePit both show how to make simple meals made from basic, everyday ingredients.
When you find an recipe online that you’d like to make, save the URL to the Whisk app and it will extract and separate all of the ingredients, so you can adjust serving sizes and then add them to a shopping list in one click to use to buy food in-store & online. It also summarizes the nutritional information of all the ingredients and gives it a health score.
Over time, you’ll develop your own personal cookbook.
While the feature is not available in Canada quite yet, the app integrates with grocery stores – letting you match your shopping list to relevant, available products from online delivery/pickup services (Walmart, Instacart, etc.) and add those items to your cart(s). This would save even more time.
Make a shopping list, and stick to it
Writing out a completed grocery shopping list based on what you already have, what you still need to buy and what’s on sale and then sticking to it will help you buy only what you need and avoid impulse purchases.
To make it easier on yourself and help form a habit, start with planning one or two dinners per week, make enough for leftovers so that you’ll have lunches to eat at work and keep some snacks and quick and easy breakfast foods on hand.
Shop after you’ve eaten and rested
Shopping when you’re hungry – such as after you’ve skipped breakfast or before lunch or dinner – makes all food seem more appealing, but especially junk food like chips, candy and pop. Studies say hungry shoppers prefer higher calorie food products and increases the desire of “getting stuff” in general, including non-food items and impulsive consumers tend to make food choices based on taste preferences rather than long term health considerations.
In addition, shop when you’re rested and have the energy, not after a busy or stressful day or when you’re preoccupied. It is easier to make rational decisions that are more based on logic than emotions when full and rested.
When you feel the sudden urge to make a pricey purchase, ask yourself:
- Do I really need this?
- Are there cheaper alternatives?
- Where can I compare prices?
- Can it wait?
This way, you’ll buy fewer extras that you don’t actually need and be able to focus your grocery list.
Shop at discount grocery stores
Walmart, NoFrills, and Food Basics are considered to be the cheapest grocery stores in Canada and Costco beats them for certain items – particularly when they’re on sale and because they’re sold in bulk. If you’re in Ontario, add The Grocery Outlet to the list.
They offer (mostly) the same items as their full service counterparts (e.g. Loblaws, Metro, Sobeys), but for lower regular prices. They also offer more variety and lower prices than convenience or specialty stores such as Shopper’s Drug Mart and healthier options than Dollar Tree and Dollar General. That said, Shopper’s does sometimes have decent deals on staples like milk, eggs and bread.
However, no store is the cheapest for all customers’ shopping lists. Each sells certain items for less than their competitors, typically some of those that are on sale in the weekly flyer and they all tend to rotate sale items.
Bonus tip: Try to shop only once a week. The more times you shop the more likely you are to spend more on duplicate items or impulse purchases, not to mention the time it takes and cost of gas of traveling to and from the store.
Check your local ethnic grocery stores
Go to non-chain produce and meat shops. The price of produce, spices, baking ingredients (flour, sugar, etc.), and bulk rice or grains at Indian, Asian and European grocery stores is often much lower than at big-name retailers thanks to minimal packaging, bulk sizes, high sales volumes and budget conscious customers.
Order groceries online
As the saying goes, time is money. And online shopping can save you a lot of time.
If you order pickup, save 30 minutes to 1 hour wandering around the store, placing items in your cart and then standing in line at checkout. If you order delivery, you’ll save an additional 10 to 30 minutes travelling to and from the store as well as the cost of gas.
Other benefits include:
- Adding flyer items directly to your shopping cart.
- Using your shopping cart as your grocery shopping list, adding the items to your cart as you think of them throughout the week.
- Comparing prices between stores by opening both sites and the per unit pricing is much more prominent.
- Adjusting your cart before checking out – removing unwanted items is much easier than in-store, where you must retrace your steps to an item back on the shelf, or give it to the cashier.
- Real time cart total shows you much it will cost to checkout instead of waiting until the end of checkout to find out.
- Walmart pickup (min $35) is free and they also offer delivery through Instacart
- PC Express pickup ($1) and delivery ($5.99) is available a many NoFrills, Real Canadian Superstore, Maxi and Loblaws locations
- Metro pickup (min $50) is free and delivery is $3.99 to $8
- Voilà for Sobeys and Safeway
- Instacart for in-store prices of other stores in your area that may not deliver, in my case: Food Basics, Metro, Dollarama
The most common concern I hear about online shopping is “What about the quality of my produce?” “I don’t trust someone else to select the best ones”.
I wondered this myself and thought they might be incentivized by the store to try to pawn off lower quality items to customers. However, in practice, I’ve found the “personal shopper” responsible for gathering items in the store on my behalf has always had my best interests in mind. All the grocery stores send feedback and survey emails after your order in case anything went wrong.
I’ve used all the services above except Voilà multiple times and have been relying solely on online ordering for pickup for over 2 years and have only had to contact customer service about a missing item or poor quality a few times, in which case they gave me store credit or refunded the item.
More: Best Online Grocery Delivery & Pickup Services (coming soon)
Check what you already have
Before you check out, take a look at your fridge, freezer and pantry and remove items from your shopping list (or shopping cart if ordering online) that you already have on hand. This ensures you don’t buy something you already have and reduces waste. If this takes to long to do, take the time to organize your food storage cupboards and drawers.
Travel to multiple stores
If there are multiple grocery stores nearby that offer pickup, order the cheapest items from each of their flyers and schedule the pickup times for the same or similar timeslot so you can hit them all up in one trip.
Join the rewards program
If you regularly shop at Loblaws-owned grocery stores such as NoFrills, Zehrs, ValuMart or Your Independent Grocer, be sure to join their PC Optimum rewards program through which you can earn points on weekly offers.
If you shop at Sobeys-owned grocery stores such as Sobeys, Safeway, Foodland, Foodland & Participating Co-ops, FreshCo, Chalo! FreshCo, Thrifty Foods and IGA, then join the Scene+ rewards program.
Download the retailer’s app to get additional, personalized offers and collect even more points.
Pay with a rewards credit card
You can earn 1% to 3% back in points on purchases at Loblaws-owned stores with the no fee PC Mastercards, on top of the bonuses for weekly and personalized offers. Other credit cards pay up 4% cash back or the equivalent of 5% back in points on grocery purchases.
Submit your receipt to cash back apps
Simply take a photo of your receipt and upload it to cash back apps like Eclipsa, WebSaver and Checkout 51. If they have offers on any of items you purchased, you’ll typically receive $0.25 to $1.00 for each.
More: Best Cash Back Apps in Canada (coming soon)
Make enough for leftovers/frozen portions (meal prep)
Scale up your recipes to bulk servings of soups, pasta sauces, and other things that freeze well so that you have leftovers for lunch the next day, or freeze leftovers for quick meals. You can make exactly what you were planning on eating anyway, but with some extra for another day too.
This reduces the per-serving cost of each meal and makes low cost, healthy food conveniently available for easy reheating for lunches or snacks. This works for households with 1 or 2 people too, avoding the “single person” tax where servings cost more for 1-2 people than they do for more than 2.
Prepare food in batches
Pre-cook or marinate meat in advance and then freeze it to speed up meal times. If you know that you’ve got food ready at home, it’s less tempting to eat out.
Wash or cut up fruit and vegetables in large batches. This will speed up dinner and lunch preparations and provide healthy snacks that are ready to go.
Understand grocery store layout psychology
Grocery stores are designed to distract you and convince you to buy things that you want, but don’t necessarily need.
The most enticing items, like produce, cheese, bakery items and flowers, are placed in easy to see and access places such as at the front of the store and at eye level so you’re tempted to put them in your cart.
Staples and healthy foods such as milk, eggs, bread and fresh fruit and vegetables are often placed at the back or around the perimeter. Visit the aisles that have seeds, beans, nuts, grains such as flour or oats, and canned fruits and vegetables.
Skip the aisles with the low nutrition, convenience foods such as prepared/frozen meals, sugary cereals, premade salad dressings, cookies, snack bars, pop, candy, chocolate and chips – they are expensive for the nutrition they provide.
More: How to Buy Food: The Psychology of the Supermarket
Look high and low on the shelves
If shopping in-store, look at products on the shelves that are above and below eye level.
Food suppliers pay grocery stores retail fees in exchange for the stocking of products on shelves. There is a premium to be placed on the shelves at eye level, where it is easier and more convenient to grab them.
This is because customers would rather not (or are unable to) stretch to reach the top shelf or bend over to reach the bottom shelf (though there other reasons for placement including safety due to product weight).
The increased marketing fees for these placements means that the products are often higher margin for the manufacturer and lower value for the consumer.
NoFrills, Real Canadian Superstore, FreshCo and Giant Tiger will price match, but you have to show them a lower advertised price on the exact same item at a local competitor.
Most will apply a price match by showing them a virtual flyer in the Flipp app. When your shopping list is ready, you can “clip” the lowest-price for each item at other stores and then show the cashier during check out to get each price adjusted.
Each store defines which grocery stores qualify as their local competition differently. They should have this information posted somewhere, or you can ask the cashier which stores qualify.
Online grocery ordering services typically do not offer price matching.
More: Stores That Price Match in Canada (coming soon)
Get a raincheck
A raincheck is a voucher from the store that promises to honour the advertised price in the flyer for an extended period of time after the sale period has ended, giving the customer the chance to buy the item at the sale price once it is back in stock.
Grocery stores that allow 30 day rainchecks on items that go out of stock include:
To get a raincheck, talk to a cashier or customer service representative in-store and ask for raincheck(s) on the item(s) you were looking for and specify the quantity (up to the limit, if applicable).
Buy store brands
You can save up to 25% by buying the store or no name brand option instead of the name brand product. Store brands include Kirkland Signature (Costco), No Name (No Frills), Great Value (Walmart) and Our Compliments (FreshCo).
Store brand products are often made by the name brand companies that make the name brand version, just with a different label.
For some products, food and drug regulations are specific enough that the products are essentially commodities, that is, are identical (ibuprofen, acetaminophen and vitamin D) or near identical such as sour cream, baking powder and white vinegar. In these cases, the store brand is a sure bet, but these are also worth considering:
- Sour cream
- Legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
- Canned vegetables
- Laundry detergent
- Cleaning products
They often taste slightly different, but in my experience, they are just as good if not even better more often than not, so it’s worth trying them once as a test to see if they work for you.
Stock up on (and learn how to use) the basics
Most things tend to go on sale every month or two. When they do, it’s better to buy more than you usually would and store them at home for later use. Buying larger amounts (if you have the storage space) locks in sale prices and reduces trips to the grocery store – saving time and gas.
Don’t buy more than you can store properly (dark, cool, enclosed and dry) or realistically use before the items expire or lose effectiveness.
Stocking up is best for non-perishables, such as:
- Canned meat, fruit, vegetables
- Toilet paper, paper towel
- Cooking oils (olive, canola, vegetable)
- Fruits and nuts (dried fruit, nuts, seeds)
- Grains and lentils (rice, pasta, beans, lentils, chickpeas, oats)
- Sweeteners (sugar, honey, maple syrup)
- Herbs, spices and salt
- Cleaning supplies
- Vitamins, supplements, drugs
However, bulk buying doesn’t guarantee a good deal – even for staples. For even a product as simple as No Name Quick Oats, the larger, 2.25 kg “Club Size” package is costs more per gram than the 1 kg package – even when it’s not on sale:
In-season food is cheaper
Vegetables and fruit are cheaper when they are in-season due to their abundance and in particular those that are grown locally as they pass through fewer hands before reaching store shelves. When they are out of season there isn’t as much supply and they have to be stored longer or shipped further, increasing costs.
Finding the abundant, over-supplied or under-appreciated produce
Vegetables found in large bins that are full to the brim or on tables stacked high are typically those that are in-season and in high supply such as apples, corn or squash in the fall. It may also be produce that has fallen out of favour with consumers like turnips, parsnips and rutabagas.
When buying fresh produce, buy items that are at different stages of ripeness to limit waste. This is particularly important for climacteric fruit like avocados and bananas. Buy some that are fully ripe and ready to eat in the next day or two, and some that are not yet ripe that will be ready in a few days so that you’ll have enough time to eat all your purchases.
More: What’s in season in Ontario
Frozen can be cheaper
Frozen fruit and vegetables are usually cheaper than their fresh alternatives. Frozen is an even better deal when fresh is out of season and more expensive. When it is in season, it’s often cheaper to buy it fresh and freeze it yourself.
Frozen produce is just as nutritious as fresh and the technology (eg. individual quick freezing or isochoric freezing) has improved its quality so the taste and texture is closer to fresh – not the flavourless cardboard-like vegetable medley many of us experienced growing up.
Some vitamins are lost processing frozen produce, while some nutrients also degrade over time during storage – faster in fresh than frozen. Due to these variables, frozen can, in some circumstances, be more nutritious than fresh options.
Grab a bag of frozen peas or sweet corn and toss it in with stirfrys, pastas or soups.
Canned can be cheaper
Canned fruit, vegetables and meat are often cheaper than buying fresh and similar to frozen produce, the nutrient content of canned fruits and vegetables can be comparable to fresh and, in some cases, may be higher. Fresh vegetables freshly picked are healthier than canned or frozen, but slowly lose vitamins over time whereas canning locks in the nutrients for a longer period of time.
Buy cans without added fillers or preservatives such as salt, sugar, syrup or flavoring when possible. These add excess, empty calories and elevate sodium intake. Drain and rinse canned veggies before using them to reduce the sodium. Try comparing the nutrition information on the can with a fresh counterpart. For example, canned peas and fresh peas.
Superfoods are certainly good for you, but the hype surrounding them and being the “in” thing increases consumer demand and therefore prices. Each superfood has cheaper, nutritionally similar alternatives that may be overlooked.
- Avocado alternatives nutritionally include nuts (almonds, walnuts, and pistachios), seeds, olives.
- Quinoa alternatives nutritionally include grains and seeds such as chia seeds, brown rice, most grains and hemp hearts.
Learn the nutrition facts, and make decisions accordingly.
Bigger is (usually) cheaper
Even though the lower price at Dollarama seems like a steal and the box and bag size are the same, buying 4x the garbage bags (that don’t go bad) is 14% cheaper per bag:
Another example is buying 3x the vegetable oil is 32.7% cheaper per ml of oil:
However, repeating the counterpoint from above, bulk buying doesn’t guarantee a good deal – even for staples. For a product as simple as No Name Quick Oats, the larger, 2.25 kg “Club Size” package is costs more per gram than the 1 kg package – whether or not it’s not on sale:
Explore alternative proteins
Meat represents a big portion of Canadians’ food budgets, roughly 20% on average, so reducing your reliance on meat can make a considerable difference. Meat alternative proteins such as beans, lentils, chickpeas and tofu are cheap, healthy and delicious and meat is overrepresented in many Canadians’ diets when compared to the recommended food guide so swapping out meat for more vegetables and whole grains could be healthier, too.
Look for less packaging
Package your own treats, juices and snacks. Buy the large package or snacks and a box of sandwich bags and make your own individually wrapped packages to grab on the run or pack for lunch.
Make your own coffee at home
Making a coffee at home is considerably cheaper than going to Tim Hortons or Starbucks (if coffee is free at work, that’s even better).
Ground Maxwell House ground coffee from Walmart costs 1.07 cents per gram, while whole bean Kirkland Signature Roasted by Starbucks House Blend from Costco costs 1.84 cents per gram.
A medium Tim’s coffee is 414 ml and coffee expert James Hoffman says that coffee to water ratio of 60g per litre is a good starting point, so it takes 24.84g of coffee to make one medium sized cup.
This works out to 26.58 cents to 45.7 cents per medium cup of coffee, not counting the cost of water or grinding.
Compared to a medium coffee at Tim’s ($1.92) and a vanilla latte at Starbucks ($6), making your daily coffee at home instead of buying it every weekday will save you $33 to $110 per month, or $400 to $1300 per year.
|Tim’s Medium Coffee||Starbucks Latte||Maxwell House||Kirkland Signature||Savings switching from Tim’s to Maxwell House||Savings switching from Starbucks Latte’s to Kirkland Signature|
Need a second, afternoon coffee? Then buy a large, quality thermos that will keep your coffee hot all day long.
Buy non-grocery items elsewhere
Buy non-food grocery items like detergent, soap, toothpaste or garbage bags at Walmart, Amazon or Costco. These are in the grocery store for your convenience and as such are marked up accordingly.
Check that your receipt is accurate
Major retailers in Canada including Costco, Walmart, Canadian Tire, Best Buy, Loblaw Companies, Home Depot, and many others are a part of The Scanner Price Accuracy Voluntary Code, which states that if an item scans at a price higher at checkout than is listed on the shelf price or online on a webpage that applies to that store, the customer gets the first item for free (or $10 off the first item if it is more than $10).
It applies to all scanned merchandise sold in all participating stores with a Universal Product Code (UPC), bar code, and Price Look-Up (PLU). Items with price tags or those that are not easily accessible to the public (e.g. prescription drugs and behind-the-counter cosmetics do not count.
Check your receipt and compare it to listed prices – you can also contact the store after checking out and get prices adjusted retroactively.
Store your food properly to make it last longer
20% (or 11 million tonnes) of all the food produced in Canada annually becomes avoidable food loss or waste and 63% of the food Canadians throw away could have been eaten.
If something is about to go bad, make the recipe you had planned for that ingredient next. If that’s not possible, or if too much is about to spoil at once, repackage it and put it in the freezer. If you have leftovers that you probably won’t get to because you’ve gotten tired of the dish, try freezing it – you might be more interested in a day or two.
If some of the food you buy routinely ends up going bad and getting thrown away, you can save money by extending its shelf life by storing it properly:
- Store in a cool, dark, dry place like a cupboard or root cellar: squash, root vegetables garlic, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, pumpkins and rutabaga. Keep the potatoes away from the onions.
- Store rinsed and wrapped in a damp paper towel or sealed container: lettuce, bok choy, kale, spinach, asparagus.
- Room temperature and needs air circulation: apples, oranges, garlic, potatoes
- Paper bag in the fridge: mushrooms
- Keep ethylene-emitting produce away from ethylene sensitive ones (in general, separate fruits and vegetables):
- Ethylene-emitting: many fruits, including apples and bananas
- Ethylene-sensitive: many vegetables, including cabbage, leafy greens, lettuce, and broccoli
Refrigerated produce stays fresh longer when air circulation is limited, holding in moisture and protecting it from ethylene gas. Sealed zip-top plastic bags (Walmart), reusable silicone pouches (Canadian Tire or Amazon) or investing in a long-lasting set of plastic or glass airtight food storage containers can help you save money over time:
- Plastic: Rubbermaid Brilliance Leak-Proof Food Storage Containers with Airtight Lids on Amazon
- Glass: Rubbermaid Brilliance Glass Storage Set of 9 Food Containers with Lids on Amazon
“Use by” vs “Best before”
“use by” dates are a deadline, you should not eat it past that date. “best before” dates are more of a guideline and is typically used on foods where bacteria doesn’t usually grow, like pasta, tinned foods, breakfast cereal. The food is still safe to eat after that date, but its appearance, flavour or texture may be affected.
See the Food Handlers’ Storage Guide to find out how long different foods can last in your refrigerator, freezer and cupboard and follow the old adage: When in doubt, throw it out.
Make use of your freezer (or buy a larger one + vacuum sealer)
Buying bulk amounts of food when they go on sale, portioning them out into individual/meal-sized servings, writing the date on it in marker and freezing them is a great way to save money on freezer friendly foods, including:
- Fruits and vegetables (best when in season)
- Cooked rice and pasta
- Eggs (out of shell)
- Herbs (in oil)
and prepared meals:
Freezing foods in meal-sized portions lets you thaw only what you need now and eat the food over time and avoid having to thaw an entire block or package of food at once, reducing waste.
Frozen food stored continuously below -18°C (0°F), can technically be kept indefinitely and remain food safe. That’s not to say that it would be pleasant to eat after a decade. The guidelines for freezing chicken, beef and pork is up to 12 months.
Investing in a vacuum sealer makes it easier to package food into the portion sizes you need. Reducing the food’s exposure to air extends shelf life and keeps frozen foods fresher longer by preventing oxidation and dehdration (“freezer burn”), preventing fats from absorbing “bad” smells or flavors from other items in the freezer and reducing the risk of bacteria changing the food’s colour, flavour and texture.
Investing in a standalone upright freezer or chest freezer will give you more space to work with. An upright freezer is recommended as it lets you see and access everything in it, preventing food from getting buried at the bottom.
Process food yourself
Convenience comes at a price. Processed foods like pre-cooked chicken, pre-cut vegetables and fruit, minute rice, pre-shredded cheese, chicken fingers, fish sticks, individually packaged snacks are certainly handy, but they are often more expensive.
To save (and get better food), buy whole vegetables, cut and package them yourself. Shred your own cheese and lettuce. Buy the least processed cuts of meat – raw, bone-in, skin on and do the work yourself. Buy some eggs, flour and breadcrumbs and make your own chicken tenders.
Buy meat by the whole animal or in large amounts
This is a (somewhat extreme) extension of the previous point. If you eat a lot of meat and you really like and regularly buy prime cuts:
- Find a friend (or two)
- Call your local farm(er)s
- Buy a half/quarter cow or half/whole pig or meat in bulk
- Have it butchered
A cow reaches a final weight of around 1400 lb and costs an average of $164.08 per 100 lbs in Ontario in 2022 for a total price of $2297.12. One Canadian Redditor reported buying half a cow for $1000 plus butchering, which cost about $300 and resulted in 254 lb. of meat, which works out to $5.11/lb. Assuming that 40% of that is ground beef or 101.6 lb at $5/lb, that’s means all of the other cuts come out to an average of $5.20/lb. The cost savings compared to the grocery store can really add up on the prime cuts.
You could also reach out to your local butcher, or restaurant supply grocer to buy meat in bulk. A consumer in Quebec reduced their meat expenses by almost 40% by contacting a restaurant food supply company and buying a minimum order of 20 lbs.
Keep in mind that many of these companies are typically business to business (B2B) only, while some only care if you reach the minimum order quantity. The answer might be no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask (if their policy isn’t already clearly stated). Be polite, respectful and prompt to increase your chance of success.
You will likely have to call, asking to make an order, be sent an availability sheet that varies week to week alongside a weekly order deadline (sometimes a rotation of availability). Then you call to submit an order and get a call back at a later date.
Make sure you have the space – a quarter of beef takes an approximately 4.5 cu. ft. of chest freezer or a 5.5 cu. ft. upright freezer – and a backup plan in case of a power outage.
Grow your own vegetables or herbs
If you have a backyard, planters/pots or even just a sunny balcony, you can start growing your own herbs or produce in the summer. All you’ll need is some containers, seeds, and soil, and you can start growing.
Canada’s summer season is great for growing beans, peas, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes kale, zucchini and many other vegetables. To save money, grow more expensive items, like tomatoes and melons, or large quantities of vegetables that you purchase regularly.
It costs $2-$3 for a small amount of fresh herbs at the grocery store, the quantity of which is more than most recipes call for and they spoil quickly. Fresh herbs such as cilantro, thyme, basil, mint, chives, oregano, rosemary are really easy to grow and make the most simplistic meals 10x better. All they need is a sunny spot (but not too direct) and watering once a week or every time the soil is dry. They can be grown indoors by a window. They’ll grow slower in the winter months, but will continue to provide some yield.
More: 11 Easy Vegetables to Grow in Canada and some can even be grown from food scraps
Learn how to cook
All of the information listed here is exponentially more useful if you know how to cook.
YouTube is your friend here. Here are my favourite channels for learning cooking techniques, the “why” or science behind them and approaches to kitchen organization and efficiency:
Over to you
What are your grocery saving tips? Let me know by leaving a comment below!