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How to meal plan amid food inflation

healthy sheet pan meal

Anyone who has shopped for groceries recently knows that food prices have gone up – and continue to rise.

According to Canada’s Food Price Report 2023, produced by Dalhousie University, consumers can expect a five to seven percent increase in the price of food this year – with items such as vegetables, dairy and meat seeing the biggest hikes.

That means that this year, an average family of four is expected to spend as much as $16,288 per year on food – about $1,065 more than what they spent in 2022.

Food inflation is a stark reality that can make eating healthy and nutritious meals that align with Canada’s Food Guide more challenging than ever, especially for people living on low or fixed incomes.

At the latest Sunnybrook Speaker Series, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator Karen Fung discussed ways to cope.

Menu planning, budget-conscious shopping and preparing ingredients and dishes in advance can help people save money, reduce waste and get more bang for their buck from their food.

One strategy Karen advised is to plan out three to five recipes a week, ideally ones that use locally available and seasonal vegetables and fruits. These tend to be less expensive, tastier and more nutritious than imported produce.

At the same time, she said, it is important to consume a variety of different-coloured foods – to “eat the rainbow” – and given Canada’s climate, this sometimes means relying on imported produce. Frozen fruits and vegetables are a great, budget-friendly option in this case.

Karen also shared tips for stocking up on pantry items such as whole-grain pasta, lentils, beans, canned tomatoes or broths – items that can easily be combined with vegetables on hand (including frozen) or leftovers for a quick soup or stew.

Keeping an eye on grocery stores’ weekly sale items or using apps that list flyer deals is a good place to start, she said. Many stores also have price match policies or offer rain checks when sale items are out of stock – both useful ways to save some money at the checkout aisle.

Noting an item’s unit price (the price per standard unit of measurement) as opposed to its sticker price when deciding between similar products in different size packages can be helpful too.

And don’t forget to arrive at the grocery store with a shopping list in hand and a full stomach, Karen said, as these will help to avoid overspending on unhealthy snacks or pricey items.

And what about once you’re home from the store?

Karen said batch cooking is a great way to ensure you have leftovers you can turn to later on. One-pot casseroles and sheet pan recipes save on preparation and cleaning time.

And labelling and freezing perishable items so they’re ready when you need them at a future date is a tried but true technique as well. Most items can be safely stored in the freezer for three to six months.

» Check out more tips from Karen Fung

About the author

Idella Sturino

Idella Sturino is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook. She has a passion for storytelling and public engagement and brings two decades' worth of expertise as a former journalist to the role.