Buy on an as-needed basis

It’s estimated that the average Canadian household wastes about $1,300 of food a year. If you live near a grocery store or market, consider purchasing the meat, fruit and vegetables you require on an as-needed basis.

This is an ideal scenario for people who can walk to a shop or pass by a market on their way home from work. Buying only the fresh items you require for a meal when you need them ensures that no food will go bad in your refrigerator, therefore saving you money.

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Meal planning

You have to eat everyday. By planning what you’re going to have for meals in advance you save not only time, but you also cut down on the risk of wasting food.

That’s not to say meal planning isn’t an effort. Trying to figure out meals for an entire week takes time, and preparing meals in advance takes even longer.

But with some strategizing, you can optimize your meals for the week and make your life a lot simpler.

When the weekly grocery flyers are available, take a look at what’s on special. You might find yourself inspired to cook a particular cut of meat or a nice vegan dish based on what you find.

Even if there’s nothing immediately obvious that you’d want to cook, you can do an internet search for recipes involving a combination of items that are on sale.

Come up with a few meal ideas for the week, and figure out how much you and your family are going to need to eat. Be sure to think about leftovers as well - cooking extra food takes only a little more effort but saves you time in the long run.

When you’ve figured out what you need for your weekly meals, make a grocery list. If you can, include the price of the items you saw in the flyer. This will help ensure you’re getting the best price on groceries when you hit the store.

After you’ve planned your meals and are heading to the grocery store, keep these tips in mind:

  • Many grocery stores offer price matching. If you see a discount in a flyer for one store but not another, bring the flyer along with you when you shop. Often they’ll adjust the price at the checkout for you.

  • Pay attention to prices. While the flyer might show a certain cut of meat on special, for example, sometimes it’s more affordable to buy a family size format of the same cut of meat. Just be sure you have a plan to use it, or room in your freezer to store the extra.

  • Keep an eye out for generic brands. While brand name products might be on special, you often can get a better price if you buy a competing product.

  • If you see a great deal on an item at the grocery store, stock up. Meats can be put in your freezer for future use, or you can cook an entire meal and put it in your freezer for a day when you don’t have time to cook.

  • Avoid processed fruits and vegetables. Pay attention to differences in price between pre-sliced and whole fruits and vegetables. Pre-sliced vegetables and fruit may save you time in the kitchen, but they’re often more expensive. Taking the few extra minutes to cut up the produce yourself can help reduce your grocery bill.

  • If you can, when you get home from the grocery store, cook your meals right away. This way you’ve used up all the items that might go bad if left sitting in your fridge. You can freeze any meal you don’t intend to eat right away.

  • In order to optimize your time in the kitchen, try to prepare ingredients for multiple recipes at the same time. For instance, if two meals call for green peppers, prepare the peppers for both recipes simultaneously.

Consider ‘ugly’ food

If you’ve ever tried to grow your own vegetables, you know that your homegrown produce seldom looks as perfect as what you find at the grocery store. Despite appearances, though, it tastes just the same.

Appearances are important at grocery stores: they want what they sell to look appealing so you feel inspired to buy it. But what happens to the fruit and vegetables that look a little off?

Some grocery stores offer “imperfect” or irregularly shaped produce for cheaper than their more uniform counterparts. This is a great way to save some money when you’re at the grocery store, so be sure to keep an eye out for these deals.

Different regions also offer “ugly food” sellers - one-stop shops for discounted food. For example, in Montreal, Second Life offers such a service, or if you’re in south western Ontario, you can try out FoodFund.

Various grocery stores have also partnered with Flashfood, an app that allows you to shop for imperfect or nearing-expiry groceries at your local store.

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Frozen produce

Did you know that frozen fruits and vegetables have almost equal nutritional value as fresh?

And not only are they just as nutritious, they’re often cheaper.

Stocking up on frozen produce is an easy way to reduce your grocery bill while making sure you can still create healthy meals.

Frozen produce has the added advantage of being incredibly easy to prepare. No need to worry about spending time cleaning and chopping vegetables, simply open the package, heat it up and you’re good to go.

Cook at home

You might be tempted to buy prepared meals when at the grocery store, or to skip grocery shopping altogether and get a takeout meal.

If you’re trying to reduce your spending, this is one habit you should quit as soon as possible.

By preparing your own meals at home, not only can you save money but you also control the nutritional value of what you’re making. Choose ingredients that have more nutritional value, and when you are cooking, prepare more food than you need for a meal. Leftovers go a long way.

If you’re an inexperienced cook, start with simple recipes you find online or in a cookbook. As you become more comfortable, start to experiment with recipes - adding and taking away ingredients to create a new dish.

Once you’ve got a handle on cooking a few things, you’ll find it’s simple to create a new taste. Not only is it fun to experiment with dishes, but it also helps prevent you from getting tired of cooking the same thing all the time.

Give up the apps

During the pandemic, you may have gotten used to ordering your groceries online. While this can be a convenient way to get your shopping done and avoid crowds, it prevents you from searching out the best deal in the grocery store.

Apps don’t always feature all the products that a grocery store has, and some specials might not be available through the app.

Going to the store in person allows you to select the most affordable item available, and increase-or-decrease the quantity of food you get. With the cost of fresh vegetables increasing by 10.3 per cent in May, according to Statistics Canada, being able to select exactly how much produce you get can shave a few dollars off your bill.

In order to avoid crowds, you can try shopping off-peak hours, like going to the grocery store first thing in the morning or right before it closes.

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About the Author

James Battiston

James Battiston

Staff Reporter

James Battiston has been writing personal finance articles for various websites for the past four years. He has a background in film and TV production, and can often be found consuming far too much coffee.

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The content provided on MoneyWise is information to help users become financially literate. It is neither tax nor legal advice, is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. Tax, investment and all other decisions should be made, as appropriate, only with guidance from a qualified professional. We make no representation or warranty of any kind, either express or implied, with respect to the data provided, the timeliness thereof, the results to be obtained by the use thereof or any other matter.