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How Canadians are stretching their grocery dollars while trying to stay healthy

It’s peach season in British Columbia and a pile of the delicious Okanagan Valley-grown fruit is stacked outside a market on Vancouver’s Davie Street. Grab three to snack on this week and, at $8.80 per kilogram, you’re looking at $4.39 for your fresh fruit fix. 

The price of fresh fruit was up 11.8 per cent in July, from a year earlier, according to Statistics Canada. Other products were even higher, like eggs (15.8 per cent) and bakery products (13.6 per cent). Factoring in the high prices of almost every other living expense, more than half of Canadians responding to a recent Angus Reid Institute survey said they’re struggling to cover costs.

Tracy Frimpong, a registered dietitian in Toronto, says there are ways to make nutritious choices while trying to make ends meet. 

The important thing, she told CBC News, is to make decisions “that work for you and that you enjoy as well.” 

CBC News followers on Instagram shared some ways they are cutting down their grocery bills while still putting nutritious meals on the table.

WATCH | Tough choices amid high inflation:

Canada’s inflation rate was 7.6 per cent in July. What does that mean to Amna Masoodi, who is trying to raise a family and complete her engineering studies? It means some tough choices are being made. She talks with CBC News Network about her situation.

Reach for the canned food

One follower said canned food is the way to beat the sticker shock at the supermarket — it lasts far longer than fresh products and there’s often less waste.

Frimpong says it’s a myth canned food is less healthy than fresh, describing canned fish, in particular, as “one of the healthiest foods around.”

Although many canned products may be preserved with sodium or sugar, a concern for people with certain dietary restrictions, she says there are usually options to meet those needs, including products stored in water only.

She also recommends buying in bulk.

“A good pantry helps you make healthier decisions,” she said. “That way you’re not enticed to go get outside food.”

Beating the high cost of beef

Rita Rhammaz, an Instagram follower in Halifax, has teamed up with a group of four or five families to buy beef in bulk, an entire cow in fact, from a local butcher.

She says the last time they ordered beef it cost around $1,600, or $400 per family. It’s butchered in the cuts they like — from steaks to ground beef — wrapped individually, and delivered to their doors. 

She knows $400 sounds like a lot to pay up front, but says her freezer is stocked for “at least four months.” Her family of five eats beef three times a week — even more in barbecue season. 

She estimates it works out to about $5.50 per pound, or $12.10 per kilogram — far cheaper than what it costs at most stores. 

WATCH | Family sees food costs nearly double:

Combating high grocery costs due to inflation

Tamara Kuly, a mother of two in Winnipeg, talks about how her family’s grocery costs have almost doubled, and how they’ve had to adjust their habits in order to stay on budget.

Chasing deals 

Some people chase these deals by going from store to store, but Alison Stewart of Strathroy, Ont., recommends an app called Flashfood. 

It alerts users to items discounted for quick sale at certain grocery stores across the country, from $5 boxes of produce to packages of meat, milk and baked goods selling for half price or less. 

“This year, I’ve already saved over $275,” Stewart said. 

Photos of steaks, hamburgers, a bag of milk and boxes of fruits and vegetables with prices below each image.
The Flashfood app shows food marked down for clearance, at a grocery store in Strathroy, Ont., for sale at a significantly reduced price on Wednesday. (Flashfood)

The quality can be “hit and miss,” she said, especially when it comes to items that ripen quickly, but says it just takes simple planning to use those items quickly. 

Frimpong says a product near the end of its shelf life “still has its nutritional value” but reminds people not to buy anything they’re not going to eat.

Cut meals to cut costs 

Susan Praseuth of Burnaby, B.C., suggests cutting out one meal each day. 

She said has always been a bargain shopper, but over the past year became interested in the potential health benefits of intermittent fasting — such as only eating over a certain period of the day or week, and reducing calorie intake.

Praseuth says this may not work for everyone, but says she not only feels better, she saves $100-200 a month on groceries.

Frimpong says people who consider eliminating meals to reduce spending should make sure what they eat is “optimized” for their nutritional needs. . 

“That way, you’re feeling full throughout the day, and you’re not feeling as if you have to sacrifice,” she said. 

LISTEN | Grocery chains make big money off high food prices:

Day 68:56As the price of groceries continues to soar, food industry giants are posting record profits

Canadians paid 9.7 per cent more for groceries in April compared to a year earlier, the highest rate of food inflation in Canada in 41 years. There are lots of reasons: inflation across the whole economy, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. But while consumers are struggling, giant food companies are cashing in. According to a report from Oxfam, the pandemic saw the creation of 62 new food billionaires around the world. Phoebe Stephens, a post-doctoral fellow in global development studies at the University of Toronto, tells us why she thinks the high levels of corporate concentration in Canada’s food supply chain are a significant part of the problem.

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