With food prices on the rise, here’s how to cook a healthy meal for cheap

With food prices expected to rise across Canada next year, the Windsor nutritionist wants families to know there is a way to receive high nutritional value — while saving money.

Karen Belmore, a public health nutritionist at the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit and a registered dietitian, has developed a video series for the Health Unit to teach the public how to cook healthy meals at a low cost.

It’s a goal that has pushed her for years, after spending time working in the heart of downtown and meeting families who struggled to buy food.

“I’m kind of starting to step back and look at the systems that are out there that make it difficult,” Belmore said. “And really, I just want to…help move that system around so everyone can eat.”

“Cooking is my passion. It’s really sad to know that it’s simply not affordable for many in our society.”

This meal of rice, grilled vegetables, and fried eggs costs $3.84. (Katrina Georgieva/CBC)

Food prices are already on the rise, and the trend is set to continue. According to the Canadian Food Price Report, 2022 is expected to see the largest annual increase in food bills ever.

Next year, she says, food inflation is on course to rise by five to seven percent — or an extra $966 a year for a typical family grocery bill.

“The amount is shocking because I know our wages don’t increase in the same way. And when it comes down to it, if you can’t buy food — it doesn’t matter all the skill you have in the world — you simply can’t buy food,” Belmore said.

She said the cost of food is directly related to the issue of the need for a living wage. Some groups – such as women, indigenous peoples, visible minorities, and those on low incomes – “are hurt more when these increases happen, and unless they make more money, they’re going to stay in the same place,” she said.

“Using our voices to advocate for things like that would make it a little easier to make access to food a little bit easier is really important…so that we can have a community that is able to eat.”

Tips and tricks:

Belmore explained that while it’s hard for many families to see price hikes, there are some things they can do.

1. Vegetables

While canned and frozen vegetables and fruits get a lot of chips, Belmore said, they’re just as healthy as fresh, plus they tend to be cost-effective.

If vegetables are on their way out, don’t throw them out, says Belmore, a public health nutrition expert at the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit. You can roast it instead. (Katrina Georgieva/CBC)

But if you’re buying new items, it’s important to help them last longer, and to make sure they are used instead of ending up in the trash.

“When we throw away food, we basically throw out money,” she said.

For example, Bellmore recommends roasting those vegetables if they’re on their way out.

2. Meat

One of Bellemore’s tutorial videos teaches viewers how to cut up a whole chicken. Often, she explained, we pay for convenience. Usually at the grocery store, customers buy an already broken package of chicken, and pay more as a result.

“So if you learn how to do the work and you have the time to do it, it will save you money,” she said.

Bellemore also encourages families to find cheaper alternatives to meat, such as trying to incorporate more plant-based proteins into their diets, such as beans and lentils.

“It’s so cheap, again, cost-effective, easy to use, and often in cans, that you can store it a little longer and combine it the same way you would for meat — you just have to replace it,” he said.

“So something like hummus actually has the flavor of the meat in it. So if you’re looking for a stew or curry, you can really swap the meat for hummus and you’ll save a lot of money that way.”

3. Other Tips

For celery, if it starts to limp, put it in cold water for five minutes until it softens.

Eggs are a great affordable source of protein.

Oatmeal can be used to replace quinoa or rice as a cereal in a delicious meal.

Belmore says oatmeal can be a great alternative to cereal in delicious meals. She also suggests making overnight oats as an affordable meal option. Mix the oats with yogurt, milk, flaxseeds, cinnamon and vanilla. Let it marinate overnight, and it’ll be ready to eat the next day, at a cost of $2.20, according to Belmore. (Katrina Georgieva/CBC)

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