Afro-American family having lunch together at home

By Carol Harrison, RD 

Food costs are expected to rise 3% to 5% in 2021, the biggest jump in the last decade. For a family of four, that’s an increase of about $700. Here are some strategies and tips you can share with clients who want to optimize good nutrition while keeping their food budget in check. 

 1. Become a better cook   

One of the best defenses against rising food costs is knowing how to cook. The more you learn, the easier you’ll find it to mix and match wholesome ingredients to make tasty meals and repurpose leftovers. Start with simple, versatile dishes: stir-fries, curries, stews, soups, frittatas, and meal salads. 

Resource to share: Food organizations often have easy recipes and how-to videos. You can go to the bean growers to learn how to cook beans; the fruit-and-veggie folks for tips on buying, storing and cooking produce; and the beef folks for recipes featuring ground beef – a versatile meal maker.   

Good to know: To eat well, clients need more than just meal ideas. Encourage them to learn cooking skills and try new things in the kitchen – they’ll save money, and home cooking is healthier than take-out.   

2. Curb food waste  

Each year, the average Canadian household wastes 300 pounds of food, valued at $1,100. Sixty-three per cent of that wasted food could have been eaten. We waste almost half (45%) of the veggies and fruit we buy. 

Why does so much food end up as trash or compost? Often, the problem is buying too much. Advise your clients to “shop at home” before making their grocery list – they might have more food on hand than they realize.  

Resources to share: 

Good to know: Keep a bin labelled “eat first” in the fridge. Food that should be eaten within a day or two goes there. No more excuses for forgotten food!  

3. Buy nutrient-rich foods  

Aim to get the most nutrition for your food dollar. Canadians get a hefty 50% of their calories from calorie-rich, nutrient-poor ultra-processed foods, such as frozen pizza, hot dogs, boxed mac and cheese, muffins, cookies, pop, and candy. To lower your grocery bills, start by cutting back on these items, not wholesome, naturally nutritious foods like vegetables, fruit, yogurt, beef, fish, nuts, and beans. 

Food and fitness pros often tell clients to “shop the perimeter” of the supermarket, but we can also show people how to mine the inner aisles. That’s where you’ll find fibre-and-folate-packed beans (canned are just as nutritious as dried) and other nutritious options like nuts, seeds, nut butters, frozen fruits and veggies, barley, lentils, canned fish, quinoa, oats, and dried herbs and spices.   

Good to know: Cost per nutrient is an interesting way to look at food costs, and some reports have revealed that meat is not necessarily more expensive because it’s so nutrient rich. For example, researchers compare how much the cost would be to eat another food in amounts needed to get the same amount of iron, protein or zinc.  

4. Prepare meal plans  

Buying a load of groceries without a plan for how to use them could lead to overspending and food waste. Before you shop, take 15 minutes to check what you already have, see what’s on sale, and come up with a few dinner ideas. Time well spent!  

Resources to share:  

Good to know: Include recipes that have overlapping ingredients. For example, you can use beans for dips, spreads, soups, patties, and even smoothies (whirl ¼ cup of white beans into your next smoothie!). Ground beef is great for meatballs, pizza, pasta sauce, burgers, tacos, soups, and more. You can also combine beans and ground beef in tacos, chili, soups, and burgers.  


Carol Harrison is a registered dietitian who loves her daily workouts! She has a food nutrition communications company in Toronto. Follow Carol on Twitter and Instagram.