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Ways to save on groceries in 2017

Get ready to pay more for groceries in the new year

There’s sure to be plenty of exciting new products in grocery stores in 2017, but there’ll also be one unwelcome surprise – higher prices. Economic forecasters say produce and meats will see the biggest price hikes at the food stores, largely because of the weak Canadian dollar affecting imported goods. And then there’s the Trump factor – the promise by the president-elect to deport illegal foreign workers – a move expected to spike the costs of producing and exporting foods from the U.S. to Canadian grocery shelves

Sylvain Charlebois, lead author of Canada’s Food Price Report for 2017, said food prices are expected to increase by three to five per cent, an amount beyond the rate of inflation. “Five percent would equate to about $420 for the average Canadian household. It’s quite a lot. Some categories will be affected more than others like produce and nuts, pork and chicken,” said Charlebois.

So what are consumers to do to minimize the impact of a higher grocery bill? Dietitians point to alternative sources of protein as a way to battle higher meat prices. Think lentils, beans and even insect protein – a food eaten far more regularly in other parts of the world, but still slow to catch on in western cultures. As 2016 closes out as the International Year of Pulses, food industry watchers emphasize that plant-based proteins are inexpensive, eco-friendly sources of protein whose time has come.

“Beans and legumes are a dirt-cheap source of protein that is often overlooked. We encourage our clients and consumers to incorporate chickpeas, beans, and lentils into their diet as a fast, easy, and economical source of protein, said Raina Beugelink, registered nutritionist with Revive Wellness in Edmonton. Indeed, while a can of beans is less than $2 a can, dry beans are even cheaper, offering great bang for the buck. As well, beans, lentils and all pulses offer high fibre (7-10 grams of fibre in 1/2 cup of pulses), plus minerals like iron, zinc, phosphorous and B vitamins.

And it’s easier than ever to find pulses at the store. Look on the highest and lowest shelves, where you’ll find the cheapest items, like cans and bags of beans and lentils. Cookbooks and online recipes show quick and simple ideas for cooking like 10-minute lentil burgers. There are many more ideas to replace one or two suppers a week with a pulse-based protein.

When it comes to economizing with produce, Beugelink said meal planning is key. Fresh fruits and vegetables have a short shelf life, and so consumers may be discouraged from buying foods that may rot before they are consumed, thus costing even more money.

“Buying a cart of fresh groceries for hundreds of dollars and having to come home and prep all the food you just purchased is also an overwhelming chore. It drives consumers to purchase more processed, convenience-based foods,” she said. “Meal planning – only buying what you need and using it up within the week – is one strategy to minimize waste. And especially during the winter months in the Edmonton area, purchase fruits and vegetables that are in season. They will be cheaper and likely have a higher nutrient content.”

Nutritionists also give thumbs up to canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, which are harvested and packed at the time of peak ripeness, preserving taste and their highest nutrient content.

“Buying in bulk can also be a fantastic money-saving strategy – just make sure you have a plan for the food you have purchased, especially if it has a short shelf life. Buying in bulk costs more in the long run if you throw more away. We often recommend doing batch cooking sessions and portioning meals and freezing ahead of time. Making your own “TV dinners” is cheaper, healthier, and you control all the ingredients and flavours,” added Beugelink.

For an alternative to buying groceries outside traditional stores, Beugeliink points to farmers’ markets if you want to buy local (not always cheaper), bulk food shops and spots like Edmonton’s H&W Produce, which often carries ripe produce at a cheaper cost. “Even consider produce boxes you can purchase or share with neighbours or family, or the dollar store, which can offer some perfectly healthy and natural items for a cheaper price point (ie. natural almonds, canned beans, etc.),” she said. As well, local grocery stores have added bins of discounted, less-than-perfect-looking fruits and vegetables, a spot for price-watchers to find added savings.

And then there’s saving on the food budget by growing your own vegetables and herbs. As more young adults take up gardening – managing raised beds and container gardens in their own yards, or sharing a plot in a community garden –nutritionists and gardening experts say the emphasis on urban agriculture and eating local will continue to grow. “It definitely gets people thinking more creatively and brainstorming about what they can do in our short growing season to take some pressure off of the food bill,” Beugelink said.

Lucy Haines: Lucy Haines has been a freelancer writer for the St. Albert Gazette since 2012. She writes features on travel, food, seniors, homes and gardens.