Tips for stretching your food budget

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Eating well on a budget might seem like an impossible goal while you are at university when you have other expenses like tuition, rent, and utilities. With a little planning and savvy shopping, you can cut down on grocery costs while still including healthy choices. Use these tips to make your food money go farther:

  • Plan before you shop
    Make a plan for what you want to eat during the week and prepare a shopping list before you go to the grocery store. Check what food you have on hand and the online sale flyer at the supermarket, or use a flyer app like Flipp to access all local sale flyers. When you shop with a list you’ll save time and be less tempted by impulse buying. Some coupon apps, like Checkout 51 let you submit your receipts instead of needing to remember to bring paper coupons with you. Always eat before you shop; research shows that hungry shoppers are more likely to buy less nutritious and higher calorie choices.
  • Know your store layout
    Many choices in the four food groups (vegetables and fruit, grain products, milk and milk alternatives and meat and meat alternatives) are found on the outside aisles of the store, so plan to spend most of your time here. Use the centre aisles to find staples likes rice, pasta, beans, peanut butter and canned tuna but be careful. Avoid aisles you don’t need to go down and stick to your list.
  • Healthy choices can get your further
    Buying fruits and veggies at a farmer’s market can be cheaper and supports local farmers. Frozen fruits and vegetables are also healthy, convenient and economical. They can be a great addition to your meals when you don’t have fresh produce on hand. Stock up on frozen fruits and veggies when they go on sale if you have the freezer space. Whole grains provide better nutrition, providing more nutrients as well as fibre which can help to make your meal more satisfying and keep you from getting hungry. Choose whole grain breads, cereals, wraps and pasta.
  • Understand unit pricing
    Look at the unit pricing label found on the shelf below a food. Use this to compare the price of different brands or package sizes to figure out which is the best deal. Larger packages often cost less per unit, so plan your meals to use an ingredient more than once to use them up. Don’t buy a large package of something unless you have a plan of how to use it up or check out the bulk food section if you just need a small amount of something. Try generic or store brands as they are similar in quality but usually cost less.​
  • Choose meat alternatives often
    Meat is one of the most expensive items in your shopping cart. Eggs, tofu, edamame, lentils, beans, chickpeas, nuts, and peanut butter are inexpensive sources of protein. Find easy recipes online that use these ingredients, like bean burritos or chilli, tofu stir fry or lentil soup. Canned tuna can be used in a casserole, wrap, or sandwich. Eggs can be used to make your own breakfast sandwich or paired with leftover veggies in an omelette.​
  • Limit snacks and convenience foods
    Steer clear of the snack aisles containing chips, pop, candy, and cookies, or limit your treats per trip. These foods are usually expensive and contain few, if any, nutrients. They provide short-term energy that is quickly used up, often leaving you hungry or tired. Convenience foods like prewashed salad greens, shredded cheese, pre-cooked brown rice and cooked, pre-sliced boneless chicken breast are more expensive than preparing your own. However, if the choice is between pre-prepared foods from the supermarket and eating out, the ready-to-use items you can use to make a meal at home usually cost less.  

Eating good tasting, satisfying and healthy meals when you’re on a budget doesn’t have to be a chore. Take a few minutes to plan out your weekly meals and you can save some money while still eating well. For healthy recipes using simple ingredients, see our Ten easy meal ideas article, Healthy snacks post, and Easy breakfast ideas post.

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