Meat and produce take up a big chunk of our grocery bill. According to Statistics Canada, Canadians spend nearly 20 percent of their food budget on red meat and chicken. Fruits and vegetables take up almost 24 percent of the grocery list.

Here’s how to save money on meat and produce:

How to save on meat and produce

Cut down on meat

Although many meat eaters are reluctant to take this step, the truth is that going vegetarian just once or twice a week can save a family of four hundreds of dollars a year. Meat is expensive. It is the single biggest expense on most people’s grocery bill, which means that the simplest way to slash your grocery bill is to eat less meat.

There are lots of tasty meat-free recipes that could become some of your favourites – and you might not even notice the lack of meat.

Then when you do decide to buy and cook with meat, use the following strategies to keep your costs down:

  • Buy in bulk. In general, the larger the quantity, the cheaper the price per pound. Take advantage of the economy-priced family-size packages. Or, you can team up with a few other families to purchase an entire cow or side of beef. Check with a local independent butcher for bulk packages. This is the time when your freezer becomes your friend.
  • Make it stretch. Cook with meat in smaller quantities and make it go farther by bulking it up with starches like pasta, rice and beans. Soups and casseroles can generally get away with less meat than the recipe calls for as well.
  • Look for discounts. It goes without saying that meat should be purchased when it is on sale, but in addition to sale prices, many grocery stores will discount meat at the end of the day (or if the best before date is fast approaching) to get rid of it quickly.
  • Skip convenience. Keep in mind that the more “ready to eat” the meat, the more expensive it will typically be. Buy simple cuts and do your own trimming and prep work. Pre-cook or marinate meat before freezing to speed up meal times.
  • Choose cheaper cuts. They may require longer cooking time (pull out your slow cooker) or additional tenderizing, but they can be transformed into inexpensive, but delicious stews and casseroles.

Save on produce

Of course, a cart full of fresh produce can blow your grocery budget almost as quickly as one full of meat, so it is just as important to save on fruits and vegetables.

Here are some tips for saving on produce:

  • Shop in season. Produce will always be cheapest when it is in season, which means your shopping habits should follow suit. Don’t buy blueberries in January or Brussels sprouts in July. Instead, pay attention to growing seasons in order to get the best price and quality. Check your local grocery store’s flyer or website to see what’s on sale that week. Take advantage of price matching policies and get all your produce in one place. Not only is off season produce more expensive, it has to travel further and will perish sooner.
  • Avoid pre-chopped fruit and vegetables. Is it really worth the extra money to avoid slicing up an apple yourself? Spend some time washing and cutting up fruit and vegetables to speed up meal preparations and provide healthy snacks that are ready to go.
  • Stay local. In apple season I can get my favourite Honey Crisp apples for 70 cents a pound at a local orchard versus almost $4 at the grocery store. Often, roadside stands and farmer’s markets can be great places to score the freshest produce at great prices. Don’t be afraid to barter and, if you show up right before closing, you may get an even better price. Another great option is to participate in a local farm membership co-op if one is available in your area. They will give you a weekly selection of vegetables for an entire growing season.
  • Choose ugly vegetables. It’s shocking how many fruits and vegetables go to waste because grocery stores deem them too ugly to sell. Some stores like Superstore now sell bags of irregular cucumbers and crooked carrots, which taste exactly the same but can be a lot cheaper.
  • Avoid waste. If it looks like you’re running out of time to finish off fresh produce, chop it up and put it in the freezer. Sliced onions, peppers, carrots and other vegetables can be used later in stir-fries or stews. Frozen fruit such as bananas and strawberries are perfect for smoothies. You can even save herbs by mixing them with a bit of oil and freezing in ice cube trays.
  • Go frozen. Frozen fruits and vegetables contain just as many nutrients as fresh ones but are usually much cheaper which makes them a great alternative, especially in the winter months when there aren’t many seasonal products to choose from.
  • Grow your own. Even a small garden can yield a significant harvest and save a lot of money on produce, especially if you freeze or preserve it for later. If your thumb is brown, stick with easy-to-grow vegetables (ask at your garden centre). A simple herb garden with a few basics such as basil, oregano, and parsley is also a great option.

If buying organic is important to you, shop carefully, as organic foods can be 20% – 50% higher in price than non-organic produce. There are some organic foods that may be a better value than others.

Final thoughts

Food prices can be as fickle as the weather, which affects crop yields and can make prices swing widely. Also, Canada imports a lot of its food, so the exchange rate is another source of uncertainty.

Consumers are creatures of habit and tend to buy the same things all the time regardless of price increases. My husband likes to eat an orange every morning and now constantly complains about how expensive they are. I tell him, “They’re not in season now, you should eat something else.” He comes back with, “But, I like them.”

It’s best to be flexible with your grocery list. Revisit the vegetables you hated as a kid. I used to hate squash, but I like it now. If you are more open to eating a variety of foods, you can then easily make substitutions for items that have become pricier.

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