Dr. Dignity – HOPE House Advice
Hi Dr. Dignity,
I like your advice. I have a question. I saw that you talked about how to get help with food if someone was having a hard time buying it. That was helpful information to have so thank you. Do you have any advice on how to eat healthy with a small budget? I want to eat healthy food but it is cheaper and easier and faster to buy microwave dinners and things like just hot dogs or chicken nuggets. My doctor says I am eating too much sodium and that I need to be careful because of my blood pressure. I don’t know how to cook that many things and I am a single parent so I don’t have that much time either and money can be really tight. Any advice on things that can help me eat healthier and help my kids eat healthy too would be good. I did not eat healthy food growing up and I want my daughters to learn about eating healthy. They learn about it at school too but I want to set a good example for them at home and teach them how to make some healthy snacks and meals so that they don’t have the same health issues I am now facing. Some of my neighbours have the same problem too.
I’m so glad you like my advice. Thank You! 🙂
These are really great questions and they cover a lot of ground. Let’s start with food budgeting, and I’ll talk about healthy and low-sodium diets as well as ways to include kids in healthy food habits in the next advice installment.
- Use emergency food resources strategically. This means saving the money from your grocery budget for items you can’t get at the Food Market or Food Bank or for special items that make you happy. For example, I splurge on spinach dip – it’s about $5 for a small tub, but it makes sandwiches taste so good, even when the bread is a bit stale. Having a few special items can help motivate you to make food at home rather than buying convenience foods.
- Before going to the grocery store, make a list and compare prices using flyers, websites, and mobile apps. Then pick a grocery store that will price match. Knowing what you want to buy beforehand can help limit impulsive purchases. This article does a good job of discussing the limitations of price-matching by store, and matches my experience here in Guelph. And this article outlines some of the mobile apps that are out there. At the bottom of this post is a picture of my process for shopping at Walmart using the Flipp app; but try different combinations out to find the best fit for you. (N.B. I always use the self-checkout, but you can price match in the cashier lanes too).
- If you have a freezer, stock up on freezable items when they are on sale – especially large cuts of meat. Portion foods out before freezing to make thawing easier.
- Take advantage of clearance sections. Ask a grocery clerk if you don’t know where they are located. Most grocery stores have a clearance section in the produce, bakery, and meat departments. These items will have a shorter shelf life, so I put them in the freezer with a timeline on them (e.g., 2 days, or ‘eat today!’) so I know how fast to use them up once thawed. If you don’t have a freezer, make sure you only buy clearance items you can use up quickly.
- Some hot counter items also go on clearance after 5 hours. They each have a time sticker on them & the attendant can print out a clearance sticker, if necessary.
- Plan your meals to make best use of leftovers. Not only does this help save money, it also reduces food waste. Here’s an example:
- Day 1: Roast dinner (i.e., meat, starch/carbohydrates, vegetables)
- Day 2: Leftover casserole: cut up the leftover meat from dinner in bite-sized pieces, add the leftover veggies (add more frozen or canned veggies if needed), add a can (or make up a package) of gravy or other sauce mix, top with leftover starches (potatoes, rice, beans) or mix in leftover pasta. Dot some butter or margarine on the top (or grated cheese, or cheese slices) to keep it moist while baking. Bake in a 350°F (175°C) oven until bubbly or microwave on medium-high for 8-12 min.
Learning to Cook
- Cooking at home is a great way to reduce costs and eat more healthfully. So start with easy recipes that focus less on being healthy and focus more on learning cooking skills and preparing foods you and your family WANT to eat – adjusting dishes to make them healthier is a lot easier when you already have cooking skills down pat.
- Seasoning is key – finding out what makes your dishes appetizing means you’ll be more likely to cook.
- Purchase herbs and spices in bulk (e.g., Bulk Barn) to get the quantity you need. Usually ‘buying in bulk’ means getting large quantities, but this can be very expensive with seasonings, and they will probably go stale before you can use them up. Buying your herbs and spices a tablespoon or two at a time really cuts down on cost and gives you an opportunity to try out new flavours. It’s always so painful when you waste time, energy, and grocery money on a dish that doesn’t turn out. So, when you’re learning to cook with seasonings, try them out in a small bowl first. For example, if you’re making a big pot of spaghetti sauce, put a little bit of sauce into a few smaller bowls. Try basil in one, oregano in another, and the two mixed together in a third bowl. Let them sit for a few minutes to absorb all the yummy flavours, taste each one, and then season the whole pot with whichever herbs you liked best.
Definitely plan to dedicate more time for new food habits:
- Finding sales takes more time;
- Checking out with coupons and flyers takes more time;
- Reading food labels takes more time (which I will talk about next issue);
- Finding recipes to cook takes more time;
- Prepping and cooking foods takes more time;
- Everything about my advice takes more time… Sorry.
These kinds of changes are a lot to tackle all at once. Be gentle with yourself and try to incorporate one new thing per week or per month. For example, you might start with finding all the clearance sections in the grocery stores you go to, next week try using a flyer app, then start cooking more and buying less pre-packaged meals, then start incorporating healthier options into what you’re cooking. Some strategies might be more challenging to implement, so take extra time with them to gain some stability before adding another change onto your plate.
UnlockFood.ca (formerly EatRightOntario.ca) is the public information site of the Registered Dietitians of Canada and is chock full of reliable information. Here are links for their pages on budgeting and recipes.
Stay awesome, Linny!
Our community members are priceless and they deserve the very best!
Do you have a question for Dr. Dignity? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.