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So many considerations go into preparing a meal. For many, especially in a time when the economy is uncertain, concerns about your grocery budget can trump the concern for eating healthy. If you take a little time to plan and prepare you’ll find you can put together highly nutritious meals, even on a tight budget.

Tips for Stretching a Tight Budget

  1. Plan your meals: By planning your meals before you go shopping, you know exactly what ingredients you have at home and what you need to purchase. Planning ahead helps to reduce your cost and minimize wasted food. Currently close to half of all the food produced worldwide is wasted. In Toronto, single-family households discard about 275 kilos of food waste each year (although that city's expanding composting program captures about 75 per cent of that). That means one in four food purchases still ends up in the garbage, and Toronto taxpayers spend nearly $10 million a year getting rid of food waste that's not composted.
  2. Stick to the list: Only purchase items that are on your shopping list. This reduces your time in the store, and minimizes the chance for impulse buying. The majority of your shopping should be done along the outer walls of the store. Avoiding unnecessary middle aisles can also prevent purchases of non-nutritious and costly junk foods.
  3. Add beans and lentils to your meals: They are a great source of protein for less money than meat. One can averages 3.5 servings (based on a half cup serving), is approximately 34 cents per serving and gives you about 7 g protein per serving. Consider using beans and lentils for two or more meals a week in place of meat. Not sure how to incorporate beans into your cooking? There are plenty of resources with recipes using beans. One example is Canadian Living Magazine, with its Recipe Directory.
  4. Add more fruits and vegetables to your plate: You can fill half your plate with fruit and veggies for very little cost. According to the Environmental Working Group, you can get five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day for about the cost of riding the bus in most cities.
  5. Cook large batches and freeze the rest: By doubling recipes, you always have a few meals prepped and ready to go for those days you really don’t feel like cooking. Cutting back on eating out and eating more at home can make a big difference in your food spending.

Can I Afford Organic?

Many people are becoming more aware of farming and food practices. However, often the first thing to go when carefully budgeting your groceries is purchasing organic. Many people consider the detrimental environmental impacts of non-organic produce, but don’t realize the health impacts of eating pesticide-laden foods.

The Canadian Organic Growers describe organic as the only type of agriculture with a set of principles that puts nature first. These seven general principles they follow are outlined on their website and are backed by the federal organic standards as well as government regulation and oversight since 2009. The first principle, “Protect the environment, minimize soil degradation and erosion, decrease pollution, optimize biological productivity and promote a sound state of health,” incorporates the most important reasons why organic matters.

According to the Food We Eat Report put together in 2006 by the David Suzuki Foundation, every Canadian has pesticide residue in their bodies. Based on their findings, Canada lags behind many other countries in regulating the use of pesticides: “At least 60 active ingredients, used in 1,130 pesticide products available in Canada, have been banned in other western industrialized nations. Among these pesticide products are some of the most heavily used agricultural and home and garden pesticides in Canada.”

Taking all these things into consideration, how do we find a balance between using our purchasing power for furthering healthy food practices but also being mindful of the budget?

Practical Suggestions for Going Organic

Keep the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen list on hand when doing your grocery shopping. The Environmental Working Group puts together a list of the top “cleanest” and “dirtiest” produce items based on their pesticide content each year.

Connect with your local farmer’s market or get to know the farmers in your area. Find out what kind of pesticides and amounts they use. Even if they are not certified organic, some independent farmers use fewer pesticides than others. You can also buy more produce for less sometimes, look around for the right deals.

Shop for the deals. Look in the newspaper for coupons, and check for the sales on organic items in the store. You can even buy certain fruits and veggies in bulk amounts for cheaper and freeze or can what you cannot use right away.

Grow your own. Whether you have space in your backyard or only a windowsill to call your own, it’s possible to grow some of your own food. With the growing interest in urban farming, there is no end to ideas and places to connect with for those looking to cultivate a green thumb. You would be surprised how many side benefits (like taking pride in something you grew yourself!) you can experience producing your own food.

Sarah is a Naturopathic Doctor and Birth Doula working with Inspire Health and Wellness in Kitchener. She enjoys helping all her patients achieve their optimum health, and is particularly interested in improving Maternal and Newborn care, Pediatrics, Women's Health and Aboriginal Health.

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