Cooking with Alison

Grocery Budget Challenge – Healthier, Money-Saving Swaps

In Grocery Budget Challenge, Mind Your Cents on August 6, 2016 at am

This article is part of the Grocery Budget Challenge series. See the Introduction here.

Saving money on your groceries can be really easy. For example, making a few simple changes to the items in your grocery cart can save you money and improve your health. Here are some of the best swaps that you can make.

  1. Swap out canned legumes for dried legumes
    • Canned beans are more expensive than dried beans and contain unhealthy ingredients such as sodium, preservatives, and leeched chemicals from plastic and aluminum.
    • A quick google search will help you figure out how to prepare and cook different varieties of dried beans. I suggest using a pressure cooker.
  2. Swap out dressings and sauces for homemade
    • Bottled sauces and salad dressings are usually high in sodium, sugar, fat, preservatives, and artificial colouring and flavouring. It is healthier, more fun, and less expensive to make your own.
    • To make a basic vinaigrette, all you need is vinegar or lemon juice (1 part), extra virgin olive oil (4 or 5 parts), and a small amount of mustard or dry mustard powder. Then you can make different variations by adding things like herbs, salt and pepper, pureed fruit, honey or maple syrup, orange juice, or spicy peppers, etc.
    • Here are some other sauce and dressing recipes that you might want to try: BBQ sauce, teriyaki saucecaeser dressing, egg yolk vinaigrette, creamy blue cheese dressing, miso salad dressing, sauce.
    • You can even make your own condiments, like ketchup and relish! So do a google search for your favourite toppings and have fun experimenting in the kitchen!
  3. Swap out cereal for oatmeal
    • Cereal is usually very high in sugar and costs more than oatmeal. Be sure to choose large flake oatmeal or steel cut oats over flavoured, quick-cook, or microwaveable packets. The large flake and steel cut oats will take a bit longer to cook, but they’re less processed, lower in calories and have a lower glycemic index.
    • We cook our steal cut oats overnight. Then we store them in the refrigerator and reheat what we need each morning.
    • You can add your own flavouring, like fresh or dried fruit, cooked fruit, nuts, seeds, maple syrup or honey, cinnamon and nutmeg, etc.
  4. Swap out pre-grated cheeses for whole blocks of cheese
    • It’s cheaper and healthier to buy whole blocks of cheese. In fact, some brands of pre-shredded cheese have been found to contain large amounts of wood pulp. By grating the cheese yourself, you skip the additives and you save money on the labour.
  5. Swap out granola and trail mix for nuts
    • Granola is surprisingly unhealthy as it usually contains far too much sugar and/or corn syrup. Swap it out for toasted nuts (preferably unsalted). You could toss them with a little bit of maple syrup and roast them in the oven. If you want to make your own trail mix, then mix the nuts with seeds and dried fruit, but keep in mind that dried fruits are basically pure sugar.
  6. Swap out pre-washed or pre-cut fruits and vegetables
    • By doing the work yourself, you will save a lot of money, reduce your risk of getting sick from contamination, and avoid consuming the chlorine solution that many companies use to rinse or soak the produce.
  7. Swap out chicken pieces for whole chickens (or, at the very least, bone in for boneless)
    • The cost for whole chickens is usually less per pound than the cost of chicken pieces (i.e. legs, thighs, breasts). It takes some practice to learn how to cut a chicken into pieces, but you will save on the labour costs. The same goes for bone-in chicken pieces compared to boneless.
    • I wait for sales and buy several chickens at once. I cut them into pieces and then I bag up all of the same pieces together (i.e. drum sticks in one freezer bag, thighs in another). I freeze the extra chicken for future meals.
    • Another advantage of buying whole chickens is that you can use every single part. We season and stir fry the gizzards. You could render the lard out of the chicken skin and/or turn it into crackling. I also use the necks and carcasses for broth and gravy.
    • You’d be surprised by how much meat is leftover on the carcass bones. Simply bake or boil until cooked through and then remove the meat between the bones using your fingers. I use this meat for salads and wraps.
  8. Swap out pre-made broth for homemade
    • Making your own broth is easy, cost effective, and low in sodium. You can make large batches of it and freeze it for future use. It’s also a great way to reduce food waste. All you need are bones. You could use the leftover carcasses from your whole chickens or you can buy bones from Asian grocery stores for very little money. If you’d like, you can add aromatics like onion, celery and carrots, and herbs like bay leaves and thyme. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer for 3 hours. Then strain everything out of the broth and discard.
    • Here are some broth recipes that you might want to try: fish brothbroth for udon noodleschicken broth for ramenpork broth for ramenbeef broth for Vietnamese pho.
  9. Swap out pre-made soups for homemade
  10. Swap out white wheat for whole wheat and whole grains
    • When shopping for bread, pita, tortillas, or pasta, whole wheat and whole grain (even better) are preferable to white flour products. This will increase the fiber in your diet which will also help you feel full faster.
  11. Swap out white rice for red, brown, wild, or black rice
    • White rice has a higher glycemic index, less fiber, and fewer nutrients than red, brown, wild, and black rice. So you will feel fuller after eating less of the red, brown, wild, and black rice.
  12. Swap out individual yogurt cups for tubs of yogurt
    • By doing this, you will save money and create less waste for the environment.
    • I also suggest buying plain yogurt as opposed to flavoured yogurts which are high in sugar. This way your yogurt will be more versatile; it can be used in savoury recipes, sweet smoothies, or enjoyed as a snack with added fresh or dried fruits, nuts, seeds, maple syrup or honey, etc.
  13. Swap out fresh fruits and vegetables for frozen when not in season
    • The cost of fresh fruits and vegetables can sky rocket in response to climate change, exchange rates, and season changes. Since fresh and frozen produce are comparable nutritionally, check out the freezer section to enjoy a variety of fruits and vegetables all year round.
    • Also, using frozen produce is convenient for cooking and can reduce food waste.
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