Gateway Gazette

Healthy Together: Getting the Most Out of Your Food

Focus On Healthy Choices Your Family Enjoys

If you now have less to spend on food, planning can help you get the most out of your grocery budget.

We all have to eat. But how we get and eat food may have changed a lot during COVID-19. Home cooking is up. Trips to the grocery store are more complicated. Home delivery has soared. And the amount of money you have to spend on food may have been chopped.

Calgary’s Primary Care Networks and Alberta Health Services have teamed to help you get the most out of your food—nutritionally and financially.

“People have two main concerns right now about their food,” says Carmen Prion-Frank. She’s a registered dietitian with the Calgary Foothills Primary Care Network. “One is how to stretch their money in the grocery store. The second is how to buy food so they don’t have to go grocery shopping so often.”

Feeding your family can be difficult right now.

“Figuring out how to get food into your home, purchasing food on a smaller income and deciding what to spend your limited money on is not easy,” says Suzanne Galesloot. She’s a dietitian and provincial lead in Nutrition Services at Alberta Health Services.

Her advice: “Be gentle with yourself and work with making one decision or change at a time.”

Galesloot also offers these insights:

  • Focus on the healthy food choices you and your family already enjoy and bring you comfort in this stressful time.
  • The basics of healthy eating remain the same. What may be harder is deciding what and how much you can purchase when you shop.
  • Consider how much time you and your household members have to spend preparing meals.
  • Relax your meal expectations. Meals don’t have to be perfect to be delicious and healthy.

Follow Canada’s Food Guide

As much as you can, follow the Canada’s Food Guide. Its basics include:

  • Eat a variety of healthy food every day
  • Have plenty of vegetables and fruits
  • Try to have protein foods (such as eggs; lean meats and poultry; nuts and seeds; fish and shellfish; lower fat dairy products; beans, peas and lentils; and fortified soy beverages, tofu, soybeans and other soy products); to meet your needs, aim fill about a quarter of your plate with protein foods.
  • Make water your drink of choice
  • Choose whole grain foods, the less processed the better
  • Be mindful of your eating habits
  • Cook at home
  • Eat with others
  • Limit food high in sodium (salt), sugars and saturated fat
  • Read food labels

If you can’t do all of this, it’s OK. Do what you can with what you have.

For more details, see Canada Food Guide recipes and healthy eating during COVID-19.

Plan Your Meals

Focus on healthy food choices you and your family enjoy and bring you comfort in this stressful time. Follow Canada’s Food Guide as much as you can. Do what you can with what you have.

Think about (and write down) what you’d like to cook and eat for the next week. This serves two purposes. It focuses your grocery purchases and reduces the chances of over-buying or over-spending on your groceries, Prion-Frank says. You may also find you reduce impulse buying and food waste or spoilage when you have a meal plan.

You can also plan to cook larger amounts of food, turning one cooking session into two meals or more. What you cook tonight could be lunch or dinner tomorrow night.

The plan doesn’t have to be fancy. You can write it on the back of a used envelope or make a note on your phone. Or you can use this simple meal planner.

Planning Can Help You Spend Less on Food

If you now have less to spend on food, planning can help you get the most out of your grocery budget.

  • Write a grocery list based on your menu plan. You may needs to be flexible and choose substitutes for some items. Try our Healthy Grocery List for ideas.
  • Consider no-name brands. They are often the same as brand names but lower priced.
  • Look for food your family enjoys.
  • Check for store specials and coupons. The savings can add up.
  • Keep in mind conventionally farmed foods are just as nutritious as organic.
  • Try meatless meals. Choose nutritious, fibre-rich meat alternatives such as beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds often.
Getting food, purchasing food and deciding what to spend your limited money on is not easy. Be gentle with yourself and make one decision or change at a time.

Eggs, beans, lentils, peanut butter and tofu are meatless options. Some examples of meatless meals are bean burritos with salad; rice and bean casseroles with vegetables; vegetable and cheese omelets with whole grain toast; and tofu vegetable stir fry on rice noodles.

Also see Healthy Vegetarian Eating.

  • Root vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips are wonderful roasted, in soups or salads and are usually economical choices.
  • Use recipes or make things up, using simple, basic ingredients. If your vegetables have wilted, use them in stocks and soups. Less than perfect fruit can be used in sauces, juices or baked crumbles.

Prion-Frank offers these additional tips:

  • Canned and frozen food can be stored longer than fresh food, and help you avoid waste and spoilage. Dried beans and lentils also have a long shelf life and are good value.
  • If possible, buy value packs of meat and divide into portions and freeze.
  • “Stretch” ground meats by adding canned or cooked beans and lentils. If you puree or mash them first, they blend in invisibly.
  • Check the expiry date on foods, before you buy them. Ask yourself if you can use a food before its expiry data.
  • Use a calculator while you shop to keep track of costs.

For more advice, see Tips to Spend Less Money on Food.

Getting Groceries

If you rely on public transportation to get to and from the grocery store, consider using a delivery service. Many grocery stores will fill your order for you and deliver it or offer curbside pickup.

You can also ask a neighbour or family member to pick up groceries for you. They can leave your order at or just inside your door.

And if you know someone who’s not able to get to the store easily or safely, volunteer to help them.

If you can go grocery shopping, go alone if possible. Many stores only allow one person per family at a time. COVID-19 practices in grocery stores could last indefinitely. Be prepared to wait to get in, keep physically distanced from other shoppers and follow directional arrows.

Remember Water

Make tap water your drink of choice. It’s often overlooked but very important to nutrition. It keeps you hydrated and helps digest food and expel waste.

Get Nutritional Advice

Find professional advice and insight about your and your family’s nutrition. Many primary care networks across the province have a registered dietitian on their healthcare team. AHS has registered dietitians across the province available to help.

For details:

  • Contact your family doctor
  • Contact your local Primary Care Network
  • Call Health Link at 811. Dietitians are available to answer general nutrition questions

Resources for Groceries & Meals

If you’re concerned about being able to put food on your table during COVID-19, you can also contact 211 Alberta:

  • By Phone at 211
  • By Texting “INFO” to 211
  • On their Website

You can also contact the Government of Canada for COVID-19 benefits:

Welcome to Healthy Together, your guide to family and home life during COVID-19.

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