Frugal Food Guide

January 1, 2012

We all need to eat to live, but food can be a major expense. shows you how you can slash your food bill by planning your meals and shopping wisely.

Plan Your Meals
In order to avoid a lot of food waste make sure to plan your meals before you go for a big shop. When meal planning, keep in mind the leftovers you already have in your fridge and try to use them up before they go bad. (Speaking of leftovers take a look at Supercook, a recipe search engine that finds recipes you can make with only the ingredients you have at home.) Oh, and before you head off in search of victuals don’t forget to make a shopping list, and once you’re in your favourite hunting ground make sure you stick to it, the grocery list, that is.

Stock Up on Specials
Check out the deals in the weekly grocery flyers delivered to your home or posted on sites like Grocery Alerts Canada. If you think you will use large quantities of something that’s a great bargain, stock up and freeze what you can't use now. Meat, bread, cheese, even fruit can be frozen, providing an alternative to rushing out and paying top dollar at the local convenience store.

Say No to Convenience Foods
If you have more time than money shop for price instead of convenience. For instance, instead of relying on expensive bags of precut broccoli, carrots and cauliflower cut up whole vegetables to put in stir fries. And make your own coffee instead of hitting up the local Starbucks. The How To Save Money On Groceries In Ontario article points out how you can save on meat by doing a little extra work. “To save money [on stewing meat] buy a blade or chuck roast and cut it into stewing beef yourself. A six-pound roast will give you enough meat to make several soups or stews. … Purchase a pork loin roast when it on sale and use half for a roast and the other half can be cut up to make pork chops.”

Consider Cheaper Alternatives
When it comes to nutrition, it doesn’t always pay to buy the cheapest food item (think of discounted half-dead veggies or three-for-$2 loaves of Wonderbread) but sometimes top dollar isn’t tops in food value. When it comes to meat, for instance, take a pass on the filet mignon as there are plenty of cheaper cuts that will give you just as much nutrition. As this Canadian Living article points out, lesser known parts such as pig’s trotters, pork jowls, oxtail and lamb neck can stretch your food dollar. As the 15 Cheap, Healthy Food Alternatives to Expensive Foods article notes, brown rice, oats, beans and root vegetables are inexpensive nutrition-packed foods.

Check the Unit Price
You can often save money by buying food in quantity; for instance, the four-litre bags of milk are usually cheaper per unit than one- or two-litre cartons. To be sure of getting the best deal check the unit price before buying.

Look for Coupons
You can also use coupons as a way to cut food costs. will mail you selected coupons for groceries, housewares and grooming products. Grocery Alerts Canada has all the information you could ever want on how to become an “extreme couponer.”

Check Out Group Buying Sites
Anyone who surfs the Internet has probably heard about the host of group buying sites, such as Grouponthat leverage the power of group bargaining to provide short-term daily deals that lead to huge savings. These sites offer deals on food items and restaurants as well as a vast array of non-edible products and services (think salsa lessons, yoga classes, facials, waxing, etc.).

Fill Your Fridge and Cupboard
Buy in Bulk
When you are only looking for a small amount of cereal, coffee, sugar, nuts, spices or the like, buying in bulk is cheaper than buying a large box, jar or bag at the supermarket. The lack of packaging helps the environment and the small quantity means you use less cupboard space. Check out the following bulk food stores:

Most health food stores also sell bulk items. In Thornhill, Ambrosia Natural Foods offers bulk food as well as discount vitamins and other health food. In addition to carrying bulk food, the West end's Foods for Life stocks a large variety of vitamins and dietary supplements at competitive prices. Blog TO also has good things to say about Herbs & Nutrition and Qi Natural Foods. In Kensington Market, Essence of Life, Tutti Frutti and Sugar & Spice carry bulk food and cheaper-than-usual supplements. A number of other independent stores in the Market, such as Casa Acoreana and the House of Spices, stock a wide variety of affordable bulk and packaged food items where you can pick up everything from quinoa to red lentils to tortillas. In the South St. Lawrence Market, Rube’s Rice sells flours, lentils and beans as well as a variety of rice and other grains. Nearby, Domino Foods has a wide range of bulk grains, nuts, dried fruits and spices as well as grocery items such as oils and vinegars, candy and chocolates.

Specific Items
Baked Goods
There are a number of bakery outlets in the Toronto area that sell low-cost bread, rolls and the like, such as:

BlogTO calls Grande Cheese Factory Outlet not just a cheese store but “a sprawling Italian superstore, stocked with grocery basics and edible indulgences. Cheese fans who live near St. Clair & Keele should check out International Cheese. In Kensington Market there are three shops, including Global Cheese that usually provide better-than-supermarket deals.

Frozen Foods
As the name implies, Almost Perfect carries items that are imperfect such as factory seconds, or discontinued or slightly damaged items. Sometimes the product is labeled imperfect simply because the packaging has changed.

European Quality Meats &Sausage stores (also on 16 Jutland St. in Etobicoke as well as Kensington Market) is reputed to have decent prices. Also in the Market is St. Andrew Poultry, which has good prices on chicken, beef and turkey. Prices are also reasonable at Sunnybrook Meats. D&D Poultryoffers beef, lamb and pork as well as chicken at wholesale prices. Toronto Wholesale Meats is located in faraway Concord and Mississauga's Cardinal Factory Outlet carries meatballs, chicken breasts, ribs, steaks and more. And some people feel it’s worth the trip to Brampton to stock up on chicken at Maple Lodge Farms. Finally, you can also find affordable meat and fish at stores in the various Chinatowns (such as the ones at Dundas/Spadina, Gerrard/Broadview and Agincourt).

Veggies & Fruits
One of the healthiest ways to stretch your food budget is to sign up for the Good Food Box. These boxes of fresh produce are delivered to various stops around Toronto -- apartment buildings, churches, community centres, and so on. (Call or visit Foodshare's website to find out where you can pick one up.) Customers pay between $13 and $34 for their box, depending on the version that they choose. The boxes are full of fresh fruit and vegetables with an emphasis on seasonal produce and one or two "surprises." Also available are a fruit basket, organic boxes, and the "Wellness" basket, geared to seniors, that contains prepared cut-up fruit and vegetables.

You can generally find reasonably priced fruit and veggies at produce stores, though not necessarily those in upscale neighbourhoods. Kensington Market and the various Chinatowns throughout the city are good bets for low-cost produce. Several stores on the Danforth between Pape and Chester, particularly Valley Farm Maple Produce and in Koreatown the Bloor Fruit Market offers up lots of variety.

Another option for low-cost produce is growing your own. Those without a backyard, could grow herbs and tomatos in pots. Community or allotment gardening is also an option. If you don't have the time or the inclination for planting and sowing, you can always pick-your-own fruit and vegetables.

Local farmer's markets have mushroomed in Toronto. Usually operating one day a week at various locations, they offer locally sourced produce. Although not as cheap as the produce you can find, say, in Chinatown, the fruits and vegetables are high-quality and often organic. Plus, if you arrive when vendors are winding down you might be able to haggle.

Note: Except for Dufferin Grove and the North St. Lawrence Market (95 St. Lawrence E., 416-392-7120), which is open Saturdays from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., farmers’ markets are only open seasonally.

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