Grocery Games: The Beleaguered Canadian Version

Buying in bulk is one good way to trim rising grocery bills

Buying in bulk is one good way to trim rising grocery bills

You know things are grim when #$8Cauliflower becomes a trending hashtag. Such is the perilous state of Canadian grocery prices, which have soared recently thanks to a plunging loonie (much of our produce comes from the U.S.), distressed growing conditions and tight beef markets.

Add never-ending layoffs in the oilpatch and, lately, the newspaper business, and more Canadians are inching towards Food Bank handouts to feed their families. But there are some cheapskate solutions (beyond clipping coupons) to trimming one’s grocery bill.

So for today, Marathon Mouth’s traveling, eating-out blog post is being handed over to his stay-at-home brother, Mister Miser. Note: All prices listed here are from Loblaws Superstore, unless otherwise indicated.

Tofu is a healthy, dirt-cheap source of protein. If you doll it up, it's even palatable

Tofu is a healthy, dirt-cheap source of protein. Why, if you doll it up, it’s even palatable

  1. Tackle tofu – I know, tofu is bland, maybe even gag worthy. But it’s one of few protein sources that’s dirt cheap. Would you believe $1.99 for a 350-gram brick (57 cents/100 gm), enough to feed a family? Here’s a trick to make it more palatable: Cut into small cubes, marinate briefly—in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce and hot sauce—place on a parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet and broil close to the oven flame till crispy. While that’s happening, sauté some onions and veggies and add some stock, tomato sauce or a splash of cream. Sprinkle with last-minute sesame oil, and you’ve got a nice stir-fry, ladled onto a bed of brown rice ($6 for a 1.6 kilo sack). An even cheaper vegetarian protein is beans or lentils (29 cents/100 grams dry or 49 cents/100 grams canned).
  2. Where’s the beef? – These days, beef is expensive, as in $37.48 per kilo ($3.75 per 100 grams) for a rib steak. A much cheaper red-meat option is pork, which sells for $11.28/kilo for rib-end chops. A more direct comparison is tenderloin: a whopping $42.99/kilo for beef versus $15.48/kilo for pork.
  3. Bulk up – You can potentially save lots of money by buying larger packages of meats and then freezing them. At Superstore, for example, a single t-bone steak weighs in at $31.98 per kilo. A Club Pack of three t-bones is a relative bargain at $22.98 per kilo.
  4. Cheaper cuts of meat are generally tougher but, unless they’re incredibly fatty, no less nutritious or tasty than prime cuts. A slow cooker or pressure cooker can render that inside-round beef roast ($9/kilo) fork tender and save you considerable coin. As for chicken, you’ll pay an arm and a leg for breasts ($10.48/kilo for bone-in, $13.20 for boneless), though it’s still a lot cheaper than beef. But the savings multiply if you instead choose one-quarter legs ($4.98/kilo) or drumsticks ($6.48), both which I find moister and more flavourful anyway.
  5. Frozen veggies are cheaper than fresh, with no wastage, unlike that bag of forgotten spinach slowly rotting in a back corner of the fridge. A three-kilo bag of mixed, frozen veggies is about $8, or 29 cents/100 grams, about half the price of equivalent fresh.
  6. Go generic – At Superstore, a can of Unico black beans is $1.48; the No Name equivalent is 97 cents. Could you tell the difference in a blind tasting? Or 57 cents/100 grams for Ketchup, versus 25 cents for the President’s Choice version.
  7. Consider Costco – Yes, there is an annual membership fee of some $50, but you’ll quickly recoup that in food savings. On the fresh greens front, for instance, it’s about $3 for a one-pound bag of washed spinach and $4 for two pounds of no-waste broccoli florets. Cheese, nuts, chips and in-store-baked ciabatta buns are all considerably cheaper than at the typical grocery store, as is anything with a Kirkland label. When cash flow is really tight, I’ll even succumb to a two-pound-bag of  Kirkland coffee beans (Starbucks) for $12, instead of about $18 for one pound of locally roasted. I get jittery just thinking about the savings.
Yes, it's not as fresh or flavourful, but a big bag of Kirkland/Starbucks coffee beans is certainly much cheaper

Yes, it’s not as fresh or flavourful, but a big bag of Kirkland/Starbucks coffee beans is certainly much cheaper

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