Posted: April 12, 2019

By Jason DaMaren, GRH registered dietitian

‘I can’t afford to eat healthy’

No doubt. Eating healthy looks different for everyone; however a common theme from those that feel they could improve is prohibitive food costs. 

Fresh whole foods can seem expensive when compared to more packaged, processed and mass produced food products that are offered at a lower price. 

While there are numerous ways to help lower the impressionable cost comparison, I want to focus on reducing your overall bill by reducing food waste. Why? Various estimates suggest that 30 per cent of the food we buy is wasted in our own homes (vegetables and fruit are significant contributors), translating into a potential for savings that could give you a little more wiggle room.

A picture showing the balance between a budget and food choices.
Minimize going for seconds

Yeah I know, it sounds like I’m suggesting you ‘eat less to save more’, however there are finer points to consider. 

We have a complex biological reward system that drives us to look for food and also lets us know when we are full. It takes 10 to 20 minutes to deliver the later message…giving some of you fast eaters time to act on the notion that ‘just one more helping’ will do. 

Fill your plate once, and then take your time to finish it. You may end up with more leftovers and purchase less in the long run.

About leftovers

Not everyone likes leftovers. Some of us hate them. If you fall into this category, it may help to consider what it is you dislike about them. 

  • Is it the texture of the vegetables? Reheat these for a short time with high heat to crisp them up. 
  • Is it the mixing of the flavours? Add fresh flavouring today (onion, garlic, vinegar etc...) to yesterday’s extras. 
  • Is it the smell for the second time? Freeze the portions you have and blend them into a future homemade sauce. 
  • Perhaps there are a few foods you are willing eat as leftovers – make these more often.  

For those of you that have no issue with the mighty leftover – you likely have tomorrow’s lunch all ready to go, or a ‘clear the fridge’ meal, relieving you from cooking for one night.

Best before dates vs. expiration dates

Best before dates are set by the manufacturer to mark the time frame for which a food product is anticipated to retain its freshness, taste and nutritional value provided it is unopened and has been handled and stored correctly. That’s not to say it’s no longer consumable, of poor quality or unsafe to eat. 

Safety of your food ultimately relies on your judgment based on its history (when was it opened? how has it been stored?) as well as the look, smell, texture, and taste.  Allow these indicators to sway the menu over the next day or two. You may end up with a lower food costs over the long run.

An expiration date is different than a best before date. Expiration dates typically apply to nutrition supplements, meal replacements, infant formula, etc. If the expiration date has passed, don’t consume it.

Jason Da Maren Portrait
The big picture

While there is a cost to healthy eating, there is a cost to not eating healthy. Ultimately, the idea is to maximize your food budget while pushing your meals towards home-cooked, whole foods more often. 

Curbing food waste allows you to maintain your autonomy around meal planning and maximizes your food budget.  You might even get some points in the environmental-sustainability arena.

Jason DaMaren is a registered dietitian at Grand River Hospital. He supports patients in the medicine program who are dealing with chronic illness. Jason’s passionate about helping patients overcome nutrition barriers through their medical journey.