Healthy eating starts with shopping for a variety of healthy foods from the four food groups in Canada’s Food Guide. Shopping is an important skill for everyone to learn. By planning ahead, you can save money and time and get better food value for your dollar.
Plan ahead before shopping
- Check to see what food you have at home before shopping.
- Check flyers for sales and discounts.
- Plan a menu for the week. For each day, make sure to have foods from all four food groups in Canada’s Food Guide.
- Make a shopping list based on your menu. Avoid buying items not on the list. This will save time and money by keeping you from buying food you don’t need.
- Eat before shopping. People tend to buy items they do not need when they are hungry.
Where to look in the store when shopping
- Buy most of your food from the outer aisles of the store. This is where you will usually find fresh unprocessed food. Processed and packaged foods are usually in the centre aisles.
- Look on the top and bottom shelves – the most expensive foods are often at eye-level on the shelves.
Make healthy choices
- Buy items that are lower in saturated and trans fat, lower in sugar and salt (sodium) and higher in fibre, vitamins and minerals. Check the nutrition facts table to compare food items.
- Choose whole grain products (e.g. brown rice, whole wheat pastas, whole grain breads and cereals, whole grain wheat, whole grain oats, bulgur, pot barley).
- Choose fresh vegetables and fruit. Frozen vegetables and fruit are also healthy choices and cost less when they are not in season.
- Choose lower fat milk products (e.g. skim, 1% or 2% milk, and cheese with less than 20% M.F.) The only exception is for children under two years of age who should have homogenized (whole 3.25 % M.F.) milk.
- Tofu and legumes such as beans, dried peas, and lentils are healthy choices. They have less fat than meat, and legumes are also a source of folate and fibre.
- Choose unprocessed foods more often. For example, buy fresh or plain frozen meat, fish and poultry instead of products that have been prepared with breading, rich sauces and crusts.
Visit Health Canada for more shopping tips.
Buying Vegetables and Fruit
- Buy locally grown produce when in season for a good price.
- Shop at local farmers’ stands or markets to support your local farmers.
- Some vegetables and fruit are a good buy all year round (e.g. apples, bananas, cabbage, carrots, potatoes and spinach).
- It is less expensive to buy bags of produce, such as apples, oranges and potatoes, instead of single pieces. Share with a friend or be sure that you can use them all before they spoil.
- Visit pick-your-own farms. Freeze or can if you can’t eat it all before it starts to spoil.
- Grow your own vegetables. You can get started with a small garden or window box.
- Join a food-buying club to help lower costs. For information on the Good Food Box call FoodShare at 416-363-6411. For information on the Afri-Can Food Basket call 416-248-5639.
Frozen and Canned
- Frozen and canned vegetables and fruit are low in cost and nutritious.
- Cook vegetables from frozen – this will help keep the nutrients.
- Try not to cover vegetables in a lot of breading or sauces – these are higher in fat.
- Look at the price of canned products using the unit price (price/100mL) on the store shelf sticker to find the best buy.
Value For Your Food Dollar
- Store vegetables and fruit separately to prevent them from spoiling.
- Use up fresh vegetables and fruit first. Then go to canned and frozen products.
- Choose smaller sized fruit for children or cut fruit into smaller pieces.
- Use leftover vegetables in a stir fry or add to a tossed salad.
- Add ripe fruit to cereal or mix into batter for baked goods (e.g. muffins, bread).
- Freeze fruit that is over-ripe. Use later in baking or in fruit shakes.
Visit Health Canada for more tips on choosing vegetables and fruit.
Buying Grain Products
Rice, noodles and other grains
- Buy on sale or in bulk. They store well in a sealed container in a dry place.
- Avoid buying rice and noodle mixes. They cost more and are higher in fat and salt.
- For variety, enjoy whole grains such as whole wheat couscous, barley, brown rice, quinoa, wild rice or bulgur.
- Hot cereals are the best buys. Instant and flavoured types can cost more and have added salt and sugar.
- For cold cereals, buy larger packages or in bulk to save money. Choose a higher fibre cereal made with whole grains such as wheat bran or oats. Unsweetened cereals also cost less than sweetened.
- Watch for sales in the grocery store flyer. Cereals store well in a dry place.
- 100% whole wheat bread has the best nutritional value for your dollar.
- Compare brands and nutrition labels to find the best buy.
- Specialty breads like pumpernickel, rye and multigrain may cost a bit more but are nutritious and provide variety.
- Buy bagels and rolls pre-packed rather than individually.
- Day old breads can be a great bargain.
Value for your food dollar
- Bread, pita and tortillas will last longer if you freeze them. They can be thawed, toasted or heated in the microwave.
- If bread loses its freshness, try making grilled sandwiches, breadcrumbs, croutons or stuffing. Pita or tortillas can be cut up and baked into chips.
- Use cooked rice and noodles in stir fries, salads, soups, casseroles or stews, or reheat the next day and use as a side dish.
Visit Health Canada for more tips on choosing grain products.
Buying Milk and Alternatives
Milk and cream
- Powdered milk is a great low cost alternative and provides the same nutrients as liquid milk. Mix 75 mL (1/3 cup) of powder for every 250 mL (1 cup) of water. Add dried milk powder in cooking or baking for added nutrients.
- Buy milk in 4 L bags or jugs. It is less expensive than buying cartons.
- Compare the price of cheese per kilogram for best buys.
- Save 20–30 per cent by buying store wrapped cheese.
- Buy cheese in blocks and slice or grate it yourself.
- Sliced cheese may cost less at the deli counter than in packages.
- Processed cheeses are a good source of calcium but they cost more and are high in sodium.
- Cream cheese is not a good source of calcium or protein.
- Buy large containers rather than individual serving size containers to save money.
- Store brands cost less.
- Buy plain yogurt and add your own fruit toppings.
Value for your food dollar
- Use evaporated 2% milk instead of cream in recipes. Creams have the highest fat and lowest nutrient content. They are also more expensive.
- Buy bags of milk when it’s on sale and freeze them for up to six weeks. Thaw bags of frozen milk in the refrigerator and shake it before opening.
- Buy blocks of cheese when it’s on sale and freeze it if you are not able to use it before the expiry date. Thawed cheese will crumble but will be just as nutritious.
Visit Health Canada for more tips on choosing milk and alternatives.
Buying Meat and Alternatives
Buy less expensive cuts of meat such as:
- Stewing meat
- Outside, inside or eye of round
- Pork shoulder
- Ground meat
- Brisket point
- Cross rib
- Flank steak
Lower priced meats often contain less fat and are less tender. Bring out the meat’s great flavours by tenderizing. To tenderize:
- Marinate the meat overnight in the refrigerator.
- Pound the meat using a mallet before cooking.
- Use slow cooking methods such as stewing, pot-roasting and braising in water or broth.
Compare the price per kilogram of meat, poultry and fish. Also compare how much meat you are getting and how much is fat and bones. Buy family-sized packs of poultry and meats. Separate and freeze in smaller portions.
- Eggs, tofu, peanut butter, peas, beans and lentils are lower in price than meat, poultry or fish.
- Dried peas, beans and lentils cost less than canned.
- Buy a whole chicken and cut it up yourself. Buying chicken in pieces or skinless and boneless costs more.
- Canned fish costs less than fresh fish. Canned salmon, “light” tuna and sardines in water are good choices.
- Frozen fish fillets such as pollock, wild salmon, tilapia or sole (dover or petrale) are good buys.
- Frozen battered fish fillets, fish sticks or battered fish sandwiches are more expensive and are higher in fat and salt. For a healthier, lower cost option use breadcrumbs to make your own coating and bake in the oven.
- See Toronto Public Health’s guidelines for eating and buying fish
- Processed meats such as hot dogs, may cost less but they often have less protein and iron and more fat, salt and calories than fresh meats.
- It is less expensive to buy cold cuts from the deli counter.
Value for your food dollar
- Don’t buy more than you need. A serving of cooked meat, poultry or fish is 75 grams (2.5 oz) or about the size of a deck of cards. For one serving, buy 120 grams (4 oz) of uncooked meat, poultry or fish.
- Toss leftovers into a salad, use in sandwiches or add to eggs, soups, stews, casseroles, pasta dishes, pizza or stir fries. Use leftover meat within two to three days.
Visit Health Canada for more tips on choosing meat and alternatives.
The nutrition information on food labels can help you make informed food choices. It helps you to compare products more easily and understand the nutritional value of foods
Nutritious Food Basket
The Nutritious Food Basket (NFB) is a tool that measures the affordability of food in Toronto. To learn more, read our Board of Health report or use the Nutritious Food Basket calculator to see the minimum cost of healthy food for a person or family in Toronto.