Money & Career

How our assistant food editor saves money on groceries

Buying organic food can actually cost less than regular grocery-store items. Michelle Lucas Larving shares her best tips to eat well for less.

Bag of groceries

Photo, Masterfile.

I have three big passions in life: cooking, baking and eating. Obviously I get a lot of joy from food . And as much as I will happily spend extra cash on small-flock eggs or hand-cured meats, I’m still economical when it comes to getting the most out of what I buy. So how do I dine on high-end fare while saving at the same time? Here’s how:

1. Be a freezer-bag warrior

We buy meats in bulk and make sure to pre-portion everything into freezer bags for easy weeknight meals. That little bit of time post shop saves me a lot in the long run. I’ll just defrost some meat the morning of and come dinner time, I can cook up some British bangers and mushy peas or Better butter chicken for my husband and me. Tip: Bacon thaws in about 20 minutes — fry a few slices up to make a creamy carbonara on those days you forget to take meat out of the freezer.

2. Big-up your batches

On the weekends, my husband and I love to eat pancakes. (I mean, who doesn’t!) So once a month, I make a double batch and freeze the extras in a single layer on a baking sheet then store them in an airtight container. Instead of buying morning bagels, we’ll just pop a couple in the toaster for a hot weekday breakfast. Top with fresh fruit and a drizzle of maple syrup . . . so good! Bonus: They make quick after-school snacks for kids.

You’ll also find small containers of homemade bolognese sauce in my freezer at all times. On those lazy weeknights, it’s our go-to dinner. All I have to do is cook some pasta, heat up the sauce and I’ve got a delicious and satisfying meal!

3. Comb the markets

During the winter season, I visit farmers’ markets at least a couple times a month. (In the summer, I go every weekend.) I like to buy a lot of seasonal produce and staples, such as honey, to keep on hand. It’s economical for us: Prices are almost half the cost of major grocery stores. For instance, a basket of strawberries in-store is $5, while the same basket is only $3 at the market — and the money goes towards supporting local farmers. Plus, you’re also getting the best local produce money can buy. Since our growing seasons are short, I like to load up on fruits throughout the warm months to preserve or freeze and enjoy year-round.

4. Go to the source

For a while, my husband and I were going to a free-range butcher in Toronto who we’d purchase the best chicken from. To my surprise, I learned that the chicken farm was only 20 minutes from my house! I’ve been buying directly from the farm ever since; the prices are half the butcher’s cost and they often throw in extra items, such as soup bones. I’ve got my friends in on the action too — the more you buy the more they’ll discount. It saves a bundle, espcially on items like free-range meats.

5. Never spend money on . . .

Broth – ever. It can cost $5 for a box and the flavour is mediocre, not to mention usually high in sodium. When I make roast chicken, duck or oxtail, I make sure to save the bones and freeze them in an airtight bag until I’m ready to make batches of broth. Nutritious and delicious, homemade broth is a cheap way to add flavour to your meals.

6. Indulge on the weekends

We actually eat a lot more vegetarian meals during the week. Since meat costs more, we limit making roasts and steaks to the weekends. We have a pantry full of Canadian-grown grains and legumes, such as wheatberries and lentils to make hearty lunches and dinners during the week. These staples are low-cost, easy to cook and full of nutrients.