Cooking during the pandemic: tips for meal planning and eating healthy on a budget

Now, more than ever, is an important time to focus on meal planning and budgeting for food. Effective meal planning can save money by reducing the amount of food waste that your household generates. In addition, adequate preparation before going to the grocery store can ensure that you reduce the number of unnecessary trips to the store, helping to keep your family healthy and safe.

Meal planning infographic

Try the following suggestions and click on the links below for additional information! 

Healthy eating on a budget: 

  • Stock up on inexpensive plant proteins such as beans, lentils, and other legumes. Try replacing ground beef with beans in tacos or try making a lentil Bolognese sauce for spaghetti. 
  • Buy fruits and vegetables when they are in season! Try the following link for a helpful list: https://www.foodnetwork.ca/in-season/blog/whats-in-season-in-canada/ 
  • Reduce the amount of highly processed foods you purchase. Foods that are processed and have additional packaging will cost much more and are often low in nutritional value. Instead of buying a box of cookies or muffins, try whipping up these delicious 3-ingredient cookies: https://tasty.co/recipe/3-ingredient-breakfast-cookies 
  • Buy whole foods and buy in bulk when you can. A brick of cheese is often cheaper than shredded, and whole fruits and vegetables are less expensive and last longer than pre-sliced. Whole grains, such as oats, are also less expensive than processed cereals. 

Take a look at Canada’s Food Guide– Healthy Eating on a Budget: 

https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/tips-for-healthy-eating/healthy-eating-on-a-budget/ 

Meal planning and grocery shopping: 

  • Keep a grocery list handy in the kitchen and jot down what you need as soon as you run out. Before taking a trip to the store, take note of what you already have and only buy what you need. 
  • Avoid shopping when you are hungry to prevent any impulse purchases and overbuying. 
  • Most grocery stores keep the most expensive (and sometimes least healthy) options on the shelves at eye level. Explore the entire shelf before deciding on what to buy. Often, a generic brand of any product can be found nearby and is less expensive.  

Check out the Guelph Family Health Study Rock What You Got cookbook: 

https://guelphfamilyhealthstudy.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Rock-What-Youve-Got-Recipes-Sept-2019-Web.pdf 

Making the most of pantry ingredients: 

  • When running low on fresh ingredients, try experimenting with different combinations of shelf-stable foods. For example, adding canned tuna and frozen broccoli to boxed macaroni and cheese is an easy balanced meal! Turn a can of beans into a burrito bowl by combining it with rice, salsa, cheese, and lettuce or sautéed peppers.  
  • Keep an eye out for when pantry items are on sale and stock up! 
  • Maintain an organized pantry by storing grains and dried legumes in clear jars. Try keeping similar items, such as baking ingredients, in a basket or separate drawer 

Try some of these simple and delicious pantry recipes: 

https://www.chopchopfamily.org/pantry-recipes/?gclid=CjwKCAjw_LL2BRAkEiwAv2Y3SdAfohu4kjjfpprx4LQQSuqXxffmlaLWl_i8zWXn-K51H2u1Aj2_txoCz10QAvD_BwE 

Getting the whole family involved in the kitchen: 

  • Let the kids be the head chef! Allowing them to choose a simple recipe that they want to make will help them stay interested throughout the cooking process. Try having them choose a recipe from the Guelph Family Health Study Kids in the Kitchen cookbook:  https://guelphfamilyhealthstudy.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Family-Friendly-Recipes-June-17.pdf 
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff! Offer basic instructions, leaving room for some experimenting and creativity. Giving your child some space will allow them to be more willing to ask questions if they are unsure.  
  • Delegate tasks that are age appropriate. Simple tasks include gathering ingredients for a recipe, washing produce, mashing, and stirring.  

Check out the following tips from Kids Help Phone: 

https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/kids-cook.html?WT.ac=ctg#cathealthy-eating 

Tips from Health Canada on healthy eating during the pandemic: 

https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/covid-19.html#a3