By: Malcolm Wilhelm

Eating a well-balanced and nutritional diet is fundamental to maintaining overall health. As the well-known proverb goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and this certainly applies to the dietary choices people make daily. Poor nutrition and bad dietary habits can lead to a multitude of illnesses. These include diabetes and cardiovascular disease which in 2019 ranked in the top 10 leading causes of death in Canada (Statistics Canada). In some cases, these diseases are preventable by making healthy choices. Proper nutrition is a choice that Canadians cannot afford to ignore but many find it hard to obtain the nutrition they need, believing it to be outside of their budget. This does not need to be the case and achieving a healthy diet can certainly be done in a budget-friendly manner.

People of all ages in Canada are struggling with finances, especially considering recent global events. Although the poverty rate in Canada has been steadily declining over the last few years, rising costs due to inflation means that even well-to-do Canadians may struggle to spread their income around. Multiple studies have found that proper eating and nutrition are often the first casualties when people are dealing with financial struggles (Mark et al.96-97; McIntyre et al. 688). This article outlines a few great ways to to maintain a good diet while saving money.

Getting Into the Habit of Frugal Shopping

It can sometimes be overwhelming trying to decide between the countless choices and various brands at the grocery store. With a trained eye, however, it is simple and rewarding to find the best deals on food. 

A frugal grocery trip begins at home before stepping foot in the store with the creation of a grocery list. Writing out a grocery list of the things needed in the home allows a shopper to shop with a purpose and avoid impulsively buying items they may not need. Grocery lists do not have to be complicated either. There are a variety of apps and websites that can provide templates or checklists. But making one is also not difficult, just include the following key items:

·         Whole Grains

·         Protein Source

·         Fruit and Vegetables

·         Milk/Yogurt

By following these basic categories, a nutritionally balanced meal should be simple to make. Another handy way to remember this list is by looking at the official Food Guide of Canada’s visual representation of the ideal plate of food.

Become a Label Expert

Another key to eating healthy while being frugal is becoming an expert in reading product labels. Not all products are created equally, and it can be easy to get lost in all the brand marketing. 

Nutrition label

This is the first thing to consider. Always rely on the nutrition label to make health-based decisions and not on what the front of the product may say. Keep in mind that the nutrition label is always giving you information based on one serving and not the entire amount of the product. Some labels may list the number of servings in the entire product so try to figure out exactly how much of the product is in one serving.

Calorie amount

Calories are essential to understand the amount of energy gained from that product so make sure that the calories are within the recommended daily amount. Individual caloric requirements may vary and there are resources available to calculate that information.

Nutrient breakdown

One must also consider various details regarding the type of fats, fat content, sugar, vitamins, and fibre which all play an important role in the maintenance of overall health.  The Food Guide of Canada recommends one choose unsaturated fats, low sugar content, low sodium, and higher amounts of fibre (food guide). Vitamins are listed as “%DV” which tells the consumer the percentage of vitamin content relative to the daily amount recommended.

General Frugal Tips

Armed with a shopping list that includes the necessary nutritionally appropriate products, there are still other tips that can help an individual stretch their dollar as much as possible.

·         Compare prices: While this may seem like an obvious tip, it can save the consumer significant amounts of money. Many of the leading grocery chains also list their inventory and prices online which makes finding the best deal simple.

·         Price matching: Take advantage of grocery stores that price match by collecting flyers and highlighting the best prices. This might require a bit of work collecting all the necessary flyers and cutting out the best prices, but it is a great way to save money while grocery shopping. Some of the bigger grocery chains even have apps that streamline this process.

·         Avoid prepared food products: While buying pre-made meals might save some time cooking, it is not the ideal choice for those on a budget. Additionally, prepared food products tend to be heavily processed and high in sodium, something the Food Guide of Canada recommends avoiding. Buying fresh whole ingredients will always be the most budget friendly option. Whole grains and legumes are usually sold in large quantities and can be cooked in a variety of ways.

·         Eliminate food waste: There are many ways to eliminate food waste and make the food bought go as far as possible. Find recipes online that make use of commonly disposed of food items such as vegetable stems and blemished fruits and vegetables. Just because something might not be suitable for a fancy dinner plate presentation, that does not mean it can’t be used in some other recipe.

·         Snack smart: Besides the major meals in the day, snacking is something many people enjoy throughout the day. Avoid unhealthy processed snacks that might appeal to taste buds but are not a value buy. Snack on nutritionally dense items like nuts and whole grain crackers with vegetable-based dip or spread. This will ensure the snack is filling, nutritionally appropriate, and of good value.

·         Explore other forms of protein: While protein is a necessary food group, many people think protein is synonymous with meat products. This does not need to be the case as there are many plant-based foods that are rich in protein. When checking the best prices for the week, compare the price of meat-based protein sources with plant-based ones, and sometimes the better value will be in buying plant-based options such as beans, soy products, and other legumes.

·         Explore fresh, frozen, or canned options: There are benefits to all three of these options and it is dependent on what recipe they may be used in. Sometimes, there might be better value in choosing frozen produce over fresh or canned over frozen. There are also multiple uses for some of these products. For example, one could get frozen produce to use both in meals and in fresh smoothies. Comparing the value of these options and thinking about how they will be used is a good idea.

·         Meal planning: A good way to stick to a budget is to plan out grocery expenses and the meals that will be made from them for the upcoming week. Some even prepare their meals for the week ahead of time and keep them frozen which is also a great option.


There are many resources to learn more about healthy eating requirements, budget-friendly tips, and nutritional label information. Additionally, there are sometimes community programs designed to provide individuals with hands-on experience in cooking smartly, grocery shopping budgeting, and culinary programs to learn exciting and appealing recipes. Below are some of the most common resources:

Food Guide of Canada

Healthy Eating on a Budget

Eat This Much: Online Interactive Meal Planning Too

Works Cited

Mark, Sean, et al. “Household Income, Food Insecurity and Nutrition in Canadian Youth.” Canadian Journal of Public Health, vol. 103, 2012, pp. 94–99.

McIntyre, Lynn, et al. “Do Low-Income Lone Mothers Compromise Their Nutrition to Feed Their Children?” CMAJ, vol. 168, 2003, pp. 686–91.

Statistics Canada. “Leading Causes of Death, Total Population (Age Standardization Using 2011 Population).” Statistics Canada, 24 Jan. 2017,