Surviving $ticker Shock in the Produce Section

Staples don’t have to be boring!

Staples don’t have to be boring!

Have you seen the price of cauliflower these days?!! It sounds like a conversation you might have with your grandmother when you’ve run out of things to talk about. But not these days with lettuce going for $4 and cauliflower for $7, now the soaring cost of fresh produce has become a big topic in the news.

This is worrisome for our health outlook – especially since most Canadians do not eat the recommended 5 – 10 servings of veggies and fruit already. In 2014 Statistics Canada reported that barely 40% of British Columbians were eating enough of the good green stuff. And the decline in the Canadian dollar combined with the drought in California makes it hard to see this getting better before it gets much worse.

The evidence tells us that eating a diet high in veggies and fruit is protective against a significant number of chronic diseases. The evidence and common sense also tells us that the relative cost of produce will determine whether we eat enough of it. Unfortunately for individuals and families who live on low incomes – their inability to afford a healthy diet puts them at risk for negative outcomes in maternal health, child development and mental health as well as the long-term risk for chronic disease.

No matter what your budget, cooking at home is a great way to save money and eat healthy – but if you are on a budget, it can get boring with the same ol’ ingredients. These days as I wander the produce section or rifle through the fridge, I find myself with lots of apples, onions, carrots, potatoes, kale and cabbage. These staples don’t have to be boring – they store well and are very versatile so can be adapted to many different preferences, even picky eaters!

If your cooking is making you yawn – I encourage you to get inspired by the many recipes and blogs on-line or by checking out new cook books from the library. Another way to get the creative juices flowing is to exchange ideas and recipes with your friends. I’ll go first!

  • Salads – Get away from lettuce by using grated beet and carrot as a base for salads – add apples for a bit of sweet crunch. I like tangy cabbage coleslaws as sides or accompaniments to tacos or pulled pork and thinly sliced sui choy works well for slaw with an Asian twist.
  • Sautés, stews and roasts – Roasted winter veggies tossed with olive oil and rosemary or cumin and coriander is a seasonal classic. My cultural background is also a source of many healthy comfort foods, such as kale avgolemeno and briami (essentially roast vegetables Greek-style with canned tomatoes and garlic). Another secret of the Mediterranean diet is greens – try steaming beet tops and toss them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar or sauté finely chopped kale with onions and dill finished with a splash of lemon for a lil ‘opa’! And I love flavours from other cultures too. There are many delicious curries which feature simple ingredients – like this potato and cabbage curry. African groundnut stew is another one with vegetarian and chicken variations combining yams and canned tomatoes in a rich peanut-y stew.
  • Soup! Is the ultimate place for converting homely veggies into savoury deliciousness. Budget-friendly concoctions include carrot ginger soup, classic French onion or mulligatawny. You can stretch your food dollar even further by using frozen veggies for a blended green pea and mint soup or corn chowder.

Although we’re facing sticker shock in the produce section, it’s important to keep fruits and veggies a key part of our diet. Sticking with the staples – especially root vegetables or including frozen and canned varieties– can make the healthy choice a little easier on our pocketbooks. But whatever you do to make veggies and fruit an interesting part of your diet – keep doing it! We’d love to hear about it. Please let us know if you’ve got a great tip, trick or recipe.

Rita Koutsodimos
Manager, Advocacy and Communications
February 2016

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