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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, May 07, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - A Look at Canada's Food Guide

Frugal Kitchens 101
North America for the most part is a land of plenty.  That is reflected in the North American diet that consists of a larger portion of over processed foods, fast foods and large serving sizes.  The reality is the average North American eats too much and they eat too much of the wrong foods.  As a result diet related illnesses like Type II diabetes and obesity are increasing at a rapid rate.  The USDA has established the Choose My Plate guideline for healthy eating, while the Canadian counterpart established by Health Canada is the Canada Food Guide.  Few of us go to a dietician or nutritionist unless there is a problem but we can easily access these free dietary guidelines.  Both of these resources provide excellent information for how to eat healthy and live well.

My husband and I have a fairly healthy diet full of the right foods but are the first to admit our portion sizes are larger than they should be.  Last year about this time my husband was hospitalized with an unknown gastrointestinal infection.  Once that cleared, he was diagnosed as pre-diabetic so we went to a dietitian  for counseling as to how to control the progression to Type II diabetes by modifying his diet.  In our case, we eat the recommended number of servings of each food group in the Canada Food Guide but what was off was portion size and not enough exercise.  What the food guide does do if you read closely is allow you to make healthy choices should you choose to eat vegetarian by giving both meat and milk alternatives.

The other day I did a brief analysis of the Canada Food Guide.  Now, if one were to follow the guide along with the proper portion size, there would be a reduction in the over all cost of groceries yet ending up with a healthier diet.  I did the calculations based on myself.  I am an over 50 female, petite with small bones, lactose intolerant, have asthma and arthritis and on a scale of one to ten on the activity scale with one being least and ten being most active, I probably average a 4.  Like many with chronic disorders, activity can be affected but I try to walk daily, cut the grass, garden and play volleyball once a week.  Well, playing volleyball is debatable as I really am a place holder <VBG>.  The Canada Food Guide recommends I have 7 servings of fruits and vegetables, 6 servings of grains, 2 - 3 servings of dairy and 2 servings of meat or meat alternatives daily.  I will note that the Canada Food Guide does not adjust for a more active lifestyle.  It really is the minimum requirements, pretty much what you would be served if hospitalized.  So here is the breakdown with serving size and estimated costs:

  • fruits and vegetables - The serving size for most fruits and vegetables including juice is 1/2 c except for leafy vegetables with a serving size of 1 c.  Of note is potatoes.  The serving size is still 1/2 c or 1/2 a medium potato, not the whole potato.  The serving size for cherries and grapes is 20 pieces of fruit.  The average cost of a serving of fresh fruit is 30¢; a serving of fresh vegetables is 10¢ to 25¢.  Many choose fruits over vegetables but fruits cost more per serving and have a higher level of sugar so the emphasis should be on vegetables.  Seven fruits and vegetables will cost me under $2.10 per day assuming paying full price and not growing any.
  • grains - I need 6 servings of grains per day which would amount to 1/2 bagel, 2 slices bread, 1/2 c cooked pasta or rice,  and 1 tortilla shell (counts as 2 servings).  Each serving costs about 30¢ each for a total cost of $1.80.  Note the serving size for cooked pasta.  That heaping plate of pasta topped with fresh vegetables and sauce we are so fond of while healthy really is 4 portions!  Restaurant pasta portions are so large they really are 5 to 6x the recommended 1/2 c portion.
  • milk and milk alternatives - I do not drink milk and my doctor said to avoid soy products so my 2 to 3 servings of milk would consist of 1 1/2 oz block cheese, 1 c cottage cheese and 3/4 c plain homemade yogurt.  Milk (2%) costs $3.83 per 2 L or 47.5¢ per c.  I use this for the homemade yogurt so my milk servings cost about 80¢ per day.
  • meat and meat alternatives - The recommended serving size for meat and fish is 4 oz or the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of cards.  That means that gorgeous 16 oz steak bought for dinner serves 4 people not 1.  Two eggs count as one meat serving; 1/4 c nuts is one meat serving, and 3/4 c cooked beans is one meat serving.  Clearly, reducing the meat and meat alternatives to the recommended amount is going to save a fair amount of money on the grocery bill.  Two meat servings cost $1 to $4 depending on the meat or fish or alternative.
  • beverages - The number one recommended beverage by Health Canada is water.  Water is healthier for you while eliminating the high costs of carbonated beverages.  While coffee and tea is mentioned, caffeine should be restricted.
In general, following the Canada Food Guide would 'technically' cost me $8 per day or less to eat for the entire day based on buying foods from the grocery store.  On the surface that would work out to $240 per month but in reality it doesn't because there are so many ways to save on the cost of food.  Part of that is due to frugal shopping (buy on sale, buy in bulk), cooking from scratch, home canning, and growing what ever possible.   In perspective, that $8 per day is considerably less than grabbing an XL double double and a burger combo each day.  The cost of a chocolate bar from a vending machine each day would easily pay for 4 pieces of fruit each day.  Some folk honestly have no problem spending $3 per day for a gourmet coffee shop coffee yet will complain at spending $3 on fruits or vegetables, a healthier alternative.  In fact, some have no problem eating two meals a day at a fast food restaurant that would easily surpass that $8 per day price tag but the food is not near as healthy.  The thing is folks don't consider that $10 per day in coffee, vending machine and fast food snacks as part of their food budget so while they think they are spending $150 per week on groceries, the extra food purchases brings the total cost up to $220 per week.

Aside of smaller food portion sizes and a heavy emphasis on fruits and vegetables, what is glaringly absent from the Canada Food Guide is oils, condiments and snacks type foods.  Snacks are costly and can really drive up your food expenditures.  Homemade cookies and cakes are less expensive than store bought.  They would fall under grains in the guide.  Potato chips are quite highly priced and are high in sodium, fats, preservatives and additives like maltodextose that has addictive properties triggering cravings.  Instead make homemade baked potato chips (considerably less expensive than store bought) or make homemade popcorn,  Don't use the pricey and unhealthy microwave popcorn as the chemical that makes it smell good is carcinogenic.  The cost of condiments can really add up so reduce the amount used and make your own from scratch.  Salad dressings are considerably less expensive if made from scratch rather than store bought.  For a refreshing change from salad dressing with no calories, sprinkle your salad with fresh squeezed lemon juice.


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