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Tips on how to shop smart for your groceries, from local nutritionist

Local public health nutritionist Melanie Warken has some tips to help get the most out of your spread-out grocery tips, as pandemic measures remain in place indefinitely
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Before you reach for the shopping cart, public health nutritionist Melanie Warken has a few tips to make the most of your grocery trips during pandemic measures.

While the community continues to practice social distancing and limit trips to the grocery store, it's likely that many people have had to think harder about how they do their grocery shopping as of late. 

Melanie Warken, public health nutritionist for the Moose Jaw area, shared some easy ways for shoppers to make the most of the food in their pantries between grocery trips.

Even with the pandemic measures in place, it’s still important to keep up with proper nutrition despite the temptation to turn to pre-packaged foods.

“We still want to encourage people to eat as close as possible to Canada's Food Guide, so having a variety of foods is really important,” said Warken. “The more variety we eat, the more variety of nutrients we’re going to get, and that’s still an important concept to keep in mind.”

Do the prep, save the stress

In order to shop smart to save money, Warken recommends doing some meal planning before even stepping foot — or cart — in the aisles. 

“[Meal planning] can help save people money on their food bill by allowing time to be creative with ingredients that you use in a recipe, and it can also help to reduce food waste in a house,” said Warken. 

Taking a look at what’s already in your cupboards and planning out the next week or two of meals will help narrow down a grocery list and make that biweekly — or maybe even longer — grocery trip less stressful. 

Warken suggested making things even easier by planning to cook something that could be two meals in one — as in roasting a chicken one night and saving enough leftovers for a stir fry the following night. 

The South Central Food Security Network Facebook page has shared a link to a locally compiled cookbook from Saskatchewan dieticians called 25 Ingredients, 50 Meals, which could be a handy resource to begin doubling up meals in this way.

Or, you can even freeze any leftovers you’re not likely to finish with the next two days for a healthy, easy alternative to less nutritious options. 

“Having leftovers is a good way to eat healthy as well, versus reaching out maybe for some of those packaged foods when you're needing a meal quickly,” said Warken. 

She also encouraged stepping outside of the box and playing around with some new recipes or ingredients. Altering a favourite recipe to use up things already in your pantry is a great place to start, or maybe going all-out and trying something entirely different is one way to be smart with your groceries. 

In the store, save some more

Once you’ve planned out your meals and compiled a grocery list, it's time to venture out to do the shopping itself. 

The first piece of advice Warken offered was to follow the list you’ve already made.

“So when you go to the grocery store, if you have your list in hand, it allows you to get in and get out as quickly as possible and also reduces impulse buying, which will save you money,” said Warken.

It’s also worthwhile to stock your pantry with staple foods, ideally non-perishable ones like pasta or baking ingredients, and even buy in bulk to save for later — but definitely don’t sweep the shelves. 

“We've heard or seen some panic buying happening lately and this can really affect other people's ability to access those products when they really need them as well,” said Warken. “It’s just important to follow the purchase limits that stores have set so we all have equal access to enough of these products in stores.” 

If you’re expecting to be spreading your grocery shopping trips far apart, consider substituting some fresh items with their shelf-friendly counterparts. Things like canned or frozen fruits and vegetables may be more readily available and also cheaper than fresh fruits and veggies. 

Swapping out expensive proteins that take up space in the fridge or freezer for more shelf-stable proteins could also help make your grocery list both less pricey and more efficient. 

“Some protein foods that cost less tend to be eggs, lentils, beans or canned fish, for some examples,” said Warken, who added that trying a new protein could be a fun way to switch up your usual tried-and-true menu.

Whatever fresh food does end up in the cart, Warken emphasized making sure to store it properly once you get home to reduce the chance of food waste. Some fruits and veggies do better in the fridge and some do not, and it’s helpful to know which is which. 

Stay safe, stay fed

Public health is still recommending people to avoid running errands like grocery shopping for as long as possible and to only send one individual from the household at a time to do that shopping. 

Warken also reminded shoppers to abide by safety precautions put in place by stores right now, including maintaining distance from other shoppers and following traffic directions up and down the aisles. 

“The farther ahead that a family can plan [their groceries] the fewer trips that they'll need to make to the grocery store, which is ideal with COVID-19 here,” said Warken.

Another large concern during this time is people’s ability to access food, as many people are being affected by economic restrictions and unemployment at this time. Food security is very important, said Warken, and encouraged people to reach out to supports if they are in need.

“That would be one of the main things, as a public health professional, that we're worried about,” said Warken. 

Warken encouraged anyone who may be struggling to reach out to 211 Saskatchewan, which is a free 24-hour phone service that can provide information about where to access supports within your community. The service is confidential, and people can phone, text, or chat online with the staff at 211 Saskatchewan.

“Some places in a community that might offer some food release in emergency situations are food banks, shelters, family resource centers, friendship centers, and even reaching out to your family and friends if you're in need,” said Warken.