Food bloggers and cookbook authors say meal-planning and simple recipes can help home cooks put together filling and tasty dishes on a budget – an increasingly stressful challenge amid rising food prices.
Here are their suggestions for quick and nourishing meals for three types of households: Young adults who may want easy options, families with children or other picky eaters and seniors who may be looking for smaller portions.
Young adults and others on the go
Taylor Stinson, a Toronto-based food writer who has been running her blog The Girl on Bloor since 2015, says her sheet pan Greek chicken meal-prep bowls are a good choice for busy people “looking for an easy last-minute dinner,” as it comes together in 30 minutes. Cooks can substitute chicken breasts with chickpeas or tofu, which “makes it cheaper.”
To make any meal-plan process easier, Stinson says she preps ingredients ahead of time, such as mincing garlic and chopping veggies. Meal-prep can also include cooking rice or meats _ like the chicken in her suggested recipe _ in advance.
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“You’re still getting organized, but it only takes about an hour,” she says. “Depending on the things that you decide to cook, it really sets you on a good path to starting your week.”
Stinson says planning saves money because it helps ensure no ingredients are wasted. She also says ingredient prep helps cooks follow through with their at-home food plans, and it’s quicker than stopping to get takeout.
“You have all your chopped veggies,” she says. “You throw it all in a skillet and dinner’s ready.”
Shahzadi Devje, a registered dietician in Toronto who has been running her South-Asian-centric food blog Desi-licious for five years, says her slow cooker vegan black-eyed peas recipe is great for those on the go because it only requires 15 minutes of prep while the slow cooker takes care of the cooking.
“It’s effortless,” she said. “You just soak your beans, let it cook in your slow cooker and just finish with a mix of some spices, onions and garlic at the end.”
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For those looking to save money on grocery trips, Devje says to consider trying meatless meals. She says plant-based proteins like beans, lentils and chickpeas still pack a nutritional punch without breaking the bank.
She also says when it comes to buying in bulk or stocking up on sale items, shoppers should be strategic on their purchases. She says since canned food items like canned salmon have a long shelf life, it would be something good to buy in bulk.
“Cereals, rice and pasta are your best bet,” she said.
Families with picky eaters
Julie Van Rosendaal, a Calgary-based cookbook author, food writer and cooking instructor, says children are picky in different ways, but it’s common for them to like starchy foods like pasta and French fries.
She has been writing about food since the ’90s and has taught classes for more than 20 years. She says a recipe that children can enjoy is her potstickers and dumplings. In terms of ingredients that can be placed in them, Rosendaal suggests ground pork because it’s “super inexpensive.” She also says leftovers can be frozen and put toward another meal like wonton soup.
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Rosendaal says reducing or eliminating food waste saves money and suggests learning to cook using ingredients already in the fridge _ a skill that can be passed on to children as well.
“When you approach it that way, it really gets kids in the habit of thinking and knowing how to use what you have.”
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She also says encouraging children to get involved in the kitchen is important for their long-term health as kids who cook eat less processed foods and have a more diverse diet.
Rosendaal, author of “You Are Human and You Need Cake,” suggests taking kids to a library and letting them pick out a cookbook to try something new.
For 13 years, Louisa Clements has been running her own food blog Living Lou from Toronto. She emphasizes fresh and flavourful recipes using simple techniques and ingredients. Parents looking to cook after work can try her roasted cauliflower tacos with black beans, which she says works as a “quick, easy weeknight meal.”
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“That’s a really fun one for families,” she says. “It also allows interaction with the foods you could have in a taco. You could eat it with some rice if that’s something easier.”
Clements also suggests meal-planning as a way to save money while shopping. She says heading to the store with a list will prevent overspending and wasted ingredients.
“You’re going to be able to make delicious food,” she says. “Also, things will be more budget friendly.”
Seniors and others looking for smaller portions
Stacie Vaughan has been running her food blog, Simply Stacie, since 2008 in Pembroke, Ont. Her blog focuses on easy recipes for families and provides shortcuts for the cooking process. She says seniors make up a good portion of readers on her blog and they tend to email her asking for recipes catering to one- or two-person households.
She suggests those looking for smaller portions try sheet pan meals because cooks can control the number of portions.
“They can cut one potato up, put it on a sheet pan,” she says. “Maybe one or two chicken breasts, maybe half a broccoli head.”
Salmon is another good protein option for sheet pan recipes, she says, as is stir-fry with steak strips. She says sheet pan recipes provide ease of use for seniors as all the ingredients get cooked at the same time meaning there’s no need to keep track of multiple things cooking at the same time.
For ways to save money while grocery shopping, she suggests checking out flyers and planning meals around what’s on sale.
Vaughan notes another option is to make recipes with larger portions and freeze leftovers to reduce waste. She says soups, stews and pasta dishes freeze well.