Holiday dinner on a budget: experts offer tips to cut costs amid soaring food prices

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At a time when food prices are soaring across Canada, putting together a wallet-friendly holiday dinner could become stressful for many — but with a bit of flexibility and close attention to spending, it can still be done, according to experts.

For Kathleen Cassidy, TikTok creator behind Living on a Loonie, a potluck-style dinner could be very much on the plate for those looking to cut costs.

“Everyone brings one meal and shares everything,” Cassidy, who has nearly 400,000 followers on TikTok, told Global News.

“Therefore, there’s not so much financial and time stress on one individual household.”

Read more: As inflation persists, Canadians are forced to cut back. How are they saving?

Another option could be re-thinking exactly what you want to serve your guests and finding substitutions to cut costs, says Cassidy, who often offers tips to Canadians on saving money on her social media, such as by couponing or searching for loyalty programs and freebies.

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“We’re seeing the price of turkey this year go a little bit higher than normal,” said Cassidy, but she noted ham or roast beef could be on sale.

“You can tweak your traditions or your meal to fit with what is on sale.”

Kathleen Cassidy of Living on a Loonie. Provided by Kathleen Cassidy

Substituting is also recommended by Kelleen Wiseman, director of the University of British Columbia’s master of food and resource economics program.

“You have your grocery list, but you have to have flexibility in that list for substitution,” she told Global News.

“Coming in, you may say, ‘I will do frozen corn because it’s on for a great price. I know I was going to get fresh carrots, but maybe this time I’ll give it a shot.’”

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The idea of collaboration is also something Wiseman believes will help Canadians to keep more money in their wallets, whether it be buying in bulk with friends and family or carpooling to the grocery store to save money on gas.

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Looking for discounts while planning your holiday feast amid high grocery costs is also important, Wiseman added.

“I think the biggest thing is going into a grocery store and saying to yourself, ‘Let’s stop being shocked and let’s look for sales,’” she said.

“There are sales to be had.”

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While flipping through flyers can help the hunt for discounts, both Wiseman and Cassidy also suggest trying out free apps like Checkout51. There are others, too, like Caddle, Eclipsa, which ask customers to scan their receipts and in return, offer a few cents or dollars in cash back for the purchase of specific items. Additionally, rewards programs at grocery stores can also be useful.

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For Canadians with special diets or food restrictions, rising costs could have a harder impact when looking to cook up a holiday feast, says Bianca Osbourne, chef and wellness educator in Toronto.

However, looking for ‘seasonality’ in vegetables is a good way to save some money and pack nutrition into holiday feasts, Osbourne told Global News.

Chef Bianca Osbourne says for Canadians with special diets or food restrictions, the impacts of high grocery costs can be even harder. Provided by Bianca Osbourne.

“I encourage people to look for seasonality,” Osbourne said, adding that vegetables like parsnips, beets and carrots are all good options to incorporate into a holiday supper this time of the year.

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However, vegetables like brussel sprouts, though also in season, are popular during the holidays and will see prices reflecting that popularity, according to Osbourne.

Opting for things like ground beef, ground-up lentils or chickpeas will also help get more for your buck and stretch your holiday dinner into more portions, she says.

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Using the kitchen more and cooking from scratch is also crucial for those looking to save some extra bucks while making holiday dinner, according to Osbourne.

“Now is the time to really get comfortable with cooking and making things from scratch, because you’re going to save untold amounts of money since you’re not paying for packaging and preparation. That’s factored into the price, plus inflation,” said Osbourne.

“Getting comfortable in the kitchen is really going to keep some coins in your pocket.”

Chef Bianca Osbourne says using the kitchen more and cooking from scratch is also a crucial tip for Canadians to save money on groceries. Provided by Bianca Osbourne

While in the kitchen, taking a good look at your own pantry before heading to the grocery store is also key, Osbourne said.

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“Know what you have before you go grocery shopping,” she said. “I would encourage people to go through their pantry and go through their freezer to see what they already have that they can use to stretch their dollar.”

When at the grocery store, it’s also important to have a plan and not buy on impulse.

“Often if we go hungry or we go without a list, (we) buy things that (we) don’t necessarily need or buy things on impulse which is fine when we’re not dealing with inflation – but we are,” Osbourne said.

“You want to make sure you have a plan because that keeps you on track financially.”

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Osbourne is also encouraging Canadians to re-evaluate their diets this holiday season.

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“There might be some things that you could cut back on that won’t necessarily affect how you feel about your meals day over day, week over week,” she said, suggesting eating less meat as an example.


— With files from The Canadian Press

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