Ramadan on a budget: How to eat healthy amid soaring grocery prices

Click to play video: 'How communities across Canada celebrate Ramadan'
How communities across Canada celebrate Ramadan
WATCH: How communities across Canada celebrate Ramadan – Mar 22, 2023

As Muslims observe the holy month of Ramadan in Canada, keeping the grocery bills in check could be a challenge amid soaring food prices.

Ramadan, which began Thursday, is the fasting month for Muslims, during which they refrain from eating, drinking and smoking from dawn to sunset.

From preparing healthy, filling meals to hosting iftar parties, “Ramadan can be a very overwhelming time,” said personal finance expert Rubina Ahmed-Haq, who also hosts For What It’s Worth on the Corus Entertainment radio network. Corus is the parent company of Global News.

That’s why Ahmed-Haq says a bit of planning can go a long way.

Here are some helpful tips to get you through the month.

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What to eat and what to avoid

In Canada this year, the fasts are going to be about 13 and a half hours to 15 hours long, depending on which part of the country you’re in.

For suhoor, the morning meal eaten before dawn, a balanced mix of complex carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats and fibre will help you feel energized throughout the day, said Nazima Qureshi, a registered dietician and co-author of The Healthy Ramadan Guide.

Click to play video: 'Nourishing suhoor recipes you can try during Ramadan'
Nourishing suhoor recipes you can try during Ramadan

If you’re looking for healthy suhoor ideas, Qureshi suggests overnight oats or a vegetable omelette with whole-grain toast and a serving of fruit.

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To keep yourself hydrated, drink about half a litre of water in the morning, she said.

After a long day of fasting, one might be tempted to overeat or eat too quickly at iftar – the evening meal eaten after sunset. That can make you feel tired and cause digestive discomfort, Qureshi said.

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To avoid this, she advises breaking the fast with dates, water and a small bowl of fruit. Then, after prayers, have your main meal, including protein, carbs and vegetables.

“Being more mindful about your portion sizes and how you break your fast will really impact your energy levels and how you feel,” she said.

How to save money on Ramadan groceries

Canadians continue to face high costs at grocery stores.

Even though the annual rate of inflation has cooled, the price of food purchased from the grocery store was up 10.6 per cent year-over-year last month, according to Statistics Canada’s latest Consumer Price Index report, released Tuesday.

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Food price growth slowed on some key items in February such as meat, vegetables, dairy products and bakery products. But prices for items like cereal products, sugar and confectionary, fish and other seafood accelerated on a year-to-year basis last month.

“One of the perks of Ramadan is you are eating (fewer) meals so you don’t have to worry about … that middle meal and the extra snacks, so that’s one way to save money,” Qureshi said.

When you go out shopping, Ahmed-Haq advises making a grocery list and sticking to it to avoid overspending on extra items.

Click to play video: 'Food inflation: Rising prices make eating healthy a struggle for low-income Canadians'
Food inflation: Rising prices make eating healthy a struggle for low-income Canadians

There are also different apps that can help you save money.

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Flashfood, for example, lets you locate discounted items that are nearing their best-before date at grocery stores across Canada and the United States.

Price matching apps — like Reebee, Flipp, Flyerify, SmartCanucks — are a useful way to check if the items in your cart are cheaper at another grocery store, Ahmed-Haq said.

But you also want to make sure that you only buy stuff that you need, not just because it’s on sale, she added.

“Be mindful of the things you’re bringing home, making sure you’re getting the best price.”

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Beans and lentils are packed with protein and fibre. Both are healthy, affordable options that can help bulk up curries and stews, Qureshi said.

She also advised buying fresh fruits that are in season while those that are out of season can be bought frozen instead.

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“For example, berries right now (are) not in season in Canada, so they’re very pricey.”

Managing meals during Ramadan

When fasting during Ramadan, people tend to eat less, so they should organize their meals and cook accordingly, Ahmed-Haq said.

Cutting down on food waste will also cut costs, so leftovers should be used up quickly or repurposed the next morning for suhoor or the following iftar, both Qureshi and Ahmed-Haq said.

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When putting food in a refrigerator, store it where it will stay fresh longer to help cut back on food waste.

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This means vegetables should go in the crisper drawer. Dairy and meat — which can spoil more quickly — should be kept at the back of the fridge, Ahmed-Haq said.

“Even simple things like that can really save you money.”

Iftar parties and dinners are common during Ramadan, so instead of the host taking on the financial burden of preparing the entire meal, having a potluck is a good option.

“Making it a potluck, especially during these times where the cost of living is going up and grocery prices remain persistently high, I think it’s a completely reasonable ask,” Ahmed-Haq said.

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