Learning to Eat on a Canadian Dime {Saving Money On Food In Canada}

Now that we’re here in Canada, and Husband’s last paycheck has stopped coming in, and we haven’t found a new job, and our G.I. Bill hasn’t started coming through yet, we find ourselves not exactly in a place of worrying, but a place of … food Nazism.  That’s right, I said The N Word.


Saving money on food in Canada – yes please.


With a family of six, we can easily spend a fortune on food.  And now we find ourselves in a place where the cost of food is even greater.  So we’re gettin’ all kinds of serious about the num nums.  Before the move we had gotten quite careless, nutritionally, and were rather wasteful, as well. (Unless you consider that we fed the dog leftovers, which lessened our dog food costs ?…)  But all that is out the window now, y’all.


On my first shopping trip in Canada I (even in my drive-lagged state) tried to buy only whole, real foods, as cheaply as I could. But the price still rose quickly.  Thankfully a kind blog reader turned Canadian friend had gifted us a giftcard which took care of half the price tag.


All that yellow is the color of Canadian generic, hey?

And so I’ve been painstakingly doling out the goods this week.  We’ve, literally, not wasted a bite of food.  It’s become a new requirement that a person, big or small, must eat every bite of what they’ve already been given before they can get something different.


It’s an adjustment for everyone, since we were used to much more food freedom before.  But you do what you’ve gotta do.  And so far everyone is adjusting pretty well to the new waste not, want not system. (Which isn’t to imply that very small people are always happy with having to eat every bite of their oatmeal or having less choices than normal, but we’re getting through it okay)


It’s been a sort of fun new challenge for me, as I navigate my way around a frugal kitchen. For example, on my first night that required me cooking an actual meal I realized I didn’t have much else but rice.  Even though I had gone shopping recently, I bought a lot of staples, and fresh fruit, no set of ingredients that screams “dinner recipe”.  So, I determined to just … cook rice.


The more I fiddled round the kitchen, the more I found to tweak my rice creation.


Caramelized half an onion, a big clove of garlic, and threw in some sliced up baby carrots.


Caramelized anything makes it smell like you’re cooking something epic.


Then I added it to my brown rice when it was finished, in addition to a handful of raisins.  It was really flavorful and delicious, and I felt like it was slightly more of a nutritional punch than just serving rice.


Impressively cheap and tasty meal.

One morning, to my dismay, the Wild Boys did not want to eat their oatmeal.  I bought a big bag of oatmeal the other day, expecting it to be a new breakfast staple in our diet instead of cold cereals.  But, again, we are wasters no more.  So I did a quick Googling of “What to do with leftover oatmeal”, and ended up with oatmeal pancakes.


Which was actually a rather traumatic experience because of how I set off the smoke-alarm by adding butter and batter to my overheated pan and ran around like a crazy woman in sweatpants and tank top, waving around a hand towel while neighbors came to see if I was on fire, all the while desperately hoping the fire department didn’t show up at my building. Sigh.


But, in the end, they were Wild Boy approved.


And because I accidentally made way too much oatmeal this morning because of mis-reading the insturctions … looks like we’ll be having oatmeal pancakes for dinner, too.  Hopefully leaving off the side of trauma and embarrassment this time. (Note: later in the evening I did, in fact, set off the smoke alarm again.  Sigh.)


Rice was my friends this week (and will probably continue to be in the future).   Again needing a meal and not having any meat on hand, I jazzed up another pot of rice.  This time I blended up a can of black beans, a quarter of a raw onion, and a garlic clove, and mixed it into my cooked brown rice.  And then served on homemade tortillas. (Thankfully, without setting off the smoke alarm).


We ate on this for several days.


In addition to the homemade tortillas I’ve been making homemade yogurt this week to help pinch pro-biotic pennies from the grocery bill.  My kids love yogurt, but it’s pretty pricey.


Mmm, great for drinking with a bit of honey, or with granola mixed in.


Even after we find employment, I think the food game is one we’re going to have to play very carefully during our stay in Canada.  We even visited a local food bank this week and were pleasantly surprised to come home with a treasure trove of good stuff.  We may need to make an appointment in the future to see if we’re eligible as long term clients.  I’m not too proud, y’all.  Feeding these Wild Things while Husband studies Greek and Hebrew is no joke.


Several organic products including, herbs, produce, broths, and cereals. Plus other produce and whole wheat breads and more.


I’ve also taken the time create an Amazon wishlist of Bohemian grocery products you can browse if you’d like to send us a gift.  It’s a short list of staple dry goods. ( Take note of the grits.  Six Year Old has nearly decided that this whole move was a bad idea, solely based on the evidence of a lack of grits in the stores.)  I tried to only pick things that qualified for super saver shipping through Amazon.  You can find the lit here: Bohemian Bowmans Amazon Grocery Wishlist.  It should be set up automatically to send to a Washington State shipping address where we can drive down and receive packages, but if for some reason it doesn’t work you can ship to:


Jessica Bowman

1685 H Street #GD

Blaine, WA 98230


We would be honored and appreciative of any care package that comes!


So, have any super frugal food tips for me?





  1. Breanne Sproule says:

    Since you have a shipping address in Blaine you could order some staples for better prices from Amazon.

    • I opened the Blaine general delivery account after realizing that you couldn’t use American Amazon super saver shipping when shipping to Canada and that the Canadian amazon didn’t appear to have a grocery section.

  2. Oooo, I’m the thrifty master. I can throw anything into a cassaroll and have it turn out decent. Usually. And when it doesn’t the dog still likes it… cutting down on that dog food bill you mentioned. :) I might send you a few favorite cheapy recipes later.

    • Jessica says:

      I LOVE casseroles, but unfortunately Six Year Old doesn’t like anything “when it’s all mixed together”, even if he legitimately likes all the contents mixed within. I still make them though, it just makes his night sad.

  3. This is one of my most favorite thrifty recipes: http://www.bloggingfromtheboonies.com/2008/03/recipe-worth-repeating.html LEftovers can either be made into soup or into lentil burgers, depending on what you add to it. Honey Baked Lentils are good served over a scoop of rice. This was one of the first bean recipes my girls loved.

  4. Before we lost our own home to foreclosure in December, we had a family of 5 living with us in our finished basement. (they had also just lost their home to foreclosure, as well as the dad losing his job the same week they were evicted) We came across these homemade hamburger helper recipes from a blog and were making them on a fairly regular basis. Healthier than the boxed crappity crap, we tweaked them even more to our real food tastes. (for example…I would not use powdered milk, so we improvised there)


    Homemade is usually always cheaper than store bought, and typically healthier also.
    If you have never tried making your own naan bread, it is easy peasy and goes with indian food as well as one of the hamburger helper thingies. In this recipe, they are telling you to grill the naan bread. I do not…I just use my cast iron skillet to make them. And I make them a lot smaller than the recipe calls for. Makes for easier rolling of the dough.

    Hope these help a bit…
    You have a great attitude, and when you look at your food budget and what you can do when you cook from scratch, you will be amazed at what good stuff can come out of your kitchen!

    In Christ alone,


    • Thanks for sharing that homemade hamburger helper thing. (Btw, I love chickensintheroad). My family likes the helpers, but I just can’t bring my self to buy them (even Hubs has gotten on board with that. Lol)…oh how gross they are. And it just never occurred to me to look up how to make a real “helper”. Now I can give them what they want without compromising. Thanks!

    • Jessica says:

      I used to occasionally make homemade hamburger helper but haven’t in awhile. One of my husband’s favorites is beef stroganoff.

  5. A few suggestions that might help out.
    Coop stores are a ‘locally owned’ franchise type thing across Canada. They are not the cheapest when compared to Superstore or Costco but they can have some great deals during their warehouse sale week and their ten for ten sale (both are held monthly, with the ten for ten usually the week after the warehouse sale). They also sell the cheapest cheese. The coop brand is pretty good but they sell others too. Regular price isn’t great but they have sales almost weekly where the price will be about a dollar per 100 grams or a little less. We eat a pile of cheese here so I need to know where the cheapest is.
    Farmer’s Markets are pretty big in Canada and a great way to get fresh from the garden produce – but they dont seem to advertise much so you may have to keep your eyes open to find out about them in your area.
    And here is something you can maybe try. I get the hams from costco with the bones in them and make baked beans with the ham bone. A Ham with the beans later can give us almost 6 days of food (four people including one ever-hungry teenaged boy; adding in buns and cheese/veggies/fruit on the side).

    • I found a local farmers market store just today and they had some pretty good prices on fruit. I’ll have to look into the Coop stores.

      • There is a Co-op on Fraser Hwy at 248th St.
        Also, if you’re into organics or anything there is a public opening of an organic wholesaler in Burnaby right off the highway on Saturday mornings called ProOrganics. And Anita’s Organic Grain Mill in Chilliwack offers large quantities for really good prices (better than some non-organic prices).
        Also, many Canadians find it worthwhile to cross the border to Bellingham and stock up at Trader Joes, Costco, etc…
        Hope that helps. Welcome to Canada =)

  6. It’s not all that bad! I think our prices here are pretty good actually, depending on where you shop. If you get to No Frills, or Walmart, you can do flyer matching, if you get the papers and want to do the extra wait time in the checkout. It can definitely be worth it! Menu planning saves our pennies (when I make the time to do it), as does buying fresh, local produce during the summer. The rice sounds DELICIOUS! Any chance you guys have a Costco membership? You can save a good deal on milk, butter and eggs, and some other staples.

    • I actually just recently invested in a Costco memberships just for the items you mentioned!

  7. So I’ve read about a lot of people in the northwest ordering a lot of bulk staples from Azure Standard. Apparently they have a crap ton of awesome things you can get in large quantities. People I’ve read are always raving about them.


  8. P.S.
    I love me some homemade tortillas. You remember back when I made them that first time? I make them all the time now. I’m always like trying to come up with a reason to make them. Fortunately, we catch fish pretty often so we get to have our famous fish tacos pretty frequently. Well, famous to us.

    • These were the best ones I’ve ever made, but it was the same recipe I always use. The added chopped garlic to the dough and I sat in in the fridge for a day before I cooked it, so guess that made a difference.

      • I used a different recipe when I made them Saturday than the one I normally use (well, it was basically the same ingredients, just a little different proportions, and different combining method) and they were A-mazing. I’ll have to try the garlic addition. I always think I should add herbs or something to the dough (although I did add some ground flax seed to these) but then I never do.

        Also, I’ve been trying to incorporate more vegetarian meals in to our meal plans, utilizing the awesome dried beans…I made some black bean and rice burgers (well, the recipe called them “Jamaican burgers”) and they were pretty awesome. And the recipe made A LOT (and probably because I didn’t exactly measure…just kind of eyeballed it) Chad even liked them (I know this because he had seconds AND he took some to work for his break).

        I’ve never been a huge bean fan because every time I thought about them it was just as a side dish, plain beans in a pot. But I’m learning you can do crazy tons of things with them like burgers, loafs, etc. I have yet to try your bacon lentils…but that is actually on my meal plan for the month! I did do some Indian spiced lentils with chicken a couple of weeks ago that was another hit with the Hubs.

        Oh and here’s a tip (although I’m sure you already know this. Lol): if a recipe calls for meat of some kind (for instance, those aforementioned lentils called for 4 whole leg quarters…yeesh), I never use as much as it says. If you shred/grind/chop the crap out of it, it goes a lot further. I only used 2 chicken breasts in that recipe (it was a bag of lentils, veggies and spices) and shredded them up and mixed it back in, and every bite had at least a little chicken in it without using a crap ton of meat. That way Chad feels like he’s getting his meat, but we aren’t going broke trying to support his habit.

        This has got to be the longest thing I’ve ever posted on your blog. Ha. In case you don’t know, food is my thing now. I get all excited about homemade/cooking things. In case you didn’t pick up on that with all the conversations we’ve had. Lol. Which is funny considering not that long ago, I could barely boil water and Chad did most of the cooking.

  9. I have had oatmeal pancakes before. My mom has made them several times for us. They are pretty good.
    We complain about how expensive things are here, but they are a lot cheaper than other parts of the US and world. Praying that your husband finds work soon.

    • I think I”m going to try a baked oatmeal recipe this week and see if it’s a bigger hit with the Wild Boys.

  10. Llewsilla says:

    One of my latest cheapo rice meals (and it’s even better if you have a little chicken stir fried in…)…cooked rice in your skillet with some butter or olive oil, A healthy squirt of dijon mustard, a matching squirt of honey, and a generous shake of yellow curry. mix in some raisins or currants and some toasted almonds for crunch…serve hot or cold a salad or a roll-up on lettuce leaves…yummy. If you like things spicy use red curry.

  11. http://www.passionatehomemaking.com/2008/07/frugal-food-carnival-dinners.html

    That’s our fave lentil and rice casserole recipe.. it’s really yummy! We also eat egg fried rice sometimes – it’s cheap and good for you with the protein from the eggs. Throw in some salt, peas, soy sauce, green onion, and a bunch of whisked eggs and scramble it all up.

    Also – make bone broths and eat tons of soup. Cheap and nourishing!

  12. Pauline Galley MacDonald says:

    Sobey’s has BOGO sales and 10 for $10 sales on a regular basis (though they tend to be on the weird shopping days). Also w/ a PCFinancial account, your debit card making purchases at the superstore add points that can be redeemed for groceries. At Sobey’s (and some other locations) you can get an AirMiles card, and using that for things you’d get anyway (Gas at Shell, etc), you can earn points that can be redeemed for Sobey’s $20 gift certificates.
    It is valid to ask at your supermarkets what days they mark down their meat/veggies/fruit, and frequent raid those bins (fuschia triangles are your friend at Superstores).
    flyerland.ca is a great site to look at all current ads in your area (and neighbouring ones), and w/ careful planning of the drive, you can make the round trip hitting 6-7 places getting their loss-leaders where they fit your food needs. flyerland.ca also allows you to print coupons (just verify the stores you plan to use them accept internet printed ones – some prefer to smart-scan them on a smartphone/ipad/ipod). Also, don’t ignore places like London Drugs as they are a ‘more than meds’ kind of place, and often have a decent loss leader each week (sometimes it is good for you, other times not so much).

    With those paragraphs alone, we save about 1/5-1/4 of our food budget money, allowing us to get more organic items that are part of the big ten.

  13. Co-ops are definitely your friend (food prices here in Canada are way higher than in the US). We buy huge quantities of oats, rice, dried beans, raisins, honey, and spices from a co-op here and it keeps our food budget to an almost-manageable cost. Without it we’d either be bankrupt or starving. BC in particular has some great farm shares and co-ops, so you’re in a good place.

  14. lol i laughed when i saw your mailing address in Washington. its mine as well. i think i found your blog through dulce de leche but looks like your local. cheap healthy food: head down to bellingham Costco for dairy, meat and poultry. lots of organic and half the cost. welcome to Canada.

  15. How are things in the food department since you’ve settled? Are you getting a hang on things like shopping and finding the best deals? Would love to find out more from you guys!

    • Thanks to the support of our Amazon Grocery Wishlist (found on the “Support Us” page) this load has lightened incredibly for us. We only have to worry about buying fresh product, meat, and dairy – no dry goods. And I go stateside for dairy and such.


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