The $36.9 Billion Cost of Poor Health...and How to Get Real Food for Less

How to get real food for lessConsider the high cost of poor health...

Unhealthy lifestyle choices cost Canadians $36.9 billion per year according to this Canadian Men’s Health Foundation’s study.

You can bet we’re all affected because our tax dollars fund our healthcare programs...

Poor health also affects our ability to work. Of course, we just can’t do our best work when we’re sick...

I worked in Human Resources and consistent absence from work (“absenteeism”) is a classic management headache. Employees who are legitimately sick and truly need their employer’s support, unfortunately, get mixed up with those few bad apples who abuse the system.

If you’re a full-time employee, you’ve got a limited amount of sick leave and likely some long-term disability coverage (although even if you qualify, this only replaces a portion of your salary).

Related: Want to get a salary raise? Read this and learn from a trusted career coach...

But what if you’re a casual employee with no benefits and no guaranteed work hours?

What if you’re self-employed?

Your income could take a sharp nosedive when you need it most.

And then there’s also quality of life...

Sure, we’ve gained 20 to 22 years in life expectancy - but are we living better? Will we be healthy enough to travel at 65? Or play with our grandkids at 75?

When we invest in our health starting now - it can make a HUGE impact not only in the short-term...but also over the longer-term.

Here’s a thought...

We prepare for our financial well-being leading up to retirement. But at the end of the day, what’s the point of gaining a mountain of money if we’re not going to have the health and the zest to enjoy it with the people we love?

So why not invest in our health as well?

Investing in Food and Your Health

In a recent post, I interviewed a local farmer who gave us 4 reasons why local food is best. In a minute, we’ll talk about:

But first, let’s do a quick review…

Financial investing takes research and planning, assessing risk tolerance, and considering long-term performance.

What if we apply these same concepts to health and food investment as well?

Wanna give it a shot?

1. Research and planning

How do you decide where to invest your money? How do you choose what mix of investments or funds will yield an acceptable return? What about finding lower management fees?

Planning and research help us make better decisions.

Similarly with food, we need to research which types of food are healthiest. And then plan to get them in the most cost-effective way possible.

2. Risk tolerance

When do you plan to retire? And what lifestyle do you want after retirement?

Answers to these questions give us insight to the level of risk we’re willing to take when choosing our investment portfolio.

Related: Is DIY Investing Right For You?

But there’s one investment principle everyone can agree on...


With food, consider the full variety of whole nutritious food that nature offers. (Hint: whole food doesn’t come pre-made, pre-packaged, and microwave-ready.)

3. Long-term performance

Panic sets in when short-term results look catastrophic - then we tend to do the opposite of what we should...

...We end up selling low and buying high.

Yes, in theory we knew better than that.

But when it comes time for action, theories get thrown out the window.

One potential solution?

Select an index fund that’s automatically rebalanced. That way, we can take emotion completely out of the equation.

The same goes for food. Preparing a meal plan ahead of time will remove the pain of deciding on the spot: what’s for supper today?

No doubt, that takes some initial work. But consider the benefits of infusing nutrients into our bodies and avoiding the long-term cost of of poor health.

6 Ways to Eat Real Food for Less

Nutritious food and financial health can co-exist with some discipline and effort. Here are 6 things we can all do:

1. Start a meal plan.

With a little planning, you end up saving time, reducing waste, and avoid giving-in to last-minute cravings.

When I was getting ready to go back to work after my mat-leave last year, I wanted to get organized and make sure I had a plan for family meals. So, I spent a few hours for three or four days compiling my favourite recipes and researching easy healthy recipes, and then printing those out so I have a binder full of recipes I can quickly refer to.

Then, I created a weekly schedule of meals for the next 21 weeks! I did this in April 2015. And I’m still referring to this meal plan today because there are enough recipes that I can just keep rotating them, even now.

2. Make home cooking efficient.

There’s no need to cook every day.

I cook about twice a week (tripling or quadrupling 3-4 different recipes), and then we’re all set.

I cook big batches of food because leftovers are both efficient and convenient. We can always count on there being food in the fridge when we’re hungry, there’s fewer dishes to wash, and overall less time is spent cooking and cleaning.

If you’re not crazy about eating the same thing over and over, why not freeze the extra food, and then take it out after a few days (or whenever you’re in a pinch)?

You can create a rotation of homemade pre-frozen meals. They’re easier on the wallet than eating out, and healthier because you know exactly what you’re putting in your body.

3. Bring left-overs for lunch at work.

The cost of daily lunches adds up. Not to mention the unhealthy result when we’re making last minute decisions with a hungry nagging stomach…

We end up choosing based on what smells good, what looks best, and what’s easy when our stomach is growling with hunger.

Our resolve to save and stay healthy doesn’t stand a chance...

...And that’s just isn’t fair, right? How can we set ourselves up for success instead?

Prepare lunches ahead of time so we’re ready when that unforgiving hunger strikes.

4. Shop in-season and freeze what’s left.

Summer and fall bring an abundant supply of local produce!

For two consecutive years now, I signed up for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) weekly produce packs. The first year, I paid $25 weekly where I received a week’s supply of vegetables for a family of three (not counting my son as he was only a few months old then). The second year, I signed up to Farmer Dave’s CSA for $40/week - and in addition to a week’s worth of vegetables, I also received a dozen eggs, their house-made bread with predominantly locally sourced ingredients, and some fruit.

Related: How To Start a Garden and Grow Your Own Food

I love those weeks when I get to have an abundance of green onions, celery leaves, garlic scapes, and herbs (like dill, basil and parsley). Here’s what I did:

After washing, I’d cut them up into smaller pieces, put them in ziploc baggies, and freeze them. I accumulate enough during the summer and fall, so that in the colder months ahead I have about three big baggies filled with these frozen green goodies that I can use in my soup-based meals.

You can eliminate waste by freezing produce when in abundance, and then during the cold months, use these up and save money by not having to buy vegetable broth to flavour your meals. I also save my shiitake mushroom stems to flavour homemade gravy and soup.

5. Experiment with more plant-based meals and use less meat.

Meat is expensive, and there’s a lot of debate and controversy about eliminating meat and dairy from your diet for optimal health. In fact, there’s a very compelling documentary that presents a case for a no-meat diet.

I tried eating only plant-based meals for a few months…

But I’ve come to the conclusion that health is about balance. So I personally eat meat, however, I incorporate lots of lentils, beans, chickpeas and peas to promote variety of protein sources.

Canada is one the biggest exporters of these natural protein alternatives which are known to provide a variety of health benefits. Not only are they healthy sources of protein, they are also cheaper than meat:

Dried Green Lentils

$2.99 for a 900g bag

Dried Red Lentils

$2.99 for a 900g bag

Dried Navy Beans

$2.99 for a 900g bag

Dried Red Kidney Beans

$2.99 for a 900g bag

6. Get to know your local farmers.

We can lower our distributor cost by going direct to the source.

As an added bonus, getting to know our local farmers and food suppliers will help us become experts on what we put on our plates (and avoid food counterfeit).

This brings me to my next point…

Where to Find Local Farmers in Canada

Here is a compilation of sites to find local farmers by region, which I hope can serve as a starting point for you. (Leave a comment if you feel that a farm or resource should be added to this list.)



Nova Scotia

  • Adventures In Local Food - Offers a list of Nova Scotia CSAs and farmer's markets--check out their side-bar.
  • Hodge Podge Farm - A family of five who has been farming and providing CSA packs since 2009, in Carlton Corner. (Note: I didn’t want to duplicate the already exhaustive list provided by the site above however, I don’t believe this farm was included.)

New Brunswick

  • Acorn - Offers a directory of organic CSA farmers in Atlantic Canada.
  • Kredls - A charming all-year market in Hampton that houses Farmer Dave’s produce as well as other local bounty.
  • Alva Farm - Offers quality vegetables and fruits in southeastern NB.
  • Nature’s Route Farm - Vegetables grown ethically and offers CSA packs in Point de Bute. You can also find their produce in Sackville Farmers’ Market and Dieppe Market.


  • - offers a great list of 23 local farms that offer poduce, meat, poultry, and eggs.

British Columbia

  • Farm Folk City Folk - you can select a CSA by region and then it provides a list of local farmers, a description, and their contact information.

Prince Edward Island


  • Etomami Eco Farm - located south of Hudson Bay, they offer a produce box, beef, pastured poultry, and eggs.
  • The Green Ranch - they have Regina and Weyburn CSAs however you’d have to be a member to access these pages.


  • CSA Alberta - directory of CSA farmers in Alberta organized by region.

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • The Organic Farm - offers two sizes of veggie packs: smaller bag at $36 and larger bag at $49.50 per week.



No found listing.

Northwest Territories

No found listing.

Final Thoughts

We work hard for every dollar that we earn. And we want to make good decisions where our money’s concerned.

We know that we need to be prepared for a rainy day...

...So we save, we invest, we maximize our money.

That rainy day may include poor health down the road.

So why not prepare for that as well?

Share your thoughts below.

Disclosure: Some links in this article may be affiliate links. We're letting you know because it's the right thing to do. Here’s a more detailed disclosure on how HTS makes money.

Editorial Disclaimer: The content here reflects the author's opinion alone, and is not endorsed or sponsored by a bank, credit card issuer, rewards program or other entity.

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Tom's picture

Sorry gotta disagree on this one. I find food shopping directly with farmers discouraging. I have stopped at farmers stands and they always want premium prices for their goods. They sell cheaply to volume buyers (grocery stores), but as I said, they want premium money from my family. Hard to get on board with that no matter how one spins it.

May 17, 2016 @ 5:33 pm
Maria Weyman
Maria Weyman's picture

Hey Tom, thanks for reading and appreciate your perspective.

From my experience, the farmers I've met and bought food from in my area have been fair. One of them even gave my family and I a tour of their farm (their main produce is garlic). Then they let my daughter pick some fresh carrots from the ground for a little taste (after we cleaned off the dirt). I bought some garlic, and then they gave us some fresh parsley and lots of fresh mint. Anyway, I've got a lot of respect for farmers and what they do. It's hard work. 

May 17, 2016 @ 7:25 pm
En's picture

The farmers we know are quite generous too! They're a hardworking family and sometimes, they would give us extra produce for free just because they know us!

May 17, 2016 @ 7:36 pm
En's picture

Thanks for this article!!

I've been thinking about this subject lately. I was speaking with a recent university graduate who told me that due to limited funds while in university, her meal budget was $2 per meal. She said that this meant eating mostly processed food. This got me thinking about my own grocery budget. My husband and I--- a family of two--- have transitioned into eating less processed food about two years ago. We mostly buy from the farmers' market. We don't always buy organic. We do try to buy seasonal and local food. Our monthly grocery bill averages to $400. So, doing the math, it costs $2.15 per meal per person (31 days= about 186 meals for two people). I was very pleasantly surprised to discover this!

There are definitely ways to afford nutritious food. Nutrient dense food can be affordable. Cabbage, for instance, is packed with so much nutrients... and at the farmers' market, it's only $1 per pound! Yay :)

Great tips!

May 17, 2016 @ 7:34 pm
Maria Weyman
Maria Weyman's picture

Thanks for sharing your cost per meal En. I think $2.15 is reasonable for quality healthy food - well done! I also love cabbage - they're awesome and versatile. I find ways to include it in many of our meals like soup, curry, stir-fry...and even shepherd's pie this week :)

May 18, 2016 @ 10:36 am
Ashlee 's picture

Hey Guys,

Great topic to read up on, thank you! Food is becoming a larger and larger piece to our budget because we aim for quality over quantity. I also believe that if you buy direct you are paying more money to the farmer that all the middle men.
I have been using soilmate, an online farm search tool to become more connected with local farms.

May 17, 2016 @ 10:33 pm
Maria Weyman
Maria Weyman's picture

Hey Ashlee,

Focus on quality over quantity is just it. As Stephen mentions: don't buy crap. And food is no exception. Thanks for sharing soilmate - I just checked it out and it looks like a great tool! 

May 18, 2016 @ 10:45 am
Christine's picture

Nice timing on this one!! Our local farmers market opens this weekend and I am really looking forward to some nice fresh goodies from there!! I can walk over to the location in a couple of minutes. They also have a weekly draw for all that purchase goods there, I won once last year and it's a sample of goods from each and every vendor up to $5.00 from each. I got a pretty good haul that week from our small market! My husband isn't well plus he can be a picky eater but this will help out my grocery budget, our meals and our health.

May 17, 2016 @ 11:25 pm
Maria Weyman
Maria Weyman's picture

Thanks Christine - I'm so looking forward to the coming weeks (and months) of fresh local produce, too. That's convenient that you can walk to your farmer's market. Hope your husband gets better...and if they're doing their weekly draw again this year - best of luck! 

May 18, 2016 @ 10:51 am

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