Keep holiday meal traditions or make new ones? How Winnipeggers are dealing with rising costs

With the climbing price of foods like meat and produce — ingredients for holiday staples in many households — many Winnipeggers are facing a choice between keeping expensive traditions or making budget-friendly changes this season.

For Jackie Wild, owner of the Filipino fusion restaurant Tito Boy, the choice is clear. Many of the restaurant’s recipes call for specific ingredients, and it’s important to her to stick as close to them as possible.

“We still want to honour the traditional Philippine recipes that we have without trying to alter the recipes too dramatically,” she said.

“We have to do the due diligence of checking four or five, six different stores to find an alternative that is competitively priced.”

Tito Boy’s patrons are snapping up holiday items such as pancit noodles and lumpia shanghai in bulk.

People celebrating a traditional Filipino Christmas typically enjoy a large spread of different foods, which also include lechon (roasted suckling pig) and bibingka (a type of baked rice cake). The Christmas meal is usually served family-style, with the dining table covered with trays of food.

“It’s not specific to the holidays, but you see that whole spread … [and] it just brings up so many fond memories over the holidays, because you know how much heart it takes for your family to make those dishes from scratch,” Wild said.

A bearded man wearing a grey toque smiles as he stands in a snowy parking lot.
Marcel Joanisse says he’s keeping his family traditions and budgeting for the increased cost of their meal. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Shopping at a Winnipeg grocery store earlier this week, Marcel Joanisse said his family traditionally has either has turkey or prime rib for the holidays. They wanted to hold on to that tradition, so they budgeted for their prime rib holiday meal this season. 

“It’s a one-time cost,” Joanisse said. “Family is worth it.”

Shopper Chris Laroque echoed that sentiment, but said his family is creating new traditions this year, having ribs and two small turkeys. Even though he said he’s a little concerned about the cost, Laroque will be shelling out the money.

“[It’s about] keeping the family together [and] still having a good meal,” he said.

Looks for sales, consider substitutes: dietitian

Janine LaForte, a Winnipeg-based dietitian and owner of Real Life Nutrition, said she’s seeing many families struggling to choose between tradition and cost. 

 With experts warning the financial pain from high food prices isn’t expected to go away anytime soon, her first tip is to follow the example of Wild at Tito Boy — shop around for the best price. 

“I think the price of food is really starting to affect all families and I think it’s a good time for us to really be intentional — both … [with] our purchases at the store and just attention to the prices on the shelves,” LaForte said.

“Watch those sticker prices. See what’s on sale that week.”

LaForte has many tips that can be practised year-round, but for the holiday season, she says families can also keep food bills down by considering alternative ingredients.

WATCH | Dietitan Janine LaForte offers money-saving grocery shopping tips:

A Winnipeg dietitian shares tips on how to cut holiday meal costs

2 hours ago

Duration 2:33

Dietitian Janine LaForte, who owns Real Life Nutrition, shares tips to help Canadians lower their holiday meal costs. That includes finding alternative proteins like chicken or pork tenderloin, shopping for discounted foods, and finding new dishes that are more budget-friendly.

For a main meat dish, foods like chicken or pork tenderloin could be an option instead of a turkey, she said.

“Pork is one of the the meats that has gone up in price the least, so a ham may be a better alternative to a turkey.”

Using different produce is also another way to cut down on costs. LaForte suggests using coleslaw, kale or spinach as alternatives to lettuce, which is in short supply — and therefore expensive — after drought conditions and crop disease affected supplies from California.

If you still need to cut costs further after shopping the sales or finding alternative ingredients, LaForte said looking at alternative dishes altogether may be the solution.

“Maybe this year you’re making an apple crisp for dessert rather than your pecan pie, and that can taste really delicious too,” she said.

“Maybe we’re creating new traditions this year and looking for for other alternatives that [are more in the] budget.”

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