High food prices stir appetite for budget-minded recipes from food writers

High food prices stir appetite for budget-minded recipes from food writers

Rising food costs mean everyone is paying more to make meals — including the people coming up with recipes.

Cookbook author and TV host Mary Berg says a combination of rising food prices and concerns about the economy have "put the pedal to the metal for everybody" when it comes to people thinking about what they spend on groceries.

"People don't cook at home to spend money," said Berg, who's adjusting her own grocery shopping habits based on changing prices.

She and other food writers are also carefully considering what truly needs to be in a recipe — and how people are cooking and coping under the current circumstances.

WATCH | How Canadians are coping with rising food prices:

Rising grocery prices prompt change in cooking 

Berg has tried to keep a budget-minded approach to developing recipes for some time now — including as she considered what people needed when cooking at home during the pandemic.

"I have been kind of streamlining towards more budget-conscious food," said Berg, noting that if she develops a recipe that involves a more expensive ingredient, it has to have a purpose in the dish.

"If I do present an expensive ingredient — whether it's a protein or maybe something like a niche seasoning or something like that — I try to offer either a reason for it being expensive … or I'll give you options in how to use those things in other recipes."

Mary Makes It Easy
Mary Makes It Easy

Shahir Massoud, a Toronto chef and cookbook author, said food prices are definitely "top of mind" these days, and though there are limits to substitutions that can be made for certain foods and recipes, he likely wouldn't feature "a risotto with black truffles" in a cookbook right now.

He says people compiling recipes for cookbooks might want to use "less caviar and more creativity" because cost-effective cooking ideas "will never go out of style" and publishers are typically looking for cookbooks with long-term appeal.

Anne-Marie Bonneau, the Ontario-born and San Francisco-based author of The Zero-Waste Chef: Plant-Forward Recipes and Tips for a Sustainable Kitchen and Planet, said rising prices may prompt people to "rethink the way we cook and the way we consume, the way we shop."

"It's hard, really hard, for a lot of people," said Bonneau, noting that through her Zero-Waste Chef blog, she's seen how the pandemic has influenced what people search for — like sourdough starter recipes or tips on how to reduce food waste.

One of her most-recent posts looked at making cookies with sourdough discard and flax eggs — a vegan egg substitute made of ground flax seeds and water — a substitute she thought might interest readers due to the soaring price of eggs in the U.S.

Daniela Roberts
Daniela Roberts

She's also written about finding uses for random fruits and vegetables and using "cooked-down leftovers" in pastries, galettes and hand pies.

Ultimately, Bonneau says "the whole cooking zeitgeist" could change, with more emphasis on accessibility and affordability when it comes to what's being made in the kitchen.

Cookbooks slower to reflect challenges

Because it takes roughly two years for a cookbook to reach consumers in stores, literary agent Carly Watters says it could take some time before the challenges of today are reflected in what's being published, unless such a project has been underway for awhile.

"They take a really long time because there's so much that goes into it," said Watters, who helped sell Bonneau's book.

Massoud — whose cookbook Eat, Habibi, Eat! was published in 2021 — estimates it would take nearly a year to come up with 100 fresh recipes for a cookbook.

"Even that, when you do the math, that's at a pretty torrid pace," he said.

Submitted by Shahir Massoud
Submitted by Shahir Massoud

According to Watters, the authors primed to take advantage of the current moment are those with books already in print that have themes like budget-friendly cooking.

Last year, Berg — whose latest release, Well Seasoned, won a gold medal at the Taste Canada Awards — finished a manuscript for a cookbook due out this fall and says concerns about food costs were on her mind when she was writing it.

"I have almost little flags on each recipe — there are some for bang for your buck, so budget-friendly [considerations], reducing food waste," she said.

Canadian bookseller Indigo told CBC News that in the past year it hadn't seen an increase in sales of cookbooks focused on budget-conscious recipes — but it said British chef Jamie Oliver's latest release, One, was the most popular book in this category.

On Amazon, a handful of the top-10 top-selling cookbooks of the moment relate to making meals with air fryers or dutch ovens — tools that can be used for batch cooking — while several others focused on basic kitchen skills.