by Kelly Jones

It’s near impossible to eat entirely locally grown and raised foods in Ontario all year long. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t embrace the locavore movement and make smart and healthy choices about the foods we purchase and prepare. It’s simply not an all-or-nothing principle, at least in my view.

For those of us with young families and demanding jobs (or – God forbid – both), shopping for local groceries may have once felt daunting, taking up more precious minutes than simply pulling into a Sobeys and crossing everything off our list in one go. The reality is that we want to eat good food, and sometimes we need it fast.

Thankfully, the demand for ready-made foods prepared using local ingredients is being heard by grocers and butchers all over the province, and these meal replacements, as they’re sometimes called, are earning prominent shelf space.

It’s true that big grocers like Fiesta Farms and even Loblaws are catching on to the trend, but it’s the smaller independents that are making the most headway. Herewith, a smattering of shops that take up the task, assembling as many local ingredients as possible and cheffing-up prepared foods that satisfy our palette, our conscience and our schedule.

Eco Chefs
President and founder Sonya Kaute keeps shop at two locations, in Burlington and Oakville, but items from her seasonally changing menu of prepared foods using local and natural ingredients can also be found at numerous shops in the Mississauga area, and she’s making moves to set up in Toronto as well. “I like ethnic food,” admits Sonya. And apparently customers do as well. Butter chicken is one of her best-selling meals, prepared using Fenwood Farms chicken, Harmony Organic Dairy yogurt and cream, and freshly ground Indian spices (gluten free also available). Eco Chefs also partners with the likes of Kerr Farms, Cookstown Greens, Fifth Town Dairy, Local Food Plus, Ontario Natural Food Coop, 100km Foods, and Bullfrog Power.

Healthy Butcher
We’ve been hitting up the Healthy Butcher’s organic and locally raised cuts of meat for years, stepping in to pick up a bavette or venison sausage and learning a thing or two about butchering and the quality of meat in the process. But both the Queen West and Eglinton West locations sell pre-made meal options for take-home as well. Frozen game pot pie with elk, venison, braised red cabbage and seasonal squash, say, or – perfect for lunch this weekend – quinoa salad with Ontario squash, yams, kale, pumpkin seeds with an apple cider dressing. Menus change week to week and season to season. Want to simplify things further? The Healthy Butcher now delivers!

Loïc Gourmet
Leslieville’s got its own local for local, and Loïc goes one step further by using only compostable packaging and keeping the shop clean with biodegradable cleaners. Obviously, the menu changes often, reflecting what’s available at market. Today, marinated and seared Cumbrae hangar steak with a roasted shallot and red wine sauce, paired perhaps with mashed Ontario potatoes with caramelized garlic and aged cheddar. Other meat offerings hail from Brome Lake and Niagara Food Specialties; fish options are sustainable, from Ontario when possible. “We keep it as local as we can,” says owner David Kokai. “Obviously, we need to break down with some seasonings. Peppercorns. I need peppercorns…”

This family-run College Street hotspot does a brisk brunch business, but their take-out offerings (as part of their gourmet grocery) deserve mention as well. Using local and sustainably raised produce and meats is their mandate (as in Cumbrae Farms and Cookstown Greens), partnering with Local Food Plus. Chef and partner Eric Walker creates such items as slow-roasted lamb with apricot bulgar and arugula, or shepherd’s pie with beef brisket, wild onion, shiitake mushrooms and mashed Yukon Gold potatoes.

Provenance Local Grocery Store
The storefront opened less than two weeks ago, but chef Alex Johnston has been filing orders for high-quality local and sustainable grocery items delivered directly to customers’ doors for months. The Palmerston and Dundas shop shelves both ingredients for creative cooking at home as well as prepared items, often frozen, that need only be heated and served. This week, organic chicken stew blends Fenwood Farms meat with heirloom potatoes, heirloom coloured carrots, sunchokes, tarragon, thyme and celery root (Alex sources from Cookstown Greens). Tempting soups cover such ground as roasted parsnip and pear, pork and white bean, or bacon and butternut. Provenance makes their own Harmony Dairy ice creams too, as in wild blackberry.

Saucier Foods
Founder, chef and CEO of this new Scarborough-based company, Roger Wils, distributes his prepared natural, local foods to myriad Ontario retailers—from Huntsville to London, Kitchener to Richmond Hill, to dozens in the GTA. You can also catch him at some of Toronto’s farmers’ markets: Trinity Bellwoods, Withrow Park and Wychwood Barns. Although Saucier Foods starting off ladling out, well, sauces, plus stocks, they’re expanding into ready-made meal supplements and frozen entrées made from local and (when possible) organic suppliers. Fenwood Farms and Top Meadow Farms are but two examples. Think paté de canard, free-range chicken pie, vac pak meat lasagna, duck confit. And keep your forks and scoops of vanilla ice cream ready for sweet dessert pies, still in development.