As a Mom of five kids, one of the questions I get asked the most is, “How do you afford to feed a big family?!” It’s a legitimate question & I admit it’s obviously an area where we dedicate a large portion of our budget! Food is certainly something worth spending money on, especially if you want to feed your family nutritious meals! However, you want to make your dollar stretch and not spend money unnecessarily! There are many ways to guard your food budget, and still feed your family delicious, nutritious food! While we’re constantly adjusting and working on getting the most for our money, I want to share a couple of tips and guidelines that work for us… My focus for my family is affordable, quality food.
1. Menu Planning:
There are so many reasons why menu planning saves money, time and stress! I will admit that I’m a free spirit, so feeling “tied down” to a set menu used to rub me the wrong way, because I’d always want to cook whatever I was “in the mood” for! However, that led to too many trips to the grocery store, more money spent, and time wasted! There are so many reasons why menu planning is beneficial to you & your family – It’s a simple way to ensure that…
…you won’t be standing in front of the fridge at 5pm wondering what to feed your kids.
…you won’t be tempted throw the first easy, normally unhealthy, thing you see at them!
…you won’t be tempted to order in, or go out to eat.
…you can create a grocery list that you can stick to at the store because you don’t have to throw a bunch of “just in case” options in the cart! (been there!)
…you can plan meals with similar ingredients, thus not wasting leftovers, or extra ingredients in your fridge!
…you take the stress out of meal prep.
…you can plan crockpot meals for busy days so you don’t have to cook in the evenings
…you can prepare your fruits & veggies at the beginning of the week to save meal prep time.
…you are feeding your family a well balanced, nutritious diet.
2. Leftover Night!
This probably goes without saying, but even the most well-planned week always changes, and you’ll (normally!) have some amount of leftovers. “Leftover night” isn’t necessarily my favorite, because I love a hot, fresh meal. But, there’s something rewarding about being good stewards with our food, and getting creative in the kitchen! A few simple tips for leftovers:
- Create a “stock bag” in your freezer, placing leftover veggies you won’t be eating to be used in the future for broth.
- Tortillas. My best friend. You can make a wrap out of almost anything – and kids love them! Throw that leftover chicken in there, with a little ranch & veggies & lettuce. Or throw some bacon with lettuce, tomatoes & cheese in a wrap for a quick BLT. The possibilities for leftovers & wraps are endless!
- Soups, stews & chili’s can always have a mixture of ingredients.
3. Leave out the Meat!
One to two nights a week try going “vegetarian”! It’s easier than you think, and keeping meat out of a meal really saves money. Make sure you’re keeping your dinner balanced by including sufficient protein!
Our go-to meatless meals are:
- White Chili
- Pasta (Spaghetti, Lasagna, Cheese Tortellini, Mac&Cheese)
- Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup
- Quesadillas & Beans
- Taco Night with Re-fried Beans as our main “filler”
- Loaded Potato Bar
4. As far as the actual shopping goes, these are the guidelines I stick to that I’ve found to really work for our family of seven!
- Shop local for produce. We are blessed to live in an area with lots of farm stands, co-ops, and produce outlets. Not only do I prefer to support local businesses, but when I’m carefully choosing my produce that way, I don’t over-buy, and we only get what we need. You’re also ensuring much better quality for your family, which with
produce, is not somewhere you want to skimp!
- Buy your pantry items at a discount store, like Aldi’s. I know Aldi’s may not be your favorite place to shop, but believe me, it is your wallet’s best friend! You don’t need to purchase all your groceries from there, and definitely research before you buy, but there’s a lot that’s just fine. We buy the bulk of our groceries there and are blessed to have cut our grocery bill almost in half when we made that change! You’ll be surprised what your local Aldi’s has! Gluten-free, organic, specialty and truly healthy options! For staples like rice, sugar, flour, milk, bread, canned goods, snacks for the kids, some toiletries, and even toilet paper & paper towels – our go-to is Aldi’s.
- If you prefer to use a “regular” grocery store, “Shop from Home” (shopping online) is a great way to go! You can easily see the sales, and see your total as you go. You can budget effectively when you’re viewing it piece by piece. You’re also not likely to throw in extra items in your cart as it’s so easy to do when you’re in the store! There are often promo-codes that offer a percentage off your online order, or free delivery. You can even just do your shopping online and go pick it up at the store – often worth the extra couple of dollars! This is GREAT if your kids are sick, or you have a new baby, or just a particularly busy week! (Tip: this is also a great gift for a new Mom!)
- A “no brainer” is to shop the sales! Items typically go on sale every 6 weeks or so, so take advantage of a sale if it’s something you always use. A way to waste money is to stock up on items just because it’s a sale, but they end up sitting on your shelf. Only invest ahead of time if you know it’s an item your family regularly uses. Freeze & store them for future use.
- Buy in Bulk? Here are my thoughts on buying in bulk: as a family, we choose not to. I can see how it can definitely be cost effective though, so I don’t want to rule it out! It really works for some families, or even just on occasion. But for us, I found that I ended up spending much more when I was trying to save by buying in bulk.
We ate more. If I bought one (big sized!) bag of Pirates Booty from Sam’s, my kids could crush that thing in one afternoon after school. So now a $2.50 after-school-snack just turned into a $6.00 one. This is just a silly example, but I found that the bigger we bought, the more we ate all sorts of processed foods instead of getting creative with what we had.
- It encouraged excess. I would spend so much money and bring home loads of food and supplies, and we were truly overloaded. We had more than we needed, and didn’t use it efficiently. Food was wasted. I had too much of one thing and not enough of another.
- Bulk stores carry a lot of processed foods. We eat healthier when we don’t have access to large amounts of “junk” food 🙂
All this being said, I do believe that it’s partly a personality thing! Buying more regularly fits our family’s needs and our personalities. Buying in bulk doesn’t “work” for me, but it sure does work for a lot of people – so it’s certainly an option if it helps your family!5.
5. Avoid processed foods, even though they’re “cheaper.”
It’s possible to get by on a low budget if you want to buy all processed foods. But I’ve learned the hard way that you’re not saving money in the long run anyway! Feeding that kind of food to my children on a daily basis only results in unhealthy, cranky kids! Besides, you’ll be paying for it later with doctor’s visits & bills, etc. I know that those foods are quick & easy, but if you’re creative, you can come up with healthy, easy snacks your family will love!
That being said, we don’t live in a perfect world, and I definitely take advantage of some quick options to save time & money sometimes! Aldi’s Take&Bake Pizza is huge and only $5 – perfect for a night when we have a babysitter. Boxed Mac&Cheese is not remotely good for you, but does the trick when my kids have friends over & I need to whip up a huge pot of something that everyone will like. Granola bars, boxed cereal, and sauce mixes are areas where I will buy processed – it’s not as healthy as from-scratch, but to save time and sanity, those are areas where I “cut corners.”
An important part of your menu planning, grocery shopping, meal cooking is to get your kids involved!
Let them pick (and help cook!) new recipes. Have them accompany you to the grocery store! Give them their own little list & let them help find the right items. Teach them how to bag properly. Teach them to load & unload the car. Have them help wash & prepare veggies & fruits for the week. Assign a night to each child to be your “dinner helper”.
Starting with them at a young age to have an appreciation for all the time it takes to feed a family is so important! Their perspective of their food will be so different when they sit down at the dinner table & see their plate! Teaching them cooking & general kitchen skills they will carry with them is a gift. Teaching them to buy responsibly and affordably is an invaluable life skill.