Not everyone has the cookie cutter family of mum, dad and 2.5 children. What is 0.5 of a child anyway?
I bet by the time that 0.5 of a child is 14 years old, it will eat twice as much as its parents! Mums of teens, I hear you!
It’s no secret that the cost of living is increasing and it is becoming more and more difficult to feed our families fresh, nutritious meals without breaking the bank. And what happens when you have a big family with 3 kids, or 5 kids, or even 7 kids, and you don’t want to resort to filling them up with lots of bread, pasta and rice?
Let’s say you’re a family of 6 — 2 adults and 4 kids. You eat 2 snacks and 3 meals a day each, that’s 5 lots of food, times 6 people, is 30 lots of food per day. Multiply that by 7 days a week, that is 210 meals per week!
There are plenty of savvy tips out there but if you stick to these principles, it will help you reign in your budget, be organised, get healthy and reinstate your sanity.
Go Back To Basics
When actively shopping on a budget, we need to stop wasting money on brand names, trendy superfoods, processed and prepackaged things we can easily make ourselves.
For example, things like almond meal which sells for around $10 for 200gm. Did you know that is $50 per kilo?!? That is outrageous! To save on this cost, bulk buy 1kg of natural almonds for $13 and using a food processor, simply mill your own. If you’re worried about the skins, you can very quickly blanch and skin them in less than 5 minutes. The same goes for oatmeal and quick cook oats that cost up to $8.80 per kilo. Why pay extra for processed food when you can whizz, whole rolled oats that only cost $1.50 per kilo, through the food processor?
Have a look in your pantry and reconsider all the things you can make instead of buy.
Also, veto the ready-made prepackaged foods and baked goods like biscuits, dips, muesli bars, popcorn, individual crackers and cheese dips, muffins and cake mixes. All these things can be made at home and portioned into individual servings for much less expense.
Stop including already flavoured things in your trolley! In particular, things like yoghurt. Buy a large tub of plain yoghurt, stew down your own fruit and flavour it that way. If it’s the convenience of the single-serving you like, invest in individual containers or zip lock reusable squeeze pouches.
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Depending on the extremity of which your family may need or want to budget, it will determine how much detail you include in your meal plan. Such as whether or not you include snacks etc in your plan and for how many people.
If you like to be organised down to the letter, do include snacks in your meal plans. Kids have a tendency to be hungry all the time and it makes it easy if you have something already planned and prepped that they can just grab. And a side benefit of planning like this is, it can help you shed a little unwanted weight too.
If you are just beginning to meal plan, the first time you do it will be the most difficult. I recommend you choose 5 different recipes for each meal and snack time and rotate those for the first couple of weeks until you get in the groove of creating a system that works for you. Such as, 5 different breakfasts, 5 different snack options, 5 different lunches and 5 different dinners. By choosing from recipes, it will make it easy for you to quantify exactly how much of each ingredient you will need to put on your grocery list.
An example plan:
Brekky Muffins – egg bacon and cheese or banana berry.
Carrot sticks with peanut butter dip
Corned Beef Sandwiches
Corn and Zucchini fritters
Pulled Pork, brown rice, veg and roast corn cobs
Chilli Con Carne with side salad
Shredded Chicken with zucchini, green bean and blanched broccoli salad
Corned Beef with mash and veg
Once you have your meal plan that you have selected from recipes, you can break it down into items for your grocery shop. And since you know exactly what and how much you are buying, you can shop around for the best offers.
Don’t be afraid of buying frozen veg and berries. They still have the same nutritional value but they have a longer shelf life, and are much cheaper! And when it comes to fresh produce, always buy in season and if it is cheap, get extra and freeze it.
Given that you are cooking for so many people, it kind of goes without saying. Buying in bulk will get you a much better deal.
For longer term meal planning, particularly with meat, consider going halves with a family member or family friends in a whole or half an animal. Your local butcher will be able to help. Even at the supermarket, buying larger quantities is usually much more economical — check the price per kilo, it will help you price compare.
With pantry dry goods like oats and flour, always buy the larger quantities as they work out cheaper per kilo than small 500gm packages.
Another really important factor to feeding a big family on a budget is batch cooking and batch preparation. In the sample meal plan above, pretty much everything on there can be prepared and or cooked far in advance. Blueberry pancakes can be cooked and reheated for the morning you need them. Overnight oats will last in the fridge for up to three days, simply add your topping on the day. Many of the dinners are repurposed for lunches.
By doing one big meal prep day every week or fortnight (if you can get yourself that far ahead!), it will save you so much time, money and stress! Work smarter, not harder.
There’s a fair chance that proteins, as in meats, are going to be the most expensive items in your shop and there are ways of bulking those meats out, and not compromising on their nutritional value.
In tomato-based meat dishes like chilli con carne, lasagne and spaghetti sauce, I often pop a bunch of veg, including the offcuts like broccoli stems and carrot ends, into a food processor and mush it all up before adding to the meat sauce. Voila, hidden veg, no waste!
By adding lentils to things like your chilli con carne, shepherds pies, meat loaves etc, you will make your meat go further. Lentils are really high in protein, iron, magnesium and fibre. You can buy them in a 400gm can for about 0.75 cents or you can buy them dried, and cook them in bulk using a slow cooker and freeze into portions for when you need them. A 1kg bag of dried black lentils costs around $3 and it will make about 14 cups of cooked lentils. Pretty economical!
Now, I know I said earlier to avoid the trendy superfood but I can’t recommend chia seeds highly enough. The humble little chia seed swells up to 10 times its original weight and the gel that it forms is extremely nutritious, helps keep you full and hydrated! Chia seeds contain all eight essential amino acids and to put it in easy comparative terms, each 2 tbsp serving of chia has:
- Five times the omega-3 content of a 1/4-cup serving of walnuts
- Twice the iron and magnesium of a cup of spinach
- As much calcium as a half-cup of milk
- As much potassium as a third of a banana
- More than twice the fibre of a cup of oats
A standard 300gm bag from the supermarket will cost around $9 (Aldi has it for about $7 last I checked) and given that it swells to 10 times its weight, that’s 3kg of chia for $9 (or less if you find it elsewhere cheaper).
You can use chia to bulk out anything from your meat dishes, to your muffins, cookies and pancakes. It can also be used as a substitute for egg if anyone is allergic as it will help the ingredients bind together.
You don’t need the latest fandangled kitchen appliances to help feed your family for less. I think the essential tools for meal planning and to keep your shop cost down will be lots of airtight containers, a slow cooker, food processor and a decent-sized freezer. Slow cookers are really economical to run and make washing up a breeze – hello one pot wonders!
Grow Your Own
Try growing your own fruit and veg to help cut down on costs. Of course, if you are tight on space, you can at least grow your own herbs. They grow like weeds and mine do pretty well in tin cans on the kitchen window sill!