In today’s economic climate, it can be a struggle from month to month to scrape together enough funds to feed your family. The more mouths you have to feed, the greater a burden it becomes. And it seems like expenses have a way of piling up – mortgage or rent, gas, utilities, insurance, phone bills, and much more. Often it may feel like the easiest fix for meals is McDonald’s for dinner every night, but that isn’t doing your family any favors.
As unbelievable as it may sound, there are ways to eat healthy on a tight budget, even with three or more children. Here are the steps to help you get the most out of your food budget and stretch your meals.
Photo by Flickr user Meg Stewart.
Evaluate how much you are currently spending
Before attempting to complete rework your budget, look closely at how much you currently spend on groceries in a month. Begin to get an idea of what items you could find cheaper at other places and what items are luxuries you don’t need to buy on every shopping trip.
Determine what healthy foods your kids enjoy eating
Don’t just jump right into an all health-food menu, as your children could be resistant and deem everything as “gross” right from the start. Chat with them and see what healthy choices they already like, then try to plan for some meals they will happily eat and some they’ll just have to tolerate.
Examine your own habits
It would be unfair to establish strict guidelines for your kids if you aren’t willing to give up eating unbalanced meals or consuming just as much junk food as you always do. Figure out your personal problem foods, and determine what things are okay in moderation.
Remove unnecessary foods from your grocery list
Cut down drastically – or entirely – on things like soda, sugary cereals, and junk food. It’s okay to make occasional allowances for treats, but your diet doesn’t need to be full of foods loaded with sugar, sodium, and fat.
Photo by Flickr user Bruce Turner.
Do some comparison shopping
Use the evaluation of your current spending to do some research on what items you could be getting better deals on. Many stores have a website where you can easily find prices on the goods you want. Before walking through the door, know what products you are going to buy where. This will cut down on gas costs, time spent shopping, and wasted money.
Try to buy in bulk
Purchasing certain items in bulk means long-term savings. Things like rice, beans, oats, cooking oils, sugar, and honey can be safely stored for years. It is also a good idea to stock up through particularly great deals when you encounter them.
Invest in a second freezer
Recent research by Frigidaire shows that purchasing a second freezer will save you time and money in food preparation, and most upright or chest freezer models essentially pay for themselves after a year of use. Then you can use your new freezer to store your bulk items!
Take advantage of savings from coupons and in-store specials
There’s no need to go “Extreme Couponing” on your shopping list, but it couldn’t hurt to browse sale fliers and clip coupons for the things you know you eat frequently. Pay attention to sales promotions from your local grocery store as well to save even more.
Photo by Flickr user Jamie McCaffrey.
Buy produce when it is in season
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is good to keep in mind. Fruits and veggies are the cheapest and taste the best when they are in season. Buy some for now and freeze some for later.
Only buy meat every couple of weeks or so
Meat is probably the most expensive item in your food budget, so as delicious and nutritional as it may be, a lot of large families simply cannot afford to buy meat several times a month. To make sure you still get the protein you need, supplement your meals with things like beans or fish.
Avoid prepackaged processed food
It’s no secret that prepackaged and heavily processed foods are not as good for you as homemade or whole food alternatives. One rule of thumb is if the product in question has too many ingredients you can’t pronounce, put it back on the shelf.
Photo by Flickr user Infrogmation of New Orleans.
Buy generic instead of brand-name items
Products with big-name brands attached or popular cartoon characters slapped on the package generally cost more. Most off-brand foods are comparable in quality and taste, so there’s no harm in opting for the generic instead. If you insist that you can taste the difference, then try to only buy these items when they are on sale or as a treat.
Stay away from fast food and takeout
There is nothing wrong with having your dinner handed to you from a drive-thru window every once in a while, but this should not be the norm. Get into the habit of fixing meals at home.
Purchase a slow cooker or crock pot
Small appliances like slow cookers and crock pots make cooking for your family a lot easier. Simply measure out the ingredients you need, pour them in, mix them up, and set the desired heating level.
Photo by Flickr user Liz.
Make a nutritional meal plan
Scheduling meals ahead of time lets you know what ingredients you will need and helps you better prepare for healthy eating throughout the week.
Use soup as a side
Hearty soups or stews are very filling, helping to compensate for those days when meat isn’t included in your meal. They also keep your kids feeling full longer and prevent a bit of begging for snacks later in the day.
Lovin’ those leftovers
Leftovers make great next-day lunches or snacks, so don’t let them go to waste. Handle them with care and store them in a way that will make them last as long as possible.
Photo by Flickr user Steve Johnson.
If your children are snacking out of boredom or if the food they eat throughout the day interferes with their hunger at meal time, it’s time to take action. Don’t allow frequent grazing, and if your kids feel hungry midway through the day, hand them something healthy instead. Fruits, veggies, crackers, pretzels, or popcorn are good choices.
Avoid wasting food
Don’t buy things you rarely eat only to end up throwing them in the trash. Be mindful of your eating habits, investing in staples you need constantly and not purchasing foods you want to “try out” in bulk.
Photo by Flickr user Brianna Privett.
Grow your own food
If you have the resources to do so, it’s fun to have your own garden plot or even windowsill plants. These are fresh, healthy choices right on hand that only cost you a little money and energy tending.
Continually review and revise your budget
You’re off to a great start, but there is always room for improvement. Over time, revisit your budget and find small things that could be tweaked or ways it could be changed.