For most families, the biggest household expense after housing is food. Feeding a large family, in particular, can get very expensive, especially if you want to feed your family well. But it is possible to keep food costs down without sacrificing nutrition. Here are my tips for feeding a family on a budget:
Try to stick to a whole food, vegetarian diet. I realize this won’t work for everyone, as there are lots of die-hard meat-eaters out there! But… skipping the meat counter and the packaged, processed food and basing your diet primarily on whole grains, nuts, beans and produce will save you hundreds of dollars every month. Plus, there is a ton of evidence out there to support the idea that a primarily plant-based diet is healthier, anyway.
Stock up on staples when they’re on sale. This is a big one! We buy grains such as rice, oatmeal, quinoa and pasta in bulk, as well as things like cereal, baking staples, peanut butter, canned tomatoes, etc. Anything that will last a long time can be bought ahead, as long as you have a cool, dark place to store it. We have a pantry area in our basement where we store our bulk food. Our setup isn’t anything fancy… just some basic shelving and a chest freezer… but it works.
Buy produce that is local and in season. This will always be cheaper, and it’s fresher and thus, better for you! Consider joining a farm share, or starting a home garden, if you have the space. And when that good, local stuff is in season and plentiful, freeze or can some for use in the winter months.
Make your own snacks. Rather than buying prepackaged snacks for your kids, try making your own! We like to make Homemade Trail Mix, homemade granola and mini-muffins (bake a large batch and freeze for snacks throughout the week!) We also like to pop up a big batch of popcorn, and store it in zip bags or containers for quick on-the-go snacks.
Plan your meals. This is very important. Before you write up your shopping list, make a list of the meals you will prepare that week. By knowing ahead of time what you'll be making, you will know exactly what you need to buy for the week.This will not only save you money by reducing the amount of food that goes to waste in your fridge, but it will also save you from standing in front of the fridge at 5pm wondering what the heck to feed your hungry family.
Make a shopping list, and stick to it. Grocery stores have all sorts of pretty displays to encourage you to purchase more than you intend to. Resist the urge, and stick to just what you really need.
What do you do, to keep your family's food budget in check?