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Feeding a Large Family on a Budget
We’re a pretty large family. Five kids still at home, all preteens and teens. They eat a LOT. Seriously, way too many kids with hollow legs around here! And we’rebusy. Very busy. We’re also on a strict budget. Dave Ramsey anyone? 😉
But I care about what we eat. I try very hard to avoid bringing home any food or personal product that contains artificial ingredients, preservatives, etc. We do convenience and fast food sometimes, but we try to limit it for health and financial reasons. We do not eat organic everything…it’s just not in the budget. Someday, when my business grows big enough….
But for now, how do I manage packing 7 lunches every day, providing breakfasts and unending snacks, plus get dinner on the table, and stay within the budget? It’s tricky, and a lot of work for sure. There are some months I just wave the white flag and dream of the time when it’s just Hubby and me, rattling around here sharing a baked potato for dinner.
They Eat All the Money.
But in this season, I have to be all kinds of superhero in this department. So here are some of my tips:
The first two tips are all about teaching the kids to understand. Why? Because they don’t. And yet THEY. EAT. ALL. THE. MONEY.
- Teach the kids to do as much as possible, then require it of them. My kids can cook several simple dishes (for themselves or a crowd). They know how to prepare a thermos to take warm leftovers in their lunches. They know how to balance the protein/grains/fruits/etc when they pack their own lunches (even if they do require supervision to follow through 😉 ). They police each other to make sure the food budget lasts all month (LOL). And they’re learning about comparison shopping, coupons, and stretching the expensive items.
- Teach the kids about budgeting. And why wasted food is the most expensive food you’ll ever buy. (We feed ours to our chickens, but still.) And how to use up leftovers. And how much you can buy at the store, for the price of today’s dinner out. Make them use own money to buy snacks sometimes – they’ll soon see why you don’t allow them to gobble up an entire box of granola bars in one sitting.
- Spend some time comparing prices. Certain things I always get at certain stores, or I already knew where the best deal was. But a few months ago, I spent about a week walking up and down the aisles of the several stores I typically shop, writing down prices and package sizes of the items I buy but wasn’t sure who had the best price. I’ve been budget conscious and feeding a crowd for several years, so I wasn’t too shocked. But comparing price per ounce for the same item at different stores can really be an eye-opener.
- Sometimes buying in bulk is cheaper. Sometimes stocking up during seasonal sales is better. You have to know your lowest price point (see #3) so you know if a deal is a good deal or not. Or whether a coupon is worth using.
- Menu plan. I plan dinners for the entire month. Of course sometimes they get changed or rearranged. But it gives me guidelines for buying, and helps me plan to use up what we already have before shopping. I can use my slow cooker on super busy days, and schedule in Search & Starve nights strategically.
- Shop once a month. This doesn’t work for everyone, and it doesn’t eliminate ALL shopping later in the month. But about a week into the month, I spend a whole day hitting as many of my stores as I can, scooping up deals and best price items. I typically buy 8 or more loaves of bread at once. I am blessed to have plenty of pantry space, and two stand-up freezers. This saves money AND time, and allows me to do #7:
- Make food in bulk for the freezer. I have not gotten into the freezer slow cooker meals. Not sure why. But here’s what I do make ahead and freeze: Burritos (breakfast and otherwise), sandwiches, soups, homemade spaghetti sauce, muffins, pancakes, waffles, breakfast bowls, Mom McMuffin sandwiches…. Makes for a very quick and easy morning! (Burritos and soups are a fabulous way to use up dinner leftovers!) I often package up leftovers and freeze in lunch-size portions. Nothing wasted, and we have a variety of great lunches to choose from 🙂 If your kids don’t have access to a microwave, don’t forget that anything healthy makes a great breakfast. We often have burritos or leftovers for breakfast, and throw a frozen sandwich in our lunchboxes. Perfectly thawed by lunchtime.
- Make food in bulk for the fridge. I currently only have one refrigerator, so I don’t do a lot here. I typically do my food prep on Sundays, for the week ahead. I will make individual salads, homemade salad dressing, cut up veggies, a big fruit salad, potato salad, hard boiled eggs, cheese and meat rollups, banana bread, homemade rolls for sandwiches….
- Make food in bulk for the pantry. I have tried pre-bagging chips/crackers/pretzels for the kids lunches, but I find a lot gets broken and wasted. So I do premake trail mixes, dry baking mixes, dry soup/slow cooker mixes, seasonings, oatmeal jars…
- Organize for efficiency. On the inside door of my pantry, I hung a full size shoe organizer. I use it to hold water bottles and thermoses for each person, sandwich and snack baggies, plastic forks and spoons, and straws. I used to also use several pockets for granola bars, gummy snacks, etc. but we’ve had a rash of sticky fingers around here lately, so all sweet snacks are now in a locked cabinet. Hoping to move past that phase someday :/
- Be ready at all times to save a buck. I grab the deals wherever I find them. Below is pictured a recent trip to Target. I don’t buy much at Target – milk, dish soap, seasonal goodies without artificial ingredients. But this time, Target happened to have turkeys (also without “yuckies”) for a great sale price. The children were embarrassed. I almost sent them back for another one.
Doing all of these things allows me to stay within budget, control how healthy our food options are, and make school/work day mornings so much easier.
Next up: Teaching the kids to take over Sunday Meal Prep.
I currently have only two actual teenagers in the house. So I suspect I will have to revisit this topic in a few years, when ALL of them are in their teens and still living at home. We shall see how well I do then 😉
Come check out my Pinterest boards for more budgeting and large family ideas and inspiration!