Feeding a family healthy food on a budget

I am always seeing in the news how hard it is to eat healthy whilst on a budget, and the prices of healthy foods are too expensive. I have to call bullocks, yes its gone up over years, however its not impossible, or even that hard.

I feed a family of 5, 3 are teens (ok one is just out of teenage bracket, but hes almost 13!), and do Cheerleading, which involves up to 5 or more hours training a week. One is gluten and dairy free, which contributes to some of the added costs for us, however we don’t generally have a lot of breads or milks (easier than paying the rip off prices they expect for gluten free bread etc)

My budget is $150 a week around about. I buy no junk good, no cookies, muffins, etc. I do buy whatever fruit is on special, and if no fruit is available we buy or make our own muesli bars. Because of the Cheerleading we need an extra meal for the kids at 4pm to keep them over until they get back from cheerleading, i usually give them 2 minute noodles due to time constraints, plus fruit or muesli bars to eat during.

As far as drinks go, we drink water most of the time. My husband has a thing for fizzy drinks and he does buy those from time to time (can’t live without his coke!) but thats probably the worst, and i refuse point blank to put that into my food budget or purchase it with groceries. This is a great rule of thumb for all junk food or extras, define them separately and refuse to put them in your groceries. Once you pay for them separately you actually realize how much you spend on them.

We have both normal milk, and powder milk. We use normal milk for the single coffee we have a day, and breakfasts, and the powder milk is so the kids can drink as much as they want or have milkshakes or other things.

I define ‘extras’ as anything you don’t actually NEED but you want, this might be bottles of wine, fancy cheeses, dried fruits, or other things which are generally over priced wants. The only time these should be in your food budget is when you are having a dinner party and they are required, or if they are perhaps a tiny amount as part of a meal (ie few seeds in a salad).

Plan your meal, and i do not mean sitting down at home thinking up ideas, but have a few set meals that are easy, quick, healthy etc. When you go to the shops, find whats meat is on special, and work around that. I budget $10-$12 per kg for each meal on average, this means I can have $15 steak one meal, and $5 mince for another type thing.

My usual meals vary from ‘I don’t need to spend ANY time’ (used for cheerleading nights) to ‘i want to spend an hour in the kitchen playing’.  Being a mother, who works full time , most meals are in the 20-30 mins max category.

Here are a few of my regular meals

  • Nachos
  • Hamburgers (my own meat patties, tons of salad, pineapple rings etc. its DIY Hamburger which is fun!)
  • Burritos
  • Fish pie
  • Stew in crock pot
  • Roast (whatevers on special, leftovers go into lunches)
  • Stir frys
  • Quiches
  • Super thick vegetable soup (almost stew like) with bacon bone (also i do a mean pumpkin soup)

 

Have lists of things you run out of, and buy extra if you see them on sale (Pays to have a good freezer). What you spend extra one week should save you following weeks.

Don’t go down isle with junk food! Do not look at cookies, muffins, biscuits, or anything baked at all, you do not need it. Bread should be your only required baked item, and that includes precooked foods usually also.

Stop buying brand names! Often the cheaper brands taste just as good, try them and find which ones you can handle of the budget ones and which not. We are ok with Jam being budget branded, but not so keen on budget loo paper. If we suddenly start going through a lot of loo paper, then i revert to budget brand loo paper, the kids very quickly stop the wastage and the nice stuff comes back.

Buy things that do not go off, Frozen things are excellent. I usually only buy frozen vegetables because if i buy otherwise they cost more, take more time to prepare, and often get left in the fridge going off. Meat freezes, milk bottles freeze, leftovers from meals freeze also.

Have a set maximum price for items. I refuse to pay more than around $3-4 for 1kg yoghurt. You will find they have different yoghurt on special each week, and if they do not, i simply do not buy it. As above, i do the same for my meat. Breakfasts i spend no more than $3-4 for 500gms cereals (usually home brand rice pops, cornflakes, weetbix, oats, and things on special), no more than $1.50 per loaf of bread. This is a key rule for me, if i can’t get it at my price, i refuse to buy it and look for another option or another shop.

Shop around, there are always fruit and veg shops with good discounts on things that are not just fruit and vege shops.  I live in a small town, we have 2 supermarkets and one is far cheaper than the other. But since i do a lot of travelling to Hamilton i have started stopping at the Pak n Save on the way home which has much better specials on things i use more.

When buying or planning a meal, have a budget for each meal and try to stay within it. Try working out how much that meal is costing per person also.

When making meals, bulk them out with vegetables or other things. This is the recipe i use for my nachos.

  • 3 x 400gm tins of tomatos ($1.20 a can max)
  • 500gm lean mince $5
  • 1 Packet maggi Nacho mix (its pretty strong, no need for more) $1.20
  • 1x 700gm-1kg frozen vegetables $4 (my set price, and i buy in bulk when on special – usually the watties rainbow mix or similar)

Put it all in a pot and mix until cooked. All thats needed on top of this is the nacho chips $2-3 a bag, sprinkle of cheese/sour cream and you now have a meal that will feed more than 6 people at a total cost of  around $15 which is 80% vegetables.

We do eat some less healthy meals, they involve things like american hot dogs, these are the ones i was referring to as ‘don’t need to do anything’ meals other than heat and eat. One night a week i finish work at 4pm and need to leave for cheerleading at 4:15 at the latest, this is when we would eat something like that. More often ill put the slow cooker on in the morning though, or use the programming function on the oven so its ready when i get home.

We cook rice up and make a stir fry, we buy 1kg bacon bits for around $5-6 every couple weeks and throw these in, plus more of the vegetables. We do a large cook of this on the weekend, pack into small containers and this is what my gluten free child eats for lunches. The other children often eat this as well because it seems well liked.

I encourage my children to be creative and make their own lunches which also involves pita breads, wraps etc with variations of things in them. My youngest son loves to cook , so is often seen making poached, scrambled, etc eggs for breakfast, or a large bowl of porridge for us to share. He also helps out a lot with dinner (peeling, cooking, etc) which helps me when i’m busy 🙂

One thing we never have or do is junk. We rarely have cookies of any type, chippies are for birthday parties, muffins, etc or anything baked just doesn’t happen much. We are not anti it, its just not in the budget, and i can cook it for cheap if i have time (which i do from time to time).

There are no lollies in the house, no Le Snack or otherwise, no cakes, no slices, no ice cream, no milkshakes, no chocolate, etc.

My budget for items is around the following

Muesli bars or school snacks: $3 or less per 6 items (usually $2.50 for muesli bars or $5 for 12 ish)

Fruit: Only if its $4 or less per kg, the cheaper it is the more i buy

Canned Fruit: $2 for larger cans, $1 for 400gm ones. We use this instead of sugar on breakfasts too.

Breakfast cereals: $3ish will get 500gms rice pops, cornflakes, cocoa pops, honey puffs, weetabix (whatever is on special)

Milk: 2-3 5litre milks at about $5.50 each, plus powder milk ($10 for 20ltrs or so every month?)

Breads: $1.50 max per loaf, or i bake my own or we go without.

Meat: $10 per meal avg, usually around 500-1000gms per meal, depending what it is. Roast chicken budget is $10-12 for size 18+

Potatoes: use up to 1kg per meal, sometimes we have rice which is cheaper. usually $5-$10 a week maximum (seasonal).

Catfood: $10 (was $15 but the the cheaper brand was better for hairballs) every fortnight (2 cats).

Tinned items: Moslty Tomatoes, some of the following beetroot, corn, pineapple, etc – usually $2 or less for most, and $1 for tomatoes (400gm)

Flour or other baking things: usually home brand or basics brands, Whatever is cheapest. Yeast is one of the few i buy a brand name of.

Cleaning products: Dish washing liquid cleans everything, water it down in spray bottle for spray and wipe. Budget brand. Bleach is cheap, cleans & disinfects toilets and floors also.

Dish washer tablets: Home brand have a 30 pack for $8 at countdown, usually lasts 2 weeks.

Clothes washing: $2.50 for super concentrate 500gm or 1kg normal. Whatevers on special usually, and i buy bulk (up to 10 packs at a time … we use lots!)

Eggs: Should get a category of their own, they are a good healthy low calories snack or meal. Quiches, Bacon and egg pies, breakfasts, lunches, they go anywhere with anything. 1 tray for around $5 or we go without. usually on sale every 2nd week.

Every 2nd weekend or so (depending what we are doing) we have a cooked breakfast, its a family event thing. We have pancakes with fruit, yoghurt, maple etc, sometimes waffles, sometimes bacon, eggs etc. Because we eat late its more of a brunch and we skip lunch those days or have something snacky like scones for lunch.

Butter/Marg: only buy it when its on sale, and we buy in bulk that will last a month or so. $2.50 per marg (i like the low fat Flora) and real butter when its on special once in a blue moon (for baking).

As a summary, i’m sure there is things I’ve missed. Just ask. I could be cheaper for sure, by living on sausages and mince a lot, but i have to admit to preferring solid meats 🙂

  • The only comments I would have are that this is great, but only one problem with one thing you said, which was that it is better to leave “extras” out of your shopping. According to budgeting people I have seen, it is better to put it in and limit it, because that way you do know how much you are spending on it. If you just use eftpos or CC its harder to keep check. Most people have a problem with sticking to a budget for things like that..
    I would prefer to pay $170 for groceries, and know that $20 has gone on coke and cookies and not be responsible for limiting myself “on the fly”.
    That’s not saying you cant live on $150, because you can. It’s from a budgeting perspective.

    Also, another tip, if it is available to you, buy online – we save $20-30 even after delivery by avoiding the temptation to buy carp we dont need.

    • Anonymous

      So if you had only $150 and you were at the till and suddenly the bill goes to 170 and you had to do the embarrassing thing of taking a couple of things off, chances are you wouldn’t take off the junk food for most people.
      But more the point for most people, they have no idea how much money they spend on junk in the first place, they just call it ‘food’ because it goes in with the groceries, and then complain about how expensive ‘food’ is. Buy putting it separately , you can see exactly what % of your budget is spent on luxury items. The idea is that for those spending way more than they need to its a wake up call!

  • Ness

    Great blog and giving ideas of roughly what you spend your money on is a little similar to Destitute Gourmet.

    What I really want to say is that nowadays things that our generation (I’m 35) regarded as a “treat” or “once in a while” item have now become common place. Takeaways are an every week dinner/lunch/breakfast and possibly some people have these more than once a week. I know I am not a parent, but don’t even get me started on people that let their children drink energy drinks. Seriously, what the heck!

    When I was younger I would get so excited about birthdays because it meant going to Pizza Hut (don’t ask). Chips, lollies, biscuits, cakes were not commonplace in our house and we got these at birthday’s or on special occasions. The most regular baked item in our house was scones and we had these infrequently.

    Yes, there are people that are struggling to feed their families on X amount per week. What I believe is that they just need some guidance and I think that you’ve provided that here.

    If there is a bit of money left over each week then either put it towards getting an extra bit of meat, or put it aside to buy a treat at the end of the month.

    I know people that budget right down to the last cent and actually take the exact amount out of their bank before they do their shopping and refuse to use their Eftpos card. It means if you go over then you do have to put something back.

    Anyway, just my own thoughts and opinions.

    • Anonymous

      I agree entirely! they seem to have become common place for kids these days, though i do recall that some kids back when i was young lived on fish n chips etc 😀

  • Donna

    Bravo! Well said! I could not agree more! As a chef I do know a little more about cooking, but it is the basics skills which are needed, you don’t need to be a chef to eat well and economically!!!! Every time I walk around the supermarket I cringe! The prices of preservative filled crappy tasting meals is outrageous! I could go on… but will hold myself back! Personally one of my dreams is to teach people the basics… the basics making a white sauce, vinaigrette , mayonnaise and seasonings and how to use them etc… oops I went on. Any well good on you for saying the above and showing/offering people a choice!

    • Anonymous

      Yeah im not partial to preservatives or pre-made things if i can help it, other than sometimes the sauce bottles if i’m in a hurry.
      Making white sauce is the basis for so many sauces, or even making your own gravy and using spices and herbs. Both are very easy to do and not overly time consuming, but the basic skills for most decent dishes 🙂
      Got any cheap/easy recipes you want to share? I usually post them when i remember them over on http://www.thestartmenu.com for mine, but often run out of time or forget 🙂

  • First time here. Nice blog 🙂
    I see you buy plenty of yogurt. Why not make your own? It’s pretty easy and you can use  powder milk (that’s what my grandma used to do).
    Basically you warm the milk up (about 120F), whisk in a cup of yogurt and leave it at room temperature for a few hours. My grandma wraps it in a wool cloth to conserve the temperature, but that’s not strictly necessary.
    Usually it tastes better than what you buy from the supermarket, and you can add anything you like to it (jams, syrups, etc.)
    my .02$ 🙂

    • Anonymous

      Actually we do make our own Yoghurt, but from the Esiyo packets. We don’t have time to do home made yoghurt the way your grandma does, though i have done that and do know how. Time is a major factor in our household, so quick and easy meals are a must 🙂