Many of us are feeling the pinch right now and trying to make our weekly food shop stretch as far as we can. As a nutritionist, I get asked a lot for suggestions on how to feed kids healthy meals without breaking the bank.
When I was writing my book, ‘How to Feed Your Family’, I spent a lot of time breaking down all the best ways to feed children on a budget. I think there’s a bit of a misconception that feeding your family healthy food has to automatically cost more. I’ll be honest: it does take getting organised… but once you know a few tricks, I really do think you can reduce your spending on the family food shop whilst still getting healthy meals on the table every day for you and the children.
So, what are the best ways to feed your family for less? These are my tried-and-tested tips.
10 best ways to feed your family on a budget
1. Have a weekly meal plan
Creating a weekly meal plan and then writing a shopping list saves you both time and money, whilst also cutting food waste. Plan what you will feed your family according to the ingredients you already have in your fridge, freezer and kitchen cupboards, prioritising those that need using up first.
We’re all guilty of buying more and more food each week when we already have plenty stashed away and you will probably be surprised by how far you can get by with what you already have lurking in your kitchen. In my new book I actually have an example meal plan with recipes and lots of tips around this topic, too, as I know many people find meal planning hard.
2. Batch cook
Buy food in bulk (it’s cheaper that way) then batch cook meals when you have the time. Serve up one portion for your family dinner then freeze the rest in portions. Plan dinners that can be turned into lunches for some of you, too, the next day.
Good meals to batch cook include my bolognese and easy cheesy potato pie. You could also try chilli, soups, casseroles, meatballs, dahls and curries. Dinners that make great leftovers for lunch the next day include roast chicken, repurposed into salads and sandwiches, leftover rice turned into egg-fried rice or leftover veggies recycled into veggie frittatas.
3. Cook from scratch when you can
It’s easy to get in the habit of picking up over-priced packets of snacks or meals when actually we could be buying cheaper ingredients and making them at home. For example, loose apples over packets of wrapped apples, or potatoes rather than ready-prepped mash. That way we’re not paying out of our pockets for the packaging itself on top of the food. It’s better for the planet as well as our bank balance, too, but of course does take a little extra time in the kitchen this way.
You can save money by flavouring tap water with fruit slices in place of buying juice, smoothies or cordials. Also, if your family are meat eaters, cut down on red meat and cook with affordable plant protein instead. And by ‘plant protein’, I don’t just the “meat alternative” products. A can of lentils can be turned into bolognese in place of beef mince or can bulk out your beef mince with less meat needed, for example, saving you pounds at the supermarket.
4. Feed the whole family the same meal
With our busy family lives, it’s not always practical to feed everyone at the same time but whenever you can, try to feed your family the same meal. You’ll save money, not to mention, time and energy, if you’re all eating the same thing. Everyone from babies to toddlers to parents can enjoy healthy and budget-friendly family meals like porridge for breakfast, soup for lunch and fajitas for dinner. See my separate blog for more on how to include your baby in family meals.
5. Reduce food waste
Have a ‘use-first’ shelf in your fridge for foods that need using up in meals. Make soups and stews with leftover veggies, plus smoothies or fruit porridge with overripe fruit in the fruit bowl. Use bulldog clips, kilner jars or tupperware to keep foods fresher for longer. Blend bread crusts into breadcrumbs and freeze. Surplus milk, veggies, cheese (grate it) and herbs (chop them) can all be frozen for cooking at a later date. If you’re lucky enough to have something like a community fridge nearby, use it and try to contribute to it if you can.
I have SO many more tips on reducing food waste in my new book and I also have three amazing recipes that have become staples for me at home and help use up the leftovers, too: Leftover Veg Traybake, Leftover Veg Soup and Cover-all Curry! They’re all real winner dinners!
6. Learn recipes that help you budget better
Create a list of budget recipes you can cook using staples from the back of your kitchen cupboards like tinned tomatoes, pulses, pasta and grains. The internet is a free and brilliant resource for such recipes. These budget ingredients are also all great for bulking out meals: try adding chickpeas to make curries go further, for example, or lentils to bulk out cottage pies. Tins of fish can be cheaper alternatives, too. Also check out my blog on Store Cupboard Staples for Weaning for some of my fave options to have in the cupboard.
7. Do your food shopping online…
Shopping by laptop rather than in person avoids the pester power of shopping at the supermarket with your kids. It also means you’ll be less likely to be tempted by spontaneous purchases at the supermarket yourself. If you have the time, get two family members to input the same food shop into different online supermarkets so you can compare which is cheapest on like-for-like baskets before going ahead and ordering. Also doing it this way means that your “favourites” get stored, making online shopping SUPER quick each week, without having to trawl through lots of lists!
8. …or shop at food markets or supermarkets late at night
It can be less convenient (especially for busy parents) but shopping at greengrocers or market stalls for seasonal fruit and veg can often save you money. Failing that, seek out supermarket wonky veg which is normally more affordable. If you have the choice, go to supermarkets late at night and buy marked-down yellow sticker goods (then check out this brilliant website for what to cook). Buy own-brand supermarket products, spend using money-off coupons and sign up for supermarket discount and reward schemes where you can, it all can make a big difference.
9. Consider energy-saving kit
You’ll need to invest in them but gadgets like slow-cookers and air fryers can be more energy-efficient, as well as faff-free and time-saving. If you don’t have these, save on household energy bills by cooking several meals at once in your oven and batch-cook when possible. Don’t forget that salads and sandwiches need no cooking at all.
10. Make full use of your freezer
Supermarket bags of frozen fruit and veg are nutritious and affordable as well as convenient. On top of this, stashing your freezer with homecooked, pre-prepped meals cuts down the stress of what to reach for on busy week nights, as well as slashing your food budget. Freezing ingredients that you won’t get to use before their sell-by date reduces food waste and often means there’s a meal waiting to be reheated/quickly pulled together in an emergency.
My top tip when batch cooking or freezing foods for another day is to freeze dishes or sauces in different portion sizes – that way you can defrost only what you need and avoid waste. Also, take the time to quickly label and date items you freeze so you know what’s inside – and when you have to use it by. I’ve also written a free downloadable factsheet on how to freeze, defrost and reheat foods safely which I hope you’ll find useful.
For more tips on feeding your family, menu planning and getting organised in the kitchen, you can order my new book now:
Charlotte’s Newest Book
Following on from her bestselling books How to Wean Your Baby and How to Feed Your Toddler, this book brings Charlotte’s trademark approach of practical support and nurturing step-by-step guidance to help you manage the juggle of family life.