Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Feeding your family without spending a fortune or losing your mind

The New Year is a great time to make resolutions about healthy eating and saving money.  Fortunately, combining the two works well because they go hand-in-hand. Cooking the family's meals yourself not only ensures you know exactly what's gone into it, but it's also a heck of a lot cheaper than eating out.

Budget is a big theme for us this year and not only do I have five fellows to feed on a daily basis, as they've all inherited their father's Maori gene for food consumption (i.e. they eat a lot!) this can get a bit expensive!

Add to that the rising cost of living or, for us, the ridiculous cost of living in the Northern Territory and you've got yourself a challenge. Here's how I cope...

1. Get your food storage organised
If you can easily see what ingredients you've already got, you'll spend less. 
So take a day to get your pantry and fridge into shape.  Make note of those staple items you need to restock.  You can see how I organise my kitchen here.

2. Always have a shopping list underway
The minute you use something all up - or have only a tiny bit left in the jar - put it on the list.  I have list of things I've run out of on my chalkboard (which really needs re-painting)... 

If I'm planning on hitting the shops myself I use this list that I created in Word... 

The items listed are what I buy most weeks and are arranged according to aisles in my regular supermarket.  With this list I simply tick what I need or write in any special items I'm after.  Makes the whole shopping experience a lot faster too.

3. Meal plan
It's an obvious one, but if you know exactly what you're cooking that week then you only buy those items required. A big money saver. 

It's also a big time saver when you know what needs to be done for dinner and a sanity saver- no more "What the heck am I going to make for dinner?"

You can get some great menu planner printables, but I love putting our weekly menu up on the chalkboard...

I also like to go a step further and use this... helps me to organise the meals I'm planning for breakfast (where more than cereal or toast is necessary), lunch for me, lunch boxes and snacks for the kids and, of course, our evening meal.   I don't always plan everything, but it helps me to think about the exact number of meals that DO need planning that week.

It's also got space to write in which recipe book and on what page number I'll find it (another time saver) and if there are any tasks I need to do in advance - defrost meat the day of, make yogurt the day before, source fresh herbs because mine have died been consumed etc.
4. Categorise your options

Those colours on my meal planner are not just to make it pretty. As I'm trying to save money AND ensure we eat a variety of healthy meals I've implemented a category system.

Monday is meatless, Tuesday is fish, Wednesday's beef, Thursday chicken, Friday alternates between lamb and pork, Saturdays are either Pizza-Movie Night or International Food Night and we finish up the week with a pasta dish on Sunday.
It may sound pretty regimented, but don't think these are set in stone. If I'm craving Thai Green Chicken Curry on a Monday then I'm certainly going to whip one up, but it helps me to have those dietary and budgetary guidelines in place.

Make sure the catergories you choose are specific to your needs.  For example, I usually get my groceries delivered on a Tuesday, so we have the fish to ensure it is fresh.  (I know we should eat fish twice a week, but that can get expensive. I try to alternate fresh fresh with canned too.)  

During rugby season my plans needs to change a bit.  Thursday & Friday nights need to be meals that can be prepared in advance or left on to simmer while we're out.  I've even perfected the art of setting the rice cooker on a timer switch so we come home late to a ready-to-serve meal.

5. Seek inspiration

Inspiration really helps with keeping your meal plans varied, interesting and appetizing. While we have some family favorites, there are only so many times I'm willing to eat Spaghetti Bolognese. 

I'm also a firm believer that the more variety children are introduced to the better they eat. (Did you know that it takes up to ten times to introduce a new food to a small child before it becomes familiar enough with it that they'll willingly eat it?)
I'm a big fan of Donna Hay Magazine. The weeknight meals or "Ten in Twenty" section (ten different meals you can make in twenty minutes) are often winners with my family.

At the beginning of last year I bought Jamie Oliver's Fifteen Minute Meals.  Usually with a new cookbook, I'd pick and choose the ones that look the best and maybe only make a handful of the recipes.  This time, I've been working my way through each chapter front to back, only skipping those I can't make gluten free. I've been blown away by recipes I thought looked only okay and have turned out to be sensational.

Needless to say I was very excited to receive Save with Jamie for Christmas!

Once you've planned out your week, use the recipes of your chosen meals to add to the shopping list you've already started.  Don't forget to check the pantry for those staples you may already have. This way you're only buying what you really need. No wastage.
6. Shop online where possible
This is my favourite tip. 

I LOVE not having to drag one to three small children around a grocery store (is it just me, or do perfect well behaved, normal children become absolute monsters the second they enter a grocery store?  The main reason I love online shopping is that I can control the exact amount I've spent. Over budget? I'll "remove" those extra crackers from my "trolley" this week.  There is also no impulse buying because I'm not walking past the latest copy of Home Beautiful magazine or seeing that new range of gluten free potato chips (also good for the diet!)

Okay, so sometimes they'll be out of stock on an item or two which requires you to do a quick run to the store.  Maybe they send you a punnet of dodgy strawberries (I've found the customer service people are pretty great with rotten or missing items if you call straight away), but more often than not you get everything you've chosen delivered to your kitchen.
It can take a while to set up your online account and find all the items you need, but eventually you end up with a master list of everything you've ever ordered.  It then becomes like an online version of my shopping list above- tick the required item.
   This also means that when you scroll through your list each week you can also see when those items you purchase regularly are on special and can stock up.

So there you have it.  My method for feeding the family and staying sane.  

Have you made a resolution to change your eating/spending habits?  What other tips do you have for planning meals and saving on groceries?

1 comment:

  1. What a great guide! I really like your idea of having different theme nights. I might give something like that a try!


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