Author Topic: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?  (Read 1669 times)

engineerjourney

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Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« on: June 27, 2018, 01:18:51 PM »
We have tried meal planning and cooking on the weekends but we are just exhausted.  Every week something comes up that derails productive plans.  We have a three year old and one year old and both work full time.  Grocery shopping after work means we eat much later than we would like and then are limited to meals that can be made in 20 minutes or so.  We canít shop only on weekends because our girls go through fresh fruit and veggies like crazy and letís face it; weekends are just as hard as weekdays because down time is limited when the toddler doesnít nap during the day anymore.  Does our spending look completely outrageous?  Do we need a face punch?  We are definitely throwing money at convenience right now, in survival mode.   I am trying to be conscious that this is temporary and not make a life-long habit. 

I have taken steps to help with work lunches & breakfast so our fast food/dunkin spending has gone down in the last month from these numbers (I make hard boiled eggs for lunches, started making my own vanilla chai drinks at home, try to make sure we always have yogurt on hand, etc).  We are still managing to max out two 401Ks, two Roth IRAs, and an HSA, even with a mortgage-large daycare payment a month so I think we are still doing alright.  Any tips to share that wonít add stress or significant amounts of time?  Or just accept the outlay and move on?   

Average spending per month over the last 3 months - $1258/month
   $786 on Groceries (includes diapers, wipes, cleaning supplies, toiletries, paper products)
   $159 on Going out to eat (Sit down restaurants) 
   $132 on Alcohol (Includes throwing a party and periodic birthday gifts)
   $130 on Fast Food (Panera/subway type and periodic work cafeteria lunch/snacks)
   $51 on Dunkin Donuts (primarily husbands coffee and breakfast sandwich but I do get a muffin on particularly rough mornings, ha)
« Last Edit: June 27, 2018, 01:43:17 PM by engineerjourney »

SimpleCycle

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids
« Reply #1 on: June 27, 2018, 01:45:09 PM »
It's a lot, but I don't think you need a face punch.  Like you said, it's a temporary situation where you are throwing money at convenience rather than ultimate frugality.  If that is the tradeoff you want to make, that is your decision.  Not everything is about extreme frugality.

We have the exact same family configuration, down to the ages of the kids.  Here is our spending for the last four months, averaged.

Groceries - $545
Household supplies (includes diapers and wipes but we cloth diaper part time, paper products) - $58
Dining out (includes sit down meals, take out, fast food) - $264
Alcohol - $95 (yikes!)
Total - $962

So we're lower than you, but not an absurd amount lower than you.  We have lowered it a lot over the past year, mostly by eating at home as much as possible, and also buy buying some convenience foods for nights when we're tempted to do takeout.  We do try to shop just once a week.  Usually I go on Friday after work and my wife makes pizza for dinner since I get home late.  We do most of our shopping at Aldi, which has also helped a lot.

Does anyone near you have low-cost pickup or delivery options?  One of our local places will do pickup for a $5 fee at regular store prices.  I haven't tried it but it seems like it would save a lot of time.

Millennialworkerbee

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #2 on: June 27, 2018, 02:27:25 PM »
Hereís out stats for 2 parents 1 toddler.

Groceries (including alcohol) - $625
Eating out - $150
Household- $80

Total: $855

I feel like your big win might be the fast food & coffee categories. Is this because you donít pack lunches/ donít have time to make coffee in the morning?

It sounds like some of your spending is done to ďtreat yourselfĒ for your crazy lifestyle. Itís totally ok if thatís what you want to do.

Weíve had a lot of success with making freezer meals. We make 10-12 lasagnas (for example). Will pull one out a day in advance to heat up. Itís big enough for dinner  plus lunches the next day. We inse and repeat that all week long. And then have a few days of grilled cheese + fruit for dinner.

Suze456

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #3 on: June 27, 2018, 02:30:05 PM »
If we were spending that much on food, there would be nothing left over to save.

1. Second the delivery service/online shopping if you are time poor. I shop after work usually...if I bring the kids, spending goes waaay up. Shop online - you can check what's in the cupboard etc, shop at your leisure over a few days.

2. Cook extra. E.g. on Sunday, I would cook enough dinner for 3 days, and we would have leftovers for Mon and Tues. Or something like roast beef for Sun and Mon, then use rest to make shepherds pie on Tues so we don't get sick of it.
If you cook at weekends, make extra and freeze.

3. Keep handy food in the freezer, that you can just bung in the oven - fish and chips, pizza etc for when you are too tired to cook.

4. Eat the more perishable fruit and veg first, then go into the longer lasting stuff or frozen stuff so you can get away with shopping every 5-7 days...or longer. Frozen berries can be way cheaper than fresh

5.Buy what fruit and veg are in season

6. Bring lunches. I really struggled with this and then the kids came along and I had to do their school lunches...not hard to add a third lunchbox.

Kids are starting childcare now for the summer and it's expensive....but I am so looking forward to the break from feeding them! (But won't be saving much over summer) :(



« Last Edit: June 27, 2018, 02:34:40 PM by Suze456 »

cats

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #4 on: June 27, 2018, 02:43:32 PM »
I would say alcohol is potentially an easy cut--I find with a kid and a job I am often too tired to really enjoy a glass of wine, and drinking during the week leads to poorer sleep.

With regards to coffees:  My husband started making large batches of cold brew a while back and it is really tasty and cheap and means you don't have to make coffee every morning (you just pour off what you want and drink it hot or cold).  I think you can even buy cold brew by the liter (quart? gallon?) at Trader Joe's now, so you could price that out and see how it compares to your coffee habit.

Lunches/snacks out during the week: start keeping some nonperishable snacks at your desk.  I have a bag of almonds and some plain rolled oats.  If it turns out lunch is not big enough, I have a handful of almonds or a bowl of oatmeal to supplement.  Does your office have a fridge and is there a grocery store nearby?  If yes to both, you could also strategize about what items you might be able to pick up there and keep at the office to make a meal out of on days when you haven't packed lunch.  Stuff like yogurt, hummus, baby carrots, a dozen eggs, some frozen veg like spinach--then you can have things like yogurt and hummus with carrots or scrambled eggs with veg (made in the office microwave).  Obviously you can start bringing all these things from home also but it's good to figure out if you can get them near the office for those days/weeks when home life is just too nuts.

I would also perhaps look into grocery delivery or think about what you are eating that requires multiple grocery trips per week.  We always keep things with a longer shelf life (apples, bananas, frozen peas or other frozen veg) around so we can keep the grocery trips to once per week.  We eat stuff like lettuce, berries, etc. also, just generally not on days 5 & 6 of the week :)

Cgbg

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #5 on: June 27, 2018, 06:50:02 PM »
My perfectly serious answer is to buy an Instant Pot. I wish they existed when my kids were young.

Itís an electric pressure cooker.

My kids were into pasta when they were young. Making it in the Instant Pot involves dumping the ingredients in and pressing a button. Somewhere around 15 minutes later, you have a meal. Ditto for shredded chicken breasts- drop them in with some liquid, press the button and about 15 minutes later you have chicken breasts. Throw those in a stand mixer - or use a hand held one- and seconds later the chicken is perfectly shredded. Add some taco seasoning and youíll have shredded taco meat.

Even crappy boxed Mac and cheese is better in the Instant Pot.

Cranky

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #6 on: June 27, 2018, 07:10:17 PM »
Fresh fruit and vegetables will last a full week in the refrigerator, so I'm not sure why you can't just shop once/week.

I don't think your grocery bill is outrageous, but I think you could cut back on the fast food/coffee budget with a little planning.

engineerjourney

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #7 on: June 28, 2018, 06:28:57 AM »
Thank you for all the responses!!

A couple answers (sorry for not quoting)
- We do have an instant pot, I use it for the perfect, amazing boiled eggs every week!  Need to start using it for more things!
- Unfortunately, most of the fast food snacks and coffee habit is my husband, I have pretty much cut all of my spending in those zones (hoping next month reflects that a little more) but I agree this should be easier categories to get rid of, I will start encouraging him to make his cold brew batches again. 
- We actually just got a flyer yesterday for walmart grocery pickup/order online.. so I will look into this, this might help a lot!
- Maybe we should just be buying more fruits/veggies once a week.. its not that they go bad, its that they disappear the second or third day in the house.  Like two bunches of bananas, two containers of strawberries, and two containers of tomatoes - gone in three days!  We do have a big garden going and the tomatoes are about to start being ripe so I think that will help!
- I was shocked at the amount we are spending on alcohol.. so I am interested to see if that continues or not with a little effort. 
- We have done the big batch of lasagna and its amazing, I think I just need to get us organized and start small again with cooking one big batch meal every weekend... When we just had the one kid we were doing sooo good at meal planning and cooking.. now we are failing and being lazy.   

Overall, I think we have just fallen off the bandwagon.. we were doing all these things before but now it just seems too hard or when the motivation strikes, we don't have all the ingredients ready.. thanks for the gentle kick in the rear to get back to it!

Plugging Along

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #8 on: June 28, 2018, 07:18:11 AM »
Itís difficult when the kids are young and both parents are working.  Actually itís difficult when the kids are older and both kids are working. 

My random comments-

Fruit should disappear that quickly when the kids are that young unless the adults are giving it to the kids.   Itís not the like the one year old is getting the berries, washing,
 Them herself.   I can grocery shop once a week (or less).  As others said, plan your fruit better, more perishable first, then hardier ones later.    Ration them as soon as you get home. 

I do a lot of Ďmoduleí cooking.   I would prep LARGE batches of on sale items on the weekend, and then freeze.   Sort of like batch cooking but a bit different.   For example, I would cook 25 lbs  of ground beef with garlic and onion and then freeze them in portions ziplock bags.   I could then use the beef for tacos, sauce, extra on minutes.   Did the same with a case of chicke, cook 15 lbs of chicken breast, then sliced and diced it up and froze on cookie sheet, and then in ziplock bags.  Mash potatoes and meat loaf went in to silicon muffin tins to be frozen. 

You can do a lot of your prep work on Th weekends too.  Then you have only a minor clean up.

Double and triple sauces and meals and freeze them.

Premarinadte meats iand then freeze them, when they thaw, they will be marinading at the same time.

It does take organization and time, so I get it.   I something will use a meal delivery service or grocery pick up. 

MrsWolfeRN

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #9 on: June 28, 2018, 07:24:01 AM »
Posting because my family is the same size as yours (two adults, three year old (not yet toilet trained, sigh), and seven month old), although it seems like we have more luxury of time for cooking and shopping than you do. We also have a big farm house so we have space to stock up during sales. I feel for you with the husband's stupid food category. My husband's thing is energy drinks instead of Dunkin Donuts though.

I pack my work breakfast/lunch the night before. Breakfast is usually overnight oats with raisins or frozen berries and a spoonful of chia seeds. Lunch is either leftovers or salad plus plain yogurt with frozen or canned fruit and sometimes an apple or banana. I also keep some of those peanut butter sandwich crackers in my locker at work because I don't like them enough to eat unless I am truly hungry. It takes about five minutes to make lunch. I use hard plastic containers that can go in the dishwasher and I have a few days worth so I don't have to worry about washing right away.

We use Aldi for our weekly shopping and also have a Costco membership. I find that Target usually has the best prices for diapers, formula, and pet food.

I did a detailed spreadsheet with categories for three months.
Our average total was $542.
Actual food:254
Husband's energy drinks:91
Diapers, pull ups, wipes, and formula: 80
Alcohol:68
Household: 28 (things like toilet paper and shampoo)
Pet food:21 (dog, cat, and chickens)

engineerjourney

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #10 on: June 28, 2018, 07:35:52 AM »
Holy F MrsWolfeRN, I am so impressed with your budget!!  I feel like I don't have the mental capacity to deal with planning most of the time as well as the time to actually do it... both our jobs are heavy thinking jobs so I feel braindead at the end of the day and can barely function enough to play with my kids before their bedtime, then I try to read a book for fun or watch some tv before I pass out myself.   I don't really exercise anymore either (besides running after kids and lifting them).  I need to get out of the funk.. it doesn't help that my one year old was in the hospital for three days a week ago and I feel like I have fallen into a bigger rut since then.   

cats

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #11 on: June 28, 2018, 09:53:53 AM »
With regards to the meal planning...I agree, it is a mammoth mental drain.  I did it for a while and I finally cracked and basically demanded my husband take it over.  He did take it over but I guess doesn't feel the same pressure to provide variety that I did, or maybe is just more realistic about how much variety can be provided, because he seems to be handling it better and he says he's happy to continue doing it.  Our result is that we have 3 different dinners each week (2 nights of each, then the last night is when we feed the kid a bit of a random assortment, put him to bed, and then have "date night" at home with something a bit fancier/different).  We pretty much always have a vegetable soup and an omelet for 1 meal, and a curry for another meal.  When we make soup or curry, we make enough to last for 2-3 weeks (so we aren't cooking all the food every weekend), both types of meal are typically made in the instantpot.  My husband is the curry cook and I am the soup cook. So that is 2/3 of our dinners pretty much on autopilot, and we only have to think of what to have for meal number 3.  It does seem to cut down a lot on the mental strain of meal planning.

Are your kids in daycare/preschool?  Do you have to send in their lunch & snacks or does the daycare/preschool provide them?  Our daycare provides lunch and snacks so we don't go through a ton of fruit during the week, but I could certainly see us going through fruit at a much faster clip if that was not the case.  So depending on the situation I don't know that your rate of consumption is abnormal (I guess depending on how many bananas are in your bunch or how big a container of blueberries is), and I wouldn't say you necessarily need to be buying less fruit total, maybe just less expensive fruit or less of the kinds of fruit that tend to disappear quickly.
« Last Edit: June 28, 2018, 05:14:01 PM by cats »

Millennialworkerbee

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #12 on: June 28, 2018, 10:51:54 AM »
Thank you for all the responses!!

A couple answers (sorry for not quoting)
- We do have an instant pot, I use it for the perfect, amazing boiled eggs every week!  Need to start using it for more things!
- Unfortunately, most of the fast food snacks and coffee habit is my husband, I have pretty much cut all of my spending in those zones (hoping next month reflects that a little more) but I agree this should be easier categories to get rid of, I will start encouraging him to make his cold brew batches again. 
- We actually just got a flyer yesterday for walmart grocery pickup/order online.. so I will look into this, this might help a lot!
- Maybe we should just be buying more fruits/veggies once a week.. its not that they go bad, its that they disappear the second or third day in the house.  Like two bunches of bananas, two containers of strawberries, and two containers of tomatoes - gone in three days!  We do have a big garden going and the tomatoes are about to start being ripe so I think that will help!
- I was shocked at the amount we are spending on alcohol.. so I am interested to see if that continues or not with a little effort. 
- We have done the big batch of lasagna and its amazing, I think I just need to get us organized and start small again with cooking one big batch meal every weekend... When we just had the one kid we were doing sooo good at meal planning and cooking.. now we are failing and being lazy.   

Overall, I think we have just fallen off the bandwagon.. we were doing all these things before but now it just seems too hard or when the motivation strikes, we don't have all the ingredients ready.. thanks for the gentle kick in the rear to get back to it!

Something that has worked really well for my husband and I is to move our personal fast food/coffee/junk spending into a ďpersonal spendingĒ budget. It really killed me that my husband would want to eat out 2-3 times a week for work lunches. But when I looked at the straight math, I was spending a similar amount of money on other ďpersonalĒ things (in my case, flights to visit my out of town family). Maybe you can consider moving those into his personal spending? If he loves it that much, heíll prioritize it over other types of discretionary spending. And then you can focus on areas that you can actually control when it comes to food spending.
« Last Edit: June 28, 2018, 10:54:41 AM by Millennialworkerbee »

rdaneel0

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #13 on: June 28, 2018, 12:01:45 PM »
I think shopping only once a week, utilizing the shit out of your crock pot, bulk prepping veggies, and freezing extras will go a looong way towards saving you money. In fact, until your freezer is full I would recommend making double portions of everything and freezing half. If you do this just a few times a year you will always have instant dinners at your disposal.


Jen

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #14 on: June 28, 2018, 04:07:15 PM »
We have two kids less than two years apart with two working parents as well.  Kids are now 4 and 2, and it is honestly so much easier than it was a year ago to do all of the things that help save money on groceries (e.g., better meal planning, more batch cooking, etc.).  We were in a similar situation as you - spending too much on food but also maxing out two 401ks, paying extra on our mortgage, saving outside of retirement accounts, etc.  I was so tired then that I decided not to sweat it.  I'd recommend doing what is reasonable for you during this time given that you are still able to save so much.  For us, once sleep improved, everything got easier.  My one piece of more specific advice, though, is to cook soups for your freezer.  Easy, cheap, healthy and you can freeze for those hectic weeknights.  Plus, it's my best way to get my kids to eat vegetables.  :)

tyrannostache

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #15 on: June 28, 2018, 04:39:44 PM »
We're in a similar boat--2 full-time working parents, 6yo, 1yo.

Both kids need lunches to take to school/daycare.

Lately, our monthly food spending ranges look like this:
Groceries/household supplies: $600-700/month
Eating out: $50-100
Coffee: $15-30 (DH and I sometimes meet up in the middle of the day for coffee. It gives us a chance to connect without kids.)
Alcohol/Going out with friends: $20-50

We could do better, for sure, but this is already a substantial improvement over where we were 6 months ago.

By dinner time, I'm hungry and we have just a short time to cook and eat before the 1yo turns into a screamy pumpkin. I have no mental energy to put toward dinner, so we absolutely have to meal plan on the weekend, even if it's just making a list of 5 meals for the week. At least one of those meals is usually a "no-cook" meal, like hummus with pita and chopped veggies. And "breakfast for dinner" tends to happen at least once a week. We do a lot of repeats, and that's OK for now. Sometimes we get our shit together and do a few preps at once (grilling 2-3 meals worth of chicken thighs or making a huge batch of tabbouleh, for example), but mostly, we just plan out several simple meals.

When we were making multiple shopping trips and doing a lot of eating out every week, our grocery costs got out of hand. More than $1100 one month. To cut that down, we now do one big grocery trip every weekend. Usually one parent goes alone, or we all go together. We go to Costco and the cheaper supermarket. Our kids also eat a ton of fruit and veggies, but the fruit is sometimes frozen (costco blueberries are a staple)


kimmarg

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #16 on: June 28, 2018, 06:43:46 PM »
2 working parents one 2 year old. My top tips:

1. Grocery pickup/delivery is golden. I pay $5 to order online and then 'drive through' pickup. Walmart is free over $35. Makes the after work grocery shop much shorter.

2. Have a few 'fall back' options in the freezer. E.g. I keep a frozen pizza and some trader Joe's frozen indian around. Are they as healthy/cheap as homemade? Nope. But they are cheaper than going out/take out.

3. Resturants?!?! I barely take the kid anywhere. Waaay more trouble than it's worth in my book.

On Dunkin' all I can say is <le sigh> I was thinking of stopping at Dunkin' tonight myself. Cold brew at home is a great way to go.

engineerjourney

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #17 on: June 29, 2018, 05:55:15 AM »
Loving all the suggestions (and commiseration)! So glad I posted.  For those that use frozen fruit with the kiddos, do you just take chunks out the night before to thaw?  Or how do you work with frozen fruit?  My kid was eating an excessive amount of blueberries and we had to cut her off when they went up to $7 for a pint that she could finish in two sessions.  We then only bought them on sale at Aldi but the quality wasn't as good (love some of their stuff but we have to look closely at their produce).  Frozen could help a lot of our fruit issues!

MayDay

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #18 on: June 29, 2018, 06:15:45 AM »
Loving all the suggestions (and commiseration)! So glad I posted.  For those that use frozen fruit with the kiddos, do you just take chunks out the night before to thaw?  Or how do you work with frozen fruit?  My kid was eating an excessive amount of blueberries and we had to cut her off when they went up to $7 for a pint that she could finish in two sessions.  We then only bought them on sale at Aldi but the quality wasn't as good (love some of their stuff but we have to look closely at their produce).  Frozen could help a lot of our fruit issues!

My kids LOVE berries but 7$ a pint? Haha no. I love them to but I don't eat them at that price! My kids get lots when they are cheap and in season,and none in the winter. Winter is for citrus and apples.

We do eat some frozen, and we serve them semi thawed. Basically I put them in the microwave for 15-20 seconds. If they are fully thawed they are mushy and messy. So half thawed is perfect.

But really- no one needs that many berries, they should be an occasional treat.

engineerjourney

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #19 on: June 29, 2018, 06:49:06 AM »
haha, MayDay, I wasn't buying them anywhere near that price... my husband however manages to shop without looking at pricing at all and will just grab whatever... I have caught him buying a brand for $3 more than the exact item next to it and when I asked if he needed that particular brand he had no clue there was another option right next to it... needless to say I try to do/direct most of the shopping when I can, haha

Good to know about the partial thaw trick!

alanB

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #20 on: June 29, 2018, 07:17:34 AM »
We use reusable squeeze packs, fill them up with smoothies.  Use cheap fillers like banana, frozen fruit, plain yogurt.  You can make like 5+ at a time and they will stay good for a while in the fridge.  Cheaper, less messy, more convenient, etc. 

I think in early summer (around where I live) you cannot get much cheaper than grapes, like $1/lb.  Kids seem to like them as much as berries, and if you have too many and they start to go bad just toss them in the smoothie :)

kanga1622

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #21 on: June 29, 2018, 08:30:24 AM »
We are a household of 2 full-time working adults and 2 elementary aged kids. 1 child and 1 adult are on special diets due to food intolerance which really messes with the budget as some things are just ridiculously expensive. We provide every meal and snack our kids eat (packed lunches and snacks).

We currently budget $500 a month for groceries but are looking to increase that to $560 or $600 as prices have definitely risen and we have new diet restrictions.
We budget $40-60 a month for household goods (toothpaste, laundry soap, toilet paper, etc.).
We used cloth diapers and I nursed so can't help with any ideas on diaper/formula budgeting. We don't drink alcohol or coffee.
Eating out has gotten a bit high as we do more traveling and outings during the summer so that budget is about $80-100 a month right now.

We have found that my kids really only like strawberries and apples as their typical fruit source. We do smoothies on a regular basis to add variety as well as take advantage of cheaper frozen fruit. Frozen strawberries, frozen pineapple, and either apple or orange juice makes a tasty way to get fruit into the kids and a nice breakfast for DH and I as well. Throw in raspberries, blueberries, steamed carrots, peaches, etc. You can always add a little squeeze of honey if it comes out a bit tart.

I also work hard to prep parts of meals during the weekend. We will throw 7 pounds of chicken to cook in the crockpot all day and then shred and freeze in meal sized portions. Brown 10 pounds of hamburger (and our grocery store gives $.50 off per pound when you buy a 10 pound roll) and freeze in 1/2-2 pound portions. Super easy to throw together a lasagna if the meat is cooked and you use a jarred sauce. Or having shredded chicken ready to turn into nachos, tacos, pasta topping, lettuce salad toppings, or chicken salad makes a nice fast supper.

We also like to make large amount foods on the weekend and then plan for the leftovers. Pot roast on Sunday can become Italian beef sandwiches on Tuesday and Beef & Noodle soup on Thursday (often with leftover soup). Make a double batch of taco meat on Saturday and have supper ready to go on Monday. We'll make a batch of enchilada pasta on Monday night and have leftovers on Wednesday and Friday. Crockpot soups are easy to throw together (prep anything the night before - even measure out the spices and throw them into the crockpot before bed) and can be packaged in single serve amounts in the freezer for fast leftovers or easy work lunches. Whenever I make sloppy joes, I double the recipe and freeze half. That gets us two meals one week and two meals in the freezer for another week. I used to make triple batches of homemade waffles while the kids napped and freeze them in ziploc bags. A waffle with peanut butter makes a tasty and filling breakfast. And I had enough waffles to get us through the next 6 weeks if we didn't eat them every day. Steam a couple bags of frozen veggies on Sunday night and you've got enough for lunchboxes or suppers for a couple days.

There is a major learning curve and it gets so much easier when the kids get older. I remember the first two years with each kid having a lot more survival on weeknights than anything else. It was just such a rush to get things done before bedtime. Start small with trying one or two ideas and once those become a habit, try adding in another trick.

tyrannostache

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #22 on: June 29, 2018, 10:23:11 AM »
Loving all the suggestions (and commiseration)! So glad I posted.  For those that use frozen fruit with the kiddos, do you just take chunks out the night before to thaw?  Or how do you work with frozen fruit?  My kid was eating an excessive amount of blueberries and we had to cut her off when they went up to $7 for a pint that she could finish in two sessions.  We then only bought them on sale at Aldi but the quality wasn't as good (love some of their stuff but we have to look closely at their produce).  Frozen could help a lot of our fruit issues!

Frozen blueberries thaw really fast, and the big kid likes to eat them frozen sometimes. We just pour a small serving into a colander and run it under some hot water (don't have a microwave). We also have reusable containers for the kids' lunches, and plain yogurt with some frozen blueberries mixed in is a staple for the littlest one. They thaw by lunchtime, even with a cold pack.

On the off chance that other fruits (peaches, bananas) are not devoured before they need to be frozen, we use those in smoothies.

MicroRN

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #23 on: July 04, 2018, 12:07:00 PM »
We're a dual working family with two kids (5 & 7) and long commutes, and it really is a struggle.  I go through phases where I feel totally in control of our food, and times when we're not, at all.  Still, there are some routines we use to cut costs.

I hardly ever buy fresh berries.  They're just so damn expensive at $5+ for a tiny container.  We have a strawberry farm near our house & grow raspberries/blackberries/blueberries, but for us fresh berries are pretty much only eaten in season.  Our purchased fruit is generally limited to apples, bananas, mangos ($1 each), kiwis (4 for $1), and clementines and grapes when they are on sale.  Peaches are also grown locally, so in season those are inexpensive, and last year I bought 10lbs of figs for a song.  However, frozen berries are cheap, and my kids love them, plus no worries about them going bad before we get around to them.  I generally pour some into a bowl and let them thaw in the fridge, but you can also defrost in the microwave.

Breakfast & breakfast-for-dinner: I got my kids used to regular rolled oats and plain unsweetened yogurt early on.  They get jam, maple syrup, or brown sugar on top (plus frozen berries or fresh fruit), but they aren't used to the expensive individual prepackaged ones.  I also keep a big canister of plain instant oats, which are super cheap and microwave in one minute.  Sprinkle some cinnamon, brown sugar, and frozen blueberries on top, and the whole thing takes under 3 minutes, great for busy mornings or evenings.  Scrambled or fried eggs take almost no time, add some fruit and either sauteed or raw veggies (I love doing garlic spinach), and maybe some whole grain toast.  Or make breakfast sandwiches with some ham, egg, and avocado.  Or huevos rancheros (eggs with salsa/beans/tortillas).       

Frozen veggies are awesome and extremely cheap.  I always also keep a few bags of frozen easy stuff, like fries, tater tots, and fish fillets.  I can throw 2 sheets pans in the oven - one with fries, one with fish fillets - and we have a no-fuss dinner in 30 minutes.  It takes a while but is completely hands-off.  Frozen peas, broccoli, spinach, and corn cook up quickly in a pan.  Frozen stir-fry mixes + tofu or chicken + pre-made teriyaki or other sauce makes for a fast meal.  We also often do just cut raw vegetables instead of a cooked vegetable side, usually carrots, cucumber, and bell pepper, or a quick salad. 

Canned beans are also a really easy/cheap way to make dinner.  I'll throw canned black beans, canned or frozen corn, and some chili powder, salt, & cumin into a pot.  Cook for about 10 minutes, then pile into tortillas with vegetables, salsa, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, or other toppings.  Or you can use the same black beans to make nachos, quesadillas, or burrito bowls.   

I cook big batches of rice at one time because it takes so long to make, then I'll use it for burrito bowls, stir-fry, and fried rice over the next 3-4 days. 

Sandwiches or wraps are a perfectly acceptable dinner.  "Snack Plates" are a perfectly acceptable dinner - put a protein, 1-2 veggies, and a fruit on a plate, then add some other stuff you like.  There are infinite variations. Maybe the protein is pre-cooked cold shrimp, previously grilled chicken, canned tuna, smoked salmon, canned beans, hard boiled eggs, a bowl of yogurt, or some cheese.  Veggies can be leftover cooked ones or raw.  Add some guacamole, dip or dressing for raw vegetables.  Add fresh or frozen fruit, and maybe some crackers or bread or pita.  Maybe throw on some olives or pickles.  They can be themed or totally random, and it's a great way to use up those odds and ends of food in your fridge with no cooking required.         

mm1970

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #24 on: July 04, 2018, 01:16:12 PM »
We have tried meal planning and cooking on the weekends but we are just exhausted.  Every week something comes up that derails productive plans.  We have a three year old and one year old and both work full time.  Grocery shopping after work means we eat much later than we would like and then are limited to meals that can be made in 20 minutes or so.  We canít shop only on weekends because our girls go through fresh fruit and veggies like crazy and letís face it; weekends are just as hard as weekdays because down time is limited when the toddler doesnít nap during the day anymore.  Does our spending look completely outrageous?  Do we need a face punch?  We are definitely throwing money at convenience right now, in survival mode.   I am trying to be conscious that this is temporary and not make a life-long habit. 

I have taken steps to help with work lunches & breakfast so our fast food/dunkin spending has gone down in the last month from these numbers (I make hard boiled eggs for lunches, started making my own vanilla chai drinks at home, try to make sure we always have yogurt on hand, etc).  We are still managing to max out two 401Ks, two Roth IRAs, and an HSA, even with a mortgage-large daycare payment a month so I think we are still doing alright.  Any tips to share that wonít add stress or significant amounts of time?  Or just accept the outlay and move on?   

Average spending per month over the last 3 months - $1258/month
   $786 on Groceries (includes diapers, wipes, cleaning supplies, toiletries, paper products)
   $159 on Going out to eat (Sit down restaurants) 
   $132 on Alcohol (Includes throwing a party and periodic birthday gifts)
   $130 on Fast Food (Panera/subway type and periodic work cafeteria lunch/snacks)
   $51 on Dunkin Donuts (primarily husbands coffee and breakfast sandwich but I do get a muffin on particularly rough mornings, ha)

Depends on where you live, but I don't think it's that bad for the ages of your kids.  Although I think our eating out was only about $100.

My husband and I work full time.  We are engineers.  Our brains are tired.  Our boys are 12 and 5.  But I remember the days when the little one was 0-2.  It was survival only.

The year the younger one was 2, I was trying to lose the baby weight and I threw the grocery budget out the window.  Literally.  $10k that year (4 years ago).  But it worked.  I lost the weight.  Just about everything that I bought was prepped - already chopped broccoli, frozen veg, fresh fruit, etc. 

A few things that have worked for me over the years:
1.  When the little one was 0-1, I cooked a big meal on Saturday.  A big meal on Sunday.  These provided enough leftovers for 3-4 days.  That took us until mid-week.  Weds was ALWAYS crock pot day, which gave leftovers for Thurs/ Fri.  That took us till the weekend.  Lunch was the same thing every day.  One week, sandwiches.  Next week: pasta.  Next week: bean burritos that we made Sunday night (took 10 min).

2.  At one point, we had a system like Monday: pasta.  Tuesday: tacos.  Etc.

3.  Right now I make 2 big meals on the weekend.  And we eat them until they are gone.  So, that's usually Thursday.  Yes, my kids hate that we eat meal 1 on Sat, Mon, Weds and meal 2 on Sun, Tue, Thu.  So what.  I eat salad for lunch every single day.  The key is that I'm not "meal prepping".  I'm making dinner, just a big batch.  You could get fancy and freeze half for next week so you get more variety, but I don't do that.  Friday is always frozen pizza.

We run out of produce on Weds or Thurs.  I can't shop after work most days (unless it's my husband's day to pick up the kids), so I go on my lunch break to get more fruits and veg, religiously.

Other things we eat:
Frozen pizza
Frozen veggie burgers
Grilled cheese or quesadillas
"snacky plates"
Thai chicken curry.  Look, I buy canned chicken at Costco.  Yep, I do.  Mix it with frozen mixed veg, a can of coconut milk, red curry paste = easy and delish.
Instant pot mac and cheese or instant pot pasta and (pre-made) meatballs.
Frozen veg for when we run out of fresh.

But just know that esp with the kids those ages, you are in the trenches.  You'll be able to breathe again when the youngest is around age 4.
« Last Edit: July 04, 2018, 01:20:07 PM by mm1970 »

ishoutedmyjoy

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Re: Food Budget Tips for 2 Working Parents with 2 Young Kids?
« Reply #25 on: July 05, 2018, 10:10:39 AM »
yeah i second the instant pot. it really changed things for us.
3-4 dinners a week come from the instant pot and leftovers go to lunches.
yeah doing some simple things like shredded chicken or a couple sweet potatoes really help set up our week.
then alternating bases from rice to farro to pasta or potatoes with veggies and maybe a meat creates a ton of possibilities and lots easy dump it into the pot.