Author Topic: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?  (Read 16102 times)

Redstone5

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I'm interested in tips for keeping the grocery budget down while also minimizing time spent.

We spend about $600 a month to feed two adults, a teenager, an 8 year old and a preschooler. In the past I have got it lower to $400 but the time and energy invested wasn't a good trade off. I already avoid most convenience foods, cook from scratch, bake my own desserts and treats, and shop at costco and walmart. We live on an island on the west coast so food here is pretty pricey. We also get our meat from a local farm. The quality is great but the price isn't that much lower than grocery stores in the area.

Sometimes it's like a full time job to plan the menus, work out where to shop for the best prices, go to two different places to shop, depending on the prices, put away all the groceries, cook all the food over the week before the ingredients go off, remember to use up all the leftovers, etc etc.

Organizing all that for five people, all with their own food needs, and after working all day just isn't very fun or rewarding. I'm so sick of doing all of it, just to have the kids turn their noses up at the table or my husband be too busy or tired to eat when he comes home after his late shift. I can't even shop in bulk too often to save time as our kitchen storage and fridge aren't large enough to hold more than a week or so of groceries for our family. And we're not huge eaters. All of our boys and my husband are slightly under weight for their height. I'm about 20 pounds over my best weight. I'm working on it, but it's difficult when I spend so much time either thinking about meal plans or buying or cooking food. I think I'd lose weight faster if I didn't have to think about food all the time.

Sorry for the rant. All ideas are welcome!

aceyou

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #1 on: May 31, 2015, 07:45:45 PM »
I posted this recently in a different thread...


Following!  I can maybe help a little bit on food.  between restaurants/groceries, I was $940 in January.  In April I was at $440, and May is looking like about $500ish.  Here are some things that have helped for me:

What we eat:
1. Staples -Rice, beans, and Potatoes become the base of most of my meals. It fills up my calorie requirements for the family at terrifically low costs.   
     -  Rice, I get in 50 pound sacks for 20 bucks...so we'll just call it free basically:)
     -  Potatoes, I get in 10 pound bags for 4 bucks. 
     -  Pinto beans, I get in 8-10 pound bags for about a buck/pound. 

2.  Meat is now a garnish, not a main course.  I buy whole chickens, cook them in the oven, let it cool a bit, pull all the chicken off and put it in tupperware.  Notice theres tons of different ways to pair chicken with either Rice, beans, or potatoes.  I buy inexpensive fish when I'm feeling extra special, which is most every week!   (10-20 dollars/week on meat)

3.  Dairy.  One gallon of milk for my son.  Other than that, water is what my wife and I drink.  When the free option is also the healthiest, might as well go to town on the water, right? I buy a lot of shredded cheese too because it goes with so many things with my staples and chicken meals. 

4.  Fresh veggies, fruit, berries.  I just go crazy here and get about whatever I like.  Between the staples, which are about free, and the meat, which is under 100/month, and dairy, which is less than 100/month, I can just go nuts on the veggies. 

5.  processed/prepackaged foods.  This is what I've really limited, and it's why our bill has dropped so much.  However, I typically have tortillas, bread, and tortilla chips (which I buy in bulk when they are half off) and things like that on hand, but we don't go through them very quickly.  We mostly make meals out of the fresh stuff. 

How we've made it easier:
1.  Rice maker - makes it convenient to turn a 50 pound sack of rice into a never ending virtually free food dispenser....which is right next to my sink, aka, my free drink dispenser. 
2.  Wok - turns cheap foods into delicious Asian/Indian meals quickly/easily once you know what you are doing. 
3.  Roasting pot - makes cooking whole chickens a breeze
4.  vitamix (optional) - I stock up on fresh fruit/berries in the summer months and freeze them, i get very cheap and nutritious smoothies year round this way. 
5.  Crock pot - for the pinto beans. 

Basically, we don't even want to go to restaurants any more.  Our ingredients are so high quality and our cooking skills have improved through this whole adventure to the point where if we go to any chain type restaurant we are like "wow, we just blew a weeks worth of grocery money on a meal we could have made better in 20 minutes or less". 

Good luck!
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Redstone5

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #2 on: May 31, 2015, 09:05:10 PM »
Thanks so much! I'm going to keep my eye out for a rice cooker. I should also buy dried beans rather than buying them in the can. I read in the Tightwad Gazette books that you can soak and then freeze beans for faster cooking.

My biggest problem is getting agreement from my family. As the "at home" parent during the day, my husband prefers to make our kid's lunches with store bought granola bars, yogurt tubes, canned soup and pasta, and bought crackers as he thinks it's easier. He and our boys are also addicted to cereal in the mornings, which blows our budget out of the water. I find that school lunch items and cereal take up at least 50% of our grocery spending, but I can't get my family to agree to eat oatmeal, or take homemade soup, pasta, and other less expensive items for lunches.

(I try to eat low carb, high protein, so I usually have eggs or bacon for breakfast, and it's still cheaper than cereal and keeps me full.)

How did you convince your family to switch to cheaper breakfast and lunch options? I'd love to have them eat homemade muffins and take homemade soup instead as i can make those at a fraction of the price.

Redstone5

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #3 on: May 31, 2015, 09:09:55 PM »
Maybe I should make some especially yummy looking muffins and put them on the table next to some fruit salad in the mornings to encourage them to switch? And I might start buying less yummy cereal as well.

I could also make up some special soup and leave it in the fridge the night before, ready in the pot for my husband to heat and pack into their thermoses the next day?

I could also "forget" to buy granola bars and leave homemade ones out instead. Maybe it's time to be sneaky, for the good of our budget :)

asiljoy

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #4 on: May 31, 2015, 10:16:57 PM »
I vote for being sneaky :)

I'll be honest, I'm too lazy in the morning to make anything harder than cereal, but egg bake or oatmeal bake are tasty and easy for day of consumption. Most of the work is done ahead of time and usually I get a whole weeks worth of breakfasts out of a oatmeal bake pan.

She has got a bunch of great recipes here at BudgetBytes for oatmeal bakes: http://www.budgetbytes.com/2011/09/baked-pumpkin-pie-oatmeal/

Egg bakes last 2/3 days. They're basically a giant Denver omelet that I put in a 9x9 pan and bake till it doesn't wiggle in the pan when I shake it. Then I just cut a piece and reheat in the microwave in the morning.

ngakara

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #5 on: June 01, 2015, 04:36:58 AM »
Beans can be cooked in bulk and then frozen into meal size units.

Get everybody to contribute to both meal-planning and meal creation.

when recovering from surgery I wrote out weekly meal plans because I was incapable of thinking daily about it.  Family let me know what meals they wanted to eat and cook. 
It meant I knew what needed to be taken out of the freezer each morning, and what I may need to get when I shop. 

Plus I could plan for one cooking to provide 2 evening meals -tonight mince, mashed potato and veg turns into tomorrow nights cottage pie then just create a salad to go with it.  even though the ingredients were the same, by presenting them in a different formation there were no 'yuck leftovers' comments.

lastly, have a quick meal that you can create out of staples/cans/frozens  so that if you forget to pull something out of the freezer, or your dog/teenager got to the leftovers before you did then you just cook your back-up meal instead


ShoulderThingThatGoesUp

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #6 on: June 01, 2015, 04:53:22 AM »
We have a weekly protein schedule that keeps down expensive "this would be fun this week" grocery buys.

kimmarg

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #7 on: June 01, 2015, 04:56:18 AM »
A pressure cooker really speeds things us. Brown rice is 12min and black beans, from dry, no personal is about 20. Now I make both more often!

lakemom

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #8 on: June 01, 2015, 05:13:38 AM »
One thing I do regularly (when I'm either bored with my cooking or tired of trying to please everyone) is ask everyone to list at least five (more or less) meals they'd like to see served in the next couple of weeks.  Once I have the lists, and I do usually have to ask more than once, I check for anything that everyone has listed and that (those) go to the top of the list then I work down from there (is it on several lists, two, only one).  It assures that there are several meals everyone will be enthusiastic about and several others that even the picky eater will enjoy as it was requested.  Unfortunately this doesn't help in the cost category as I'll usually have to pick up of few things not generally in the house BUT its still cheaper than throwing out uneaten food.

NewMustachian

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #9 on: June 01, 2015, 06:12:50 AM »
Following - I'm in desperate need of ideas.  :)

MayDay

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #10 on: June 01, 2015, 06:34:25 AM »
Your general frustration at feeding a bunch of people with varying preferences mirrors my frustration.  I feel like all i do is make food and clean up from it.  It is exhausting. 

I think a 600$ budget for basically 3 adults (teenagers probably eat even more than adults) and 2 kids is reasonable.  I wouldn't kill myself to get it lower unless you really need the savings. 

For summer one thing I am doing is making an all-day snack container for each kid.  I put a variety of stuff, about a days worth, and they aren't allowed to ask me for a snack until they've eaten the stuff I set out.  Today it is peanuts, fruit, cucumber slices, a few crackers, and a few chocolate chips. 

Gardening saves us a lot if you are into that. 

For breakfast I often make a crockpot full of oatmeal the night before.  Easy, and I make 2 days worth so I only have to wash the crock every couple days.  Everyone adds their own toppings in the morning.

For dinner the disparate tastes are really a pain.  I typically make what I am going to make, do it as customizable as is reasonable (ie tacos are great because everyone adds what they want) but in the end, eat it or make yourself a peanut butter sandwich.   Don't like it?  Fine, you'll live until breakfast.  But I'm not a short order cook, I'm not making you something else.

Off topic, but perhaps of interest to people reading this thread: My mom is a diabetes educator and obviously the high obesity rates among children, and the huge uptick in children with diabetes are of great impact and concern to her.  One thing they are working on educating people about is that you shouldn't give kids a snack after a meal if they didn't eat their meal.  The snack food Americans typically consume is far less healthy and I would argue more expensive, than the meal food.

I have the best luck with meal planning and shopping if I stick with a regular rotation of meals so it can be mostly on autopilot, with minor variations to account for what is on sale.  So we pretty much always grill once a week in summer (exactly what we grill I can decide on the fly at the store), have pasta and tomato sauce (buy a bunch of pasta whenever it is on sale, same with tomato sauce, its always one hand), mexican-ish once a week (taco salads when lettuce is crazy in the garden, taco/rice bowls, or in taco shells/tortillas if those are on sale) etc.  That way I can basically shop with no list since its the same general stuff week to week.  I try to also look up new/different recipes for a few meals a week so we don't get bored, but even if I fail to do that (often!) I have 4-5 basic/easy/cheap meals I can shop for off the top of my head, and then add in fruit, veggies, milk, eggs, etc.

ETA:  for school lunches, we almost always pack the night before.  I tend to buy one special convenience thing for the week (yogurt tubes, crackers, etc) and that is it.  The rest is fruits, veggies, etc.  We do buy bread sometimes which some people might consider convenience since you CAN make it at home pretty easily.  If you and your H do it together at night would he be more open to trying your way?  One thought would be to make something the kids like, such as crock pot mac and cheese, and divide it into a bunch of lunch-sized portions on Sunday, so all your H has to do is grab one for each kid.  Same for cutting up carrot sticks, washing a bunch of fruit, etc.  For canned soup alternatives, again make a big batch in the crockpot or stove, and divide into a bunch of portions in the fridge or freezer.
« Last Edit: June 01, 2015, 06:38:12 AM by MayDay »

Redstone5

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #11 on: June 02, 2015, 09:27:52 AM »
These are all amazing ideas! Thanks so much, everyone.

This weekend I'm going to plan my attack on my family's wasteful cereal habit. I'm going to bake some great muffins and egg dishes and make oatmeal in the crockpot so that when everyone gets up in the morning there will be so many yummy options they won't notice the cereal. If I make everything in advance it shouldn't take much more time in the morning than I usually spend.

I got in a little tiff with the husband this morning. We ran out of cereal because I didn't want to pay $7 a box at our local grocery but didn't have time to shop at Costco. I told him, "We spend a third of our grocery budget each week on cereal. Can you honestly tell me that you think this family gets that much value in nutrition for the money spent? I could make muffins and give them a multivitamin instead for a tenth of the price."

(he says he's very concerned about vitamin deficiency for the kids but I think all the added vitamins in kid's cereal are a joke. Our kids eat a very healthy diet, and even our doctor doesn't recommend cereal)

He said, "Yes, I do." So I asked him to just keep an open mind about the issue. He can keep eating cereal if he wants, but the kids and I are always starving an hour later. He has an amazing metabolism and can go all day on nothing but a bowl of cereal until dinner, but the rest of us can't. Cereal just makes us hungrier. Does anyone else notice that? Our doctor is very anti-carb and pro protein and I'm starting to agree with him.

mrsggrowsveg

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #12 on: June 02, 2015, 09:42:36 AM »
We are a family of three (with one on the way).  We spend less than $300 a month on groceries.  This is also supplemented by produce from our garden, eggs from our chickens, pigs we raise and a side of beef we buy every two years.  I would say our actual spending is closer to $500 a month if we were buying these things from a store.  We eat really well and have all three meals cooked from home.  Our biggest savings comes from doing the bulk of our grocery shopping at Aldi or Sams club.  I have found that both have a surprising amount of natural/organic options.  We also try to stick to what is in season.  Right now Aldi has strawberries for 99 cents so we are eating a ton of strawberries.  The Asian grocery is another great stop for us to get fresh seafood, tasty ingredients and cheap produce.  We also are having lots of salads with fresh greens from the garden.  We do not eat meat every day which is also a huge savings. 

We cook a lot of ethnic food because it is inexpensive and very flavorful.  I make curry once a week with pork, tofu or fish.  We cook a pot of beans almost every week and make nachos, burritos and tacos.  We make our own tortillas and top with homemade salsa and cheap Aldi avocados.  We make homemade broth with bones from beef and pork and have ramen.

We don't cook separate food for our son.  The only special things we buy for him is a lot of fresh fruit to go with his meals and convenient snack items to pack for daycare.  I get the snack items from Aldi such as bars, cheese, cheerios, trail mix and crackers.

Our meat doesn't come from a grocery store other than occasional seafood.  We have found buying a side of beef every couple of years to be less expensive and way tastier.  Grass fed beef by the side is about $5/lb for all cuts.  We like to get the bones and everything.  We haven't found that the deep freeze increases our electricity bill by very much. 

For breakfasts we eat a lot of eggs.  On the weekend we often make a big batch of pancakes, waffles or muffins to pack with us for breakfast. 

I do a weekly meal plan to help with grocery shopping.  We have a list of meals that are quick and liked by all of us that tend to be on the rotation.  I also like to look a Food and Wine cookbooks for fancy meals and pinterest for other weeknight ideas.

Redstone5

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #13 on: June 02, 2015, 09:56:57 AM »
We are a family of three (with one on the way).  We spend less than $300 a month on groceries.  This is also supplemented by produce from our garden, eggs from our chickens, pigs we raise and a side of beef we buy every two years.  I would say our actual spending is closer to $500 a month if we were buying these things from a store.  We eat really well and have all three meals cooked from home.  Our biggest savings comes from doing the bulk of our grocery shopping at Aldi or Sams club.  I have found that both have a surprising amount of natural/organic options.  We also try to stick to what is in season.  Right now Aldi has strawberries for 99 cents so we are eating a ton of strawberries.  The Asian grocery is another great stop for us to get fresh seafood, tasty ingredients and cheap produce.  We also are having lots of salads with fresh greens from the garden.  We do not eat meat every day which is also a huge savings. 

We cook a lot of ethnic food because it is inexpensive and very flavorful.  I make curry once a week with pork, tofu or fish.  We cook a pot of beans almost every week and make nachos, burritos and tacos.  We make our own tortillas and top with homemade salsa and cheap Aldi avocados.  We make homemade broth with bones from beef and pork and have ramen.

We don't cook separate food for our son.  The only special things we buy for him is a lot of fresh fruit to go with his meals and convenient snack items to pack for daycare.  I get the snack items from Aldi such as bars, cheese, cheerios, trail mix and crackers.

Our meat doesn't come from a grocery store other than occasional seafood.  We have found buying a side of beef every couple of years to be less expensive and way tastier.  Grass fed beef by the side is about $5/lb for all cuts.  We like to get the bones and everything.  We haven't found that the deep freeze increases our electricity bill by very much. 

For breakfasts we eat a lot of eggs.  On the weekend we often make a big batch of pancakes, waffles or muffins to pack with us for breakfast. 

I do a weekly meal plan to help with grocery shopping.  We have a list of meals that are quick and liked by all of us that tend to be on the rotation.  I also like to look a Food and Wine cookbooks for fancy meals and pinterest for other weeknight ideas.

We also buy our meat from a local farm. We love the better quality that comes from "happy cows" and not from commercially produced meat.

Our yard is too shady for food growing but we do have a community garden plot. We've gotten some tomatoes, beans, lettuce, and kale the last few summers, but I find that the cost of the garden isn't really any better than buying the veggies from Costco so it's more of a hobby for our family. Last year someone stole our cabbages and strawberries, which was very frustrating too. Here on the west coast we have a long growing season, but the summers lately have been either unseasonably cold and wet or too hot and dry since I've had the garden plot.

TrMama

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #14 on: June 02, 2015, 12:45:06 PM »
For a family of 5 living on an island in BC I think $600 is already a fantastic number. We also live on the big island and I spend over $600 to feed just two adults and two school age kids. My DH even eats a lot of his meals at work and that's not included in our total. I also use the Superstore credit card to get discounted groceries and that's figured into my total as well. So I think you're already a rock star.

Don't compare your Canadian food costs to US costs. They're apples and oranges.

If you're in Victoria, you could look into getting produce from here, https://thegoodfoodbox.ca/home. I've used it in the past and it was a great deal. My only beef is that I bike commute in from outside their delivery zone and pickup is a PITA for me.

I agree with your plan to just stop buying/serving cereal. If DH wants to buy it, that's fine but it can come out of his personal account. My DH and I have a similar arrangement with potato chips ;-)

Redstone5

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #15 on: June 02, 2015, 01:38:29 PM »
Thanks, Trmama. It's so hard to know how your grocery bill compares to others. My in-laws here on the island spend more money for just the two of them than we spend for our whole family, but when I read the grocery budgets of some of the people on this site I wonder how they spend so little and I always think that we should be able to do better than we do.

slschierer

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #16 on: June 02, 2015, 02:38:24 PM »
I have found that doing freezer meals or once a month cooking has greatly helped with my grocery bill and has made my life much easier!  I realize that you said that you don't have much space for more than 1 week's food, but you may find that freezer meals don't take up very much space!  Many can be stored in gallon size freezer bags.  Additionally, muffins, egg bakes, pancakes, and more are all very easily cooked ahead and stored in the freezer until it's time to use them. 

Once every month (or two!), I gather my recipes, make my list, and purchase only what we will need for meals and snacks for the next month (or two).  The next day, I make the meals and store them in my freezer.  Typically, cooking day is only about 4 hours.  After that, I need only defrost to produce a satisfying meal for my family!  The only other expenses that we have throughout the month/week are milk and fresh fruit.

Cornelia

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #17 on: June 02, 2015, 06:35:50 PM »
Great thread! Lots of good ideas!

As a former lower mainland BC'er, I too, think you are doing really great budget-wise on food. I aim for 500$ for a family of 4 in S. Ont.

A couple ideas for your cereal consumption: Enriched vitamins aside, has your DH ever really looked at the sugar content of those cereals, they are totally nutso crazy!! I dare ya, to get him to weigh out the amount of sugar in one serving (and how many 'servings'  are they really eating at one sitting? If that doesn't get him to question the 'healthiness' of them, then nothing will :)

 In our house we buy the PC no name family size cereal  the rice Crispies, and occasionally the corn flakes when on super sale. Some days, my kids like to eat this for breakfast with frozen fruit in it. Usually they eat eggs. My DD loves egg sandwiches, and they only take a minute in the microwave. Scramble an egg in a cup, micro for 30 sec, then another ten, put on bread/toast, grate on some cheese, taa daa! Healthy and filling.

If your DH likes the fancy muslix type cereals, then make a big batch of homemade granola every couple weeks. Much cheaper, healthier, and still a good cereal replacement. Have it with milk, or yogurt.

School lunches: I think the only way is to just replace store bought snacks with homemade and say 'tough'. Make sure you have lots of convenient containers for yogurt/applesauce/granola bars etc. You can buy neat silicone freezie moulds on amazon, and put anything 'squeezable' in them- yogurt, pudding or applesauce.

I am totally with you on the shopping/cooking/planning fatigue. It never ends! Recently, I've switched to planning a two week seasonal menu, keeping it simple and with food everyone mostly likes. We just started the summer plan, for instance we always have pizza on fridays and a picnic after the farmers market on thursdays. Tonight we had fajitas using extra chicken I cooked and froze last week when I made baked chicken. I typed the menu up and stuck it on the fridge, now my brain isn't thinking so much about 'what are we going to eat, what's leftover' and so forth, which is super nice.

Mayday- That snack container idea is brilliant!!!! I am totally doing that for the kiddos this summer.

I kid you not, on a Mother's day worksheet my DD brought home from school last year, she filled in "my mom's favourite thing to do is.... make food for me to eat.". Ack!

Annamal

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #18 on: June 02, 2015, 07:19:23 PM »
Has your teenager got a cooking night? That might be one way of getting them involved in meal planning etc


Redstone5

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #19 on: June 03, 2015, 09:57:41 AM »
I have found that doing freezer meals or once a month cooking has greatly helped with my grocery bill and has made my life much easier!  I realize that you said that you don't have much space for more than 1 week's food, but you may find that freezer meals don't take up very much space!  Many can be stored in gallon size freezer bags.  Additionally, muffins, egg bakes, pancakes, and more are all very easily cooked ahead and stored in the freezer until it's time to use them. 

Once every month (or two!), I gather my recipes, make my list, and purchase only what we will need for meals and snacks for the next month (or two).  The next day, I make the meals and store them in my freezer.  Typically, cooking day is only about 4 hours.  After that, I need only defrost to produce a satisfying meal for my family!  The only other expenses that we have throughout the month/week are milk and fresh fruit.

I think freezer meals are a great idea. My problem is I am an "under buyer". When I'm shopping I'm always thinking about spending as little as possible, and then I get home and realize that I haven't actually bought enough food to cook up any extra portions of anything. I need to change my mindset and buy ingredients for more than one weeks' worth of food and then cook up casseroles to leave in the freezer for when we're busy. That would save fridge space too, since we have more room in our chest freezer.

Redstone5

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #20 on: June 03, 2015, 10:00:44 AM »
Great thread! Lots of good ideas!

As a former lower mainland BC'er, I too, think you are doing really great budget-wise on food. I aim for 500$ for a family of 4 in S. Ont.

A couple ideas for your cereal consumption: Enriched vitamins aside, has your DH ever really looked at the sugar content of those cereals, they are totally nutso crazy!! I dare ya, to get him to weigh out the amount of sugar in one serving (and how many 'servings'  are they really eating at one sitting? If that doesn't get him to question the 'healthiness' of them, then nothing will :)

 In our house we buy the PC no name family size cereal  the rice Crispies, and occasionally the corn flakes when on super sale. Some days, my kids like to eat this for breakfast with frozen fruit in it. Usually they eat eggs. My DD loves egg sandwiches, and they only take a minute in the microwave. Scramble an egg in a cup, micro for 30 sec, then another ten, put on bread/toast, grate on some cheese, taa daa! Healthy and filling.

If your DH likes the fancy muslix type cereals, then make a big batch of homemade granola every couple weeks. Much cheaper, healthier, and still a good cereal replacement. Have it with milk, or yogurt.

School lunches: I think the only way is to just replace store bought snacks with homemade and say 'tough'. Make sure you have lots of convenient containers for yogurt/applesauce/granola bars etc. You can buy neat silicone freezie moulds on amazon, and put anything 'squeezable' in them- yogurt, pudding or applesauce.

I am totally with you on the shopping/cooking/planning fatigue. It never ends! Recently, I've switched to planning a two week seasonal menu, keeping it simple and with food everyone mostly likes. We just started the summer plan, for instance we always have pizza on fridays and a picnic after the farmers market on thursdays. Tonight we had fajitas using extra chicken I cooked and froze last week when I made baked chicken. I typed the menu up and stuck it on the fridge, now my brain isn't thinking so much about 'what are we going to eat, what's leftover' and so forth, which is super nice.

Mayday- That snack container idea is brilliant!!!! I am totally doing that for the kiddos this summer.

I kid you not, on a Mother's day worksheet my DD brought home from school last year, she filled in "my mom's favourite thing to do is.... make food for me to eat.". Ack!

What a great idea about making your own granola cereal! I hadn't even considered making better quality homemade cereal for cheaper. My husband loves the expensive granola cereals that come in those tiny boxes and I'm sure I could whip up my own with selections from the Bulk Barn for half the cost.

Redstone5

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #21 on: June 03, 2015, 10:03:51 AM »
Has your teenager got a cooking night? That might be one way of getting them involved in meal planning etc

Both my teenager and 7 year old love to cook. Sadly, most evenings I'm too cranky after work to accept their help in the kitchen. I need to change that attitude and share the responsibility and make it family time, even if it takes a little longer. There have been evenings when I was sick when my teenager has made pancakes or scrambled eggs for the other boys and he did a great job.

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #22 on: June 03, 2015, 11:30:49 AM »
You've gotten lots of good ideas already. I regularly make granola using this recipe, http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2012/11/smitten-kitchens-big-cluster-maple-granola.html. I like that it uses egg whites instead of a boatlod of sugar to make it stick together. I usually sub honey or brown sugar for the expensive maple syrup. You can also finely chop an apple and toss it in with the dry stuff instead of using already dried fruit.

Ditto on delegating some of the cooking, and a lot of the cleanup to other family members. You can even assign your older kids to have dinner ready and waiting for you one night a week. Nothing makes me happier than when my oldest does that. I don't care that it's pancakes from a mix. Your older kids are also old enough to make their own lunches the night before.

I don't freezer cook, but I do pre-chop as many fruits and vegetables as possible when I get home from the store. For example, if I buy a big bag of carrots, I peel and chop a lot of them immediately. Then it's easy to toss them in kids lunches, or soup, or whatever. You can do this with a lot of produce.

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #23 on: June 03, 2015, 11:41:41 AM »
Thanks so much! I'm going to keep my eye out for a rice cooker. I should also buy dried beans rather than buying them in the can. I read in the Tightwad Gazette books that you can soak and then freeze beans for faster cooking.

You can also cook unsoaked dried beans in a pressure cooker in under an hour, and brown rice in 18 minutes (with only a few minutes of that being active time).

Redstone5

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #24 on: June 03, 2015, 01:40:10 PM »
I really want a pressure cooker now. I saw one the other day at our local thrift store. I'm going to check if it's still there this weekend.

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #25 on: June 03, 2015, 01:46:01 PM »
I second (or third?) the idea of your teenager cooking on his own 1 or 2 nights a week. No help required. You might spend a year having some interesting concoctions, but better to learn now than later.

As for meal planning, I made a google bookmark category called (genius!) Recipes where I store the true crowd pleasers.  On Saturday/Sunday I view the list and then plan the M-F breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and snacks. I write the schedule down, and stick it on the fridge. I try to make half the list pre-cooks, and half make-that-night. The schedule feeds the grocery list.

For transparecy, I'm usually off the list by late Thursday. Unanticipated left overs, just wasn't interested in beans on wed, etc. Even with the drift, I've found the schedule still helps my sanity and the grocery bills tremendously. 

expectopatronum

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #26 on: June 03, 2015, 02:49:07 PM »
You're off to a great start noticing where the $600 goes - the fact that half of it is basically going to "inner aisle" foods is pretty telling and totally unnecessary! I think switching breakfast and lunch habits would be a good start. Pre-portioned anything at the grocery store is a ripoff, even "healthy" stuff like soups and granola bars. I feel useless to give advice on how to win that battle other than to try to meet in the middle - you'll only buy 2 boxes of cereal per month, for example, and the rest of the time you can truly homecook....muffins, egg muffins, grits, peanut butter toast (yum. one of my favorite breakfasts), yogurt purchased in bulk. Quiche makes a VERY easy bake or freeze ahead meal with <10 mins of prep and about an hour in the oven, and you can load it with veggies and meats.

It sounds like the problem here is their habits. Maybe if you got them to just go with half the amount of cereal (which IMO has very little nutritional value, and is usually just emotionally satisfying...), they would learn to slowly adapt? It's like they think they can't do it, which is obviously baloney. It's just that it's easier not to change. Maybe they'll try something new and like it.

As for normal dinners, here are my go-to's for quick and cheap:

  • Beans & rice: made red beans & rice last night and although it took a few hours (did a quick brine on the beans instead of soaking them, then cooked it down over 2 hours) was totally cheap and tasty. Gallo pinto - that's a black bean and rice dish that is commonly served in Costa Rica. Hoppin' John is a traditionally New Year's dish in the South here, but it's so cheap (black eyed peas, rice, and some ham hocks) that I make it several times a year.

  • Ground beef: my mom makes this dish called Mexican hat which is basically just browned ground beef and Ranch style beans, served on top of Fritos (optional) with things like avocado slices, olives, lettuce, cheese, sour cream....matter of fact, tacos would be almost the same thing. Another recipe I like is homemade hamburger helper...kinda just beef and noodles dish.

    • Curries & stir fries: Indian, Thai, anything. Serve w/ or w/o rice. These can take a little more practice to figure out what flavors you like (green, red, yellow, etc), but my favorite simple curry is whipped up with a can of coconut milk and some green curry paste (either Mae Ploy or Mae Anong, don't remember. Thai kitchen is terrible), with chicken and veggies. My roommate loves Soy Yay sauce which can also go on any sort of stir fry (hubby made chicken/okra/carrot stir fry on Monday). We usually end up basing these on chicken because we always keep a bit frozen and it's so cheap, but I also like to do beef & broccoli and shrimp curries.

    • Stroganoff: chicken or beef. This is an easy meal for a teen to whip up and serve over egg noodles. Lots of recipes out there.

      • Meat sauce & noodles: Almost cheating, this was my go to meal in college when I needed a "vegetable", a meat, and something to take up space. Easy for a teen.

      • Pork chops: many people fear pork chops because they tend to get rubbery when overcooked. Get the thin sliced kind and all it takes is about 2min on either side in a pan with some salt, pepper, a dab of butter and minced garlic. Serve w/raspberry chipotle sauce (delish!!).

        • Rotation of vegetables (pick one per night usually): canned French cut green beans with two slices of bacon (cut into small bits) and part of an onion. Kale chips or sauteed kale (with a bit of red wine vinegar and minced garlic). Roasted broccoli or brussels sprouts. Roasted cauliflower. Zucchini & squash almost any way (grilled, roasted, pan cooked).

        I agree that you should get your oldest cooking. Feeding a family every night is actually a lot of mental stress. Again, it's tough when you have limited fridge/freezer space (we are only two and i feel like we're always out of room) but try to double your meal size once per week. We've found that allows us some flexibility (cook too much and it goes to waste) while cutting down on cooking time during the week!

        Sorry for the terrible formatting.

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #27 on: June 03, 2015, 03:02:51 PM »
Did anyone mention the oatmeal trick?  MMM says he mixes in raw oatmeal to cereal boxes.  I haven't tried it, and I prefer eggs for breakfast.  I do the frittata/omelet with toasted bread thing, but for years I did greek yogurt with berries.

In terms of lunch, why not sandwiches?  I like to do a big roast (ham, turkey, chicken, beef) and use it for sandwiches, which is cheaper/healthier than "lunch meat" from the deli.  It's definitely work to make a casserole type dish and pack for the kids - who may not have access to a microwave.  I have a couple of cold pasta/rice salad things that can work in the spring/fall, but do you want to deal with thermoses for hot food?

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #28 on: June 03, 2015, 04:06:53 PM »
In terms of lunch, why not sandwiches?  I like to do a big roast (ham, turkey, chicken, beef) and use it for sandwiches, which is cheaper/healthier than "lunch meat" from the deli. 

We do this too.  Buy a ham when it is cheap, then portion into 1-2lb chunks prior to freezing. 

Redstone5 - you are ahead of the game because you already know what areas to address.  Making breakfast the cheapest meal of the day vs. the most expensive is a huge savings.  Here's our go-to list:
- Homemade granola.  I start with the Barefoot Contessa recipe, then modify it with what I have available/what's on sale.
- Pancakes.  Easy to make and freeze.
- Waffles.  Ditto to pancakes.
- Bagels with cream cheese. 
- Hearty, homemade bread with jam, pb, cream cheese - whatever the kids like.
- Baked oatmeal with add-ins:  apples, brown sugar/honey/maple syrup, raisins/dried cranberries, almonds/walnuts, cinnamon, ground flaxseed. 

Also look into switching to non-traditional breakfast food.  For example, DH would rather eat sandwiches in the morning vs. cereal.  Maybe there is something the kids would prefer to eat? 

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #29 on: June 03, 2015, 04:15:19 PM »
Homemade granola is awesome, especially with nuts mixed in! I can't make it fast enough to keep up with my hungry crew. :)

I got in a little tiff with the husband this morning. We ran out of cereal because I didn't want to pay $7 a box at our local grocery but didn't have time to shop at Costco. I told him, "We spend a third of our grocery budget each week on cereal. Can you honestly tell me that you think this family gets that much value in nutrition for the money spent? I could make muffins and give them a multivitamin instead for a tenth of the price."

(he says he's very concerned about vitamin deficiency for the kids but I think all the added vitamins in kid's cereal are a joke. Our kids eat a very healthy diet, and even our doctor doesn't recommend cereal)

You can point out to him (& the kids too - they're old enough to start learning  about nutrition) that cereal ads are always careful to specify that cereal is "healthy" as PART of a balanced breakfast. Seriously, take a look: that bowl of Super-Duper-Sugar-O's is usually portrayed along with a bunch of fruit, yogurt, canadian bacon, OJ, etc. It is NOT supposed to be just 3 straight bowlfuls of Sucker-Smacks & milk.

Redstone5

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #30 on: June 03, 2015, 04:41:16 PM »
Homemade granola is awesome, especially with nuts mixed in! I can't make it fast enough to keep up with my hungry crew. :)

I got in a little tiff with the husband this morning. We ran out of cereal because I didn't want to pay $7 a box at our local grocery but didn't have time to shop at Costco. I told him, "We spend a third of our grocery budget each week on cereal. Can you honestly tell me that you think this family gets that much value in nutrition for the money spent? I could make muffins and give them a multivitamin instead for a tenth of the price."

(he says he's very concerned about vitamin deficiency for the kids but I think all the added vitamins in kid's cereal are a joke. Our kids eat a very healthy diet, and even our doctor doesn't recommend cereal)


You can point out to him (& the kids too - they're old enough to start learning  about nutrition) that cereal ads are always careful to specify that cereal is "healthy" as PART of a balanced breakfast. Seriously, take a look: that bowl of Super-Duper-Sugar-O's is usually portrayed along with a bunch of fruit, yogurt, canadian bacon, OJ, etc. It is NOT supposed to be just 3 straight bowlfuls of Sucker-Smacks & milk.

That is for sure! A few months ago my boys and I were having a conversation about sugar and we measured out the amount in a single cookie on our food scale. Even I was surprised at how much it actually was. I should do that for cereal and show my husband.

Songbird

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #31 on: June 03, 2015, 05:30:11 PM »
Wow, you have a LOT on your plate.  Your family should be helping more.  You are correct that all that meal prep, shopping, putting away groceries, cooking, managing leftovers and menus, etc. is practically a full time job for a larger household. 

You can make more homemade cereals than just granola.  If you search the internet you will come up with some hits.  I have a few for flake cereal (you make a batter, pour it into a baking sheet, bake it then break it up into "flakes".  There are also homemade grape nuts recipes out there.


Ditch the store bought snacks.  Definitely "forget" to pick them up.  Be sure and have easy substitutes available though (fruit, homemade granola bars, etc.) or WWIII may start in your house.   :)

Definitely have the teen start cooking.   They need to.  Period.

In our home we have a rule:  you get what you get and you don't have a fit.  Meals are what they are.  If a person is gagging on say, green beans, we don't force them to eat them but will suggest corn instead.

Freezer meals saved my life when my kids were smaller (homemade of course).  Crock pots as well.

Cereal:   wayyyy too expensive.  Terrible for you too if it is the sugary ones.  Your husband is way off here. This is killing your budget. If there is something in the budget that he wants that you guys can't afford, ask him if it is worth giving up store bought cereal for.  Worth a shot anyway.  It sounds like it is worth it...to him.  If he insists on such a large portion of the food budget continue to be spent on his wants then perhaps it should come out of his own discretionary spending money.

Would your family eat oatmeal if it had fruit in it?  We used to make up our own instant oatmeal packets for crazy mornings, with dried fruit in them.  Works like a charm.  Or you could make steel cut oats in the crock pot overnight.  They are SOLID in your stomach and you get a lot of mileage out of the calories. 

I only skimmed the post and responses so if this is all redundant, I apologize.

Hope this helps!

Songbird

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #32 on: June 03, 2015, 05:38:07 PM »
Forgot to add:  When my kids were little and time was so tight each day I would schedule three months of meals at a time.  If we had leftovers to eat I would just not make that day's scheduled meal.  I rotated days:  Mondays were chicken, Tuesdays were beef, Wed ethnic, Thursdays pork, Fridays breakfasts for dinner (brinner), and weekends were usually leftovers/sandwiches/panini/whatever we scrounged.   

I then figured out what meals we liked to eat and how often to repeat them (spaghetti was once or twice a month, etc.)  then I filled in the calendar days accordingly.  Then I looked to see what spaces were still blank and filled everything in from there on out.  It worked great.

I still have those meal planner sheets.  I would repeat the three month schedules every other three months. 

I hope this helps!   It was nice because then I didn't have to think about what to make...it was on the meal planner and I could grocery shop accordingly.  We were not rigid...if a great sale came up I would take advantage of it and rework the menu as needed but the planner freed me up from having to think about it all the time (I hate this type of work and wanted to maximize efficiency as much as I could).

MayDay

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #33 on: June 04, 2015, 05:03:42 AM »
With your teenager, maybe teach him 1 to 3 meals on weekends, and have them just rotate. Double bonus if it's all dry goods (box of pasta, jar of sauce, bag of frozen veggies) so you can call home and say "you're making dinner tonight!"If you are running late or are tired.

Redstone5

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #34 on: June 04, 2015, 09:13:42 AM »
Wow, you have a LOT on your plate.  Your family should be helping more.  You are correct that all that meal prep, shopping, putting away groceries, cooking, managing leftovers and menus, etc. is practically a full time job for a larger household. 

You can make more homemade cereals than just granola.  If you search the internet you will come up with some hits.  I have a few for flake cereal (you make a batter, pour it into a baking sheet, bake it then break it up into "flakes".  There are also homemade grape nuts recipes out there.


Ditch the store bought snacks.  Definitely "forget" to pick them up.  Be sure and have easy substitutes available though (fruit, homemade granola bars, etc.) or WWIII may start in your house.   :)

Definitely have the teen start cooking.   They need to.  Period.

In our home we have a rule:  you get what you get and you don't have a fit.  Meals are what they are.  If a person is gagging on say, green beans, we don't force them to eat them but will suggest corn instead.

Freezer meals saved my life when my kids were smaller (homemade of course).  Crock pots as well.

Cereal:   wayyyy too expensive.  Terrible for you too if it is the sugary ones.  Your husband is way off here. This is killing your budget. If there is something in the budget that he wants that you guys can't afford, ask him if it is worth giving up store bought cereal for.  Worth a shot anyway.  It sounds like it is worth it...to him.  If he insists on such a large portion of the food budget continue to be spent on his wants then perhaps it should come out of his own discretionary spending money.

Would your family eat oatmeal if it had fruit in it?  We used to make up our own instant oatmeal packets for crazy mornings, with dried fruit in them.  Works like a charm.  Or you could make steel cut oats in the crock pot overnight.  They are SOLID in your stomach and you get a lot of mileage out of the calories. 

I only skimmed the post and responses so if this is all redundant, I apologize.

Hope this helps!

Thanks, Songbird. It does feel like a lot but I'm hesitant to let my husband do any of the shopping since he pays ridiculous prices for things but thinks he's getting a good deal.

All of your suggestions are just great. I'm going to maximize my time on the weekends to get things ready for the work week. Oatmeal ready to go in the crockpot, meals prepped in the freezer, healthy snacks already made up. That should make the week much easier. Sometimes I'm so frazzled at dinner time that I end up making pancakes or French toast all the time, which is great but not helpful for my diet (I'm still trying to get into my pre-baby jeans and he's now 3). 

Redstone5

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #35 on: June 04, 2015, 09:15:08 AM »
With your teenager, maybe teach him 1 to 3 meals on weekends, and have them just rotate. Double bonus if it's all dry goods (box of pasta, jar of sauce, bag of frozen veggies) so you can call home and say "you're making dinner tonight!"If you are running late or are tired.

That's a good plan. He does the dishes every night already but I think it would be a nice change if he cooked and I did the dishes for him instead sometimes.

partgypsy

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #36 on: June 04, 2015, 10:42:38 AM »
Following. I would love to spend less on groceries. We do buy a lot of convenience foods, especially for kid's lunches.
It seems my kids are both "starving" mode, especially my oldest. Making themselves snacks even though eating full breakfast, lunch and dinners. Hopefully once school is out won't be buying so much pre-packaged items.

 

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #37 on: June 04, 2015, 12:00:38 PM »
Your general frustration at feeding a bunch of people with varying preferences mirrors my frustration.  I feel like all i do is make food and clean up from it.  It is exhausting. 

I think a 600$ budget for basically 3 adults (teenagers probably eat even more than adults) and 2 kids is reasonable.  I wouldn't kill myself to get it lower unless you really need the savings. 

For summer one thing I am doing is making an all-day snack container for each kid.  I put a variety of stuff, about a days worth, and they aren't allowed to ask me for a snack until they've eaten the stuff I set out.  Today it is peanuts, fruit, cucumber slices, a few crackers, and a few chocolate chips. 

Gardening saves us a lot if you are into that. 

For breakfast I often make a crockpot full of oatmeal the night before.  Easy, and I make 2 days worth so I only have to wash the crock every couple days.  Everyone adds their own toppings in the morning.

For dinner the disparate tastes are really a pain.  I typically make what I am going to make, do it as customizable as is reasonable (ie tacos are great because everyone adds what they want) but in the end, eat it or make yourself a peanut butter sandwich.   Don't like it?  Fine, you'll live until breakfast.  But I'm not a short order cook, I'm not making you something else.

Off topic, but perhaps of interest to people reading this thread: My mom is a diabetes educator and obviously the high obesity rates among children, and the huge uptick in children with diabetes are of great impact and concern to her.  One thing they are working on educating people about is that you shouldn't give kids a snack after a meal if they didn't eat their meal.  The snack food Americans typically consume is far less healthy and I would argue more expensive, than the meal food.

I have the best luck with meal planning and shopping if I stick with a regular rotation of meals so it can be mostly on autopilot, with minor variations to account for what is on sale.  So we pretty much always grill once a week in summer (exactly what we grill I can decide on the fly at the store), have pasta and tomato sauce (buy a bunch of pasta whenever it is on sale, same with tomato sauce, its always one hand), mexican-ish once a week (taco salads when lettuce is crazy in the garden, taco/rice bowls, or in taco shells/tortillas if those are on sale) etc.  That way I can basically shop with no list since its the same general stuff week to week.  I try to also look up new/different recipes for a few meals a week so we don't get bored, but even if I fail to do that (often!) I have 4-5 basic/easy/cheap meals I can shop for off the top of my head, and then add in fruit, veggies, milk, eggs, etc.

ETA:  for school lunches, we almost always pack the night before.  I tend to buy one special convenience thing for the week (yogurt tubes, crackers, etc) and that is it.  The rest is fruits, veggies, etc.  We do buy bread sometimes which some people might consider convenience since you CAN make it at home pretty easily.  If you and your H do it together at night would he be more open to trying your way?  One thought would be to make something the kids like, such as crock pot mac and cheese, and divide it into a bunch of lunch-sized portions on Sunday, so all your H has to do is grab one for each kid.  Same for cutting up carrot sticks, washing a bunch of fruit, etc.  For canned soup alternatives, again make a big batch in the crockpot or stove, and divide into a bunch of portions in the fridge or freezer.
+1

This is similar to what I do.  I share the frustration.  I have a full time job, an elementary kid, and a toddler.  I am trying to cook on a budget, and healthy.  I pack my own lunch and the school-aged kid's lunch.  I have to make sure my husband has lunch food.  And we have a CSA that I work around.

Oh, and I'm trying to lose 10 lbs.  And I'm over 40.  Have I mentioned that I think about food all the time? 

I seriously have an Excel template.  I cook a bunch on the weekend and plan our meals around that and the CSA.  I need to plan at least a couple of days in advance.

It does get kind of old, all this planning and scheduling and shopping and cooking.  It's like a part time job.

I am not a short order cook.  I love the "snack box" idea.

Some of my challenges are this -
On one hand, "The Blue Zones" book talks about health and longevity, and longest living people use meat as a flavoring
On the same hand, beans and rice are cheap
On the other hand, I'm trying to lose weight.  It is super hard to lose weight at my age, and I'm finding better luck with a plan that is lower on carb (two 1/2-cup servings a day, and better if no wheat - so no pasta), and higher on protein (4 servings a day).

So it's a constant balance, really.  Lower meat and higher carb diets are cheaper.  But it's super hard to lose weight on them for me.

Bob W

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #38 on: June 04, 2015, 12:17:11 PM »
My best time all time tip is to focus on proteins and then buy them when on sale as loss leaders.

Recently here -

Pork steak -- $1.89
Bacon -  $2.50
Butter -  $2

I cooked up a bunch of pork steak and cut into portions.   So it is ready to go for breakfast, lunch and din din. 

I still have some $1 chicken breasts and $2 hamburger in the freezer. 

If you stock up when the burger and chicken are super low (10-20lbs) you're in good shape.

If you're currently at $600 for 4 that is $5 a day per person. 

Shoot for $2 fail and end up at $3 for a monthly of $360 and savings of almost 3K per year. 

The other thing to remember is that flour is the cheapest damn thing.  And oil and sugar are on a per calorie bases.   So homemade chicken and dumplings,  homemade chicken and noodles,  homemade chicken pot pie,  sugar cookies are pretty cheap.   

Never throw away any food.  Make "stone soup"  with whatever is sitting around once a week.

Also do an "eat down" occasionally.  Where you eat whatever is in the pantry and freezer to move it along.   


expectopatronum

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #39 on: June 04, 2015, 12:18:59 PM »
Forgot to add:  When my kids were little and time was so tight each day I would schedule three months of meals at a time.  If we had leftovers to eat I would just not make that day's scheduled meal.  I rotated days:  Mondays were chicken, Tuesdays were beef, Wed ethnic, Thursdays pork, Fridays breakfasts for dinner (brinner), and weekends were usually leftovers/sandwiches/panini/whatever we scrounged.   

I then figured out what meals we liked to eat and how often to repeat them (spaghetti was once or twice a month, etc.)  then I filled in the calendar days accordingly.  Then I looked to see what spaces were still blank and filled everything in from there on out.  It worked great.

I still have those meal planner sheets.  I would repeat the three month schedules every other three months. 

I hope this helps!   It was nice because then I didn't have to think about what to make...it was on the meal planner and I could grocery shop accordingly.  We were not rigid...if a great sale came up I would take advantage of it and rework the menu as needed but the planner freed me up from having to think about it all the time (I hate this type of work and wanted to maximize efficiency as much as I could).

I love this idea. To supplement it, I did something similar where I wrote the meals on small sticky notes and that allowed me to easily reshuffle them on the calendar. I would only plan 80% of the week to allow for flexibility (e.g., free lunch shows up at work).

Redstone5

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #40 on: June 04, 2015, 02:17:28 PM »
Your general frustration at feeding a bunch of people with varying preferences mirrors my frustration.  I feel like all i do is make food and clean up from it.  It is exhausting. 

I think a 600$ budget for basically 3 adults (teenagers probably eat even more than adults) and 2 kids is reasonable.  I wouldn't kill myself to get it lower unless you really need the savings. 

For summer one thing I am doing is making an all-day snack container for each kid.  I put a variety of stuff, about a days worth, and they aren't allowed to ask me for a snack until they've eaten the stuff I set out.  Today it is peanuts, fruit, cucumber slices, a few crackers, and a few chocolate chips. 

Gardening saves us a lot if you are into that. 

For breakfast I often make a crockpot full of oatmeal the night before.  Easy, and I make 2 days worth so I only have to wash the crock every couple days.  Everyone adds their own toppings in the morning.

For dinner the disparate tastes are really a pain.  I typically make what I am going to make, do it as customizable as is reasonable (ie tacos are great because everyone adds what they want) but in the end, eat it or make yourself a peanut butter sandwich.   Don't like it?  Fine, you'll live until breakfast.  But I'm not a short order cook, I'm not making you something else.

Off topic, but perhaps of interest to people reading this thread: My mom is a diabetes educator and obviously the high obesity rates among children, and the huge uptick in children with diabetes are of great impact and concern to her.  One thing they are working on educating people about is that you shouldn't give kids a snack after a meal if they didn't eat their meal.  The snack food Americans typically consume is far less healthy and I would argue more expensive, than the meal food.

I have the best luck with meal planning and shopping if I stick with a regular rotation of meals so it can be mostly on autopilot, with minor variations to account for what is on sale.  So we pretty much always grill once a week in summer (exactly what we grill I can decide on the fly at the store), have pasta and tomato sauce (buy a bunch of pasta whenever it is on sale, same with tomato sauce, its always one hand), mexican-ish once a week (taco salads when lettuce is crazy in the garden, taco/rice bowls, or in taco shells/tortillas if those are on sale) etc.  That way I can basically shop with no list since its the same general stuff week to week.  I try to also look up new/different recipes for a few meals a week so we don't get bored, but even if I fail to do that (often!) I have 4-5 basic/easy/cheap meals I can shop for off the top of my head, and then add in fruit, veggies, milk, eggs, etc.

ETA:  for school lunches, we almost always pack the night before.  I tend to buy one special convenience thing for the week (yogurt tubes, crackers, etc) and that is it.  The rest is fruits, veggies, etc.  We do buy bread sometimes which some people might consider convenience since you CAN make it at home pretty easily.  If you and your H do it together at night would he be more open to trying your way?  One thought would be to make something the kids like, such as crock pot mac and cheese, and divide it into a bunch of lunch-sized portions on Sunday, so all your H has to do is grab one for each kid.  Same for cutting up carrot sticks, washing a bunch of fruit, etc.  For canned soup alternatives, again make a big batch in the crockpot or stove, and divide into a bunch of portions in the fridge or freezer.
+1

This is similar to what I do.  I share the frustration.  I have a full time job, an elementary kid, and a toddler.  I am trying to cook on a budget, and healthy.  I pack my own lunch and the school-aged kid's lunch.  I have to make sure my husband has lunch food.  And we have a CSA that I work around.

Oh, and I'm trying to lose 10 lbs.  And I'm over 40.  Have I mentioned that I think about food all the time? 

I seriously have an Excel template.  I cook a bunch on the weekend and plan our meals around that and the CSA.  I need to plan at least a couple of days in advance.

It does get kind of old, all this planning and scheduling and shopping and cooking.  It's like a part time job.

I am not a short order cook.  I love the "snack box" idea.

Some of my challenges are this -
On one hand, "The Blue Zones" book talks about health and longevity, and longest living people use meat as a flavoring
On the same hand, beans and rice are cheap
On the other hand, I'm trying to lose weight.  It is super hard to lose weight at my age, and I'm finding better luck with a plan that is lower on carb (two 1/2-cup servings a day, and better if no wheat - so no pasta), and higher on protein (4 servings a day).

So it's a constant balance, really.  Lower meat and higher carb diets are cheaper.  But it's super hard to lose weight on them for me.

I totally know what you mean. I switched to low carb, higher fat eating for two months earlier this year and lost 11 pounds with very little exercise :) I hadn't really considered the low-carb option for me before since I love bread, but I had blood sugar problems in my last pregnancy and my doc told me to cut out carbs for the final month. In that one week between weigh-ins I lost 7 pounds and they were worried that there was a problem with the baby but it was just normal weight loss from switching to low carb, (some was just water weight as my bloating got better but also some fat lost too). So a few months back I thought, what the heck, I'll try it again now three years later and follow a keto diet and it was amazing. And the best part was that I wasn't hungry. I was actually more satiated and didn't get the mid afternoon slump at work like usual. I dropped the habit this month since all that meat and avocados and cheese were so expensive but I think I'm going to have to go back on it since my sugar cravings have come back so I spend more on cookie ingredients anyway. I have kept six pounds off despite returning to back habits by remembering to eat enough protein with the carbs :)

Salim

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #41 on: June 10, 2015, 08:46:59 AM »

I got in a little tiff with the husband this morning. We ran out of cereal because I didn't want to pay $7 a box at our local grocery but didn't have time to shop at Costco. I told him, "We spend a third of our grocery budget each week on cereal. Can you honestly tell me that you think this family gets that much value in nutrition for the money spent? I could make muffins and give them a multivitamin instead for a tenth of the price."


Attempting to cut out favorites, or habitual choices, for other people has been an issue for us in just about every arena: crackers, paper towels, having a second car, books, magazine subscriptions, etc. Patiently pointing out superior alternatives, sometimes multiple times, helps make progress, although it doesn't always happen on my schedule :-) We were actually spending $15 per week on crackers, which is definitely ridiculous! Peanut butter on celery (or just about anything) tastes better, is healthier, and costs much less. I gave in on my husband's favorite magazine, Scientific American. Now that we are semi-retired, he has the time to go to the library, but that is not good enough. His compromise is to let me recycle editions older than five years.

Cereal is a tough one... if you sat everyone down and explained the facts about how cereal is very expensive and often basically junk food, do you think they might be willing to help come up with some alternatives? Alternatives don't even have to be regular breakfast foods. For example, for my health-restricted diet, baked sweet potatoes were recommended as a good breakfast food. With a dash of cinnamon, a little butter, and a bit of brown sugar, they are much better than cereal. You could bake them the night before when you are making dinner, then microwave them in the morning. If you put the toppings out, the family members could choose and add their own. Sweet potato oven fries might be nice, too.

Thanks for starting this thread! I'm getting some great ideas from the replies.

Redstone5

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #42 on: June 10, 2015, 09:24:43 AM »

I got in a little tiff with the husband this morning. We ran out of cereal because I didn't want to pay $7 a box at our local grocery but didn't have time to shop at Costco. I told him, "We spend a third of our grocery budget each week on cereal. Can you honestly tell me that you think this family gets that much value in nutrition for the money spent? I could make muffins and give them a multivitamin instead for a tenth of the price."


Attempting to cut out favorites, or habitual choices, for other people has been an issue for us in just about every arena: crackers, paper towels, having a second car, books, magazine subscriptions, etc. Patiently pointing out superior alternatives, sometimes multiple times, helps make progress, although it doesn't always happen on my schedule :-) We were actually spending $15 per week on crackers, which is definitely ridiculous! Peanut butter on celery (or just about anything) tastes better, is healthier, and costs much less. I gave in on my husband's favorite magazine, Scientific American. Now that we are semi-retired, he has the time to go to the library, but that is not good enough. His compromise is to let me recycle editions older than five years.

Cereal is a tough one... if you sat everyone down and explained the facts about how cereal is very expensive and often basically junk food, do you think they might be willing to help come up with some alternatives? Alternatives don't even have to be regular breakfast foods. For example, for my health-restricted diet, baked sweet potatoes were recommended as a good breakfast food. With a dash of cinnamon, a little butter, and a bit of brown sugar, they are much better than cereal. You could bake them the night before when you are making dinner, then microwave them in the morning. If you put the toppings out, the family members could choose and add their own. Sweet potato oven fries might be nice, too.

Thanks for starting this thread! I'm getting some great ideas from the replies.

I love the sweet potato idea! That would be very easy to do in our family as I often have some left over from dinner.

Redstone5

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #43 on: June 10, 2015, 09:36:08 AM »
Update:

So I went to the bulk barn to stock up this weekend and then I made granola and it turned out great. I haven't worked out the calculation but I think I made about 7 cups of granola for about $4, so that's already a good savings as we usually spend $7 on the equivalent granola from the store, and use two or more boxes a week (potential weekly savings of two boxes would be $6/week or $24/month. Not too bad for a few minutes work :) ).

I used the Smitten Kitchen recipe that was recommended in the thread above and everybody loves it. On top of some greek yogurt it makes a nice high protein breakfast that keeps us full without being boring. Of course, now the kids are eating all the greek yogurt so I'm going to learn to make our own this weekend.

I went to Costco and spent about $470 on basic groceries for June, and then I can use the remaining $130 this month to buy bulk barn items, milk, and some fresh fruit over the next three weeks and I'll still be within our budget of $600 per month.

Last night I got the kids (even our 3 year old) involved in making hamburgers and homemade ice cream and it was a really fun time in the kitchen for all of us.

My goal for this week is to keep that routine going. I'm also going to use the sticky note idea of putting all our meal ideas on the calendar and then swapping them around every few weeks so they don't get repetitive and I don't forget to cook anything I've bought.

Thanks so much for the help, everyone!

norabird

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #44 on: June 10, 2015, 09:47:38 AM »
You're turning around so fast! Great job!

FrogStash

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #45 on: June 10, 2015, 02:23:17 PM »

Also do an "eat down" occasionally.  Where you eat whatever is in the pantry and freezer to move it along.

We call this "Smorgasbord Night."  My 1 and 3 year old kids love it.  They often ask, "Can we have smorgasbord night for dinner?"

Redstone5

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #46 on: June 10, 2015, 02:49:29 PM »

Also do an "eat down" occasionally.  Where you eat whatever is in the pantry and freezer to move it along.

We call this "Smorgasbord Night."  My 1 and 3 year old kids love it.  They often ask, "Can we have smorgasbord night for dinner?"

Our kids call it "serve yourself night" because they get to choose whatever they want from the kitchen counter and microwave it themselves.

snuggler

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #47 on: June 10, 2015, 04:07:00 PM »
I read an idea from a discussion of the book French Children Eat Anything that I really liked about kid's snacks and thought to share it here:

When your kids ask for a snack, give them three options: a piece of fruit, yogurt, or piece of cheese.

Limit snacks to once-a-day. It's ok if they feel hungry! They will get used to feeling hungry between meals and learn not to eat something every time they get a minor hunger twang.

Apparently this is how many French parents handle it, and kids are quite adaptable and get used to only having these three easy options. Honestly, given how hard it was for me to get used to hunger between meals when I stopped growing and could no longer eat whatever I wanted, I really wish my parents had used this technique with me.

Erica/NWEdible

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #48 on: June 10, 2015, 04:09:14 PM »

Also do an "eat down" occasionally.  Where you eat whatever is in the pantry and freezer to move it along.

We call this "Smorgasbord Night."  My 1 and 3 year old kids love it.  They often ask, "Can we have smorgasbord night for dinner?"

Our kids call it "serve yourself night" because they get to choose whatever they want from the kitchen counter and microwave it themselves.
We call it, "Pick and Choose Night". So fun to see how that so many of us do this. Planned leftovers are awesome.

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Re: Ideas for Cheap and Easy Family Meal Planning and Shopping?
« Reply #49 on: June 11, 2015, 06:20:47 AM »
I'm so sick of doing all of it, just to have the kids turn their noses up at the table or my husband be too busy or tired to eat when he comes home after his late shift.

So I noticed your husband works the late shift and you mentioned he is the one packing lunches- has it ever occurred to him he could chuck some meat+veg+ seasoning+ liquid into a crockpot when he's making the lunches. It adds less than 5 minutes to his routine. Then 4,6,8 hours later when someone gets home its already made! They also have self timed crockpots or crockpots that you can pull the bowl thing out of and have it in your fridge, so you can meal prep night before and just stick it in the warming thing in the morning.

I saw a lot of people suggesting your teen son help cook (great idea!) but I don't recall people mentioning your husband cook. Does he have 1 or 2 days a week off? Could you explain everyone tall enough to cook, cooks a mandatory 1 night a week? Then you wouldn't feel so overwhelmed and like everything is on you.

I use to be like you. ALL the cooking, meal planning, grocery shopping was on me (and I had been trying to lose weight, while the fiance has a crazy metabolism). Plus he thought I was a short order cook and would occasionally text saying "you should make X tonight." A couple months ago I explained from now on Monday and Tuesday he was in charge of the cooking. The only constraint was it had to be something we both would eat. On Wednesday and Thursday I would cook. Friday- Sunday we cook together, fend for ourselves or have date night. Less pressure on me and I can sit down with him and enjoy my food now.