Friday, 15 June 2012

Feeding the family on a budget

This is one of the most popular questions I get asked and believe me, if your food shopping bill is growing at such an expeditious rate as ours is, I can see why!
When I'm scouting the aisles of the supermarket I have discovered two little voices in my head arguing!  One could be visualised as a dollar sign, reminding me that with each new entrant to my trolley, the total bill is climbing.  The other could be visualised as, well, me!  Wanting the best health and nutrition for my family, but without the premium price tag!   So which one wins out?  Well, here are some ways to achieve them both!

Use legumes to bulk out meat dishes

Dried legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, peas and beans are really the forgotten heros in my eyes.  Not only are they extremely cost effective (just a couple of dollars for a whole pack which, when rehydrated goes a long way) but they are also very nutritious - good sources of protein, generally low fat, cholesterol free, rich in both insoluble and soluble fibre, good sources of vitamin B, iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium and are naturally gluten free!  The big benefit too is that choosing dried legumes over their canned counterparts cuts out a great deal of salt, because naturally they are low in salt.
A lot of them really don't take that long to cook either - from red lentils which take just 25ish minutes to chickpeas which take closer to 40 minutes.  But these cooking times can be reduced further by throwing some in a container of water in the morning.  By the time you start preparing dinner, you would have cut the cooking time significantly!
So instead of choosing an inferior cut of meat to cut costs, just buy less of a leaner cut and bulk your dish up with legumes!
  • For bolognaise, use 3/4 of the amount of beef mince you normally would and replace the remaining with red lentils.  They cook within about 20-25 minutes so add them dry when you are browning the mince at the beginning and they'll be soft by the time you are ready to dish up!  A bit of extra liquid (tomato puree, wine, stock, water) will need to be used.
  • For chicken casserole dishes, substitute chickpeas, split peas or lentils for a portion of the chicken required.
  • Serve smaller cuts of meat and bulk the dish up with a side of puy lentils cooked with sauteed onions, garlic, and herbs as well as steamed or roasted veggies.
  • Use legumes in place of meat in soups.  They taste fantastic and with a freshly baked bread loaf, the meal can fill even the emptiest of tummies!

Buy in bulk online

Its all well and good for me to write you a shopping list with ingredients such as quinoa, chia seeds, raw cacao etc on it.  But when you hit the shops and see that 500g of quinoa is setting you back $7 (when, you think, you could just buy a bag of rice for a fraction of that) it becomes a hard sell and feels unattainable to be healthy.  But nothing could be further from the truth!  I buy a lot of ingredients online now which cuts those costs significantly.  I also share the order with a friend (hi Heather!!) which means we can buy more and save more (as the cost per kg goes down the more you buy).  For example in our last order we bought 12.5kg of quinoa which costs $85.  That's just $6.80/kg which means approximately half the price of the small packs in supermarkets!  The shop I use is but there are plenty around and perhaps one that you could even pick up from, eliminating shipping costs.
Get extended family members or friends involved and you will all benefit.
The same thing applies for meat and many other ingredients.  If you have a deep freeze and or extra pantry storage you can really take advantage of the savings buying in bulk gives you.

Plan meals and look for specials

I know you probably think I am someone who sits down each Sunday night and looks through my thousand cookbooks and magazines eagerly planning the weeks meals.  Weeeeellllll, I have a confession to make!  This is something I have only just started really trying to do regularly!!  I have always considered myself someone who procrastinates 'works best under presssure' and have always stood in front of the pantry at 5pm gaining inspiration from the ingredients I see before me with a time limit of 30 minutes to bring it all together!  What was that show that used to be on TV???  The Surprise Chef I think!!!  I felt like that guy every night of the week!  It actually wasn't too bad when it was just my husband and I, but I have really felt it to be somewhat of a burden now with two boys screaming starvation at my feet and no space to think straight!  On top of that I have found that on the weeks that I pre-plan my meals, the shopping bill isn't as expensive.  Instead of buying lots of things to try and cover all bases for whatever I decide to make, I buy just what I need and the amount that I need.
Another confession - I actually like getting junk mail!!  Not all catalogs but certainly those from the supermarket I like to look through as I can see what foods they have on special for the week which can also then help with my meal planning.  If chorizos are half price in the deli that week, for example, I'll make a risotto, soup or slow cooked chorizo with borlotti beans (sorry, couldnt help myself to put the plug in there for my latest project with McKenzie Foods!! ( ;)
Try planning for yourself, it really does help not only for sanitys sake but for the wallet too!

Buy seasonally and locally

I've said this a bit in past posts but I really believe in making the most of produce grown at our doorsteps (if we are lucky enough!) and supporting those primary producers by buying at a market, the farmgate or roadside stall.  There are always bargains to be had and best of all you know you are getting the freshest possible produce which will generally last longer too.  Its also such a great lesson for our kids to know the source of where ingredients come from.  I ask you who could drive by a little roadside stall with a 'trust box' selling pumpkins, citrus or honey??!!  NOT ME!
Buying seasonally is always cheaper, so give the strawberries a miss for half the year and swap to mandarins instead!

Use your leftovers

Sometimes leftovers get forgotten at the back of the fridge in our house and I'll discover them a few days later only to realise they are no longer edible.  What a waste!  Does this sound like your house too?  That really is money (and effort) down the drain.  Leftovers can always be reborn into new dishes - either for lunch the next day or incorporated into the following nights dinner (and planning the weeks menu can help this too).
  • Bolognaise sauce can be made into 'toasties' for lunch, or spoonfuls placed on strips of filo pastry with some baby spinach leaves and a dob of ricotta or mozzarella, folded up into triangles and baked until crisp.
  • Casseroles can be made into pies with puff or filo pastry.  
  • A roast with meat and veggies can be cut up into bite size pieces and added to whisked eggs and smooth ricotta for a tasty frittata.
  • Leftover rice can be used to coat meatballs or mixed into hamburger (or veggie) patties, to bulk up a soup or even to make a rice salad for lunch the following day (with a tin of tuna and fresh veggies in your crisper).
  • Any leftover veggies can be roughly mashed and added to my gluten free flatbread recipe for the kids (or your) lunches.

Make your own        

Making as many things as you have the time (and inclination) to do will obviously save money.  Jam, for example, can be a really cheap and easy product to make.  These days frozen berries are often on a half price special - around $4.  Making a batch of jam with 500g of berries will give you about 3 jam jars worth and cost a fraction of the price (and you know whats in it!).
Cakes, bikkies, cordial, sausage rolls, chicken nuggets etc can all be made easily at home and will save you lots of money.  Make big batches when you do go to the effort to cook, and freeze for when time is not of the essence!

So don't use cost as an excuse for not eating healthy foods - get savvy and save!

Please share your handy hints for feeding your family on a budget - we will all benefit from it ( :


  1. One of the best things you are doing Mel is being inventive and imaginative with your cooking. The way you encourage and include the boys in the whole food discovery and cooking process is wonderful for them!!! Wish I had done it when my kids were little!!

    1. Thanks farmtocitygirl! The boys are right into it which helps, and they push me to be more imaginative too!!

  2. A total devotee of the weekly menu plan. I've been doing it for years and swear by it. I'll be reading the junk mail this week before I do it - great idea.
    I also hadn't realised I could use frozen berries to make jam. Will be doing that too. Love ya Mel xx

    1. Thanks for commenting! Yes I was really surprised just how beneficial it is - taking a lot of stress out of my day and saving money too.
      Frozen berries are fine to use - I use them all the time! And these days are so cheap I put them on the boys cereal, in smoothies, muffins and on top of natural yogurt with a drizzle of honey! Thats if I can get them out of the pack and defrosted before the boys get to them!

  3. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have put in penning this site.
    I am hoping to view the same high-grade blog posts by you later on as well.
    In fact, your creative writing abilities has encouraged me to get my own, personal blog now ;)

    Look into my website - diet plans for Women

  4. Besides, your subscribers signed up to receive information from
    you for a reason, so they can learn how to change
    some part of them they are having troubles with. In my experience, most of what we
    worry about never comes to pass anyway. When using a database solution, it becomes easier
    to create reports from time to time to check how the business is moving.

    my web-site; free home business articles

  5. Great article about Feeding the family on a budget ..I saw your entire posts, its really very interesting..Thanks for sharing valuable information with us and also your site goodness is looking awesome, great range of products with affordable prices..
    Health Food Stores Australia

  6. eToro is the best forex trading platform for beginner and pro traders.