Another really important factor to feeding a big family on a budget is batch cooking and batch preparation. In the sample meal plan above, pretty much everything on there can be prepared and or cooked far in advance. Blueberry pancakes can be cooked and reheated for the morning you need them. Overnight oats will last in the fridge for up to three days, simply add your topping on the day. Many of the dinners are repurposed for lunches.
By doing one big meal prep day every week or fortnight (if you can get yourself that far ahead!), it will save you so much time, money and stress! Work smarter, not harder.
There’s a fair chance that proteins, as in meats, are going to be the most expensive items in your shop and there are ways of bulking those meats out, and not compromising on their nutritional value.
In tomato-based meat dishes like chilli con carne, lasagne and spaghetti sauce, I often pop a bunch of veg, including the offcuts like broccoli stems and carrot ends, into a food processor and mush it all up before adding to the meat sauce. Voila, hidden veg, no waste!
By adding lentils to things like your chilli con carne, shepherds pies, meat loaves etc, you will make your meat go further. Lentils are really high in protein, iron, magnesium and fibre. You can buy them in a 400gm can for about 0.75 cents or you can buy them dried, and cook them in bulk using a slow cooker and freeze into portions for when you need them. A 1kg bag of dried black lentils costs around $3 and it will make about 14 cups of cooked lentils. Pretty economical!
Now, I know I said earlier to avoid the trendy superfood but I can’t recommend chia seeds highly enough. The humble little chia seed swells up to 10 times its original weight and the gel that it forms is extremely nutritious, helps keep you full and hydrated! Chia seeds contain all eight essential amino acids and to put it in easy comparative terms, each 2 tbsp serving of chia has:
- Five times the omega-3 content of a 1/4-cup serving of walnuts
- Twice the iron and magnesium of a cup of spinach
- As much calcium as a half-cup of milk
- As much potassium as a third of a banana
- More than twice the fibre of a cup of oats
A standard 300gm bag from the supermarket will cost around $9 (Aldi has it for about $7 last I checked) and given that it swells to 10 times its weight, that’s 3kg of chia for $9 (or less if you find it elsewhere cheaper).
You can use chia to bulk out anything from your meat dishes, to your muffins, cookies and pancakes. It can also be used as a substitute for egg if anyone is allergic as it will help the ingredients bind together.
You don’t need the latest fan-dangled kitchen appliances to help feed your family for less. I think the essential tools for meal planning and to keep your shop cost down will be lots of Tupperware, a slow cooker, food processor and a decent-sized freezer. Slow cookers are really economical to run and make washing up a breeze – hello one pot wonders!
Grow Your Own
Try growing your own fruit and veg to help cut down on costs. Of course, if you are tight on space, you can at least grow your own herbs. They grow like weeds and mine do pretty well in tin cans on the kitchen window sill!