The more mouths there are to feed, the more factors need to be considered when planning meals and groceries - and of course as the family grows and the number of mouths to be fed multiplies, the budget becomes tighter and tighter.
The key making sure your family is eating well while staying within budget is planning.
Between my husband and I and our three boys and the whole family active in sports our grocery budget is astronomical. We stay on budget by planning out the whole week's worth of meals in advance and shopping accordingly - and I'm fairly strict about sticking to the plan.
I started by making a master list - everything we'd need in an average week, meal by meal - weekday breakfasts, school lunches, after school snacks, protein and carb and veg and salad for every dinner, staples and snacks that fly out of the fridge as fast as they go in. I literally wrote down every single thing we'd eat that week and how many of each item and how much each item would cost.
I use this master list every week to plan our week's meals. Obviously there's a lot of variation - salmon might mean tilapia this week, chicken breasts might mean turkey breasts or a whole chicken, roast beef might mean steaks, broccoli might mean carrots, rice might mean couscous or potatoes. But it really helps to have the master list so that I know each week I need at least sixteen yogurts, twelve litres of milk, six head of lettuce, three bags of apples, two jumbo boxes of cereal, and so on and so forth. I also find it very helpful to have the price guidelines set in place because it gives me an idea how much wiggle room I have for extras or treats - if I buy the store brand of granola bars for the kids' lunches I have a few extra dollars to spend on an even better cut of meat for dinner.
Although I was hoping that this crazy overplanning would also allow me to shop only once a week, for our family it's simply not practical. We eat almost nothing that isn't fresh - our pantry is filled with baking ingredients and spices, cereal for school day breakfasts and coffee to keep Mommy functioning, and that's about it. And fresh food just doesn't last that long. So I have to shop a few times a week - we're constantly running out of milk. The kids polish of an entire bunch of bananas every second day. We have salad with dinner every night and there simply isn't room for six or seven heads of lettuce along with everything else in the vegetable crisper. So I find myself at the grocery store every couple of days. But these extra trips are all included in the week's shopping plan and I'm never left running out to grab a couple of things for dinner and blowing the budget on a bunch of food I hadn't thought of or planned for.
Meal planning helps us to eat healthy as well - it's those quick-serve, pre-prepared, last-minute-pick-up items that are the devil as far as healthy eating goes. Fresh food is the best food. Fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, fresh meat. Nothing canned, nothing boxed, nothing pre-made. We also do organic as much as we can.
Canada's Food Guide recommends four to six servings of fruit and vegetables per day, three to six servings of grains, two to four servings of milk products, and one to two servings of meat products per day for kids (depending on ages - see the Guide for details.) It's hard to make sure your kids are meeting their needs without a little bit of planning.
I am a strong believer in the protein-grain/starch-veg plate for dinner; we have lean chicken, fish, beef or occasionally pork every night of the week. I prefer to serve a healthier carb like quinoa, couscous, wild rice or potatoes, but when we do pasta it's whole grain. I always make extra of the carb and the veggie so those days when my bottomless pits of children are still hungry after their second and third platefuls there's plenty to fill them up. And we have salad with every meal which I load up with veggies and usually a legume like chick peas or kidney beans. If I didn't have a plan in advance for what we were going to eat each evening I don't know how I'd manage to make sure I had everything in the house I needed or enough of every item. I'd be rushing out to the store before dinner every evening - and probably spending a lot more money on a lot less healthy food choices.
Advance meal and grocery planning is also a great way to make sure no food goes to waste - you can plan for those leftovers and how to reuse them, hide them in other dishes, or portion and reheat them for school lunches.
With a little bit of advance planning and a commitment to sticking to the plan, it is possible to keep your family eating healthy within your budget!
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