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On a tight budget - family of five...need ideas!

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As the subject shows, I'm on a tight (cash-only) budget with a family of five.  This means I have three teenagers, two that are athletic and eating me out of house and home.  I'm extremely busy with the kids activities, work, church etc. and am desperate for ideas / meals / something to help us out with meal planning and keeping groceries within a budget.  If any one has any ideas that would be great!  We are trying to keep from eating out and hubby and me are trying really hard to brown bag it every day!

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casserole dishes are great. You don't have to use much meat and can use whole grain Pastas and various low cal sauces such as Alfredo, etc. as fillers. I use tuna, ground turkey, chicken, seafood anything will work. Sauces and pastas are generally pretty cheap as well. Rice is a good filler as well (jasmine, wild rice or brown). You can also prepare these in the skillet or a big pot. Buy frozen veggies and cook a big pot of them on the side. Potatoes are a good filler as well. I know some people are dead set against pastas, but if you buy mulitgrain or whole grain, I think it is ok. We eat lots of chicken. Marinades are generally pretty cheap and if you marinade chicken overnight, it has a wonderful flavor the next day and only takes about 30 minutes to cook. I have a family of 6 (4 kids) and have to watch the budget as well. Fruit is great but it tends to be expensive so I can't afford to buy as much, so for snacks there is lots of popcorn, pretzels, yogurt, applesauce, carrot sticks with  low fat ranch dressing, raisins, cereal, etc. Just things that are cheap but healthy and tide them over after school.

oh, forgot about the crockpot. Soups are great pre-meal fillers and you can also make stews etc.

I've always like the Hillbilly Housewife website.  It's down to earth and practical, but the recipes are not always figure friendly.  The ideas about budgeting are the best.

Here's my own Soup for Free method

Save all bones from cooked meats (have people cut the meat off with a knife, not chew on the bones).  Put them into a freezer bag as you get them.

Save all meat scraps in a separate container and freeze.

Save leftover vegetables in a separate container and freeze.

Keep adding to your freezer containers until you have enough scraps to make soup.

Save ends of carrots, celery, tomato ends, parsley stems and onions during the week you will make soup.

On soup day, first put the bones and your saved fresh vegetable scraps into a soup pot and cover with water to 2 inches over the top. To this add a crushed clove of garlic, a bay leaf and a little thyme or other dried herb.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Cover and simmer for an hour.  Let it cool a bit and strain into a clean pot.  Discard the bones and vegetables.  Skim off the fat.

Into your strained, defatted broth, put your leftover meat and vegetables.  Simmer for about 20 minutes, and it's soup. Taste and add salt & pepper.  You can add cooked rice, barley or small pasta just before serving.

Frozen foods are great for off season purchasing - we get a lot of fruit that is canned or frozen over the winter to supplement the bananas and apples.  And the vegetables like broccoli and green beans are great frozen too - and then you don't have to worry about it spoiling.

We have a membership to SAMS, and purchase low-fat ground beef and chuck rolls there in 80 pound boxes, then freeze them in usable portions.  Usually the meat is a good price, but I honestly don't know if the price is good enough to pay for running the freezer.

Don't spend a lot of money on foods labelled as "diet".  Come up with your own substitutes.  I make granola in the crockpot for a LOT cheaper than you can buy it.  And I make Macaroni and cheese with whole grain macaroni and velveeta (store brand), which is cheaper than the boxes and healthier (the boxes have food dye in them, velveeta uses natural coloring).

Homemade popcorn, I buy plain yogurt in the big cartons and use it to make fruit smoothies. 

And definitely, casseroles and soups!!  Beans and potatoes are great cheap staples, and always good as a side.

A meat free day or two a week will save you money.  Beans and pulses are seriously cheap, and healthy.  Lots of recipies you can try in the recipe browser here.

I also make a curry out of leftovers once a week - save them in the freezer until you are ready to use them.


Claire said my thoughts.  Try the hillbilly housewife.

I also have a slicer and a food sealer.  I use to buy roasts and hams and slice them up thin for lunchmeat.  Saves a few bucks that way.

The crockpot is also your best friend.  Stews and chili in it constantly in the winter months.

My kids are gone now but one of our favorite less costly meals was pizza. I used to buy the on sale ready made pizzas that were maybe only cheese for a topping but I added our our desired toppings.  Bacon, pork sausage, browned hamburger, bulk sausage, bulk pepperoni,  shredded cheese in the big bags,  mushrooms, slices of bell peppers, onions, and more or whatever happened to be on hand were added to make  pizzas that everyone loved!  Buying cheese and meats in bulk saved big bucks back then and I am sure will today as well! 

One of the best things you can do to save time and money is to plan on leftovers and what you are going to do with them to make them appealing for a second or third day, whether that means saving and freezing them for another week or cooking them into something else entirely.

After Christmas and Thanksgiving I buy a couple of frozen turkeys on sale.  We have roast turkey one night (usually just before the weekend so I have an whole day off to deal with the bird the next day) and make and freeze turkey casseroles, turkey stew, curries and shaved turkey for sandwiches.  Sometimes you can pick up hams after the holidays too... a little bit of ham sliced up with a healthier version of alfredo on pasta and you have a quick and cheap meal. 

Since you have a large and voracious family you can surf the discount produce area of your local grocery store for finds like "baking bananas" which are usually dirt cheap and perfectly good to eat fresh as long as they are eaten immediately. 

If you have a crock pot you can make fat free "refried" beans by presoaking the beans overnight then adding cooking water, cumin and a coursely chopped up onion and letting it cook throughout the day.  The first day it makes a good side with rice but it's also great for burritos and as a thickener for a veggie soup. 

Leftover pasta of any sort can become a frittata with some chopped mixed veggies and some eggs added... cheese if you don't mind the cost or calories and want to dress it up. 

Many, many entrees can be reincarnated into soup.  My husband's favourite soup is lasagne soup which  is literally lasagne with the cheese from the top layer removed, the rest of it chopped up a bit and added to a can of tomato soup and some extra water.  Instead of feeding the one to two people that canned soup normally feeds it will stretch for four or five people, use up lasagne leftovers and seem like a new meal if I make it from frozen lasagne from awhile ago. 

I live in a small town with really limited grocery options available so we do most of our grocery shopping once a month in a larger city an hour away.  Doing so has really cut my grocery bill because I actually have to map out what we are going to be eating on a meal plan and it helps to plan for leftovers and what you will be doing with them. 

Ok, well from all the ideas, it sounds like I'm already doing what most of you have suggested.  Our biggest problem is fighting the urge to eat out.  It's just too easy and convenient.  So my next question is, how much a month are any of you currently spending on groceries (not eating out) but actual groceries.....I'm averaging about 500-600 a month for a family of five. 

whatever you cook, drice, double  or triple .the recipe. I do this with meatloaf, stuffed bell peppers, pinto beans,( I quadruple the recipe for us- there are two of us and I can only cook for 8-10-- eventhough there has never been more to cook for than 2  my whole life). I also do it for gumbo, chili,  black eyed dried peas,( or any other beans or peas) spaghetti sauce, I save the juice from roast cooked in crock pot for soup base( put it in plastic bowl, freeze, then remove to a ziplock bag to free up bowl. I also cook ahead turkey mexican casserole( made with mushroom soup and chicken soup, broccolli and rice casserole, and other casserole. If we are having one  I make another or two more. I buy the frozen vegatables in the huge bags, 5lb or so brocolli, mixed veg. for stir fry, etc. I buy the  ground turkey instead of ground chuck. our store has it for about 1/3 or less calories than ground chuck. and 1.00 or 1.50 cheaper. I never buy meat or anything ( except the turkey burger) unless it is on sale. I stock up on rice or pasta when on sale.( also any other items usually used.) remember walmart will match any competitors ad on anything( you will have to show the ad though) I make my list by grocery ads so it goes easier when I get to the register. I buy whatever fruit is on sale for the week.(   making the extra dishes up ahead will save electricity as well as money and time.  ( and you wont have to go out to eat so often if you have things you can lay out of the freezer to thaw out before you leave for the day. we only eat out about twice a month. if that.  everyones idea above are great too, alot of those are some I use to, but I tried not to repeat. I am sure there are other things I have forgotten.  If you have stores that double or triple coupons they are worth looking into. ours don't give a double or triple anymore ( don't think). plus I have found on the things I use the store brand is usually cheaper than label brand with coupon. I stock up on toilet paper etc when it is on sale also. I don't use Sams or anything because we live 40 miles from the nearest one, and I wouldn't save the 35.00 or whatever it cost a year using one, since I only buy things on sale anyway. hope I helped in some way.......

For me, the easiest way to avoid eating out is to make sure I have something I can heat up in 15-20 minutes - because the biggest temptation to eat out is when we are running short on time or I don't feel well, or the kids are needing more intervention than usual.

There are cookbooks on how to cook for a month - I'm checking those out from the library to look at and see how I can do that.  If I have meals ready in the freezer, it would make life so much easier on these "off" days.  I imagine they contain hints much like lonestarpenny wrote (which I will definitely be doing this winter, when things like chili and stews will be wonderful!)  Of course, hubby isn't so fond of casseroles and such, but sometimes he just has to make do!

Also, sometimes we order $30 worth of chinese take out - which is a bit more than we would spend if we ate out once.  I make egg drop soup to go with it, maybe heat up some egg rolls, cook the rice up with some eggs and veggies, and we typically have at least two family meals from this, plus a couple of work lunches for hubby.  It is a cost saving "eat out" option.  Of course, I have two little kids, so it might not stretch as far for you.

Buying a whole roast or ham and making sandwich meat from that is a good idea as well.  I was a little shocked when I realized how much I was spending on sandwich meat, thinking it was "cheap."

well what I did this year was plant a garden...prob a little late for you now but maybe next year! "lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, peas, beans, onions, garlic, spinach, squash, broccoli, red cabbage, radishes, cucumbers" so much you can grow!

I also live by my slow-cooker...and freeze leftovers for those "in a hurry" nights.

we all (me, my husband & kids) take bag lunches to work/school everyday.

From having my garden this year it saved me $$$$ allot because I use ALLOT of veggies and in the summer I eat salads. We also have orchards very close to home so I Can allot of fruit to be used all year long. My mom has berry's so I make allot of jam/jelly. and she has apple, pear, plum trees so I dry tons of fruit.

In the winter I make soup (big pot) and send it in a thermos for us for lunches. If you don't have a way to warm up, I make tortilla chicken soup it tastes great even cool.


Good luck! its a challenge for many of us...Wink


Pasta bake is a good one and can be made pretty much any way you want and as low fat/cal as you want.

Basic recipe: Cooked pasta, condensed tinned soup (whatever flavour you fancy, more than one tin if you're making for 5), mix that together and add some frozen veg, cooked chicken pieces, whatever, put in the oven for about half an hour. For the last 5mins add grated cheese on top and some mixed seeds are nice. When the cheese is nice and brown, serve. Easy!

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We spend between $400-$500 per month for 2 people, but we never EVER eat out (or, on the rare occasion we do, it comes out of the $400). We have found this is enough to buy mostly organic, mostly natural foods as long as we stay committed to cooking, avoiding most packaged food and eating out, and use every piece of every food. I watch the sales like a hawk and bulk buy sale items, particularily chicken and cheese and bread. Our top 5 cost-savers:

1. Steel Cut Oats: we put them in the crockpot the night before (1/4 cup oats + 1 cup water) and wake up to a hot, filling breakfast. The cost works out to $0.40 per pot of oatmeal, and a pot feeds us for two days.

2. Homemade Granola Bars: time consuming, and your teenagers are likely to eat the whole pan in one go, but delicious. A pan with my recipe works out to about $4 (12-16 bars).

3. Pizza: we make our own dough (it is suprirsingly easy) and can make a thin crust pizza with pepperoni and vegitables for about $4, a thick bready crust for $5. Thin crust feeds 2 or 3, bread crust feeds 4-6.

4. Beat Greens Salad: we use the leafs instead of lettus. We also use greens that come off any other vegitables as a salad base, preventing the purchase of several lettus' in a week.

5. Vegitable Ends Soup: I literally use all ends of vegitables that normally I wouldn't eat - broccoli ends, celery leaves, carrot & zucchini tips, tomato cores - and throw them in with some canned tomato soup.

Best of luck!

Nothing is as frugal as making it yourself. Homemade granola with dried fruits and nuts is very filling as a snack for big eating teens. As is popcorn.

Making meals with beans as protien is much less expensive than a meat fowl or fish meal. It is more filling, too. Chili, soups, beans and rice, bean enchiladas and more search the net for good bean recipes.

And making sure you buy in bulk helps with prices too. Buy a large chicken or turkey and make 2 meals out of it. Make a large salad one night and use it the next day as sandwich filling with avocado or cheese.

And the casserole, if your family will eat them, can be very cheap to make. There is zucchini pie, shepards pie, mac n cheese, pasta with anything- try veg and oil and garlic no sauce or meat...

If the kids eat a good meal then healthy snacks can fill the void in between.

And make your own yogurt and or kefir...the cost of a gallon of milk made into yogurt you flavor yourself is cheap compared to regular yogurt in the store prices.

I make "granogurt" with homemade yogurt and granola, baked in the oven as a dessert that is healthy and fillng.

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