Originally Posted by Chicky2
I looked at this thread and a bit over a year ago I posted that we were spending $1000-$1200/month for a family of 6. Well, very happy to say I've gotten it down to around half that now!
Chicky, that is fabulous. I had similar progress but my family went from 6 to 5 and I have a well-stocked pantry in rotation now, which helps.
There are good ideas in this thread. I am constantly trying harder to eliminate food waste, and I think we have gotten pretty good at it. Wish we had chickens so I could turn the scraps we do have into eggs!
One thing that helps me a lot is to meal-plan based on what is in the pantry or what needs using up in the fridge/freezer. I try to figure out how little I can buy to get by with the things we already have each month. I also make soup once a week, and something I call "rice-and-stuff" which is basically brown rice plus tamari plus something protein plus something veggie. It stretches leftovers kind of like soup does.
We are not big legume eaters but I try for a bean or lentil meal at least once a week, with the goal of increasing this over time as we find recipes we all like. One of my kids is a) a teen boy and b) picky picky picky so that hurts the budget but he eats a lot of peanut butter, eggs, and popcorn to fill in. Homemade popcorn, for us, is THE go-to snack because it is so cheap and yummy.
I do not know how I manage to feed my family mostly local/organic whole foods on my budget, but I guess it has come from things like eating in season, creative arrangements with farmers, growing as much as I can (which is not a ton, but it helps), using leftovers instead of letting them go to waste (whenever I can), buying in bulk (having an extra fridge and freezer helps a ton), and having a short list of spendy foods (favorites so we don't feel deprived, like meats) to supplement a long list of cheap foods.
I polled my kids to find out what their favorite meals are and try to make those at least once a month -- then they feel less deprived. Also on birthdays they can choose their meal and it can be extravagant, like broiled salmon or bacon-wrapped shrimp or steak. So we splurge on fancy food for birthdays and it is still cheaper than eating out.
Also, if you don't keep expensive or nutritionally devoid food in your house, your kids can't burn through it. I do keep a "secret stash" of things I want to ration. If we have chips, I put out individual bowls instead of one big bowl or bag. They eat less and still feel like it's a full serving. I guess I consider portion control part of my job. If we make sausages I tell them how many they can have, my 13yo pouts, and I point him towards raw veggies and bread to fill up after he's eaten his share (or else he would eat the entire package himself).
My kids have gotten used to asking, "How much can I have?"
Also -- drink water, not juice, or if you're worried about vit C or need a boost, make fruit tea or homemade lemonade (can be made with stevia or something other than white sugar if you prefer). We make maybe a gallon of lemonade a week, more or less. We are all just used to drinking water.
I also save all my meat drippings and use them for pan grease or flavoring. Small trimmings or leftovers that would be good in soup go in a bag in the freezer until I'm ready to toss them in the soup pot.
I guess one thing is to be really honest with yourself about which things you buy for convenience or because you prefer the store-bought or more expensive item. It's not bad to buy these things if your budget can handle it! But simply being aware that it's a trade-off helps you trim out the things in this category that you can do without. I buy one tub of hummus a month for myself because I love one particular brand and my kids generally don't eat it. Could I make my own? Sure, and cheaper, but it's not worth it, and I just love the kind I buy and it feels decadent. Could I make my own condiments? Yes, but I don't want to, and we use them moderately not heavily.
We also eat very little dairy but I buy a pound or two of cheese a month for dressing up ordinary leftovers or pasta. One thing I have found is that if some dish already has flavorful meat in it, the cheese is often overkill. Cheese and meat I use sparingly to enhance flavor, not as the main focus of the meal. Cutting out dairy and cutting down on meat has helped our budget a lot.
There is a discount grocery near here (a bang-and-dent store) and I find good deals there on naturals/organics, but it's always hit-or-miss. Buy in bulk on sale. I also have a list of specific items that are cheaper/better at a certain store an hour away, and I make a pilgrimage there every 2 months or so to stock up on those.
I don't know if you're counting household stuff in your grocery budget, but I use reusables whenever possible (handkerchiefs, kitchen cloths, washcloths, mama pads/Keeper, some family cloth (we also use TP), etc.) so hardly buy paper goods except TP. Also, installing a cat door (so no need for kitty litter - we live rurally) and cutting back from "free-choice" to feeding my cats measured amounts 2x/day has done wonders for the cat part of the budget. For personal care we use simple shampoo, soap, and lotion, and pretty much nothing else (and you can cut out lotion and use olive oil). I have a front-loader washer so I use only a small amount of laundry powder; for the dishwasher I use one Tbsp powder instead of filling the whole recepticle. For me, keeping it simple and being conservative with use = spending less.
Also we hardly ever eat out, and when we "have to" I buy a big loaf of crusty bread and three slices of deli meat per kid, plus some kind of fresh veg or fruit (usually a small serving at a salad bar or something -- greens are super-cheap, LOL). I can feed all four kids for $15 or less, and they love it because it is special.
Oh, I grow windowsill sprouts, very easy and cheap and my picky kid loves them.
Hope that is not too many ideas!