Help me get my food budget under control! - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 15 Old 04-22-2012, 05:06 AM - Thread Starter
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I'm horrified.  We spent $1200 last month at the grocery store help.gif!  I shop at the commissary (DH is retired Air Force) and the local grocery store.  I don't buy a lot of processed food, and have stopped buying organic/grass fed (way too expensive).  I've tried the coupon things, but it seems like all the stuff there are coupons for are things I wouldn't buy anyway.  I do admit to getting "treats" for my kids whenever I grocery shop, which I need to stop doing.  And it wouldn't kill my family to back off their cereal consumption ( I bought 5 boxes of cereal last time I went shopping).  So, for those of you who spend less on food (which I'm pretty sure is everyone!), how do you do it?!  Any good resources?  I'd like to bring the food budget down to a reasonable level.  FWIW, I've got 3 kids, a DH, and 3 cats (one of whom is on special expensive food ~ which is the only food that keeps him from perpetually barfing).  So, can I do this?

~~Kristina~~ Mama to DS(10/30/01), DD1(VBAC 3/28/04) and DD2(HBAC 5/21/06)
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#2 of 15 Old 04-22-2012, 05:51 AM
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I'm not doing great right now but I don't go over 100 a week for myself(breastfeeding and never stop eating) dh,ds & dd.


My tips are


-eat vegetarian(and not the processed fake meat stuff its too expensive, stick to beans and tofu dishes)

-buy off the discount rack-half the time the bananas are nowhere overripe and I get 3x as much. I use them for pancakes(frm scratch) muffins,craps ect

-only buy cereal thats drastically on sale. Only use it on rushed mornings and add some ground flax to make it more filling

-find local farms that sell flats of eggs

-make friends w your slow cooker


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#3 of 15 Old 04-22-2012, 10:41 AM
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We have three teenagers and probably spend $500-$650 a month on groceries. I don't know if my shopping and cooking habits will be of any help to you, but maybe!


I no longer buy pre-made cereal. It is too expensive, has too much packaging, the kinds the kids like aren't very nutritious, and too often cereal and milk were being wasted when they didn't finish. Now I only buy it as a treat on a special occasion. I bake bread and muffins to have for breakfast. My kids and husband eat a lot of toast with peanut butter or homemade jam in the mornings. I need to eat gluten free so I usually make a milky porridge with some quinoa, flax seeds and frozen blueberries. When my kids were younger they liked oatmeal for breakfast but not any more. I often add quinoa flour, oats and eggs to my bread dough to up the nutrient value and to make it taste really good and leave them feeling full. 


I do some of my shopping at a bulk store. I buy flour, sugar, honey and quinoa in 10kg bags at a fraction of what the grocery store packages charge per pound. I buy all of my herbs, teas, baking ingredients and spices at the bulk store as well. I can refill an empty herb jar for about 15 cents instead of $5. I buy powdered milk and powdered buttermilk for baked goods. There is absolutely no difference in the taste when you are making muffins or bread but it is a significant cost savings.


I have a big freezer in the basement and I only buy meat when it goes on sale. Last week chicken breasts were on sale with a deep discount so I bought several packages and froze them. The day after Christmas turkeys go on sale for $5 - $10 a turkey and I always buy 4 or 5 to cook throughout the year. I shop twice a month and buy extra of whatever meat is on sale and just pull what I need from the freezer. Butter goes on sale every 2 or 3 months and I buy enough to last that long each time. 


That said, we don't eat meat very often. Three chicken breasts is more than enough for our family of 5. After they are cooked they are sliced and people just take what they need, we don't assume that everyone needs to eat an entire breast. We eat a lot of chick peas and black beans for protein - more things I buy in bulk, cook myself and freeze in ziplock bags rather than buying cans. 


Meal planning is the biggest piece of keeping our grocery bill down. I shop twice a month and only go to the store for fresh milk and vegetables in between. It is far too easy to run up a high bill by needing to pick up "just a couple of things for tonight" all month long. It is also far more tempting to buy treats that way. My kids are learning that if they want treats it is time to pull out the baking supplies and make themselves some brownies or cookies or cupcakes. It is less expensive than pre-made treats, they don't ask as often when their labour is involved rather than me just buying them something, and it gets them in the kitchen.


I used to do a specific meal plan for each day but I don't do that as often now. Before I go shopping I take a look in the freezer and cupboard and make a list of what I have there. I think about meals I would like to make, make note of ay new recipes I would like to try and make a list of meal ideas. When I have enough for the two week period, I start making a shopping list based on what I will need. As I make each meal I just cross it off my list so I know as the days go on what my options are.  We always have a night or two that are just for eating up leftovers. Reducing how much food gets wasted by planning well helps to keep costs down too. If I buy a bunch of fresh cilantro we might have Indian one night and then something Mexican in the next night or two so all of the cilantro gets used up before going bad.


Buying produce from the discount rack is a good idea. Bananas are great for baking but I often buy bags of apples half price that might not be perfect for eating raw but they are perfect for making apple crisps or applesauce.

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#4 of 15 Old 04-22-2012, 12:53 PM
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OP- I typed my entire post and then thought I'd do the math to see just what we spend on each person. We're spending around the sameand have roughly the same number of people/animals in our homes.

I just did the math and even though I'm spending $1000 a month I am only averaging $33 per week per person/dog. That's roughly $5 per person per day. Considering we eat a very nutritious and as organic and non gmo diet as I can manage, I'm pretty happy with $5 per day!



We usually spend around $1000 on food and groceries each month. This includes any supplements which are very few, protein shake mix for smoothies, as well as necessary household items such as soaps and toilet paper, etc. I would love to reduce this by a few hundred dollars but just not certain where to make the cuts.

We buy all our meat from a farm and get about a months worth for $250-$300, it's a paleo inspired box with great variety and contains what the farm has most of at that time. Sometimes it's more pork than beef and chicken and sometimes more beef, etc. On occasion I will surprise dh with a couple of steaks for a nice meal for just the two of us.

We buy raw dairy and we spend $50-$60 a month on milk and yogurt. I then use that yogurt to make more as it's cheaper than buying yogurt cultures from the store.

I get eggs from a farmer and spend $100 a month along with a gallon of raw honey for $60 although, honey hasn't been available for a while and I've been buying that from the store at a comparable price.

We eat only gf (celiac in more of us than not) and not many grains for other health reasons.

I make every single meal from scratch and use my crock pot a lot. I bake snacks and make my own "granola". I do buy my two littlest dc fruit leather and nuts to keep in my bag for those days when we're stuck in traffic or caught by a train or the unexpected happens. When at home, the kids snack on fruit/veg/popcorn/home baked snacks. I also will, on very rare occasion, buy myself a "safe" snack but I truly prefer to eat my own creations. Most of my baking is done with almond flour which I buy in bulk and only when I have a coupon code.

I spend about $20 on juice each month and I water that down by 50%. Not only does this stretch our juice but I think juice is too sweet anyway and I prefer it watered down.

I had been buying kombucha every month but have since stopped to reduce that expense. My kefir grains and scoby didn't make it through the winter, not sure what I did wrong, but I will buy more soon making the store bought kombucha unnecessary.

I shop multiple stores buying only what's priced best at each store.

We splurge on cheese (raw) and cereal once a month and once it's gone there will be no more until next month. The children get one bag of cereal to share although I did allow dd to get a box of a new flavor so she and ds could try it. The cheese is rather pricey and I spend roughly $50 a month.

We have a very large dog that eats a special diet that costs about $100 a month.

I wish I could say that all our food is organic but it's not. Our diet is as non gmo as I can manage to buy.


Some of the reason our groceries cost so much is because of our various sensitivities and health problems related to food and because there are 6 of us and the dog.





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#5 of 15 Old 04-27-2012, 01:28 PM
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Can you give us an idea of what some of your standard meals/ snacks are?  Maybe people can suggest more specific alternatives that way.


I would say cut out the cereal.  It's so expensive and not very nutritious.

Becky- Wife to DH, Mama to "Nani" (July '08) "Coco" (July '10) and Decker the Wrecker (May'13)
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#6 of 15 Old 04-27-2012, 03:55 PM
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I do a lot of my non meat shopping at Aldi.  Not much there is organic, but it is very cheap and quite good quality.  I get my meat in bulk and on sale and I try to get free range, non hormone meat (usually from various local grocery stores when there are sales, or from a local farmer)


If you can do eggs, they are a healthy, filling breakfast (scramble and add a bit of onion for a yummy sweetness).  We can't do eggs so we do PB&J breakfasts or homemade granola (made with oats, barley flakes, spelt flakes, various seeds and nuts, local honey, and coconut oil), oatmeal, or a fruit smoothie (we stock up on berries in the summer and freeze enough for the year and add yogurt, canned pineapple, bananas, and whatever else we need to use up).  Lunches we do leftovers from dinner the night before.  Dinners we do lots of casseroles, beans, and on occasion meat based meals. 


Some ideas:

-Millet with a tomato sauce and edamame

-taco salad casserole using refried beans, black beans (from dried beans), sauteed onion and peppers, and flour tortillas

-homemade pad thai with chicken (1 1/2 breasts for 2 adults and 2 kids for dinner and lunch the next day)

-roasted chicken (using the chicken as a minor part of the meal and lots of sides, using the leftover chicken in about 2 more dinners and using the chicken bones plus veggie scraps I keep in the freezer to make chicken stock for soup)

-homemade pizza using whatever we have that needs to be used up

-tomato based soups with chick peas/black beans/pinto beans and lots of spices

-pinto beans (made from dried beans spiced with cumin and cinnamon and cooked covered with homemade chicken stock) and corn bread - this is surprisingly good

-Stir fry using up whatever veggies and leftover meat I have

-Bean chili


Snacks are apples and bananas with peanut butter, oranges, carrot sticks, sometimes yogurt or cottage cheese and homemeade granola. 


When I do well with my meal planning I spend about $500/month for 2 adults and 2 kids (age 2 and 5 with healthy appetites).

Laura, Troy, Seth 6.24.06 , and Aaron 7.13.09
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#7 of 15 Old 04-28-2012, 10:40 AM
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Well I am probably right there with the OP if I really calculated.  What I buy at the grocery store is really not the entire picture since we raise our own meat and milk (so not free), eggs come from a farm about 15 minutes away and are so awesome, and I order yogurt, raw OV cheese, kefir, sugar, and flours and a random case of granola from UNFI.  And I buy a years worth of honey from a different farm. We eat a lot and my family and I would revolt if we couldn't have meat :)  My DH works so hard in a physically demanding way, and really so do I.  We go out about once a week- but other than that our meals are at home- which I think does make a big difference- at home your would rarely get by on a pbj sandwich for lunch....  Coupons don't work for me- There aren't coupons for really anything that I buy- my best money saver is to just not go to town as often...  Bread and whatnot would save me money if I bought it since I don't have any stores local to me that stock anything other than crappy bread- but I don't buy it and make my own regardless- cause it isn't really all about saving money- as getting your moneys worth (I think).


I have been trying to fill my kids up with whole grain baked goods lately (or they will eat pounds of fruit a day)   which seems to really be working well- I will post the recipes in case anyone wants to try them out.


Whole Grain Biscuits

3 c whole grain flour (I use vitaspelt- but wheat will work well too)

4.5 t baking powder

1.5 t baking soda

1 t salt

6 T butter

1.25 c yogurt or sour cream (I use yogurt- but sour cream I think is cheaper)


mix and bake at 450 for about 10 minutes until browned.  Best hot and fresh and makes about 11-12.  We eat them buttered or with peanut butter or occasionally a little jam- but these fill them up very well and are really pretty quick and mess free to make.


Whole grain bread- my own tinkered recipe...this is a very quick way to make yummy bread.

heat in a sauce pan 2 c milk, 1 c water, 1/4 c butter, 1/3 c honey until warm

in your mixer place 4 c whole grain flour (I use mostly vitaspelt- but hard whole white wheat works very well too), 2 T yeast, 1-2 T dough enhancer, 1--2 T gluten, 1 T salt.  mix.  add a large egg and your sauce pan mix.  now working quickly mix and add in a good additional 5 c flour- or more until your dough is nice and soft (mine is always a little sticky).  Form into 2 loaves right away and let rise (it will only take about 30 minutes..)  Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes and enjoy.  




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#8 of 15 Old 04-28-2012, 11:20 AM
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Once a month or so, I cook a turkey or a ham. These are generally from the freezer, bought on major sale around holidays. (You know, the "free turkey if you spend over $50 type). After the first meal, each one makes casseroles, pasta topping, sandwiches, and soup for a week or more, plus 2 or 3 frozen bags of cooked meat for other meals. This is all the meat we buy. So for around 1/2 the month, we don't eat meat. For me, this is as much for convenience as frugality, but I imagine it saves quite a bit.

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#9 of 15 Old 04-28-2012, 12:24 PM
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We spend about $350/month on groceries (3 people and a cat... and by the way, what is the brand of food that stops your cat from barfing?? Mine has that same issue!) I was recently shocked to discover some of my friends budget that much A WEEK for their 3-person families!!! That makes your numbers sound sort of reasonable by comparison! smile.gif

We do most of our shopping at discount places -- bag-your-own (pay a quarter for the cart) types of places, and a local chain that sells oversupply/nearly-expired/damaged food -- plus Trader Joe's, which tends to run cheaper than other groceries around here. I constantly calculate prices ($/ounce) to compare products within one store or to the prices elsewhere. I keep the info in my head, which can be annoying lol, so I'd recommend writing it down for items you commonly buy. I don't run around from store to store though -- we just go without certain products until the next time I get to the store that sells it cheaply.

We focus on "cheap" whole foods, even though I'd really prefer a different type of diet (more greens, less frozen stuff, more meat, etc.) Around here, the cheapest tend to be things like potatoes/sweet potatoes, brown rice, carrots, bananas, apples, beans, mushrooms, corn tortillas, frozen veggies... We do buy some organic (aim for the dirty dozen but it depends on the price difference) and I do not buy things with artificial colors/flavors/chemicals. Most animal products (cheese, meat) are usually accents to our meals, not the focus of it... we were vegan for years though, and buying free-range organic meat/eggs/dairy is top priority for me, so that automatically limits how much & what kinds of animal products we buy.

That's a round-a-bout way of saying, figure out what your priorities are. I'm willing to sacrifice fresh herbs & exotic fruits to be able to buy a free-range organic chicken once or twice a month. I pay extra for mustard without yellow #5 but I save by not buying ketchup, mayo, etc. We are gluten-free so sometimes we spend a bit more for GF flours, but we don't use flour much to begin with. Your priorities may be different -- maybe convenience foods are a must, or maybe you can't stand the thought of not having meat at least once a day. But figure out what is important to you, and then you can begin to see other areas where you might be able to sacrifice.

We tend to shop less often than most, I think. We might do weekly shopping trips for a few weeks here & there, but more often we shop every 2-3 weeks. We stock up on things that don't spoil (root veggies, dry grains, dry beans, frozen fruits/veggies, plus we freeze extra packs of tortillas, or bananas that are about to turn over-ripe, etc.) For the first week or so we live off of the fresh stuff (which, yes, may be slightly wilted by the end of a week or two, but is usually still edible!) and then we live off of what's in the freezer/pantry for a week or so. I would love to have an abundance of fresh stuff all the time but it would cause our budget to almost double, because the fresh stuff is more pricey plus we'd be in the store twice as much so probably would be tempted to spend twice as much!

Also, have you ever tried sticking to a grocery budget? Sometimes just KNOWING you can only spend X dollars per shopping trip helps you keep things in check without a whole lot of extra thought or effort. You might just naturally keep yourself in check.

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#10 of 15 Old 04-30-2012, 05:22 AM
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We just moved and our food budget is still stablizing so I don't know how much I will end up spending a month yet.. The budget use to be 400/mo for a family of 5 (3 kids, 2 adults) and a cat..


One thing is I don't buy cereal.. I find it doesn't fill my kids up well so they eat several bowls, which gets expensive. I do easily made breakfasts, which are cheaper and healthier. If I need something "quick" we do oatmeal but not the preflavored stuff. Old fashion oatmeal with maple syrup mixed in. Cheaper and the kids love it..

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#11 of 15 Old 04-30-2012, 07:03 AM
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crunchy_mummy try a cat food brand that does not contain grains to begin with. Your pet store should have a few different ones to choose from. The favourite in my household is Orijen. Sure, it is more expensive than some cat kibbles, but considering the quality of the ingredients (80% meat) I'm more than happy to pay a little bit extra for it. Plus, it seems to make my cat's furs so soft and shiny...


As for cutting down the grocery bill.

1. What do you drink in your family? In my family the big culprit is the milk. We spend nearly 180 dollars just on milk a month. Which is insane. So, we are making an effort to cut down on our milk consumption. This means that all the adults in my family drink tap water for all the meals, except for breakfast. Children's intake is limited to one glass of milk per meal. Which is more than enough from a nutritional point of view. If they still feel thirsty after that one glass, they can have water too. Doesn't hurt them in the least.


Things like soda etc. are limited to once a month as a special treat only.


2. What about the adult usage of coffee and tea? I'm limiting myself to two cups of tea a day (one in the morning, one in the afternoon) of a tea brand I love. If I feel the need to have something to sip by my desk other than that, there is always cold water, sometimes with lemon or cucumber in it.


3. Why do you go through so much cereal? In my family, we are limited to one small bowl in the morning (the small cheap IKEA ones). That's it. No seconds. If we are still hungry there is whole wheat toast or sour dough bread to fill up on, or seasonal fruit. Usually, though, cereal is reserved for mornings when we just don't have the time to cook. Other mornings oatmeal, or rice, porridge is served as a cheaper and more fulfilling (and considering the ingredients in most cereals) healthier alternative.


4. Make the expensive things limited to a certain amount per person. For example, when serving beef, how much is each person generally served? In my family we limit it to one slice of beef per person. Then we use the leftovers (because often there will be leftovers if you limit the amount served) the next day. This saves HUGE amounts each month since a roast beef that could be eaten in one day can easily be stretched over at least two but often three meals.


5. What do your kids eat between meals? In my family there is always bread and some kind of topping (at the moment cheese or jam, last week we had cheap ham). We keep only a limited range of toppings in our fridge at any given time to limit waste, but always make sure there is at least something for everyone. For example, I HATE most sausage types of toppings, so when that is bought I always get cheese or something else.


6. What do you buy that is not strictly really necessary? For example, things like a variety of jams, peanut butter, cookies etc. Things that everyone loves, but really aren't necessary to have around if you have bread and toppings (and fruit) if you are hungry.


In conclusion: simply have a look at what you eat and what can be cut out/limited. 

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#12 of 15 Old 04-30-2012, 05:24 PM
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Family of 4 (2 adults, 1 ~6yo, 1 2yo). Normal month costs: $500; this month costs: $200. We LOVE our meat, cheese (in blocks) and butter (not margarine).


We have a very strict system: we meal plan our suppers; we eat two non-meat centric meals each week (we loves our meat, though); we eat leftovers for non-supper meals.


We just made a super-yummy meal (I wasn't too sure about it, but OMG!) called Firefly Gruel: white wheat berries, shelled barley, brown rice. Cooked to al dente in water with a bit of salt. Eat. You can also add milk, butter, cinnamon-sugar, etc. in whatever combo sounds good. We just ate it plain.


I LOVE to get a turkey or bone-in ham or chicken (whatever is cheapest) and we cook it up and I spend hours pulling all the meat off it. We eat for DAYS on just one thing, and I save veggie and even fruit trimmings and make broths. I use the broth for gravy or soup. We seldom even need to season it.


We get creative. I buy the big packages of bacon ends 'n' pieces, we split it into half pound baggies and freeze. We bake the bacon for on salads or a meal we call Supreme Mashed potatoes = 4 potatoes, leftover veggies, leftover block cheese shredded, bacon, butter, milk, sometimes leftover turkey/ham/chicken. Mash and mix. Serve with gravy. The kids LOVE it, and it's a great way to get rid of some leftovers that aren't "enough" to get eaten on their own. We make Carnivore Salad sometimes = spinich/iceburg lettuce/cabbage, leftover veggies as appropriate, leftover block cheese shredded, bacon, leftover turkey/ham/chicken. Both Supreme Mashed Potatos and Carnivore Salad are great because a little of the "extra" ingredients goes a long way.


We made Tostadas a lot. I fry up corn tortillas; we mash up cooked black beans; rice if we have it; salsa (a staple in our house); plain greek yogurt instead of sour cream; cheese (of course).


We've found that eating what we like in good quality leads us to eat less food in total.


Speaking of quality: cereal and snacks.

We get Mom's Best cereals. They have fewer ingredients then the "name brands", are relatively inexpensive for the amount you get, and the kids like it a lot.

We get Pajeda's brand chips. $1 per bag. Fewer ingredients then the "name brands", and we have decided that their onion ring chips are infinitely better then Funyuns.


We sometimes have to compromise quality for price and vice versa, but I've noticed that cheaper isn't always not-as-good. A lot of the cheap stuff we get is actually less "processed" than the other stuff.

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#13 of 15 Old 05-01-2012, 07:25 AM - Thread Starter
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Thank you all for the ideas and comments.  I think a lot of the problem stems from DH's ideas about what food we "need".  Every time I buy just what we need (meat, eggs, veggies, fruits), he wonders why I didn't get any "happy, happy, fun food"!  Basically, chips, ice cream, cookies....  It's that processed crap that drives out budget up, but if I try to cut it out, I get a lot of flack.  Still, I managed to spend much less at the commissary last week, and we're still eating well.

~~Kristina~~ Mama to DS(10/30/01), DD1(VBAC 3/28/04) and DD2(HBAC 5/21/06)
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#14 of 15 Old 05-01-2012, 07:53 AM
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Originally Posted by JayGee View Post

Thank you all for the ideas and comments.  I think a lot of the problem stems from DH's ideas about what food we "need".  Every time I buy just what we need (meat, eggs, veggies, fruits), he wonders why I didn't get any "happy, happy, fun food"!  Basically, chips, ice cream, cookies....  It's that processed crap that drives out budget up, but if I try to cut it out, I get a lot of flack.  Still, I managed to spend much less at the commissary last week, and we're still eating well.

Maybe each member of the family gets to choose ONE "happy happy fun food" (LOL) per shopping trip. Or even one per month, or rotate through so DH chooses this week's fun food, you choose next week, each kid gets assigned a week to choose one or two special items.

I think if you make it all or nothing, yeah your family might be disappointed, but try meeting them halfway. Or try buying all the ingredients to make homemade cookies or homemade ice cream... "No, I didn't buy any chips this week, but I have everything to make those awesome brownies your grandma used to make!" Maybe that would help get DH on board???

I also think that part of the appeal of packaged/processed foods is that they are so easy to grab when you are hungry. Seeing grocery bags devoid of 'fun food' might make DH feel like he has nothing to grab for a quick snack for himself or the kids. So consider making a snack bin with individual servings of cut-up veggies with dip, homemade lunchables-style packs, containers with trail mix, cut up fruit, etc. (we can come up with more ideas if you think this would help). You can make it fun by including small amounts of cheap treats -- like a handful of chocolate chips in the trail mix, or putting the cut fruit on skewers like kabobs, or splitting up a pack of packaged cookies to put in your homemade lunchables.

That, or cut out the 'processed crap' very very slowly over weeks or months so maybe he won't notice?? redface.gif

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#15 of 15 Old 05-01-2012, 08:18 AM
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How often do you go shopping?

How long does that 5 boxes of cereal last?  Do you ration it at all?

Do you do menu planning? If you do, do you look at what you have on hand first?


We are a family of 3 humans, 2 dogs and 3 cats. The dogs eat meat. The cats eat dry cat food. We spend between $400-$800 per month at the grocery store (food and non-food items).

Menu planning is pretty important for my family.

I frequently use leftovers for lunches or put them in the freezer for another time. I try to have a big pot of soup once a week. Meat goes farther if it is cut up and put in something like a casserole or a stir fry rather than a whole piece of meat on the plate.

 We don't go to the store more than once a week and sometimes only every 2 weeks. If people eat or drink all of something, like cereal, in a couple of days they have to go without until the next shopping trip. There is food in the house that they can eat and they can learn to pace themselves a bit. We let everyone write down only one treat item on the grocery list. We are still getting something fun, just not so much of it. 

Kim ~mom to one awesome dd (12)

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