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Healthy Family Meals on a Budget

Money is often tight at this time of year. 

Christmas has been an expensive time, bills are dropping on the door mat and it could be a few weeks to your next pay-day. The major concern is how to ensure your family still get to eat well without spending a lot of cash. While the cost of living continues to rise, wages are slow in increasing in line with this so saving money is essential. Low-income families tend to spend less on fresh produce as many processed foods are cheaper but low in nutrients. Here is a 3-point plan to help you get the balance right:

  1. Plan ahead
  2. Shop smart
  3. Reduce waste

1. Plan ahead

Plan your meals: Making up a meal plan for the week ahead can help you get the most out of your weekly shop. Look at foods you can batch-cook or ingredients you can use for more than one meal. For instance; ever heard of a ‘rubber chicken’? Buy a chicken, do a roast dinner, make sandwiches then use the leftovers as the base for a soup or a curry. That’s three meals you have made to s-t-r-e-t-c-h that chicken. (Stretch? Rubber? Get it? Ok.)

Collect recipes: Saving recipes can inspire you and help you get the most from your weekly shop. Start collecting budget-friendly family recipes so when you are planning for the week, these will help you choose meals that are low-cost or have similar ingredients so there is no waste.

Make a list: Compiling a shopping list is one of the best ways to eat well for less. This way, you only buy the things you need.

Shop online: If you shop online, you don’t have to put a foot inside the supermarket so will not be swayed by impulse buys or ‘special offers’ which may result in your spending more money than you’d planned for. Online shopping also allows you to see your total before you check out so you can delete items to keep within your budget.

2. Shop Smart

If you prefer to visit the supermarket, here are some tips to help you stay within budget and get the best value for money without compromising on nutrition.

Eat before you shop: If you shop on an empty belly you are likely to buy more. So eat before you go and you will shop with your head, not your stomach.

Shop alone: If you can, leave the kids and partner at home. You won’t be pressured into buying extra items that aren’t on your list just to appease others.

Buy ‘own brand’ items: Most of the time, supermarket’s ‘own brand’ products are just as good as the branded items but cost marginally less. Compare the price and nutritional information. Most of the time, there won’t be much of a difference. That’s a win!

Keep a running total: As you shop, use the calculator app on your phone to enter each item as you place it in the trolley. That way, you won’t get a nasty surprise at the checkout. If you do go over budget, you can decide what to put back before you get to the register.

Shop in the evening: If you can, try shopping in the hour before closing time. This is when many supermarkets mark down their perishables to get rid of them. If you are quick, you can bag many bargains.

Use coupons and vouchers: Every little helps, so use any coupons and vouchers that come your way. The money saved is always better off in your purse than the supermarkets.

Take your loyalty card: If you have a loyalty card, always take it with you and collect your points. It can really ease the burden on occasions when you have to buy more, such as Christmas.

3. Reduce Waste

Did you know that the average family can waste up to one third of the food they buy each year simply because they didn’t use it up? This can make a huge difference to your budget so here are a few tips to help you reduce food waste and save money.

Use perishable food first: Most foods end up in the bin because they have gone off through not being used in a timely fashion. Pick out the foods with the shortest shelf life and put these at the front of your fridge. Make using these a priority. It might be a good idea to have a ‘use first’ shelf in your fridge to make this easier.

Batch cook: Instead of using half an item, use it all and cook a larger meal. Freeze what is left over or eat it for lunch the next day. Better than throwing out half-finished food once it’s started to grow fur!

Check ‘use-by’ dates: It’s a good idea to take an inventory of the food in your kitchen every so often and pick out items that need to be used up. If you’re not sure what to make with them, check out your recipes for ideas.

Be creative: Go online and look for new ways to enjoy different foods. Try pickling, preserving or drying foods to build up your store cupboard. By following this three-point plan, you can stretch your food budget out for longer and get more value for your money. Happy shopping.

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About the Author

Jennifer Roche lives in North Dublin with her husband and two children. An avid content writer, Jennifer is passionate about food, nutrition and healthy living. Currently, Jennifer is studying at Griffith College, loves music and is a radio show DJ with her local community radio station, NearFM on The Grove Show.

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