I’m working on lowering our grocery budget just a bit. I’ve got 4 boys and while they’re not all teenagers, they sure do they eat like they are. These kids are hungry and I have to stay alert to save money on groceries.
My kitchen and grocery routines are always a work in progress, but I’ve got it down to a rough science.
Here are 14 strategies for how to save money on groceries and keep hungry kids happy!
We’ve eaten a fairly “real food” unprocessed diet for many years. This means I have to get creative in order to keep everyone full and happy without spending a fortune on groceries or my entire day cooking in the kitchen.
How much can you save on groceries with these tips?
The answer all depends on your current grocery bill and your buying habits. But with a little effort and planning, I’ll bet you can easily save 10-15% on groceries if you implement 3 or 4 of these money-saving ideas.
1. Stay out of the grocery store! Limit your shopping.
I try to keep the trips to the store to an absolute minimum. In fact, I try to do one large shopping trip per month (here’s how this works) and then do quick runs for milk and produce every week.
- It forces me to plan ahead which saves time and money (a trip to the store is at least 45 minutes round trip and eating out is rare for us due to budget and food allergy issues)
- It keeps those impulse purchases down.
- It saves tons of driving time (and gasoline).
2. Make a meal plan
Even if it’s a rough and boring one. You can always skip a meal if the time comes and you don’t want to cook it. Still, having a plan is better than no plan.
Don’t be overly ambitious with your meal plan. Don’t attempt to cook 3 new meals in a week if you’re not going to have the time.
If you need a simple system for meal planning, take a look at the Feed Your Family Planner.
If you want to save on groceries with coupons but you don’t want to spend a lot of time clipping, check the Ibotta app for extra savings while you’re planning your menu (grab a $10 bonus when you sign up and redeem your first rebate!). Ibotta gives you cash rebates on all kinds of groceries, even things like milk and meat. It’s totally worth the few minutes it takes to verify your receipts.
3. Serve salad or veggies first
Veggies taste better when you haven’t yet had a delicious burger or plate of pasta. This helps get those veggies eaten and fills kids (and parents) up with fiber and all the other healthy good stuff.
Experiment with different ingredients, dressings and dips to make salad more interesting. If your kids aren’t big vegetable fans, get creative – add cheese sauce to make broccoli delicious, serve raw veggies with dip and don’t forget the butter to help everyone absorb those fat-soluble vitamins. Did you know butter is actually healthy for you? You’re welcome.
4. Keep those kids hydrated!
Encourage kids to drink plenty of water or herbal tea (this method makes a half gallon at a time). Besides being healthy, staying hydrated helps kids eat a bit less. Keep your water iced in a jar or pitcher in the fridge and offer fun straws (like these!) for additional appeal.
Oh and skip the juice. You’ll avoid tons of empty calories along with money spent on juice and effort lugging it all home from the store. Kids really can thrive without juice; it’s not the same as eating whole fruit.
5. Do not cook kids their own separate meals
Giving in to demands from your pint-sized tyrants is definitely easier than standing your ground. However, I firmly believe you can “allow” your child to become picky (special needs aside). We were guilty of this error with my first son and it’s created habits I’m still working to break.
Do not, I repeat, do not give in to requests for boxed chicken nuggets and spaghetti-os every night.
This doesn’t mean you never serve these things; you can rotate through family favorites including kid- friendly ones. But if you serve your kids “regular” foods and not ultra-processed “kid foods”from the beginning, they won’t balk (as much).
And as I’ve been known to say lovingly to my own kids (feel free to steal this line) “You don’t have to like it, you just have to eat it.”
My 4th child is in a phase where he’d “like” to be picky (he’s 5).
He doesn’t really want to eat anything besides potatoes, rice, rice cakes with cream cheese and any variety of dairy food I’ll give him. Do you see a pattern here?
But he knows I mean business and that broccoli needs to be eaten before he gets [homemade] french fries. Funny thing is that after a couple bites, he remembers he actually likes broccoli with butter and salt! It just takes a little help to get him to that place.
6. Cook in bulk
Of course! Any time you can double up on a recipe, you’ll save 90% of the prep time for the next meal. If you are cooking for a large family, cooking in bulk will save you hours and hours of time and money.
Ideas for bulk cooking:
- Make a 2nd batch of mac and cheese for the freezer
- Package half of the cooked ground turkey or beef for quick tacos or chili later in the week
- Homemade chicken stock keeps for a week or two in the fridge.
- Make homemade yogurt a gallon at at time with this easy method
- All kinds of baked goods
If you want to go big time with bulk cooking, $5 Dinners has a brand new freezer cooking meal plan. You can use this plan to assemble 10 meals in an hour. Sweet!
Image by Pixabay
7. Use inexpensive ingredients as the base of your meal
If every meal is built around a juicy meatloaf or boneless chicken breast, your grocery bill is going to grow very quickly. On the other hand, if you start with an inexpensive starch and then add some other ingredients to round things out, you’ll keep your costs down.
Here are some super frugal foods to use as the main ingredient of a meal:
- potatoes and sweet potatoes
- beans (dried are super frugal but even canned beans are affordable)
- oatmeal (breakfast casseroles and muffins)
- wheat flour (sadly GF flour is not at all frugal)
Once you’ve chosen your base ingredients, add on veggies or fruit and protein.
My cookbook, Feed Your Family Fast, has lots of ideas for easy, frugal meals.
8. Make sure you use up all your leftovers
If you’re throwing out leftovers, it’s a huge drain on your budget. I know that some kids turn up their noses at leftovers. I may even have been one myself.
But leftovers are a mom’s gift to herself!
Package up dinner leftovers into individual containers (this set is in constant rotation in my kitchen) for lunches or snacks. Pasta and soups reheat beautifully in the microwave and they may even taste better the next day.
If you find you buy things that go uneaten, back up and work on meal planning. Or try giving leftovers a new life.
- Throw all kinds of veggies, leftover pasta and rice into soups
- Turn leftover baked potatoes into fried potatoes
- Freeze over-ripe bananas and make banana muffins on the weekend
- Freeze the odd half cup of pumpkin puree or tomato puree and work it into a future recipe
Or take note of the foods you typically end up throwing away and see how you can prevent that waste.
Do you need to cook smaller meals? Try fewer new things for now? Serve smaller portions until you know if your kids will eat something?
If all else fails, compost as much as you can. Here are some do’s and don’ts of composting.
9. Grow a vegetable garden
Seriously – this is a great way to save some money on your grocery bill every month. We started a vegetable garden last year and it turned out better than I expected. Plus, your kids may venture to eat things they’d otherwise NEVER touch. And I always give bonus points for fresh air and sunshine 🙂
10. Get those kids working in the kitchen
Kids who cook are waaaay more likely to try new foods and eat better than kids who don’t. I’m sure there’s a study somewhere that proves this but for now, just try it yourself and see. We adore the Kids Cook Real Food course (enrollment is currently closed but you can get on the waitlist)
11. Put some food out of sight or off limits
It’s easy to keep your kid out of the cookie jar when they’re 3 years old. It’s a lot harder to keep a big kid from helping himself to a cookie when he’s up late doing homework and the rest of the house is in bed.
To help with this issue, we have some of our food stored in our basement.
This allows me to stock up on staples and also keeps those treats a little less convenient. It keeps me out of the treats as well 🙂
In addition, we set limits on what can be eaten when. For instance, when I do buy cereal, it’s usually reserved for breakfasts and any packaged convenience snacks are strictly for school lunch days. The kids are good enforcers of these rules as well since they don’t want their school snacks to be gone when they’re packing their lunches for the day.
12. Speaking of convenience snacks, the fewer the better
Packaged snacks may taste great and save tons of time, but they don’t fill my kids up and cost many times what it costs to make homemade versions.
I did resort to a lot of packaged “real food” snacks this school year, but this summer I’m committed to ditching that habit and making most of our snacks at home.
Some of our favorite go-to homemade and healthy snacks:
- Popcorn (how to make simple stove-popped popcorn)
- Fresh fruit
- Veggies and dip
- Homemade hummus
- No-cook GF energy bites from 5 Dollar Dinners (so delicious!)
- Muffins of all types
- Homemade yogurt with honey or jam (stevia for me)
- Easy homemade 4 ingredient bread
13. Tell them to stop eating
I’ve heard that kids (especially little ones) will stop eating when they’re full. Have you heard this too?
Unfortunately this hasn’t been the case in my home. So it’s not uncommon at our dinner table for us to tell one of the children to wait 10 minutes before having another helping of something. Or if they’re convinced they’re hungry, they’re welcome to eat all the veggies they want.
Usually after 10 minutes, their brains have gotten the message that they’re actually full and they’re not interested in another helping.
14. Serve dinner right after school (the European model)
My German mother-in-law always serves the big meal of the day at noon. I have experimented with serving dinner when when the kids come home from school when I’m super prepared and it works beautifully.
My kids are hungry when they get home from school.
Instead of them scarfing down snacks and being hungry an hour later, if I have dinner ready early, they’re satisfied and they’ve had a good, healthy meal.
Then at dinnertime, we still gather together, but they’re not terribly hungry by then so they’ll eat salad or a bit more of the leftover dinner.
Dealing with different needs (food allergies, pickiness, special diets, etc.)
My grandmother (mother of 5), once told me if 3 out of her 5 kids liked dinner, she considered it a winner! Talk about re-framing your expectations!
I’ve gradually learned to become “ok” when not everyone loves what I cook for dinner. There’s always something everyone can eat and there’s always an apple or a banana later if a particular child just can’t find enough to eat.
That being said, I don’t like cooking too many options.
I also try to make sure that no one feels left out. I plan meals with a crazy matrix in my head of who can eat what.
Here are just some of the food restrictions in our family:
- My youngest son has many food allergies which make many “regular” foods off limits for him. Read the crazy story of how we discovered his food allergies on a post I wrote for the Humbled Homemaker.
- I try to follow the Trim Healthy Mama meal plan.
- The rest of the kids thankfully can eat whatever they want.
Can you say complicated?
While I do a lot more cooking than I would if everyone could just eat the same things, I have a few strategies to keep it as efficient as possible.
- I serve one large dish that (almost) everyone can eat. This might be a big salad with chicken or homemade spaghetti sauce with 2 batches of pasta (GF and regular) or even homemade steak fries. Then 1-3 side dishes are available and people pick and choose what works for their needs.
- I serve “customizable” meals (build your own potato bar, tacos, burgers, etc.) That way, everyone picks what he likes and everyone is happy.
- While I offer a starch at most meals, I usually skip it and eat extra veggies to avoid a carb overload.
- When I’m baking gluten free goodies, I usually freeze at least half of what I bake for another day. I don’t do this as much with non-GF things because my big kids will just eat them that much faster 🙂 Plus, my 12 year old is quickly becoming the family baker so I can often leave the baking to him.
I’m working on even more savings.
I’m working through Erin Chase’s Grocery Budget Makeover course – such good stuff here! Enrollment is currently closed but you can sign up for her waitlist here. I hope to get our grocery budget down to $1000 a month (down from $1100-$1200 a month). I’m only 10 days into the course so it’s a bit too soon to report my results but I like what I’m learning.
Whew – that was a lot of information!
Hopefully some of these tips have been helpful to you as you feed your own hungry boys (or girls)!
Recap of these money-saving tips
- Stay out of the grocery store! Limit your shopping.
- Make a meal plan. See the Feed Your Family Planner for help.
- Serve salad or veggies first
- Keep those kids hydrated!
- Do not cook kids their own separate meals
- Cook in bulk. Try $5 Dinners Freezer Cooking plans
- Use inexpensive ingredients as the base of your meal as taught in Feed Your Family Fast
- Make sure you use up all your leftovers
- Grow a vegetable garden
- Get those kids working in the kitchen. Check out the Kids Cook Real Food e-course for help.
- Put some food out of sight or off limits
- Speaking of convenience snacks, the fewer the better
- Tell them to stop eating
- Serve dinner right after school (the European model)
- Use the Ibotta app if you want an alternative to coupons