Food Help

Hi All,

Firstly love this YNAB program. I have recently become the sole carer of my 5 Children ranging from 17 down to 9 years. I have gone from 80K a year to 35K per year just like that!

As you can imagine the food bill for one is gone from a small budget to a rather big budget now and 

Has anybody got some good pointers on shopping and a cheap way of eating for a family of six and debt that isn't going away in the near future.

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  • First off, Pink Mainframe - you're incredible! I have three kids aged 6-9 and it often feels like a wild handful! 

    We're a family of 5 and the grocery trips really add up (especially if you add in restaurants!). I'm a big believer in meal planning, even down to the details like snacks and shopping - with a full stomach - only off my list. I do my meal planning with my family schedule next to me every week, so I can plan realistic meals based on who will be home, etc.

    Can your older kids watch the younger ones while you shop? My cart is always 3x the cost and size if the kids come to the store!

    I definitely don't have all the answers here, but the biggest success came from setting boundaries on what counts as a snack. I could shop for the entire week's worth of dinners, breakfast, school lunches, and then the kids get hungry and all of the school snacks are gone! Now, the kids know that they are always welcome to eat fruit, cheese, or yogurt as a first resort and that usually curbs their hunger until the next meal. 

    On a more practical note, check to see if you have a Walmart Neighborhood Market in your area. I've been really happy with their prices (here in AZ) for buying bigger bulk, but not as big as Costco. 

    I'm hoping some more experienced shoppers will join in here with some tips! Every little bit helps :)

    Like 4
    • RebeccaInRed
    • Wife, Mom of 5, and YNAB Enthusiast
    • Magenta_Viper_f9e032204
    • 4 yrs ago
    • 4
    • Reported - view

    Wow!  That's a huge and sudden change.   We have five kids and I will tell you, it's a lot of work but every second of it and every sacrifice is SO WORTH IT! 


    Here are some tips I've learned as we have reined in our grocery budget even as our kids have grown and are eating more (man alive, kids can EAT!) : make sure you are getting the most nutritional and tummy-filling bang for your buck.  Chips and cereal are yummy treats (and treats really are okay!) but potatoes and oatmeal are a fraction of the price and way more nutritionally dense. 

    Snacks can kill you so teach your kids to snack wisely. Instead of prepackaged granola bars, fruit snacks, or crackers which tend to be expensive and low on the nutritional scale, opt for things like bananas, carrots, a slice of cheese, or a hard boiled eggs.  The key to those things is that you have to PLAN.  

    Planning ahead can save your bacon (and perhaps even leave a little extra spending to BUY some bacon!)--  in addition to meal planning, you can also plan for the times you dont' have a plan!  When I have an extra hour, I'll make a big batch of waffles or muffins to freeze, or cook a huge pot of beans and make homemade frozen burritos, because honestly there will be days when you don't have a plan and having those "convenience foods" on hand can keep you from blowing money.  Other easy ways to save money and prep for those days when you're unprepared is to double a recipe (with soups, you can easily keep the meat called for at the original amount since meat is expensive and can easily be stretched in soup) and freeze half.   

    Whenever possible, buy dry goods in bulk.  Its worth it to invest in some of those 5 gallon airtight food storage bins-- you can buy basic staples like flour, rice, oats, beans, and lentils at a fraction of the cost of smaller canned/packaged units, but don't ASSUME that bulk is always cheaper- keep a price/unit list of all your basic items.  Sometimes you'll run across a deal and you can stock up! 

    Find alternatives for protein: Lentils and beans are a filling, nutritionally dense, and budget friendly option.  Even when you're serving meat as the main entree, you can add a side of some other protein and get away with a smaller portion.

    Buy seasonal produce, too.  In the fall,  I can get 30lbs for $10 and 10lbs of potatoes for $1 (and I live in southern CA, so groceries aren't exactly known for being cheap around here).   

    Remember, water is free and is a perfectly acceptable drink choice with almost every meal!  Try offering milk at only one meal a day and avoid juice and soda since they are expensive.  Best to save those as a special treat. 


    Last but not least, no matter how tight your budget, find little ways to celebrate your new family!  $3 of doughnut holes on a Saturday morning won't break the bank but it will make memories.   Popcorn popped on the stove or in an air popper can turn into a fun dinner and only costs pennies.  Add  dollar movie rental and you'll have a fun movie night and they'll never know it was keeping you in your budget.   

    I wish you all the best!  

    Like 4
  • You don't say where you live, but you have a 6 person household with a $35k/year income, correct? In my location (in the US), that family size and income would qualify for SNAP (food stamps), and I would encourage you to look at government assistance programs and see if you qualify for any. I was on SNAP when my son was young, and it was a HUGE help.

    Like 6
      • ClimbingOutOfDebt
      • I think I can I think I can
      • ClimbingOutOfdebt
      • 4 yrs ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      starlady09 Also, many states offer a 50%-100% match on SNAP dollars at farmer's markets, which can really help you stretch your dollars on produce.

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  • Pink Mainframe Along with all the advice here, check out the Take Control of Your Food Budget workshop!

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  • Dear ALL

    Thanks for these tips so far. My place of residence is Brisbane, Australia.

    I'm putting all of your great tips to use now in into the future and I know it will all will work out in the end. Food prep etc is certainly alone way from Airfreight logistics thats for sure:)

    Like 1
  • Wow, what an undertaking!  I only have 3 kids but I'm amazed how the food disappears.  I will echo the others that meal planning and snack planning are key.  I buy things like apples and potatoes in bulk.  None of mine can eat 3 apples in one sitting!  Eggs are another good one if you can get them in large (aka inexpensive) quantities.  I just hard boil as many as they will eat in a few days and peel them and keep them in an airtight plastic container in the fridge.  

    For meals, I make sure there is plenty of potato, squash, broccoli, etc and the meat is more of a condiment (so we might have a huge pot of most vegetable soup with a little chopped chicken in it, for example, or a baked potato bar with bean and beef chili as one of the topping options).  Even if meat is an actual dish, I cut it up in smaller chunks (so I might cut a single chicken breast into four chunks) so I can give my littlest just one chunk and my other two a couple chunks but a whole breast is not the automatic serving size.  Lunch at home is generally either rice or potato with stuff on it (my son can't have grain so has a potato but my favorite is rice with a little chopped chicken, some salsa, some sour cream).  We buy everything we can at a Costco Business Center that caters to restaurants.  So we get a half gallon of cottage cheese for the same price as a couple small containers at the local grocery store.  Or huge bags of frozen peas. This only works for staples you eat a lot of though!

    Any prepared snacks are for treats only and I have only bought juice when I was postpartum and feeling faint and it seemed to help me...otherwise we have never bought juice or soda.  We all have water cups with straws that we use all day.  Once a week we make banana splits but otherwise no desserts.  Breakfast is things like oatmeal, scrambled eggs, yogurt from the Costco Business Center (we used to make our own in quart jars but it's almost as cheap now buying the plain stuff premade and just mixing in a little something... having a little frozen fruit in the yogurt is cheaper than breakfast cereal and healthier too!)  I do give the kids a really filling bedtime snack every night of homemade pumpkin bars that are really full of fiber and have a handful of chocolate chips in them to make them seem like a treat...this keep their tummies full enough that they aren't chewing a table leg by breakfast time.

    Best wishes!  You'll figure this out!

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