Wifing – Cooking For a Crowd Without Breaking the Bank
Having 8 people in our family means more mouths to feed. For a while our grocery budget was hitting close to $600 a month and we actually felt that was more than reasonable at the time. However, we have had a change of heart and have decided to become more frugal and less greedy. This started with a choice to stop buying stuff, cut up credit cards, and sell many of our non-necessities. While we are still in the throws of doing all this – selling things with the economy in the jam it’s in isn’t easy – I decided to do what I could to help out and started clipping coupons.
Wow is all I can say. If you have read this blog before you probably already know that I have managed to cut our grocery budget in half. We no longer spend more than $300 a month on food, toiletries, and other household needs. I have been amazed at what a little work and careful planning has done to help our finances.
If you didn’t read the previous post on this subject, Cooking On A Budget, you may want to. It is a prequel, of sorts, to this post. Here is how I cook for my own personal crowd without breaking the bank, spending hours in the kitchen, and keeping dinners from getting boring.
- Add rice or pasta. Both of these foods tend to bulk up meals. Left overs may seem boring but, as my family has told me, adding rice or pasta to leftovers, along with a sauce or some dressing, completely changes up the meal.
- We like to, though haven’t done it in a while, cook all our dinners for a month on one day. I have blogged about it in the past and you can read about it here. It only takes us about 3 hours one afternoon a month to keep our freezer loaded with easy, ready made meals that can be thrown into a crock pot in the morning and be ready to eat by dinner. Using the crock pot keeps the dinners from tasting like frozen meals. They always taste fresh after being slow cooked.
- Like the dinner tip above: With the exception of breads, which take a while in a bread maker, try to do all your baking for a week, or two weeks in one day. This takes only a few hours of your time and can save you tons of time on baking and cleaning later on.
- Tortillas. Almost anything is good on a tortilla with cheese, sour cream, and salsa. We often save leftovers up for a few days and then have ‘leftover night’. I put tortillas on the table along with some sauces and let the kids make their own. This is always a hit.
- Use less meat. 2 lbs of ground beef can make 3 dinners for our large family. This is where rice and pasta come in handy. Also, adding in potatoes helps to bulk up a meal without the need for a ton of meat.
- Buy a large roast and cut it into thirds or fourths right when you get home. Store them in freezer bags.
- When cooking for more than one night at a time separate each nights meals as soon as they are cooked. Freeze the portion designated for another night to keep your family from being tempted to eat it up early.
- Clearly mark any leftovers you want to use as another nights dinner as off limits. My husband is great about not leaving things to waste in the fridge and will eat up much of my planned meals if I don’t let him know it’s specifically for dinner.
- Plan out your meals in advance and try to match up store sales with coupons when planning what your weeks menu will be.
- Get a bread maker and use it often. I make bread almost everyday. It is a cheap way to add variety to a meal. Find different bread maker recipes and see what you can do.
- For breakfast, try making your own cinnamon and brown sugar oatmeal. Buy a large thing of regular oatmeal and add brown sugar and cinnamon to the tub, shaking it up well before each use. This way you won’t have to worry that you’re out of sweetening stuff. It is already in there – ready to cook and eat.
- Keep homemade muffins and pancakes in the freezer. If you get your bread from the bread store it is so cheap and easy to take an entire loaf and make french toast with it to store in the freezer for future breakfasts.
- With the exception of health issues, don’t be each person’s personal chef – except for your husbands if he desires this from you. Expect that not everything you make will be totally loved by everybody in your family but don’t think that grants them license to have you making something different for each person. Children who are taught to be thankful for the food on their plate, tasty or not, are more likely to enjoy a variety of foods. Ben, who we forced to gag down colorful foods for 2 years, now eats all his veggies without complaint and occasionally has seconds. We had to help him develop a taste for them and we had to encourage him to enjoy trying new things. Not only does this help my budget and time but it will help him feel satisfied with a range of tastes as he grows.
- Sit down at the dinner table with your family every night. You may wonder how this will help your budget so I will explain. Think to how you feel when you know there is a big feast waiting at the end of your day. There is no doubt in your mind that hot, fresh food will be served. The anticipation of a dinner meal like this one will keep me from snacking at 4pm. I want to be hungry when that table is set. Eating together at the family table helps to stay off the picking from the refrigerator when you’re unsure of dinner plans. Over eating and late afternoon snacking mean more money out of your pocket. Eating together also keeps you in the know about how much good and bad stuff your family is eating. Not only will this cause everybody to devour fewer snacks but they will be healthier. Plus, if your family expects dinner to be served you are less likely to end up with fast food. Eating out is unbelievably expensive when compared with the cost of a home cooked meal.
I am sure there are many good ideas I haven’t even stumbled upon yet – and some I have mentioned that will never work for your family. If you have a tip you think would benefit my readers or myself leave a comment and let us know! I could always use a new idea to make cooking on a budget easier.
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