Cooking for yourself is one of the best ways of saving money. A lot of people eat out multiple times a week which with a family of 4 can be very expensive, a minimum of $40-$50 a meal if you avoid fast food. If you go higher end you can be looking at $100.
We are not huge eaters, breakfast is usually cereal or toast. The kids take sandwiches to school and our lunch at home is usually sandwiches or soup. So really when we are talking about costly meals we are considering dinners mainly.
Our goal is to keep the weekly shop under $150 a week and to aim for closer to $100. So realistically we need to make our meals for 4 for between $5 – $10 for a family of 4.
The most expensive part of any meal is usually the meat. We try and keep under $3 a pound which means looking for sales or meat close to the sell by date that is often 30% to 50% off. The meat is fine as long as you use it in the next day or so or freeze it. We also buy in bulk, we can usually save 20% or more by buying 5 to 10 pounds at a time, then separating and freezing.
For our family of 4, about 3/4 of a pound will do for a full meal. So that works out about $2.50 for the meal on the meat side leaving $3-$4 for the rest of the meal at most.
So here are some of the things we typically make on a regular basis.
It’s amazing how many veggies you can grind up in a spaghetti sauce. It’s easy to make from scratch with tomatoes and onion, and the kids lap it up.
When pork and beef is cheap we grind it ourselves and make sausages in bulk. The kids love them, and they are versatile to be eaten with mashed potato, Yorkshire pudding or cut up into pasta.
This can be super cheap. Some rice, veggies, a bit of meat if necessary. A bit of investment in spices, sauces and good oils is required, but they will last a while.
Dead easy way to use up lots of vegetables. Obviously this has no meat in it. However adding beans in for protein is a good idea.
Super easy and looks good. You don’t have to use a huge amount of chicken. Shallow fry with a Parmesan coat and a simple tomato sauce with pasta.
We make our own chicken soup by using the carcass after cooking a roast chicken. Also a great way to use up vegetables that are close to being thrown out. This will make a large amount of soup which can be frozen and lasts for months.
Either chicken or beef. These are super easy to make and we find they taste better than most restaurant ones.
Fish and Chips
Although cod can be pricey,often I can get tilapia for under $3 a pound. Hand making chips is easy enough so this becomes a fairly cheap meal. You don’t need to batter and deep fry the fish. A simple shallow fry with some breading is fine. If you want to avoid frying you can always bake the fish, combine with mashed potato to make fish cakes.
The kids are often happy just eating grilled cheese sandwiches. So this is super cheap. I’ll often add a bit of tomato paste and pepperoni slices to make them pizza grilled cheese. Obviously there is no vegetables here, so we usually put some fruit on the table to eat before or after.
Pasta, Butter and Cheese
This is as cheap as it gets, but about every couple of weeks the kids will ask for this. Just plain pasta with some butter and cheese.
With some planning it is possible to eat relatively cheaply and avoid restaurants. Certainly our kids don’t complain that we rarely eat out any more. The key though is to keep them in the conversation and let them choose meals a few times a week. They are picky though so a lot of things stay in rotation. We are trying to cook a new thing at least once a week but this has had varying degrees of success.
Any suggestions for cheap healthy meals?