Cheap Family Meals, A Must Know To Survive 2023!

cheap family meals

Bit by bit over the last 12 months I have seen my grocery bill creep higher, making me more conscious about cheap family meals. Increasing food costs are making specials no longer special, and fresh fruit and vegetables are priced through the roof. Inflation is here and it has a real impact on your weekly grocery bill!

I am sure you too have noticed the rise in food costs to feed your family even with just the basics. Pandemic, notwithstanding, there have been transportation issues, shortages of products and shoppers who go through the supermarket like a swarm of locusts making it harder and harder to serve up cheap family meals.

If you are one of the everyday families impacted by inflation on food, here are some tips and tricks to bring that runaway grocery bill to heel.

Where To Start For A Cheap Meal

reducing grocery bills

Even if you have never been budget-conscious before, saving money on food can be easy and it does not mean you have to sacrifice the fancy dinner ideas. You will be able to gain recipes and meal plan dishes that will make you a pro in no time.

Going through job losses and tough financial times means tightening the belt and food is usually the causality of a tight budget. The aim of this information is to give you a starting point and give your growing family a foundation of cheap nutritious meals.

20 Pantry Must-Haves For Cheap Family Meals

cost of food

First, check out what is in your pantry and fridge. There are a few pantry simple ingredients you should always try to have on hand. A well-stocked pantry means you will always be able to pull a meal together. Ingredients like:

  1. Oats, cut or rolled varieties for a hearty filling breakfast.
  2. Baking stapes. Baking powder, sugar and flour for your homemade pasta, pancakes and sweet treat recipes.
  3. Spices like cinnamon, cumin, curry powder, nutmeg, and turmeric for extra flavour to any easy dinner idea.
  4. Dried Herbs such as mixed herbs, thyme, parsley, or basil which can elevate a plain healthy dinner to something even a picky eater will gobble up.
  5. Salt and Pepper, full stop! This is a must for any savoury dish and will be a savour in your dirt-cheap meals.
  6. Broth or Stock. Chicken, beef & vegetable varieties in either liquid, powder or cube form.
  7. Rice is the main staple that pairs well with anything from a hearty slow cooker meal to the simplest weekly meal plan lunchbox.
  8. Dried pasta. A hit for most kids and is a great base for your cheap dinner ideas. Let your kids pick out what type of pasta they want so you know it will be a winning dinner idea. My little ones love the bowties and fettucini.
  9. Instant noodles. On their own, not the healthiest or most filling dinner idea, however they are quick to heat up and great to pair alongside your frozen vegetable stir fry, ground beef dishes and as a side to your grilled chicken.
  10. Potatoes. Potatoes are cheap, are an excellent base for any cheap meal, they store well and they come in heaps of varieties to keep your lunches and dinners exciting. Mashed potato today, roast potato tomorrow, potato bake the day after and so on.
  11. Onions. The aroma and flavour that will help make even the cheapest meal something super tasty.
  12. Garlic, fresh or minced. Is best buddies with the onions.
  13. Canned Tomatoes. So versatile and can be used in so many different ways. Tomato sauce for your ground beef and pasta dinners (check out this picky eater-friendly Bolognese Recipe), a hearty base for your slow cooker recipes, and a rich and cheesy sauce for your chicken and black bean chilli con carne.
  14. Tomato paste. A concentrated hit of Tomato which adds another layer of flavour when paired with your canned tomatoes.
  15. Coconut cream. A must for all types of Asian cuisine, delicious creamy chicken or vegetarian curries and even a sneaky dessert.
  16. Legumes. Chickpeas, lentils, black beans, red kidney beans or whatever variety you like. Legumes are cheap ingredients, are packed with protein and fibre and make it a breeze to serve up healthy recipes without the price tag. You can buy these dried or in cans. I personally like the canned beans, less prep time involved versus the dried varities because there is no pre-soaking required.
  17. Canned or dried fruit. I have mentioned sweets a couple of times already and yes I know this blog is supposed to be all about healthy recipes. In my opinion, there is nothing more healthy than a bit of balance and moderation in a growing family’s meal prep. Canned and dried fruit are simple ingredients that take the sting out of the seasonal price hikes that havoc the fresh produce aisle in your grocery store.
  18. Canned Tuna. Not the first thing you think of when it comes to the best recipes, however, it is a high protein and healthy addition to your cheap dinners and meal prep. Simple for mom and dad’s lunch box served with a salad or rice and a great alternative in a pasta bake when you switch out the creamy chicken for melt in your mouth tuna (have you tried this super easy Tuna Cake Recipe?).
  19. Soy Sauce. Typically Asian recipes are some of the cheapest meals you can make. They are quick, easy and still deliciously healthy. Soy sauce is commonly used in a number of dishes and it will even be beneficial to have both light and dark varieties ready to go in your pantry.
  20. Oil. Olive oil and coconut oil for cooking and your healthy fats.

Budget Meal Hack – Ice Ice Baby

saving money on groceries

While I wish I could lay out a fully sick one hit wonder, unfortunately, I will just stick to what I know—using the fridge and freezer as the greatest budget meal hack. Here is how you can save some serious dollars.

Buy things in bulk when they are a great price. This will send your weekly grocery bill up, but will massively reduce the future ones. Now here’s the thing, this isn’t just limited to meat. Most people know by now that if you buy your meat in bulk and when it is on sale, you will make your hard earn dollars go even further. If you can snag other perishables for a bargain then stock up because these too can be stored in the fridge or freezer and used for your cheap family meals. For all the below, make sure you check the label and the suitable storage conditions:

  • Milk – the use-by date can be a few weeks on fresh milk and a couple of years on long-life milk.
  • Eggs – in the fridge for up to a month.
  • Butter – a couple of months.
  • Cheese – up to 6 months.
  • Mixed vegetables – months and months in the freezer.
  • Frozen Berries – we have used these up too quick to know, but I imagine these would be good for a long long time.

If you are wanting cheap family meals and to reduce your grocery bill, remember to keep an eye out for good deals and stock up on these simple ingredients.

Cheap Dinner Ideas – Tips & Tricks

budget meals

Identify Likes & Dislikes – Budget cooking is touted as a new trendy cuisine and many food magazines have their own theme or spin on good cheap eats. Social media has pages of budget cooking gurus for fast and everyday meals. The best experience I have had is finding what fits my family’s likes and dislikes and designing my own menus and shopping lists. This is where the moderation of sweets can help get the whole family’s buy-in.

Today’s leftovers are tomorrow’s time saver – Keeping waste to a minimum can mean your grocery haul can do double duty as repurposed meals or as frozen meals for the freezer for nights when you don’t feel like cooking, or you are in a hurry. These leftover meals put something on the table that you know the kids won’t turn their noses up at. Use leftover sausage, ground beef or chicken in pasta, pizza or even as an added flavour to a casserole. It’s amazing how creative you can be when there are hungry tummies relying on you.

All the little things count – Food and fuel prices don’t look to be coming down any time soon so everything you can do to keep control of the grocery dollar is good. When you are used to living on a smaller income, budgeting for groceries comes with the territory. 

Drop the ego – Shop at the budget grocers or even the food banks if you are in need.

Here is a list of other helpful hints I learned along the way that help when shopping for groceries. You can make delicious, healthy meals without spending a fortune if you follow these rules to ‘shop smart’

  • If you have the space, then grow vegetables. You enjoy and eat what is in season as these will be cheaper than out-of-season produce
  • Buy meat that is on special or reduced to clear. Shorted-dated cuts of meat that are slashed to 50% of their normal price. You can use it straight away or freeze it for later use
  • Buy frozen vegetables
  • After checking on the top 20 pantry must haves for cheap family meals, make a list and stick to it
  • Try and do the grocery shopping without the kids, this cuts out the pressure of being nagged for treats
  • Buy generic budget brands
  • Check out the local Asian stores, greengrocers, and markets for bargains

How Much Does It Cost To Feed A Family Of Four?

budget recipes

According to a 2016 study in New Zealand, the average family of four spends $208.50 a week. Once the kids hit adolescence this costs balloons to upwards of $300.00 a week. With the way the world has been over the last few years, it wouldn’t be uncommon to see some of these figures at 1.5 or 2 times the 2016 averages for a family of four.

Meal planning is a great tool to plan meals for the week, buying ingredients for that plan and sticking to the list. Having a meal plan reduces stress as you know exactly what’s on the menu every day which saves you from becoming overwhelmed and that dreaded feeling of rushing home and not knowing what to cook. A solid meal plan reduces the number of trips to the supermarket and reduces impulse buying (and saves on gas heading to the shops all the time), particularly if you have the kids with you as you rush home from work.

Online Grocery Shopping, Yay Or Nay To Reduce Grocery Bills?

food prices

I found shopping online adds between $5 and $15 to the grocery bill, for the convenience of delivery or click and collect. This depends on the supermarket and the value of your order. I also found that you did miss out on a few specials or reduced items that you normally notice when walking through the physical store.

On the flip side, there is no emotion or impulse buying when online shopping with a meal plan and it can be a huge help in keeping costs down if your trolley always ends up with a few extra items in it. Shopping without the kids hounding you for toys or treats is a bonus. The time bonus is invaluable in a busy household. You can keep a track of the total of your order, thus keeping track of your budgeted amount.

Overall, there is no one supermarket, which is universally cheaper and shopping at a few different grocery stores to find the bargains will save you the most on your grocery bill. However, it does come at a price which is the time, effort and travel.  

Reducing Grocery Bills In 2023 With Cheap Family Meals

easy cheap dinner ideas

People who have had job losses are the ones who may struggle the most. From being able to shop for whatever you want to watching the pennies like a hawk can be something of a shellshock. This is where learning some of these skills will benefit you in the long term.

During lockdowns, you have had more spare time on your hands and turned to cooking as both a therapy and a necessity. Homemade baking, home-cooked recipes and trying new foods have taken the place of takeaways or restaurant meals. Being at home 24/7 brings out the inner chef you didn’t know lurked beneath the surface of your previous business. Coming out of lockdown can mean the sharing of food again and new dishes to be tried.

Healthy ingredients don’t have to be expensive. They can be some of the cheapest around if you shop in season or shop smart. You just have to know what to do with them. Stir-fries use tiny amounts of lean meat, they have loads of veggies and are best paired with rice or noodles. Great cheap fillers that are a hit even with a picky eater.

Enjoy the process of reducing your grocery bill. It is a satisfying feeling knowing that you are making smart decisions which are helping your family grow in the now with healthy and nutritious meals, and in the future with how they view and spend their money.

You got this!