Eating Well For Less At Family Mealtimes

As a family with a toddler, it’s unsurprising to hear that food plays a major part in our daily lives. If Toddler L isn’t eating, chances are she’s talking about eating. I swear that I spend most of my time going to and from the kitchen in the search for snacks to slay her hunger dragon. Note to self: that’d be a good title for a children’s book.

As such, we’re keen to ensure that we’re giving her a healthy, balanced diet. That means trying to reduce things like excess sugar, salt and additives at dinner time – be it cooking from scratch or using good quality products. Sure, this doesn’t always work. She eats ‘bad stuff’ like chocolate and cake (in moderation) and toddlerdom means she’d sometimes prefer jam on toast to the tasty risotto I’ve made, but that’s just life with a little human.

On the whole, I can’t really complain. She has a varied diet, is willing to give (most) things a go and generally doesn’t take too long when eating! In addition, since she started weaning at six months old, she’s always had a small portion of our food, which has helped to introduce her to different foods and reduce any of the hassle with things like purees or preparing separate meals.

With food – and good food at that – an important thing for us as a family, I’m happy to announce that I’m teaming up with organic baby, toddler and kid food experts Organix. During 2017, I’ll be working with them closely on their #NoJunkJourney campaign. The idea behind the project is to help families make good food choices and – unsurprisingly – avoid the junk. Along with a few other bloggers, I’ll be sharing stuff like our experiences, tips and recipes throughout the year.

The first thing they’ve asked me to share is around the whole concept of eating well on a budget. We all know that kids are expensive, so there’s a tendency to think that you can’t eat well when money is tight. In my experience though, this is far from the truth. Personally speaking, we eat good meals which don’t cost much – in fact, a few changes over the years mean that we eat better and spend less now with three people than we did when it was just the missus and I.

Here’s a few of the things we do to have good quality, tasty meals that don’t cost the earth:

  • Cook From Scratch – We’ve always been pretty good at cooking from scratch, however the last year or so has seen us go back to basics. If I was making a spag bol, for instance, I’d cook the pasta, fry the meat and veg, then bung in a jar of pre-made tomato sauce. Now though, I make the sauce from scratch using nothing more than a tin of tomatoes and mixed herbs. The result is the same, however you know what’s in the food (jars like this are full of sugar and salt) and it’s much cheaper. It is so simple to make tasty sauces from the likes of tinned tomatoes, natural yogurt and crème fraîche that there really isn’t a need for pre-made jars.

Considering that she can’t read, use a knife or reach the hob, I reckon tea is going to take a while…

A photo posted by The DADventurer (Dave) (@the_dadventurer) on

  • Fakeaways Over Takeaways – We all know that takeaways are not only expensive, but also pretty bad for you. So what we do is make our own fakeaway when the takeaway craving hits us. By having some simple stuff in the freezer and cupboard, you can knock up something cheaper, healthier, tastier and quicker than a normal takeaway. We often do this when we fancy a pizza, Chinese or Indian. For instance, check out this recent Sweet and Sour Chicken Nuggets Chinese Fakeaway.
  • Downshift Products – I used to be someone who thought branded products meant better quality. However, over the years, we’ve consciously made an effort to downshift to supermarket own brand and value products. What we’ve found is that cheaper price doesn’t mean cheaper quality. When it comes to something like tinned tomatoes, sliced bread or cereal, the taste is pretty much the same but at a fraction of the cost. If we don’t like the downgrade, e.g. I still prefer Heinz beans and Hellman’s mayo to the supermarket version, then we buy the branded product. Cumulatively, this will often mean your supermarket shop is cheaper but you won’t notice much change.
  • Cook In Bulk – When I make an evening meal, I’ll often cook more than is needed for two adults and a toddler. This leftover food can then be put in the freezer for another time or eaten for lunch the next day. This not only makes sure you’re using up fresh stuff before it goes off, but it also means you have a tasty meal already prepared for another time. In addition, cooking in bulk can also be cheaper and doesn’t requires very minimal extra effort when you’re already cooking that meal.
  • Buy Frozen – A recent change we’ve made is to buy frozen food as a backup. Let me explain. We tend to buy a lot of fresh products, so things like vegetables. However, there’s always a few days when we’ve run out of fresh food but don’t quite need to do a big supermarket shop yet. So what we’ve recently started to do is buy things like bags of frozen chopped peppers and onions for when we don’t have fresh stuff. This means we can still top up our meals with vegetables in order to get the nutrients, whilst buying in bulk like this can also save money.
  • Try Slow Cooking – A slow cooker is one of the best things we’ve ever bought. We got ours for something like £30 and it massively changed how we ate when Toddler L came along. As time is scarce with a kid, all you need to do is bung in all the ingredients, turn it on, then let it do its thing for the rest of the day. We use it to make meals like chili con carne or stew, as well as meats such as gammon and pulled pork. Along a similar theme, our Tefal Cook4Me allows us to make a load of different meals by just bunging in the ingredients and turning it on. Simple and tasty.

We tried something a little different for dinner tonight…

A photo posted by The DADventurer (Dave) (@the_dadventurer) on

So those are six things we do as a family to eat well on a budget. In addition to my tips, Organix have produced a number of infographics with other useful information on the topic. This one – on 8 steps to budget friendly meals – I found particularly interesting. It mentions some of the stuff we already do, but I was interested to read about adding more pulses to meals and storing things in the right place – two things we don’t currently do.

Do you struggle with eating well on a budget? What tips, tricks and hacks do you have when it comes to preparing family meals in a cost effective way? Let me know below!

N.B. This is a collaborative post written with Organix as part of #NoJunkJourney