This one is for the families! While working with the staff from Southern Cross Health Society this year, family food budgets have been a hot topic. This post answers the question; what is a good food budget to feed a family of 5 healthily?
It’s definitely a challenge. Let's not beat around the bush - food is expensive. There’s no two ways about it. According to Statistics NZ “Between the years ended 30 June 2013 and 30 June 2016, average weekly household expenditure increased by $190 (17.1 percent) to $1,300.” In part this figure is exacerbated by rising housing costs, but the cost of the weekly grocery bill also increased 14 percent.
We don’t have figures yet from 2016-2018, but anecdotally we know the increase is probably a lot more. Certainly in clients we see at the clinic, food cost is a growing concern. We also see a generally more affluent strata of the population. Either way, many people are seeking to reduce food costs to allow room for leisure activities and lifestyle. It’s a catch 22. You want your health and energy for mountain bike riding and sports. But you can’t spend all disposable income on food or else you can’t do these activities even if you are fit and well.
Here we are going to give some strategies and ideas for reducing your food bill. This figure is based on a family of 5 with three pre-teenage children. These figures also exclude general household items like washing powder, cleaning supplies, toilet paper and nappies - though we have tips for reducing these costs, too.
HOW TO SPEND $180-$200 PER WEEK ON FOOD.
Tip number 1 - Work off a fortnightly budget
This principle requires you to do a big shop at the supermarket once a fortnight and leave a quarter of your fortnightly budget for the second week, topping up at your farmers market or veggie store for perishables like veggies, milk and eggs. Don’t be too cool for PAK'nSAVE, they are true to their word (lowest food prices) and who doesn’t love to support a 100% Kiwi owned and operated supermarket?
The first reason a fortnightly budget works, is it reduces impulse spends at the supermarket. No one leaves a supermarket spending less than $100. Fact. You’re also more inclined to use everything you have before going shopping if you have a strict once a fortnight rule.
The big reason this saves money however is you have a larger amount of money to spend on that one shop so can take advantage of multi buy, bulk or larger items like 3 Litres of olive oil for $27 as opposed to $12-13 for a 1L bottle. You can decanter this oil into a smaller bottle and store in a dark place. It will last for months. Requires more effort, yes, but the name of the game here is to save your hard earned cash.
With a larger budget for your predominant shop you can take advantage of meat specials by the kilo, as well as regular household items like washing powder.
HOW TO DO IT:
Working off the budget figures above allocate $270 - $300 for your fortnightly shop. The best time to go is on a Tuesday night without kids. Tuesday’s are traditionally supermarkets least busy day. They often have specials both in store and online to clear meat not bought on the weekend before restocking for the next weekend. Plus, don’t forget shopping online for Countdown and NW - you can keep an eye on the total cost as you add items to your ‘trolley’ which keeps you in check.
You then have $100 to spend on your second week for veggies milk and eggs. This gives you a total cost of $180 - $200 a week for two weeks.
It does take some planning to keep on track of what you need but it’s a game changer.
Tip number 2 - Look online before you go:
Looking online at meat specials can help you meal plan for the week - fortnight ahead. It’s hard to stick to a budget if you’re going in blind. You may plan to use chicken breast in a stir fry only to find it’s $22/kg. For a family of five, that’s a fair whack out of your budget. Instead you could see that rump steak or chicken thighs on the bone are cheaper and adjust your meal plan accordingly.
Tip number 3 - Always buy seasonal produce
Fruits and vegetables are at their cheapest when in season. You can also ask for any seconds on produce. Often fruit is damaged or bruised and ends up being 1/4 the cost of perfectly shaped fruit.
Countdown now offer produce called “the odd bunch” with the tagline, food that’s designed to be tasted not wasted. The produce is ever so slightly marked but still great for stewing, adding to casseroles, risottos or smoothies.
Tip number 4 - Don’t be afraid to eat the same meals twice.
Breakfast and lunch in particular lend themselves to eating the same thing a few days in a row. For dinner, follow our philosophy, cook once, eat three times. A slow cooker will help you pull that off. No-one has time to think up seven different meal ideas every single week - don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself!
Tip number 5 - Keep frozen veggies in your freezer.
Veggies are often fresher frozen than from the supermarket as they are picked and frozen straight away, rather than sitting on display shelves. They help to bulk out meals and add vital fibre to your diet. If you find yourself throwing away produce each week - give this a go for awhile.
Tip number 6 - Eat less protein and more veggies.
Protein costs significantly more. If we eat 80-100 grams of meat per person at every meal as opposed to 150 - 200 grams we could halve our meat bill each week. Substituting a plant-based protein to 2 dinners a week such as quinoa, falafel, black beans or lentils will help save you money too. Jump on the #meatfreemonday bandwagon if you have not already!
Tip number 7 - Employ a “clean out the fridge dinner” night.
This is a great way to clear out the fridge before shopping at the farmers market. It also helps to reduce waste and makes you get creative with food. One of our favourite ways to use up leftover veggies is to roast everything and chuck it together in a frittata or a simple salad with feta and chickpeas. Super simple and tasty.
Tip number 8 - Don't rely on specific ingredients for a meal.
Take an idea such as a curry and add the spices and protein and then use whatever veggies you have. If you think about it, recipes are great but the types of veggies or protein you use don't change the method all that much, you might just need to adjust your cooking time. There are no points for scoring 100% on following a recipe. Go on, break the rules.
Healthy eating on a budget can be done. It does however require practise, a certain degree of discipline, knowledge and time. We are under no illusions it is tough - especially in families with two parents working. Know that it does get easier after you’ve done it for a bit and some of your tastiest meals will come from ingredient creations, rather than specific recipes.