Feeding a big hungry family for less

Frugal Meals for Big Families

by Dollar Stretcher Readers

Frugal Meals for a Hungry Family

Do you have tips for feeding a family of six hungry eaters? I used to feed the family well on a slim budget. Now, it is next to impossible. We all have incongruous hours, so snacking is a reality. Also, my 4 and 8 year olds are incredibly picky. My husband is picky as well. He won't eat a meatless meal and he won't eat pork. He will tolerate only two casserole style meals a week and perhaps one pasta dish a week. He is old school "meat and potatoes." No amount of my trying to change him has worked in almost 17 years. Recipes that serve six (1/2 cup or 1-cup portions) don't cut it.

Frugal Meal Tips

Here are a few things that worked for me when my sons were growing up.

  1. Serve whole grain bread and butter as a side dish to stretch the meal. Homemade bread is very inexpensive. Start a weekly baking time on weekends when you do laundry and other chores.
  2. If you have a freezer, buy turkey when on sale. Serve it several times a year.
  3. Start the meal with homemade soup.
  4. Use the crock pot to cook the least expensive beef you can find.
  5. For snacks, try popcorn, toast with honey and cinnamon, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
  6. For breakfasts, serve oatmeal, toast, or eggs. Stay away from sugared cereals. French toast is cheap, easy, and nutritious for weekends. Adding meat into scrambled eggs stretches it for special breakfasts.
  7. You are the parent. The children should not be allowed to be "picky" (your husband must back you up on this one). But you can make a list of 15 of their favorite meals and work from that list to save stresses and arguments.
  8. You can honor your husband by serving meat, especially if you have portion control and two or three side dishes. You can keep trying different ways to serve pork and see if he can learn to like anything. It's much less expensive than beef right now, and there are so many ways to serve it! Keep in mind your purpose. Keeping within a budget is helpful to him. Gently let him know this.


Frugal Taste of Home Meals

Taste of Home magazine frequently features meals designed to take to potlucks or covered dish dinners. These usually say they feed 10 to 14 people, but I've found them to feed our seven-member family perfectly. Often they are good old country cooking recipes that will appeal to your husband. We had crock pot chicken and stuffing yesterday from an old issue that went over very well and was economical. Church cookbooks will sometimes have recipes for a crowd too. Most recipes double pretty nicely. So, if it says it serves four, just double or triple it.

Related: Simple Ways to Feed a Family on a Tight Budget

Ask for Frugal Meal Ideas

It is difficult to feed a large family and please everyone, so the first thing I would suggest is that you get the whole family involved in the meals. Allow each one individually to work with you once or twice, so that they can have the experience. They should be involved in the preparation, planning, and shopping. My husband would be stunned if he went to the grocery store and realized how much things cost. I don't know if your husband understands this, but giving him a list and sending him to the store once or twice may teach him a lesson. When I was young, my mother broke her leg and couldn't go shopping for almost two months. My father had to do the shopping for us as well as my elderly grandparents who weren't able to get out. He had barely ever set foot in the grocery store in his life. He was lost for one thing, and amazed at how time consuming the process was. I know that when my mother got back on her feet, he was grateful to be free of that chore!

With that said, there are plenty of ways you can save money. Have healthy and inexpensive snacks on hand. I use a lot of turkey for meals. It is especially cheap this time of year, so you can buy large quantities and get several meals. One tip about turkey is that nobody will eat it if it dries out, so make your life easier and buy the oven cooking bags. You can eat plain turkey, make turkey sandwiches, or make turkey and biscuits. It will stretch a long way. During the holidays, stock up on meats that are on sale, such as ham, turkey, lamb (yes it can be cheap), roasts of beef, etc. You can freeze these if you have a freezer and have them to pull out all year long.

Another way to get more mileage out of meat is to buy ground beef when it is on sale and stretch it with TVP (texturized vegetable protein). If you use small quantities of TVP in your mix for meatloaf and hamburgers, your family probably won't notice. You can find TVP in lots of natural food markets and many grocery stores are carrying it now. It is usually equivalent to the cost of a can of beans for making chili.

Related: How to Stretch Ground Beef

Snacks are dangerous. Many of the traditional snack items have lots of fat, sugar, calories, and salt. I buy bagged fruit to snack on. One apple, orange, pear, or banana is the perfect snack. When the little ones can't eat all of it at once, they are sure to finish it later. Also, buy the store brands of things like chips, granola bars, and yogurt. These are much cheaper than buying the national brands and are often manufactured in the same factory as the name brand.

If your husband will only tolerate one pasta meal and two casserole meals per week, make enough for lunches for the next couple days. You may still be preparing dinners every night, but at least, the lunches will be taken care of a few days per week.

My final suggestion is a kin to my mother's broken leg. Don't go out and break your leg, but if you really want to teach your husband something, go away for a few days and visit friends or family on your own and leave the refrigerator empty. He will have to do something to feed the kids while you are gone. He may not completely "get it," but it is worth a try. At the very least, you will get a break from cooking and shopping and can come back refreshed.

Add Soup to the Frugal Meal

The easiest way to economize at mealtime is to add a soup course to every dinner. Making a pot of soup is trivial and uses up just about every left over vegetable from previous meals. If you start with the soup to calm appetites, then smaller meat portions will be needed. Soup also keeps well and a simmering pot can sit on a back burner for hours, making it easy to match different eating schedules.

With red meats, a small serving of very good quality meat is usually more satisfying than a big hunk of cheaper cuts. Carving the meat into very thin slices can increase flavor and make a modest portion seem to last much longer. Serving meats with rich sauces makes smaller volumes more filling. This works nicely with poultry. A split chicken breast by itself can seem like a meager portion, but when it is served with a pan sauce, it becomes a meal.

When the family does sit down together, plate the food in the kitchen and bring it to the table restaurant style. Without serving bowls on the table, a single plate of food is often sufficient thus less food needs to be prepared. Finish dinner with a cheese platter. Cheese is very filling and healthier than most sweet deserts. A selection of your favorite cheeses and fruits make an economical, satisfying and relaxing end to a meal.

Related: Soups from Scratch

Frugal Cooking Once a Month

Trying to feed a large family with a busy schedule on a tight budget is tough. The solution we have come up with is once-a-month cooking. It seems daunting at first, but do a little research on the subject. There are a ton of handy tips out there on the web. A wonderful investment is a book called Frozen Assets: Cook for a Day, Eat for a Month by Deborah Hough. The book lays it all out for you, from the shopping list to the recipes. You can block out one day and conceivably have many meals available for a whole month. You could get the whole family involved in the project as well. I find that when family members share responsibility for meal preparation they tend to "complain" less.

Related: How a Large Family Can Reduce the Grocery Bill

Meat and Frugal Meals

To stretch meals for "meat and potatoes" eaters:

  1. Add TVP to recipes that use ground beef. The TVP looks and tastes like meat when cooked in chili, stew, spaghetti sauce, etc.
  2. Cut the meat up into strips or chunks. Add in lots of chunks of potatoes, carrots, parsnips, etc.
  3. Use brown rice, corn bread, corn pancakes or whole grain bread as the "boat" to carry the meat/sauce. Pour your rib-sticking stew or whatever over the complex carb for flavor and a nurturing feeling.
  4. Put a big serving of vegetable casserole on the plate next to a baked sweet potato and a small piece of meat.


Money-Saving Tips: 10 Ways to Save on Meat and Poultry

Frugal Meals from a Book

I would recommend The Complete Tightwad Gazette, as a book for reference. The author feeds six children and herself and a lot of the book discusses her methods of food shopping. She uses a price book as well.

Regarding meat dinners, I find that I can get meat extremely inexpensively during the summer. I have commonly found chicken and London broil on sale during barbecue season. I buy a lot and freeze it. I then use my price book and scan all the ads from all grocery stores each week for the best deals. Chicken would work well for a family eating at separate times. You can cook it and put it in the fridge and those eating later can eat it cold or heat it up quickly. Meatloaf and burgers work well for staggered schedules and the younger ones usually enjoy them.

Potatoes are always cheap as side dishes. They can be boiled, baked, and French fried. Add cheese occasionally for extra heartiness when cheese is inexpensive.

If you have a farmer's markets nearby, you can get seasonal local items for good prices. We also live relatively close to people who sell fresh eggs from their chickens. If you have time and space, growing some of your own food helps.

Reviewed January 2018

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