Today’s episode is all about how to eat clean, as a family, without breaking the food budget! We talk about how to buy less processed foods and save money all without sacrificing your favorite family recipes. We’ll also talk about how to plan meals to stretch the food budget and of course, spend less time cooking.
This 6th season of the MOMables Podcast is all about helping you live a healthier lifestyle as a family.
Topics discussed this episode:
- Whether eating clean is really more expensive and time consuming than eating boxed meals
- How to strategically meal plan so you don’t waste anything
- The Family KickStart program and how it makes clean meal planning a breeze
This episode is brought to you the Family KickStart Program. This is MOMables’s whole-food program designed for families who want to eliminate processed foods and sugars for 30 days without feeling like they are giving up the recipes families love
Today we are going to talk about how to keep ourselves within our budget while eating clean.
A lot of people email us and say, “I want to eat healthier, but it’s so expensive.” While clean eating isn’t as expensive as you might think, you still can’t get around the fact that a box of macaroni and cheese is 50 cents.
Or for $1.29 you can get a box of organic mac and have a whole dinner out of it. You don’t have to give up on that box of macaroni and cheese if that’s something your family really enjoys once in a while, but our goal in this season is to talk about making healthier changes.
So that box of mac and cheese will no longer be something that you reach for two and three times a week.
How to Reduce Food Costs Without Sacrificing Health
There is so much you can do to cut costs without having to clip coupons or go to five grocery stores.
At the forefront of my thinking is always, “how do I do this with my family?” I understand that there are moms out there who are very, very good at clipping coupons. I’ve heard stories where people make money on their grocery trip, but that is just not the kind of grocery experience that I have.
I work full time (and then some), my family does a lot of extra activities and we’re often home late. So for me, it’s super important to plan out my meals for the week to save money and time.
There is a lot of variety, but that doesn’t mean going to a different restaurant every night. For me, variety means incorporating different foods and ingredients into our meals to get a full range of nutritional benefit.
The whole point of eating cleaner and healthier is to make sure that our the foods that we eat are providing us with all of that nutrition. Then, you don’t have to spend $100 and supplements for your family a month, right? You could spend that in better ingredients or and cut back in some of those supplements.
So back to the budget. Here are some tips for cutting costs!
1. Make a Plan for Your Food
This is the number one thing I have been saying for years. Since I launched MOMables in 2011 I’ve been helping parents make a plan for their food to eat better and save money.
My Journey with Budgeting for Food
Years ago, I only had about $100 a week to feed my family. Even though my kids were younger, we did have a teenage exchange student with us. I was feeding give or take four.
If any of you have teenagers you know they can eat you under the table. They’re bottomless pits!
I had to get really creative, in a way that I didn’t know that I could, in order to feed everyone well, stay on budget and keep bellies full! That is why I started sharing recipes and what worked for me on this site.
Now, when I say my food budget was $100 I don’t mean that I’d swipe my credit card and sometimes it was $150 and sometimes $122. I actually went to the grocery store with $100 cash in an envelope for each week.
To clarify, the food budget is not inclusive of laundry soap, paper towels or other household items. For the purpose of understanding a food budget and eating healthy, it’s really about the things you put into your mouth.
Alcohol is a part of the food budget. So if you drink wine or other alcoholic beverages and you’re on a budget, that is going to use up a lot of the budget because it’s expensive. So that is something to take into consideration.
So now that we know what defines the food budget, let’s get back to budgeting while eating clean.
Meal Plan Around Budget-Friendly Ingredients
This was a huge one for me, and that’s really why I started creating meal plans back in 2011 and sharing them online.
2. Stick to the List
Sticking to the budget-friendly list that you made is super important. I used to walk around the store with a calculator to make sure that I was staying on budget with my list.
Comparing prices between stores definitely helps you stay on track as well. Even if you are only saving a few cents per item, a few cents here and there will go a long way to helping you stay on budget.
As silly as it sounds, chewing gum in the grocery store can help you stick to your list. It’s a little way to keep you from getting hungry or craving sweets in the middle of the store.
Online ordering is another simple way to stick to your list and budget when grocery shopping. Online grocery shopping prevents impulse buys in-store and can help you be sure you don’t miss anything.
3. Use Simple Ingredients
Growing up in Spain, we would eat fish once or twice a week. But with a $100 weekly food budget here, having fish or seafood every week was no longer something I could afford.
I cut back to once a week or every other week, and stuck to more affordable fish like cod or tilapia. Some people complain that tilapia is “too fishy” so I’d just find recipes that would mask the taste. A lot of the fish recipes in my cookbooks are very simple but flavorful for that reason.
Even if you have to cut back on the glamorous feel of your recipe, you’re still getting a lot of nutrition and flavor which are the most important things.
Use a Less Expensive Version
One way to cut back on ingredient prices is by replacing expensive ingredients with a more affordable version. And yes, this can be done without sacrificing quality.
For example, most recipes call for boneless skinless chicken breasts. This is an easy cut of meat for recipe developers to measure the yield of a recipe, but that doesn’t mean that you can only make a recipe using this (more expensive) piece of chicken.
Swap boneless skinless chicken breasts for more affordable boneless skinless chicken thighs. By doing this, you can easily cut the price of a recipe in half without sacrificing flavorful ingredients.
Buy in Bulk
Many people, my family included eat a lot of chicken each week. I’ve started ordering chicken in bulk here and found it reduces my food budget when I get meat this way.
4. Use Your Leftovers
The last time we talked about clean eating I hinted at the idea of cooking once, eating twice.
One of the things that I do is at the beginning of thte week I’ll cook a lot of rice. Mainly because this is a really easy side to reheat and I have one son who prefers rice over anything else.
After I’ve made the rice for the week, I can use it for fried rice later in the week, add it to some soup or just use it as a quick and easy side dish.
At our house, using leftovers isn’t just about reheating, but it’s also about repurposing them and giving them a whole new life. Leftover roasted vegetables can become breakfast mini quiches, rice, goes into chicken & rice soup… the list goes on and on. More ideas on how to re-use your leftover food here!
How to Meal Plan Strategically
Meal planning is not just about picking recipes that you want to eat that week. To save money while eat clean, you need to start meal planning with a strategy.
Theme nights – this is one strategy that takes a lot of the guess work out of meal planning. When my food budget was tight I found by the end of the week we were running out of protein. To solve this problem, we started having breakfast night once or twice a week.
My kids were thrilled, and we were saving a lot of money on proteins by having eggs or protein pancakes instead of chicken or beef those nights.
More theme night ideas:
- Breakfast night
- Pasta night
- Meatless night
- Stir-Fry night
- Taco night
- Baked potato bar
- Pizza night
If you make your own pizza dough you can get pizza crust for as low as 70 cents. Now THAT is an affordable pizza night!
Planning around themes is a great place to start your meal planning, especially if you are new to meal planning, or planning on a budget. Theme nights are such a simple way to eat cleaner on a budget because you are able to customize it by the ingredients you have in your pantry.
Sunday Supper – The foundation of my meal plans are the Sunday supper. It’s that epic recipe that yields things for the entire week. I’ll roast a chicken for supper on Sunday and use it to make chicken salad, tacos or soup later in the week.
The Three Recipe Strategy – Another approach to meal planning is selecting three new recipes for each week. This is the absolute easiest way to meal plan. You take your three recipes and double up on them. It works something like this
- Monday – recipe one
- Tuesday – recipe two
- Wednesday – recipe one
- Thursday – recipe three
- Friday – recipe two
- Saturday – recipe three
Using this strategy you skip a day between each recipe so you don’t feel like you’re eating the same thing.
How Does the Family KickStart Program Help With Meal Planning?
Like I mentioned in the previous podcast the Family KickStart Program came about becuase for years I was eating Paleo and Gluten-Free for health reasons while my family was still eating without dietary restrictions.
I always had to figure out a way to combine the meals and the recipe so that everyone would eat dinner, but I was only preparing one meal.
I even had to eat ketogenic for 18-months which was extremely low carb/keto for 6 weeks and then just low carb for 30 days in cycles. This was all under a doctor’s supervision.
During this time I found that it was so much work to eat differently than the rest of your family.
I was also doing the Whole30 program at various times during those years, which I love. But there are so many restrictions in that program, if you really want to follow it strictly.
You cannot recreate your favorite foods with the approved ingredients. So on Saturday nights I was making amazing fluffy pancakes for my family while I was salivating.
I realized that my body was feeling great because of what I was eating, but I was feeling left out of these amazing moments with my kids that I wanted to participate in. For 30 or so days, that might be doable but it’s very difficult to implement long term.
After my second round of Whole30, I felt the physical benefits like I wasn’t bloated anymore. I have autoimmune and thyroid issues, so I do all of these things for my health and I was definitely feeling the health benefits.
I looked around and realized that I felt great making healthy and delicious recipes and my family was being left out of the benefits of eating better and cleaner.
I felt guilty because I was healing myself. I was getting nutrition from food, and then I was dismissing that importance for my family and letting them still eat drive-thru or snacky foods.
This realization made me feel guilty as a mom because I felt like I wasn’t prioritizing their health as much as mine. My kids didn’t need to lose weight but for me, it’s all about nutrition and teaching them how to eat a variety of foods, which we’ve talked about this in the previous season of this podcast.
I started thinking, Okay, if I’m going to make this recipe with healthier ingredients, how can I make it so that kids will eat it too. This way I’m only cooking one meal and I can feel good about what I’m feeding my family.
A lot of times the recipes were a hit. Sometimes they didn’t go over as well, but only the things my kids really loved made it to the Family KickStart Program.
My kids are extremely verbal about what they will and will not eat, so I always got my answer fast. In the Whole30 program you aren’t allowed to re-create “unapproved” recipes with better ingredients. But in Family KickStart we allow all the family favorite foods like pancakes or muffins, they’re just made with nutritionally dense ingredients and no added sugar.
For example, in order to sweeten the a recipe you’ll use a banana or a date or two and coconut flour or almond flour. We even have nut-free versions because I’m very conscious of allergy substitutions. And even to take it up a notch. I was like okay, I’ve got a kid who will eat cauliflower rice, but my other two sons are like “no way!”. So we created two levels of the Family KickStart Program.
The very strict level is more like the Whole30 and would be mainly for adults who are really trying to do it for their health. And then, there’s the kid version which is the exact same meal but maybe instead of being served over cauliflower rice, they get real rice.
So that is really how the Family KickStart Program came about, it was to help myself follow a whole 30 program and take my family on that journey.
In the Family KickStart Program I break down all of the meal prep, menu planning and shopping lists for you to help you save time and stick to your budget while eating clean. And you can know that all of the recipes in the program have been tested, not just by my kids but by thousands of families who have purchased the program and used it.
I think it’s beneficial to follow a program like this that gives you guidelines because we’re busy and it can be easier to just be told what to do so you don’t get distracted by other things.
But if you want to see recipes now you can see the Clean/Whole30 approved recipes on MOMables here and the Clean/Whole30 approved recipes on LauraFuentes.com here. All of these recipes are budget-friendly. They are going to help you not spend as much money in the grocery store while still eating fresh, whole ingredients and meals your family will love.