Keeping your family's food costs to under $100 for a week's worth of food is challenging. There's a definite cost difference between cooking for two and cooking for five, and the difficulty is compounded if you have picky eaters to consider. With a little careful planning, you can craft healthy meals that make your family happy within your budget and even have plenty of fresh produce.
Since breakfast is the most important meal of the day, keeping costs down for a family of five is critical to successful budgeting. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index (CPI) lists average prices for consumer goods in U.S. cities, including some basic food information. For instance, as of this writing, whole wheat bread averaged just under $2.00 a loaf, eggs averaged $1.68 and a jar of creamy peanut butter cost $1.96. Coffee, at over $5 a pound, and a gallon of milk at $2.50 take a bite out of the food budget. If you avoid breakfast meats and stretch the number of eggs you use by making French toast and pancakes, you can keep your breakfast budget under $20.00 for the week.
Lunch and Dinner
Cooking a little extra for dinner and packing up leftovers for lunch the next day is a familiar money-saving tip for most mothers. Plan one vegetarian menu a week to reduce the amount of meat and poultry you buy. Use beans, rice and whole grain pastas to stretch portions, and keep meals interesting by indulging in creamy dressings and dried seasoning mixes. As of this writing, pasta prices hovered around $1.50 a pound, ground beef was almost $4.00 a pound and whole chickens, usually the cheapest way to buy chicken, was about $1.30 a pound. With diligent planning, you should be able to buy basic lunch and dinner ingredients for a family of five for around $25.00. The rest of the budget goes toward fruits, vegetables and incidentals.
Fruits and Vegetables
The USDA recommends that fruits and vegetables make up at least half of a healthy diet. Produce prices fluctuate throughout the year, so it's difficult to predict how much they'll cost. Buy fruits and vegetables when they're in season, and frozen and canned products when they're on sale. Join a co-op or buy a share in a community garden. Learn how to freeze and can so you'll always have produce on hand when money is tight. Buy oranges, grapefruit, potatoes and onions by the bag, and create your own salad mixes with lettuce, spinach and grated carrots. Stretch dressings by mixing a package of dried dressing mix with twice as much binder than the recipe calls for.
Yogurt is a healthy snack and a good choice for breakfast mixed with fresh fruit. As of this writing, the CPI calculated eight-ounce single-serving containers of yogurt cost $.81 each. Store brand chips, pretzels and cookies can cost as much as 50% less than national brands. Popcorn cooked from scratch is a very economical snack. Sherbet usually costs less than ice cream and nuts are a healthy snack goes further when mixed with pretzels and rice or corn square cereal. Keep your snacks budget under $6.00 and make sure your kids are getting plenty of fiber in their meals so they aren't constantly hungry.
Peanut butter, jelly, and ketchup are must-haves for many families with children. Salt and pepper, oil, margarine, flour and sugar are cooking essentials in most households. If you consider aluminum foil, plastic wrap and waxed paper as part of your food budget, the extras start to add up. Fortunately, most of these products last more than one week, and if bought in bulk on sale, take a smaller bite out of your weekly food allowance. Allow yourself $10.00 a week for staples and incidentals.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Consumer Price Index - Average Price Data
- "The Professional Chef," The Culinary Institute of America; 2006
Amrita Chuasiriporn is a professional cook, baker and writer who has written for several online publications, including Chef's Blade, CraftyCrafty and others. Additionally, Chuasiriporn is a regular contributor to online automotive enthusiast publication CarEnvy.ca. Chuasiriporn holds an A.A.S. in culinary arts, as well as a B.A. in Spanish language and literature.