Sunday, March 16, 2008

How To Feed A Family of Six on $200.00

Okay you've seen the budget. You know that I have $200.00 to work with each month to feed six people, one of which is a full grown man and the other is a 16 year old boy. They might each equal two people so effectively I might be feeding 8. Mind boggling.

In order to even try to feed these people I need to have a plan. if I were one of those people that ran around the grocery store just picking things out to eat this would be impossible. First things first though - we do not eat processed foods. We only eat whole foods which means that we make almost everything from scratch and usually with 6 ingredients or less. We also abuse the crock pot in such a way that we should be jailed. So if you are saying to yourself "Well this is not going to be feasible for our family. I work all day and the last thing I want to do is come home and cook a dinner from scratch so I'll be moving on to the next blog now." Wait! It is possible to feed your family on $200 and work full time - I swear!

First things first. Decide that you are not going to buy any more processed garbage food. If you are committed to saving money this should be on the top of your list as things that will save you money. If you dump garbage into your finely tuned, well-oiled machine it will gunk it up and it will not work properly and thus, you will have medical bills. Case in point: I have four kids - 16, 10, 8, 5 - and none but 1 (last month to be exact) have had ear infections and none have been to the doctor their ENTIRE lives but twice, except for well checks. Not kidding. Husband and I have also not been to the doctor in many years, probably 10 or so, for a malady. We do go for routine check ups. Do you think this is good genes? Perhaps partly, but the other half is our eating habits.
Once you have decided that you will not eat processed food the next step is to round up 31 days worth of recipes. We have a monthly menu that we use each month. Every 1st of any month is always the same breakfast, lunch and dinner. My family never tires from any one thing because they only eat that item once a month except for breakfast and lunches which may repeat because good heavens I am not a restaurant. So to clarify you will make a month's worth of menus that you will start over again the following month. So in essence you have a year's worth of menus with your 1 month menu plan.
Print out a blank calender from your Microsoft program of choice or here and blow the dust off your cookbooks and sit down for an hour and fill in that calender. In each box denoting a day of the month write what you will have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We are looking for simplicity here. Do not get crazy and think you will make fois gras on a Thursday night before karate class.

Here is an example of from one of our days:
eggs & toast
Soup & grilled cheese sandwich, apple slices, string cheese

So in each block, or day, write out a list of what you will eat for the day. Once you have all of your blocks or days filled with breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, you need to number each week. So the first full week will be Week 1, Week 2, and so forth. Let's say that March 1st and 2ND fall on a Friday and Saturday - Does that count as Week 1? No. That would be part of the previous week and would share that week with the end of February. Your calender should look something like this (this one is incomplete):

For desserts or snacks pick three for each week and write them either in the margin or down at the bottom. I like to write them in the margin of the corresponding week so I know when I am supposed to make it. After you have completed this step you need to secure five pieces of paper and each you will Name Week ___ Shopping List. Go to Week 1 on your calender and make a list of all of the things you will need to accomplish those dishes onto your Week 1 Shopping List. That way at any given week you know what you need to shop for. You do not need to deviate from this list unless you have run out of staples. So you will/should have relatively the same total to budget for every week you go grocery shopping. No more of these wildly fluctuating amounts to pay for groceries each week. Do this same thing for all the weeks in the month - you should end up with five just to cover you in all cases.
Now you have a months' worth of menus and your shopping lists for each week. Place all of these items into a binder.
Behind your Monthly Calender you need to put tabs with Week 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5 on them. This is so that you can file all of the recipes for that week behind the tab. This way when you need to look up March's Week 4, Thursday's recipe all you have to do is flip to that section in your binder and you have everything ready. If someone else is doing the cooking they will also be able to find out what to cook for the night with relative ease.

The key to making this work is selecting cost effective dinners that you can stretch or get the ingredients for less. For example on the nights we have chili, I make a big crock pot full so that you can bet that you will be having chili the next day for lunch. Or lets say that you have crock pot chicken 'n' dumplings. That requires a chicken carcass (for my recipe) so I can make chicken broth from that that and it can be used for soup later in the week. Be creative. Come up with menus for different days that compliment other days. Grow a garden so you can have fresh produce and you might be able to whittle down your weekly shopping bill even more.
If you work full time this is not a problem. Set aside a Saturday to cook some of the things that you can freeze like lasagna. Other things that are crock pot recipes - get up 10 minutes earlier and put all the ingredients in and have a hot meal done and ready when you get home. On the Saturday you decide to cook a couple of things go ahead and chop a bag of onions or carrots and put them into a Ziploc so you don't have to cut anything during the week. This should not take up a long time on Saturday - maybe two hours or so. If you have kids you need to put them to work. Ages 8 and up should be allowed to peel carrots, dice onions, etc. Being in a family means that you contribute to the family's well being. That means helping in meal preparation so mom or dad are not bogged down from trying to feed then after they (parent) have been working all day.

And no, they don't get paid for it. Does their mom get paid for doing their laundry?

Debt and/or Savings Strategy Step #7: Menu Plan for a Month at a Time


Anonymous said...

I love this!
I menu plan, however never stick to it. This folder idea and shopping list idea might be just what I need.
I'm struggling to feed a family of 5 on £200 a month here in the UK but I am willing to try anything to reduce the I go to find a binder and dividers :)

ChouChou said...

I am so glad that this might help you. In our current times with prices skyrocketing it is hard to feed a large family. All it takes is a little planning initially - with this method you will have menus for the entire year. Your family won't complain because they are having any given dinner only once everything 30 days so it won't seem like htey are eating the same thing all the time. It makes a huge difference. Let me know if you have any questions and I will be glad to walk you through it.

Michelle Grace said...

Loved reading this. We are a family of 6 as well. I need to cut our food budget in order to start putting more dollars towards debt. Can you share more sample days. I cook everything from scratch and rarely buy any thing processed. Would love to have some more ideas from you!

Tika said...

I love this as well... Do you have a copy of your menu plan for the month at all???