I have been there myself — I’ve got $20 left in the bank, a few days until payday, and nothing left in the pantry!
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Here are some ideas on some cheap eats to fill the tummies of hungry kids when money is running low. Pick and choose the items that your family like to eat (if you bought them all of course it would add up to more than $20!) But some staples are relatively cheap!
Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes:
This is where I would steer clear of the big supermarkets that can charge upwards of $5/kg for potatoes. If you shop at a local grocer or markets, you can easily pick up potatoes for $1/kg. It doesn’t matter if they are covered in dirt, in fact, the ones that are dirty tend to last longer, and if you are taking the skin off always, who cares about getting your hands dirty! Plus don’t discount sweet potato, it is pretty cheap too and a superfood.
Recipe ideas using Potatoes:
Baked Potatoes are great as they are cheap as chips and you can bake them and fill them with whatever you have on hand! One of my personal frugal favourites is baked beans and cheese – and the kids love them too!
Most people have a tin of salmon or tuna in the cupboard. If you have a tin of fish and potatoes on hand, you have a meal. Serve with veggies or salad – and you have a yummy meal that can also go in school lunches the next day if you have any leftovers!
Sweet Potatoes are a trending ‘Super Food’ at the moment – but I have always loved them. Like normal potatoes, you can stuff them with pretty much anything – and they are cheap to buy. For a deliciously simple hot lunch, just bake with a little oil and chili flakes – bloody delicious!
This is a great way to sneak veggies into dinner for fussy eaters. All kids love sausages, and when baked with these veggies and cheese, it is a filling and frugal dinner.
I’m a firm believer in buying frozen vegetables if you have small children. Yes, fresh is lovely and all, but if you are a busy mum and a slightly forgetful one (like me) – the bottom drawer of the fridge is where vegetables go to die! And that is wasting money! Aldi has a good range of cheap frozen vegetables, and the generic brands from the supermarkets vary in taste – try a few to see which ones suit your family. Just remember to seal the bag well after use so that the remaining frozen vegetables don’t get freezer burn, which tastes nasty (but won’t hurt you!).
Recipe ideas using frozen vegetables:
If you have canned tomatoes in your pantry, you always have a meal (OMG can’t believe I’m quoting my mother here!). Whether you are making a bolognaise sauce, a casserole or a stew, canned tomatoes add great taste and bulk to everything you make! In fact, if you have the above three ingredients, you can make a very tasty meal that won’t cost a bomb! I’ve seen tinned tomatoes for as cheap as 70c – so when you do see tins for this price – grab as many as you can!
Easy recipes that use canned tomatoes include:
Before you say ‘gross’ and ‘my kids won’t eat them’, I have snuck them into sauces and never had a complaint – and I truly believe I have the fussiest eaters on the planet. Lentils make a great substitute for mince in a lot of meals, and give a real nutty flavour to foods. Buy generic brands to save even more money or pick them up cheap at Aldi or Costco. An even cheaper version is to buy them in their dried form, but you need to soak them overnight before using them.
Easy recipes using lentils include:
Rolled oats have become a lot more expensive in the last few years, but they are still a great filling food for breakfast. Not only that, you can use rolled oats in your rissoles or casseroles to ‘bulk it up’. If you make some breakfast smoothies, adding a few teaspoons of rolled oats to the mixture give it some substance – and they are terrific for reducing your cholesterol if you are over 40. A good breakfast of porridge in the morning is guaranteed to get little legs moving until morning tea!
Here are some simple recipes that include rolled oats.
If cash is tight, you can buy bulk 3 Star mince for only a few dollars a kilogram. It might have a bit more fat in it than the more expensive stuff, but just cook it up, and skim off the fat – easy!
Check these amazing recipes that include mince.
For only 89c, you can pick up enough rice noodles to feed your family, especially when mixed with some mixed vegetables and a tomato-based sauce. Rice noodles are much cheaper than other varieties. For the very best price, try your local Asian supermarket!
Easy rice noodle dishes:
Seeking Other Help to Feed Your Family
So you’re in a bind and don’t see a way to feed your family for a longer period of time, where can you go to get help? Seek out your local Food Bank. Many areas have them where you can pick up a box full of staples for your household.
The quantity of the box will usually depend on your current situation, but they will never send anyone away without something. So if you need bread, milk, cereal for the kids etc, give your local food bank a call or visit. Most local charities will be able to tell you where the nearest one is located.