I often see blog posts bragging about feeding large families on a tight budget. When I look, the kids are all 3, 4, and 5 years old. While that’s a challenge on a low income, as a mom of a 17 year old, I know it is heck of a challenge to feed teen boys! I still wonder at times where my son PUTS it all, though overall his appetite is starting to level off somewhat as he’s reaching full maturity. When he was growing so fast, at 14 and 15, there were times I wondered how I was going to be able to afford to feed and clothe him if it got any worse!
I recently talked to Pam Barfield, who is a homeschooling mom with 3 teenage boys, and 2 grown men to feed on a daily basis. I asked her how she manages to afford to cook every day for 6, with 5 of the 6 being either growing teens or men! Her sons are 13, 15, and 16 years old. She often puts 2 stoves to use at once to cook daily meals!
Here are some of her tips:
- With training in accounting, one of the first things she did when she started trying to save was to take a notebook with her as she shopped, and she listed the prices of her commonly bought items at each store, so she could determine who had the lowest everyday price.
- Likewise, she started noting how much food was leftover as she cooked, and noting who preferred what dish. Then she started planning her meals around family activities. For instance, if she knows most of her family will be home on Tuesday, she will plan a meal that will yield extra leftovers on Monday. If, however, the family is going to be busy with social or church activities the next day, she will plan a meal that will be just enough for that night.
- She uses lots of rice, dry beans, and spaghetti to round out meals. This is a great tip, because all these foods contain lots of protein. Rice and beans, together, form a complete protein set with lots of iron, vitamin B, fiber and some minerals. You still need some fresh fruits and vegetables, and a solid source of calcium to get complete nutrition for growing kids, but this is a winning combination for sure.
- She stockpiles. I do this too. We both find it is an amazing way to save on food costs. When combined with coupons and sales, you simply purchase extra items that you use often during the sales, when you get rock bottom low prices. You buy and store enough to hold you over to the next sale cycle, which runs about every 2 months. Pam has 2 nice cabinets that she keeps stocked with dry & canned goods so that she doesn’t have to pay full price.
- She does shop multiple stores. She focuses on 3-4 stores that are all within 2 miles of where she lives.
- She shops The Dollar Store. She finds that the best items to buy there are juice, jelly, cleaning supplies, spices, and aluminum foil. Don’t forget, Dollar Tree now takes coupons too!
- The Barfields are also home to several fur babies. She tells me that contrary to what one might think, Kroger is actually cheaper on pet food than Walmart, so she buys her pet foods at Kroger.
- She likes to buy store brands, but only if they are good. Two items that she does NOT like at Kroger are the Kroger brand chicken noodle soup, and their pop tarts.
(I agree with her on the chicken noodle, I don’t like it either. I do have a list of GOOD generic Kroger brand items here.)
- She notes it is very important to compare per ounce price. That sometimes smaller is cheaper. I know I’ve noticed this at Walmart in particular. Be very careful buying the larger size, it is often more expensive! She says that if there is a sale, to STILL look at the price per ounce. Sometimes a larger item will be on sale, so you’d naturally think it is the best buy, but if you check, the smaller item is cheaper per ounce!
I know that conventional wisdom has it that the larger pack is the best deal, but that’s just not always true, you really need to check COST PER OUNCE on everything!
Meat costs, she says, are especially tricky. At times a recipe has called for 3 pounds of ground beef. She cautions to never grab the 2 pound back and the 1 pound pack, but to instead, look at your cost per pound. She says it is often cheaper to go ahead and buy 5 pounds, and freeze 2, than to buy a 2 pound and 1 pound package. If you notice, the one pound packages are VERY expensive. When I was last at Kroger, they had 1 pound packs for 3.69 a pound, but the 5 pound backs were 2.97 a pound. Watch the price per pound!
- She prefers instant potatoes to fresh. She says that for her family, if she bought a 10 pound bag, she’d have to use 5 pounds of it at one meal. For a family her size, it’s just easier and cheaper to buy instant potatoes. She says that storage becomes an issue with potatoes, and she likes that the boxes store easily, and how convenient they are. Her family likes them fine, and it is a lot less expensive than fresh.
- She likes to buy a whole turkey when she catches one on sale. One turkey will feed her crew for at least 2 days. Pan turkey and dressing is one of the options that she uses for leftovers.
- She said she uses the Kroger website to get good digital coupons there, or sometimes free coupons when they offer free items. She also called 1-800-576-4377 and asked that she be put on coupon mailing lists so she could get coupons mailed to her home. She says that now she gets coupons almost weekly from them. While at the store, she notices if the meat is nearing an expiration date, but has not been marked down. She will take it to the employees of that department and ask them if it is eligible for markdown, and says that often they will mark it down if the date is getting close. She’s done this for dairy, meat, and vegetables.
- There’s a few snacks she keeps around for the boys. They like the Kroger Brand microwave pizza, which are usually about $1.00. They like corn-dogs, and ramen noodles. I laughed – are there teenage boys that do NOT like these things? I don’t know of any!
She also always buys up tuna when it is one sale, and makes tuna salad for sandwiches.