I’m a 31 year old mum of 3, who also happens to be a wheelchair user. So as a household of 5 (although my partner pretty much eats for about 3 people, whilst remaining lean and a healthy weight. Grr) we need to think carefully about how we spend our money.
I would like to think I’m quite savvy when it comes to the weekly food shop. For the 5 of us, we probably spend about £50 a week on food. Maybe a little more at the weekends if we have lunch out somewhere.
Here are my ‘mum’/’parent’ tips on how to shop well for a family.
1. Shop in smaller supermarkets..I don’t mean the ‘local’ smaller versions of big supermarkets like Sainsburys Local or Tesco Express, because they tend to increase the prices in those conveniently located stores and don’t stock as many cheaper ranges as the bigger versions of their shops. I mean ‘discount’ supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl. Anyone who knows me will know that I find it hard to go a day or two without mentioning something I’ve bought at Aldi. I’m a self-confessed superfan.
I like the lack of choice. You want mature cheddar? There are probably 3 options at most. Including one brand name. It’s not going to take you long to work out which one is best value for money.
For your general weekly food shop you don’t need to spend over an hour in a mahoosive superstore where you’ll end up walking about 3 miles, and if you forget something from the back of the shop it’s going to take you several wasted minutes to get back there. To the wine. You forgot wine didn’t you? See, if you shopped at Aldi you’d know it is right by the till. Genius.
2. Try cheaper alternatives. I’m a big fan of buying mostly ‘basics’ items, ie, the cheapest option. They’re not always the most luxury item, and if that’s a problem for you, try the next one up, usually still a store’s own line. Seriously, I find it hard to understand why anyone would need to spend extra buying the leading brand of baked beans. I have tried them, and I’ve also tried all the cheaper ones and I honestly wouldn’t buy branded baked beans if I won the lottery tomorrow. I am a big fan of the budget bean, and if you live with someone who will only eat their trusted brand of canned baked beans, get them to do a blind taste test, or just trick them into eating cheaper ones and see if they notice. Even if they do notice or still swear that branded is better, consider if it’s worth the extra money? Or if you should live together.
I’m not saying you must by the cheaper options of every item on your list, but you should definitely try other alternatives.
3. Plan your meals. I sometimes get stuck in a bit of a meal rut and end up cooking the same things week after week. But it’s a good idea to get some other ideas, the BBC Good Food page is handy, as is the Change 4 Life website, for lunches, snacks and evening meals. Write a list of what you want to cook, say on a Monday morning and then you know what you need to buy to make those meals.
My favourite weekday meals for our family are pretty simple and don’t take too long to make. By planning in advance you can then do…
4. Bulk/batch cooking or cooking several meals in one session. It’s really easy once you’ve chopped up a load of vegetables to make several different meals in one go. If you’re chopping an onion for a bolognese, chop up a couple more or use a food chopper to make it quicker. Do the same with peppers and garlic for example, and then portion the piles of veg out into their intended meal-deployment roles and you’ve got the tedious part of cooking each meal out of the way in one go.
Meal suggestions I use regularly are bolognese (serve with spaghetti/pasta/potatoes/salad), chilli (pork mince is a bit of a different option and I kind of prefer it as a mince), lasagne, stuffed chicken breasts with cream cheese and pesto, carbonara, stir-fry, egg fried rice, curry, chicken and bacon salad.
5. Stock up on cupboard essentials like chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, stock and herbs/spices. Try not to buy packet mixes of spices or sauces. They are usually very high in sugar and salt and are extremely expensive for the amount you get, which is normally only one meal’s worth.
6. Raid the freezer sections! Frozen veg is amazing and can be really good value for money. It can also make cooking healthy meals a lot quicker and simpler as you can get a really good range of frozen ready-chopped veg in many supermarkets. Even things like chopped garlic, chilli and coriander are available which is a great time saver! If you have any sort of disability that means you find chopping food difficult this can be a really good life hack! I have just ordered my first Iceland frozen food shop and I shall be receiving it on Friday, at which point I’ll review how good it is!
7. Use leftovers. If you’ve cooked a few meals in one go at the beginning of the week there will probably be some left when it gets toward the end of the week. You might have a ‘kitchen tapas’ array of different meals on your plate such as a bit of lasagne and a bit of curry but who really cares? It’s food and it’s all going down the same way! Everyone knows chilli tastes so much better the next day, right?! If the leftovers don’t amount to enough for one or two adult portions, use them for the kids’ dinner. You can make small amounts go a long way for kids by adding a bit of pasta, beans, peas or a baked potato.
8. Write lists and stick to them. This doesn’t mean you can’t buy any sneaky little treats for the evenings after the kids have had monumental meltdowns and you need some chocolate, but plan it. Go to the sweet stuff aisle and choose something for when you have those cravings. Other than that, if you’ve planned your meals and written down what you need to get for each meal, shopping should be quite straightforward. A good idea is to go through the cupboards and fridge/freezer before shopping to see what you already have lurking in the depths of the kitchen, which means you might need to buy as much as you thought.
9. Don’t shop hungry! I honestly do this way too often. I tend to shop about late morning before my 4 year old goes to gymnastics and by that point I’m usually very hungry. I end up putting tasty treats in the trolley when I’ve actually already got stuff at home that I could’ve had before. It’s probably more sensible to eat some toast or something before shopping or you’ll end up being led by your ravenous thoughts when shopping rather than your more sensible ones.
10. Whose kids are really helpful in the supermarket? Anyone? No? No, because kids are annoying and they’re even more annoying when they can see My Little Pony magazines and luminous jelly sweets and novelty socks in the middle aisles (of joy) in Aldi. It’s very repetitive and frustrating to have to keep saying ‘no’ to their requests and you’ll either get cross or feel bad and buy them the things they pick up. Neither of which you really want to do. So unless you’re a very organised parent and have hand-drawn an illustrated shopping list, with clipboard and pencil so they can tick things off, it’s probably best for all parties if you try and get the shopping done when they’re at school or nursery. I don’t always have the option and believe me, it’s not always fun to shop with toddlers and young children!
I think those are most of my favourite tips and tricks for savvy supermarket shopping. Don’t forget to leave me a comment if you have anything else that you’ve found helpful as a parent trying to their best with the weekly food shop.
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