If you’re a single mom and you don’t have a high income, feeding the family can become something of a nightmare. You know how important good nutrition is for growing kids, but actually being able to afford the food you need to buy and cooking the meals your kids will want to eat can really be tough.
What you need are cheap but wholesome foods that fill the kids up and give them plenty of energy. But, these meals need to be tasty and appealing to kids, and quick and easy for you to cook. After all, you work hard and you don’t want to spend all your free time working in the kitchen.
So it’s tough. But there are a few tips and ideas that can help save time and money and still provide your family with the nutrition they need.
- Buy fruit and vegetables that are in season. Just because the stores are full of exotic fruit and vegetables doesn’t mean they are in season. Locally produced seasonal produce is usually a lot cheaper than imported stuff, and better for you too as it hasn’t been treated to last a long time. Using only seasonal produce isn’t as hard as you think, once you get used to it, and there are thousands of free recipes on the inernet that anyone can access these days if you need ideas.
- If you live in a rural area, see if local farmers and producers are selling produce direct from the farm. Or, find out when your local farmer’s market is on and take the kids along. A visit to a Farmer’s Market can be educational for them as well as enjoyable. And, they’re more likely to eat the food they have chosen themselves.
- Shop at the end of the day, or just before the weeknd. Stores often reduce prices of perishable goods at these times, and you can pick up some real bargains.
- Learn to cook without meat. Of course you don’t have to become completely vegetarian if you don’t want to, but meat is an expensive luxury that you and your kids can do just fine without. You can always have it at the weekend as a treat. You don’t need ‘meat like’ substitutes either, (they can cost as much as meat!), learn to make tasty meals with beans, lentils, nuts and chickpeas. Meat often doesn’t contribute as much as you think to the flavour of a meal. If the sauce is tasty the meal will be tasty!
- If your kids are small, give veggie meals fun names to persuade kids to eat them. Brussels sprouts can go down much better when they are called ‘Fairy Cabbages’ for example!
- Use lots of herbs and spices to flavour meals. Dried herbs are cheap, especially if you buy stores ‘own brand’ products rather then the well known brands. You can grow fresh herbs yourself at home, even if you only have a window box! Moms who receive SNAP benefits or Food Stamps can use the card or vouchers to buy seeds to grow herbs and veggies. Kids enjoy helping with this, and are often keen to eat the produce they have helped to grow.
- Learn to make your own pasta sauces instead of buying packets or jars. It’s easier than you think, and really doesn’t take a lot of time. If you spot tomatoes on special offer because they are going over ripe, buy loads and make a fresh tomato sauce. All you need is a little oil, tomatoes, some herbs and salt and pepper to make a delicious and nutritious topping for pasta that kids love.
- Make friends with potatoes. They’re satisfying, good for you and can be made really tasty with simple additions. Bake them and stuff them with cheese, tomatoes, tuna…add some salad and you have a really cheap, simple, healthy and quick meal. Or layer them in a cook pot with onions and garlic, pour on a little stock and milk and bake. Top it off with a sprinkling of cheese.
- If your kids love fresh juice, great, it’s a good way of getting them to eat more fruit. But if fresh juice is too expensive, try adding just a little water to each glass. It doesnt taste much different and goes a lot further. Or add lots of ice cubes and let them melt a bit.
- Even if wholemeal bread costs a bit more than white bread, it can work out cheaper as it’s much more filling and better for health. If the kids say they don’t like it, try toasting it and covering it with a tasty spread like peanut butter…they probably won’t notice it isn’t white!
- If the kids are always asking for pizza, make your own. Pizza bases can be fiddly to do yourself and a little too time consuming, but you can use French bread (baguettes) instead. Slice each down the middle lengthways and toast lightly before spreading on a little tomato paste and topping with veggies and cheese or whatever you have to hand.
- Buying chicken on the bone is a lot cheaper than buying it as fillets. If the kids don’t like eating it on the bone, just cook first then the meat flakes off easily.
- Learn to love stir fry meals. The ultimate fast food, a stir fry meal takes only a few minutes to cook and can be packed with vegetables for health. Kids often say they don’t like vegetables because they are served as boring piles on the side of the plate. With a stir fry, the veggies are coated in a delicious sauce and look and taste much more exciting.
- Get creative with eggs. Eggs are a brilliant source of protein and can be used in so many different ways. If the kids are bored with the usual eggy offerings such as omelettes, look to colourful other cultures fior inspiration. Spain and Cuba, for example have some fabulous egg recipes that are simple to cook and open up whole new worlds of egg cuisine. Try this one, for starters. Make a simple tomato sauce, as described above. Add whatever herbs the kids like, and a little spice like paprika too, if they enjoy spicy food. Break eggs on top and grill. Serve it on a bed of rice for a really healthy, satisfying meal.
It’s not always easy trying to feed a family on a tight budget, but it can be done. The key is in forward planning…if you’re always dashing to the shops at the last minute you’ll make impulse buys that will cost you money. Get the kids involved in planning the meals for the week ahread. That way you’ll know what they are happy to eat so there’ll be less arguments and less waste. Good food isn’t complicated and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.