Healthy Meals for Homeschoolers: Establish and Work Within your Budget
Welcome back to the next installment of Enlightium Academy’s Healthy Meals for Homeschoolers series. I am excited to share with you some of my ideas about family budget meals. As a recent college graduate (now repaying loans), I am familiar with the ‘B’ word - budget. When you think of family budget meals, what do you think of? Money? Spreadsheets? Penny-pinching?
This is the second entry in the Healthy Meal for Homeschoolers series. You can find the entire series at this link.
I want to encourage you to take a broad view of what it means to make family budget meals. When I think of family budget meals, I think of the money, time, skills, and other resources it takes to feed a family. These components are all related, and I think it is important to keep all of them in mind. Before I share my thoughts on the financial side of making family budget meals, I first want to talk about budgeting with your time, skills, and other resources.
Let’s take this example.
You are probably already familiar with cooking dried beans instead of canned. At my local store, a pound of dried black beans costs $0.99 and when prepared, I will have 3 pounds of beans to eat. Compare this to a can of cooked black beans which also costs $0.99, but yields less than a pound. So, 1 pound of cooked dry beans is $0.33 and 1 pound of cooked canned beans is three times more expensive. Is it a simple choice? What else is involved in this decision?
- Time: Start to finish, it can take 2 hours to cook dry beans on the stove or 4-8 hours in a slow cooker or crock pot
- Skills: Cooking skills include: selecting an appropriate cooking container, bringing water to a boil, cooking the dry beans for an appropriate amount of time, and food safety skills
- Other resources: a place to cook, appropriate cooking equipment like pots and pans, a place to safely store extra cooked food, clean water for cooking, crock pot/slow cooker, seasonings, salt
For some, it may be more effective to spend a little more money on canned beans and invest that time in something else that is more important for their family. Or, this may be a place where you can save some money. Either way is okay!
Regardless, when you are selecting recipes or putting together meal templates, make sure to keep in mind more than just the money you have to work with. Think about your kitchen setup, your cooking abilities, and the time you have to commit. It will almost always be cheaper to make your own food from a few ingredients at home. But if you have some wiggle room, you definitely work around your constraints.
General recommendations for shopping for family budget meals
- Cooking and eating at home will generally cost less money than eating out at a restaurant. Diet quality is also usually better if you are eating at home, because you control the ingredients and portions.
- If available, buy spices in the bulk section of your grocery store. Then you can try a small amount to see if your family likes it before committing to a whole jar or bag.
- Perishable foods, especially fruits and vegetables, can be expensive and go bad quickly. Not everyone has access to a store where they can buy fresh fruits and vegetables. It may be more realistic for some families to stock up on canned and frozen fruits and vegetables instead. These types of fruits and vegetables have a longer shelf life (meaning it takes longer for them to go bad). Low-sodium canned vegetables and fruit in juice (instead of syrup) are healthier options.
There are countless free resources online where you can improve your cooking skills. Just like any other skill, you will improve with repetition. Pick recipes that have “Easy” in the title and look for patterns in recipes. Start with something you already know how to make and see what variations you can come up with. Can you boil water for boxed macaroni and cheese? Then you can also boil water for mashed potatoes or soup! Many recipes start with ingredients like garlic and onions to add flavor to the whole dish.
Resources to improve your cooking skills:
- Find a video on YouTube and watch someone else make it
- Find a recipe blog or cookbook you like and try cooking different recipes
- Look for differences and similarities between different recipes for the same dish.
- Ask a friend to cook with you
- Try out a local Cooking Matters program or another community nutrition class
Check out these resources for budget-friendly recipes:
- Budget Bytes - Budget Bytes is a fun blog with countless recipes. The author writes out the cost of each ingredient and also provides straightforward, step-by-step instructions with photos and a video walkthrough.
- Cooking Matters - Cooking Matters is a national, family-focused nutrition education program that includes lessons on how to make healthy choices at the grocery store and how to prepare these ingredients at home. They have special lessons geared towards children and teenagers.
- EatFresh - This is a user-friendly and informative website with healthy recipes and tips to eat on a budget. My favorite section on this site is called “Discover Foods.” You can scroll through fruits, vegetables, and other foods to learn about what they are how to use them. The site is available in English, Spanish, and Chinese.
- Good and Cheap - This cookbook is gorgeous, informative, and chock-full of recipes you can use to eat for $4 a day. Oh, and the PDF is free. A Spanish language version is also available.
When you think about how to prepare family budget meals, think about all the factors that contribute to the process - your time, skills, and other resources. Try following a few of the general recommendations listed above to eat healthy meals on a budget, and check out some of the sites above for some great recipes. As always, make small, attainable goals, and build on that success. I can’t wait to find out what you have been cooking!