Anna Dusseau | 5th March 2020
I mean, we are all on a budget, right? In our family, we went from two decent salaries, to living on a single salary while my husband continued to work in a city job he hated, to finally both working part time from home. Times are very different for us now. Happier, calmer, more purposeful, but a lot less imported raspberries. Which is probably a good thing. Does any of this sound familiar? Because, if you’ve chosen to home educate your children – either from the word go, or as a recent decision – you will be somewhere along the spectrum of finding out what an enormous impact this has on your family lifestyle, ethics, choices and, of course, budget.
We have 3 children and – girl included – they are all tree-climbing, bike riding, active and frequently ravenous little people who eat well and expect decent portion sizes. I’ll admit that when we first decided to forego the second salary and just make do on one income, my stomach clenched slightly at the idea of the cuts we would have to make. I wanted to maintain a lifestyle where we still had holidays, took them to the cinema every now and then, and wouldn’t physically wince as we approached the checkout at Clarks.
So we had to find somewhere to make adjustments and, funnily enough, what it naturally led to was a semi-vegan and incredibly healthy way of living, years before it was given the recent turbo-boost of popularity as a planet-friendly and sustainable way of eating. Sure, it’s trendy now, but let me tell you that this is also an inexpensive, simple and delicious way of living that is excellent for growing young bodies whilst also keeping you in your best shape without even trying. I want you to enjoy homeschooling as much as I do and I don’t want your experience to be spoiled by struggling to put decent food on the table. So, without further ado, I am going to share my store cupboard secrets with you so that you too can feed your family for £50, if you want to.
Here is my list of weekly food essentials:
- wholegrain bread, pita bread, oatcakes, lentils, wholegrain pasta, wholegrain rice, porridge oats, oatcakes, wholegrain rice cakes
- peanut butter, honey, baked beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, mixed beans, tinned sweetcorn, chopped tomatoes, olives, tinned tuna, anchovies, sardines
- oatmilk, soya milk, olive oil, eggs, pepper, turmeric, dried herbs (thyme, oregano, basil), herbal tea, coffee, dark chocolate, walnuts, brazil nuts, ground almonds
- cow’s milk, natural yoghurt, cheddar cheese
- beef mince, ham
- apples, satsumas, bananas, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, celery, courgettes, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, fresh herbs
No, it’s not a vegan list. Nor is it a vegetarian list. But what you’ll notice is that, for a family of 5, there is not a lot of meat or dairy. We always have a bolognese which I make once a week and, because it’s packed with grated vegetables (the baby is fussy) this will do for 2-3 family meals. (Love your freezer, people! And invest in tupperware.) I also have a limited amount of cow’s milk, yoghurt and cheese as the children are all young and, although we buy non dairy alternatives, they find the taste too bitter and I want them to have some calcium, iodine and dairy fat in their diet at this point. You might spot that there are a lot of beans and pulses on the list, as well as nuts and dried herbs which – at around 50p a jar – is a very cheap way to infuse every sauce or soup with vitamins. Lots of wholegrains – yep, that keeps tummies full – and not as many fresh veggies as you were expecting, am I right? That’s because fresh fruit and veg are expensive and perishable, so we are careful about what we buy and make sure that we always have plenty of tinned and frozen vegetables to add to dishes and dried fruit in the cupboard, which makes an excellent basis for a crumble.
A few more tricks, while we are here. I already know you do a weekly meal plan for your family, so I won’t bother you with this one. Safe to say, prior to adopting a planned menu with the kids, we were spending around £160 on Ocado every week plus expensive weekend top-ups, and there was a lot of waste. So, plan it out and generally stick to it. Of course, remember that cooking from scratch will always be more economical and, now that your kids are homeschooled, this is the perfect time to get them actively involved in the kitchen so that food prep is a fun family activity (why not tune into an educational podcast? Check out my list here..) rather than a stressful chore to fit in around other things. A homemade tomato or cauliflower soup – at a total cost of about £4 – will generally last for 2 family meals and you can bulk this out with sandwiches on the side, or oatcakes to dip. Clearly, my kids aren’t fussy eaters and this isn’t something I am proud of or have worked at. There is just no room for fussing in our house with food. You either eat it, or you don’t.
My husband always says that home education is a luxury and ultimately, I feel that he is probably right. Because none of this has been imposed on us. It is all a lifestyle choice. The reason why I am strict on the weekly food budget, is because I never wanted to compromise our choices when we are out and about. If friends suggest a pub lunch at the end of the month, that’s okay. If the kids want an ice cream at the end of a long bike ride, no problem. And if that awesome homeschool mama who totally has your back lends you her entire Okido back catalogue, then you can do the right thing and buy a posh box of chocolates to let her know she’s brill.
Waste not, want not, is proudly and unapologetically the motto in our house and, for a stress-free and healthy approach to feeding a large family on a budget, I suggest you adopt it, too. Save at least half of what you are currently spending on your weekly shop, save the planet, teach your kids about food preparation and healthy eating habits..and still have the budget to take the kids out for pizza after swimming every once in a while! You’ve got this, mama.
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