How many of us have peered into the fridge on a Monday night and wondered what to make for dinner? From figuring out what to make for dinner, to pleasing everyone’s tastes, to budgeting for groceries, feeding your family can be challenging.
Shopping for groceries and preparing family meals are tasks some of us would gladly outsource to a food delivery app. But with grocery prices predicted to increase by seven per cent in 2022, it’s worth learning how you can save on food costs and serve up delicious, healthy meals. And who says parents are the only ones who are responsible for making dinner? Cooking is just one practical skill tweens and teens can learn from household chores.
In this article, you’ll learn simple ways to save money on your grocery bill with smart meal planning and easy family dinner ideas. We also spoke with Claire Tansey who is a cooking teacher and author of Dinner Uncomplicated: Fixing a Delicious Meal Every Night of the Week. She shares tips to help you keep family mealtimes simple, enjoyable, and budget-friendly.
What are the benefits of eating meals as a family?
Eating meals as a family is a simple, yet powerful, way to connect with your kids that can benefit their mental and physical health. One Canadian study found that children who routinely ate meals as a family tended to have better social skills, increased self-esteem, and academic success than those who did not. Eating as a family also introduces kids to explore healthy foods they might not otherwise try.
While gathering the family for meals can be challenging, proper meal planning can make eating together easier and save money on your grocery bill.
Benefits of meal planning
Figuring out what to make for dinner can be stressful if you’re deciding just before it’s time to eat. Meal planning, according to Tansey, is the antidote to this scenario. “Meal planning is the secret to de-stressing dinners,” says Tansey. “It’s not ideal to be thinking about what to make when you’ve got decision fatigue from the day.” Here are some benefits of meal planning:
Saves time and stress
Although it may seem counterintuitive, investing the time to plan your meals in advance saves you time (and stress) in the long run. It can eliminate time you spend searching online for an easy recipe or a last minute run to the grocery store to pick up ingredients—all before you’ve even started preparing the meal. It also makes it harder to get your kids to help out in the kitchen.
“You face overwhelm,” says Tansey of the pre-dinner panic. And, if take-out food is your frequent go-to solution, food costs can add up quickly.
Buy only what you need
A weekly meal plan determines your grocery list so that you only purchase what you will actually use. “You don’t end up buying what I call aspirational ingredients,” says Tansey. “You don’t intend to throw those foods out, but you end up not using them and they languish at the back of the fridge.”
This includes saying “no thanks” to items on sale that you may think are too good to pass up. Unless you have a plan to use them, advises Tansey, it may lead to food and money wasted.
When you serve dishes you’ve made from scratch, you know exactly what’s gone into them. Meal planning ensures your meals include the essential food groups that your kids need. When you have a plan, it also minimizes the potential to impulsively buy unhealthy quick fixes like fast food or junk food to quiet the groans of hungry teens or tweens.
How to meal plan
Plan your meals according to what works best for you. Tansey suggests planning three dinners per week if you’re just starting out and adding more over time.
Keep it simple
While it may be tempting to search the internet for new recipes every week, this can be overwhelming. Tansey suggests narrowing your options by sticking to one or two cookbooks that have recipes for dishes that your kids enjoy, switching cookbooks or online sources every few months.
Stick to what you know
When you start meal planning, be sure to include your favourite family dinners. “Start with meals you already love,” Tansey says, whether that’s a broiled salmon or homemade burgers. She also suggests you stock your kitchen with fixings for a “back pocket dinner,” which is a failsafe dish you can cook in a pinch. It’ll save you—and your wallet—from ordering pizza.
How to save money on groceries
Buy in bulk
While it can be tempting to buy food in bulk when the price offers a great value, Tansey advises to not buy unless you have a plan for it.
“Buying bulk is a slippery slope because you think you’re saving money, but if it goes in the green bin, that’s not the case,” says Tansey, who only purchases items in bulk that she knows her family loves. Pantry items make better bulk purchases than produce (which can rot) and even meat, that can only last for so long before freezer burn kicks in.
As the price of groceries increases, comparison shopping can be a way to stick to a weekly budget. While you can compare items using various apps, it might be easier to simply shop at stores with lower prices. You can review weekly flyers to help determine where to go.
“There are discount grocery stores where you will see the difference in your bill,” says Tansey, who adds it’s a better use of your time to be cooking and enjoying family than driving from one store to another for groceries.
Cooking a large quantity of food is a great way to save time, money, and effort because you can freeze it in portions for later use. An alternative to batch cooking a dish, says Tansey, is to cook “building blocks for meals”, such as a bolognese sauce, which can be used to make into a variety of meals, like soup or pasta. Additionally, it helps your teens and tweens from getting bored of the same meal.
How to involve kids in cooking family meals
Kids make great cooks too! Through fun cooking chores, kids learn about nutrition, math, and being responsible. Not to mention, you get some relief from cooking duty. Using the Mydoh app, you can create a recurring or one-time task of preparing the family dinner to help your kids plan the meal and check it off when it’s complete. Simple recipes for kids and teens are Pasta with Butter & Parmesan and World’s Best Pancakes by Claire Tansey.
You don’t have to sacrifice health or taste to save money on groceries. With simple meal planning and smart grocery shopping, you will find eating meals as a family is not only joyful, but budget-friendly as well.
Download Mydoh and help build the foundation of financial literacy for your kids and teenagers.
This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or its affiliates.
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