Cooking on a budget: guide, cooking with kids

The Beginner’s Guide to Cooking on a Budget

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Being a mommy is hard work! Getting healthy meals on the table is even harder!

Before I was a stay at home mom I was actually a single mom to a 2 year old little girl and I had returned to school to get my law degree. Budgeting became REAL important. As did time management. With no real family close by it was just baby J and me. I was determined to feed her healthy meals that were easy to make, cost effective and appealing to her.
Fast forward a couple years and I now have two babies and a husband who works a 9-5 job. Things are definitely easier but budgeting is still important and spending my time with my babies instead of in the kitchen is still a priority for me too.

Where to start with cooking on a budget?

Cooking on a budget is not hard once you know what you’re doing. It involves a little bit of planning and prep work but it is soo worth it in the long run.
First, you need to decide what your budget for the month is going to be. This all depends on your income and family size. As a family of 4 we have a set budget of $300.00 per month. We take $150 from each pay check for groceries and shop twice per month.

Tips for Success when cooking on a budget

These are the most important things to remember!

  1. Plan your meals! And shop with a list
  2. Sign up for rewards programs (This has saved me hundreds of dollars! More on that below)
  3. Shop SALES and plan your meals according to those sales
  4. Buy in bulk
  5. Price match when you can
  6. Coupons are your friend
  7. Buy frozen fruits and veggies when they are not in season
  8. Know when to shop

    Cooking on a budget
  • Meal Planning and shopping sales

    • Every second Thursday I get out my Meal Planner (I have this exact one) and write out my dinner menu for the upcoming 2 weeks. 
    • The reason I do this on Thursdays is because our flyers come out Thursday and new sales begin Friday (I use the Flipp app on my phone) and always shop Friday mornings. Stores aren’t as busy and sale items are never sold out.
    • I see what is on sale that week and meal plan accordingly. Example: ground beef is on sale… we can have burritos (family favourite) on Saturday and shepherds pie or chili later in the week. (I try to buy large quantities of meat when its on sale then portion and freeze.)
    • I keep a running list of items we have run out of or are getting low on but aren’t necessarily urgent. Example…I NEVER pay full price for toilet paper, condiments, diapers or cereal. I take mental note of when we’re getting low and buy it when I see it on sale. I’ve also been known to buy 6 bottles of BBQ sauce when its on sale for .99 cents.
  • Rewards programs

    • I never used to be organized enough to have rewards programs be beneficial to me. Half the time I didn’t know where my card was anyway. However, I have been using PC/Optimum points for about 2 years now and I wish I would have joined YEARS ago! (I believe this program is only available in Canada but I’m sure there are programs like this in the US and elsewhere.)
    • PC Optimum points work at all Loblaws companies (Zehrs, Real Canadian Superstore, No Frills and now since merging with Optimum and Esso, you can also get points at Shoppers Drug Mart and when you pump gas!) They are making is so easy for the points to add up!
    • How it works: you get an email every Thursday from PC Optimum telling you which items are ‘points items’ that week. The more you shop and swipe your card, the more these items will be customized to you. Example – get 100 points for every $1.00 spent on pasta sauce…or apples…or baby snacks…you get the idea.
    • There are also in store promos on a regular basis (spend $25 on Christie products and get 10,000 points) That’s $10.00 in free groceries! I customize my shopping list so much for these points that I accumulated just under 45,000 points just in January! That’s $45 to be redeemed whenever I want. My husband and I like to let our points add up over the year and get free groceries all month long in December.
    • At Esso gas stations when you swipe your card you get .10 cents per liter. Sometimes they have promos where you can get .30 cents or more per liter on certain days.
  • Price Matching

    • Not all stores do this but there are lots out there that do. Here’s how it works.. I look at flyers for the 3-5 main grocery stores that I like and write out which stores have the sale items I want/need. The store with the most things I need is the one I will shop at (typically the one where I will also get my points) I go to that store and buy all the sale items from all the stores. Then at the cash register I put my price match items on the conveyor belt last and have the flyers (either paper flyers or on my phone) ready to show the cashier. She ensures that the items are correct (size, brand etc.) and then matches their sale prices and I save! Easy as pie.
  • Buy in Bulk

    • Costco is probably our favourite store ever. The prices really cant be beat. When buying in bulk and large quantities everything ends up a lot cheaper and things of course last longer. This is where we buy the majority of our meat and salmon. We ALWAYS buy our peanut butter, coffee, rice and school snacks here. Plus this is a great place to buy diapers, wipes and even dog food in large quantities. Their Kirkland brand is considerably cheaper and just as good.
  • Buy frozen fruits and veggies when not in season

    • This is a game changer. For moms who want to ensure their littles are getting enough fruits and veggies throughout the winter, frozen is the way to go. I buy the mixed veggies and throw them in honestly wherever I can. They are such an easy addition to dinner…I like to cut up a little (fresh) garlic, saute it with some butter and toss with my frozen veggies. Easy. Fruits are just as easy, we buy the mixed bags or sometimes just berries on their own (my kids LOVE berries) we add them to smoothies, yogurt, muffins, oatmeal even ice cream…the possibilities are endless. This has also helped dramatically reduce the amount of fresh produce we throw out because it didn’t get eaten before it went bad.

The Last Thing You Need to Know about Cooking on a Budget

  • IT CAN BE DONE. Even the busiest moms can take an hour out of their week to plan their meals and their shopping lists. Just one hour. The more you do this the better you will get at it and it may not even take an hour.
  • Get creative with your meals, have your kids (if they’re old enough) help with the planning and the shopping. They will love that you’ve asked for their help and value their opinion. PLUS they’ll be more likely to eat it if they feel like they’ve had some input in your planning.
  • If any of these tips helped you out please like and share 🙂 What other tips do you have for busy moms trying to cook on a budget? I’d love to hear from you!


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