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Feeding a Large Family (Without Breaking the Bank)

Grocery budgeting for a large family has its own unique challenges. When I take my whole family to the grocery store, we often get looks. And people remember us. After I’ve been to a grocery store twice, if I show up alone, I’m asked where all the children are.

Now, granted, I don’t think that four young children is an incredibly large family – I’ve known many parents with eight, ten or more children – but it is still large enough to raise eyebrows when we’re all together. The six people who live in our house eat a lot of food, and Canadian food prices are considerably higher than those in the United States.

And since we’re buying a new house that has a history of terribly high heating bills, we need to keep the budget down in every way possible.

As I write these, our family consists of:

The Mister – 42, working at a gravel pit “You know, like Fred Flintstone”.

Me – 44, chasing children all day

9 year old and 7 year old boys (well, birthdays coming very soon) who often seem to eat more than their father

4 year old and 2 1/2 year old girls (18 months apart, my “Irish twins”!)

I am going to use the USDA Food Plans because Canada doesn’t have anything equivalent.

The closest thing we have, the Healthy Food Basket, is terribly outdated, complicated to understand and basically says that, here in Nova Scotia, no one can afford to eat healthy. Certainly we live in one of the worst areas of Canada for food security. When you’re making a grocery budget for a large family, and you don’t have a large income, that can be very depressing.

CBC New tells us: “In 2002, a nutritious food basket to feed a family of four for a month cost $573, according to Williams.  That number skyrocketed to $850 in 2012 and since then it’s gone up by another $100, she said. The number could reach $1,000 by the fall of 2016 when the next round of numbers will be released.”

And that’s $1000 for a family of four, so it would be more like $1500 for my family of six. (Do we include the dog for seven?) In fact, when I calculate according the 2012 numbers, I get $1100 per month for my family of six, and food prices have gone up dramatically in the past four years.

Well, let’s put it right out there – I can’t afford to spend $1600/month on food. That’s almost $9 per serving per meal.

I just can’t do it.

Maybe, though, I could somehow pull $540 out of the budget for groceries. That’s $1 per serving, per person.

Stop laughing. (And yes, on months with 31 days, apparently we’re fasting. I told you to stop laughing.)

So how do I plan to feed SIX people for $1 Canadian (or less!) per serving? As a note, Canadian food prices are considerably higher than prices in the United States, and I’m in constant awe of the prices I see on American blogs. I double check the date when I see blogs mention eggs for $1/dozen – we pay about $4. Butter is now around $5/pound – when it goes on sale, it flies off the shelves.  Food is expensive.

And we’re moving to a new house with no garden.

My friends, this is going to require:

  • cherry picking the sales (and using my price book)
  • buying in bulk
  • making good use of my freezer
  • extending and minimizing expensive meat and protein foods
  • potatoes
  • carefully choosing recipes, many from my cookbook A Cabin Full of Food
  • menu planning/shopping from the pantry
  • reviving the old Maritime tradition of Saturday night Baked Beans and Brown Bread
  • managing leftovers and waste
  • soup night!
  • cooking from scratch, of course!
  • free – anything we can catch, grow, forage or acquire for free is going to be appreciated

This series (yes, I have blog posts planned for those … even potatoes!) will begin in early October, as we are setting up our new home and adjusting to life back on-grid.

This is going to be an interesting transition. We will be arriving at the new house with a stockpile of some foods – home-canned food (although I’ve been using those up), pantry staples and some commercial (yes, convenience!) food that had been bought on sale or given to us. We will have a fridge and chest freezer but will no longer have our fresh chicken eggs.

However, we’ve been using a lot of it in preparation for moving, so we don’t really have a large stockpile. Food’s a heavy thing to haul around.

3 hams, 20 lbs ground beef and 5 pounds pork are sitting in a friend’s freezer. I have an 8 kg bag of rice. An 8 kg bag of cornmeal. A bunch of pasta (about 65 or 70 pounds). The potatoes we just harvested (the ones that grew after the chickens tore up the potato bed!). Some home-canned carrots, green beans, squash, spinach. Commercially canned corn. About 12 pounds white beans. A dozen bottles of apple juice. I’ll inventory it all as I unpack.

But I have just $540 budgeted to spend on groceries in October.

So let’s see if I can do it. Are you ready? $540/month to feed a family of six. In Nova Scotia, Canada. I’m clearly insane.


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