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5 Cheap Meals for Large Families

5 Cheap Meals for Large Families

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It's no secret that groceries are expensive these days. With rising food costs, preparing three daily meals can feel like a never-ending loop of costly trips to the grocery store. When you have a big family, your food budget might quickly become one of your highest expenses.

That's why finding ways to cut costs, stretch your budget, and prepare recipes that won't break the bank is important. We've assembled some practical tips and ideas for cheap meals for large families, ensuring you're well-fed without busting your budget.

To gain further insights, we're seeking expert advice from registered dietitians Shana Meckler, MS, RD, LDN and Colleen Wysocki, MS, RDN, CLC, to pinpoint budget-friendly meals without skimping on nutrition.

What makes a great cheap meal for large families?

Planning is key to creating budget-friendly, large family meals. Start by taking inventory of your pantry and fridge to avoid buying duplicate items. Then, craft a weekly meal plan using what you already have on hand. Meckler notes that using items nearing expiration is also important to help cut costs and reduce waste.

Head to budget-friendly grocery stores (like Aldi and Trader Joe's!) that carry generic brands priced lower than name brands. Keep an eye out for discounts and deals by checking retailer websites or subscribing to newsletters with coupons and bargains. If you prefer to buy in bulk, focus on items you use most frequently to maximize savings. While buying in bulk is convenient, it's not always cost-effective.

There are ways to save money when it comes to certain types of food. Purchasing proteins such as meat, chicken, and seafood can strain your budget, whereas vegetarian alternatives like beans, lentils, dairy, and eggs are generally more budget-friendly. Consider how often you want to include animal proteins in your weekly meals and alternate accordingly to balance costs.

As for fresh produce, be mindful of the added cost of convenience foods like prewashed and pre-cut fruits and vegetables. "While these can save time in the kitchen, they will increase the grocery bill," Wysocki explains. Instead, she suggests, "Purchase frozen or low-sodium canned veggies, whole grain dry pastas, lentils, and quinoa that can be cooked in ten minutes and can easily be dressed with olive oil and seasonings." Put simply, look for alternative time-saving methods that won't cost you more money.

Photo of a group of children having fun during cooking class with a chef AleksandarNakic/ Getty Images

What are good pantry staples to always have on hand?

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Keeping your pantry stocked with affordable, everyday essentials is a great choice. You'll easily save money by whipping up homemade meals instead of splurging on takeout when you're too exhausted or running on empty. Plus, a stocked pantry makes it convenient to throw together different meals using what you have. Here are some of our dietitian-approved must-haves:

Canned tomatoes

Canned tomatoes are perfect for making sauces for pasta, pizza, soups, or meat dishes. Opt for unsalted varieties to cut down on sodium.

Canned beans

There are many canned beans to choose from, including chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, and cannellini beans. Give them a good rinse under running water to remove excess salt and starch, which can cause bloating and gas. Canned beans are an excellent source of vegetarian protein and can be used in salads, blended into dips.

According to Wysocki, "they can be added to wraps, tacos, or nachos for a fun family dinner."

Pasta

Did you know that pasta is an excellent source of protein? Keep pasta in your pantry for classic dishes like spaghetti and meatballs, baked ziti, or veggie lasagna. For an extra protein boost, consider bean or lentil-based pasta, which offers even more protein per serving.

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Need more protein? Look for an enriched pasta with added protein and fiber, like this one from GoodWheat.

Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is both a protein and a source of fat. Slather it on sandwiches for quick meals on the go or for a nutty kick to Asian-inspired dishes like pad Thai or curry. Meckler recommends choosing peanut butter without added sugars or salt to maximize nutrition.

Oats

Is there anything oats can't do? But really, they're incredibly versatile and can be used in almost any breakfast recipe or baked good. Packed with protein and fiber, they're perfect for whipping up overnight oats, breakfast cookies, or fruity oatmeal crisps. Wysocki suggests grabbing oats from the bulk bins at the grocery store, which will save some cash and bypass the packaging fees.

couple cooking with son in kitchen 10'000 Hours/ Getty images

Top tips to make large batches of food

If you're part of a big family, chances are you're super busy and don't have endless hours to cook dinner from scratch every night. Here are our top tips for making a big batch of food:

  • Consider making several batches of lightly seasoned grilled chicken or ground meat. According to Meckler, these proteins can be the base for several dinner recipes like grilled chicken wraps, chicken Caesar salads, or taco bowls.
  • If you find side dishes overwhelming, consider experimenting with one-pot meals. You could try hearty options like veggie and bean stews, chicken and vegetable roasts, or veggie-loaded turkey chili. Another cheap and easy idea is to skip cooked side dishes altogether and offer fresh crudités or dinner rolls on the side instead.
  • Wysocki suggests adopting the French concept of 'mise-en-place,' a term commonly used by chefs catering to large groups of people. She explains, "It means getting everything ready before beginning to cook. Get all the ingredients, dishes, and utensils needed for a recipe in one place to keep the cooking process organized and reduce stress."

What small appliances or cooking utensils help with making large meals?

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Here are some small kitchen appliances and utensils that can cut down your time in the kitchen:

7 quart crock pot, cheap meals for large families Merchant
  • Our go-to recommendation is a slow cooker, Crock-Pot, or pressure cooker for an easy meal. It's nearly foolproof - toss in the ingredients, and a few hours later, your meal is ready. Make everything from chili to mashed potato recipes with minimal effort.
  • We're big fans of large mason jars paired with leak-proof plastic lids. They're perfect for storing leftovers and ideal for keeping sauces and dressings. Wysocki adds that they're eco-friendly, easy to label and stack, and eliminate the need for plastic containers, which can release harmful microplastics and chemicals.
  • Meckler recommends a large cutting board and a sharp chef's knife; we couldn't agree more. There's nothing more frustrating than dealing with a flimsy cutting board or a dull knife that makes chopping a chore.
family cooking together iStock

5 Cheap meals for large families

This recipe serves four, but you can easily double or triple it. To save money, Meckler suggests swapping out baby regular bell peppers for regular bell peppers. She also recommends skipping cheese and sour cream, as they're not necessary, and opting for avocado (if it fits your budget) as a healthier alternative.

Wysocki's breakfast bars are a fantastic make-ahead breakfast choice for busy families. They're nutritious, quick to prepare in under 15 minutes and utilize pantry staples such as oats, almond flour, and frozen fruit to keep costs down.

This family favorite has it all: canned beans, canned tomatoes, and it's made in a slow cooker. It's a one-pot meal that's delicious on its own or can be served with rice, quinoa, or some crusty bread slices on the side. Thin it out as a soup recipe if you prefer.

We're big fans of quick meals in under 30 minutes. This curry recipe is perfect for beginners, so you don't need to be a kitchen expert to whip it up. We suggest adding diced chicken breasts or tofu for extra protein for a well-balanced meal. It's one of our favorite chicken recipes and the most delish cheap dinner ideas.

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This recipe is incredibly versatile because you can use any fresh veggie and any pasta variety. We love that it's light and refreshing and can be the star of the meal or used as a side dish later in the week.

Experts

  • Shana Meckler, MS, RD, LDN, is the founder of Something Nutritious, a private nutrition practice offering individualized counseling and meal planning services.
  • Colleen Wysocki, MS, RDN, CLC and owner of ZEST Nutrition.

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