7 Genius Grocery Budgeting Tips From A Mom Of 7
Read ‘em and keep.
Jackie B. is the biological mother of seven humans between the ages of 6 months old to 17 years old, living together in the East Bay of San Francisco, California. (Her daughters are 8 months, 3 years, 5 years, and 9 years old. Her sons are 12, 14, and 17.)
As the sole preparer of food in her family, she deserves an award for keeping every one of her kids’ bellies full without going bankrupt. Here's a peek at how she manages.
1. Let them eat cake, er, school lunch!
In California, where Jackie lives, public schools serve a free lunch to all kids beginning in kindergarten. "My kids say the food at school is disgusting," Jackie admits. "Other parents might be more accommodating and willing to pack lunch, but I say, 'figure out a way to eat it. If you don't eat it, it's your problem.'"
When she makes lunch for her youngest children, you better bet she forgoes those fancy bento boxes. "That's not what my kids' lunches look like," Jackie says without a hint of guilt. A pack of Goldfish, a Go-Gurt, and some leftover pasta or a bagel is fast, filling, and ultimately, less costly (and time-consuming!) than packing teeny-tiny snacks in every itty-bitty lunchbox hole.
And she doesn't pack sandwiches — in part because she would go through a whole loaf of bread (and, like, an hour) to pack one for every one of her kids. "They don't like them," she says of the handheld meals, with zero sense of defeat. "I go for convenience."
2. Go ahead: Give up on organics.
"I don't feed my kids complete crap, but we're not eating organic," she says, noting that it's simply beyond her budget. That said, there's a pretty big difference between conventionally-grown produce and, say, Cheetos, she notes. (Although those have their place in childhood, too!)
3. Put pasta on a pedestal.
Let's all pause and praise the lord for pasta, a cheap, convenient, and filling meal-in-a-box that's incredibly kid-friendly! Jackie's kids eat it right up — one reason she makes four boxes in one go, then considers all seven of her kids fed.
That pasta is vegetarian is just another perk: Steak tacos are nice, but rice and bean burritos are cheaper, Jackie notes. It helps that her kids enjoy other vegetarian staples, like tofu right out of the container and avocado toast.
4. Behold breakfast for dinner.
It doesn't have to be bacon and eggs or even festive fare like pancakes and waffles. Did someone say "cereal"? It's part of Jackie's regular dinner rotation since it's the lowest-touch meal you can make, and every kid can find a kind they love. Pass the milk!
5. Do schedule delivery.
Jackie's local grocery store offers delivery for a $99 annual fee and a $35 minimum. "That's four boxes of cereal," she notes — a quantity her family flies through fast. Leaning into local grocery delivery services despite annual fees might feel counterintuitive, but it saves valuable hours — a commodity you really can't part with when so many small people are vying for it. Time is money, mom friends. It's also why, when you consider the cost of your labor and do the math, one big batch of mac and cheese is cheaper than two small batches your kids can eat again tomorrow.
6. Embrace bulk shopping and sales.
While it's easy to drop by Trader Joe's or Safeway for a gallon of milk, you'll pay for that convenience when you're buying six gallons a week, like Jackie. She religiously reserves items like milk, eggs, and other bulk items for her Costco list.
Meanwhile, when a local bakery sells their bagels at a steep discount once a week — you better bet Jackie's first in line.
7. Put your money where their mouths are.
Everyone knows throwing out uneaten food is as good as throwing money out the window. Along with food battles, this is something Jackie tries to avoid: "I don't overly accommodate for my kids; I just make what they like — no Brussels sprouts and broccoli," she says. (FWIW, it's not like they're getting scurvy: They just prefer carrots.)
Besides serving food that her kids actually enjoy, she makes sure she serves up leftovers. When there are fewer portions of last night's pasta than kids, Jackie doles it out to two or three of her kids, then serves different mains (like chicken nuggets or yogurt) to the rest of them. No harm, no foul!