Feeding 8 on a 4 Person Budget

Families with a lot of kids don’t necessarily earn any more money than their small family neighbors. And yet, bigger cars require more gas per mile.  More showers and more laundry, means more water and electricity use.  An $8 ticket to the zoo isn’t a big deal if you’re only buying 4, but buying 8 is another story.   When it’s time to buy shoes, it’s tough to buy 6 pairs instead of 2.   Hotel fire codes require large families to get at least two rooms. Then there’s the grocery budget.  What’s a big family to do?

We are steadily working on getting our income up, but while we do that, we do fewer spendy things.  When kids aren’t used to a lavish lifestyle, they appreciate the little things a lot more.

We almost always eat at home, so when we go to McDonald’s it’s a big TREAT.  Since it’s rare, we don’t have to let them order whatever they want off the menu to give them that feeling of excitement.  Everyone gets a $1 burger, ice water, and fries to share.  When we get home, if a kid is still hungry he makes a snack.

  1. We always drink water.

2. Fast food is a treat not the time to stuff ourselves.

When we go to a park or festival with food vendors, we pack a cooler from home.  Some parks won’t let you bring it inside the fence, so we plan to leave and have a picnic back at the car for lunch, then return to the park for the rest of our day.  Sometimes there’s a food there that we can’t get anywhere else.  Then we might buy some and cut it up so everyone gets a taste.  If you see the 8 of us gathered around a single funnel cake happily sharing bites.  Don’t feel sorry for us. The kids are thrilled.  Just getting to taste it was a big deal.

We went to the zoo to see cool animals, not to eat over-priced ice cream.  Replace the red words with whatever fits your situation. It helps to keep it in perspective.

3. Pack food when you can.

4. Share special treats.

The most expensive items on my grocery budget are meat and cheese.  We’ve found it’s possible to halve (or at least reduce) the amounts of meat and cheeses in most recipes and still meet everyone’s protein requirements.  This works great for casseroles, soups and stews.  I replace the bulk with another ingredient like beans, brown rice, quinoa or vegetables.

5.  When doubling recipes to feed your family, don’t double expensive ingredients like meat or cheese.  Replace the volume with low cost, high nutrition foods that are compatible with your recipe.

Growing kids are always hungry.  I have 3 teenagers, but the 12 year old is hungrier than all 3 teens combined.  I don’t ration food at our house.  There’s always something they are allowed to grab: apples, carrots, peanut butter and jelly, homemade bread or muffins, bananas, eggs, and milk.  If it’s not on the unwritten, “help yourself” list, they know they have to ask.  They are not allowed to eat all the leftover roast beef that I was saving for stew the next night, or snack on pepperoni or lunch meat.  They can’t eat all the granola bars in the lunch packing baskets.

6. Have a list of low cost, nutritious foods that your kids can have any time (except 30 minutes before dinner is served, lol.) Train them to ask for permission for other things.

7. Bake easy whole grain items like muffins, that are easy to grab and eat on the run or for after school snacks.

Breakfast should be the easiest low cost meal of the day, but food manufacturers have figured out how to make their money anyway.  A serving of Bran Flakes cereal is 10 cents.  Oatmeal is 7 cents.  A cup of milk is 18 cents. Eggs and a slice of bread are 5 cents each.  Half an orange is 15 cents….you get the idea.  While a grab and go cereal bar is $1.  Frozen waffles the same. Name brand fancy cereal is 5x’s the cost of plain.  What we’ve found is if the food is simple, homemade, and nutritious, our kid’s happily eat what they need.  But if it is pre-packaged to look fun or full of sugar, they gorge themselves.

8.  Teach the kids to be satisfied with simple, basic foods.


Big family or small, what are some ways you do fun things, feed nutritious foods and still keep the costs down?


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9 thoughts on “Feeding 8 on a 4 Person Budget

  1. Nicole says:

    When preparing dinner, i have cut up veggies sitting on the table for everyone to snack on. Works every time!

    Tonight, I cracked open a can of pears that’s been in the pantry for months, poured in a bowl and set it in front of my son and he ate the whole thing and then apologized for eating it all. I love it!!

    For my family I just have to prepare it and present it and they will eat it. I would rather go through the efforts than wasting the food. It’s so hard to throw away food.

    • Angela says:

      I love it, Nicole! It’s awesome that your kids are so good at eating fruits and veggies. Not wasting food is a great way to save money. It’s one I need to work on.

  2. Rejena says:

    I always have lots of sides on the table because every leftover side item is always available. Don’t like carrots? Fine, eat broccoli, or green beans, or rice, etc. we typically tell the kids they have to eat 2 different veggies. The choice is up to them. This gives my picky eaters some autonomy and fills them up so they don’t eat as much meat.
    My problem is them throwing away their school lunches. I have been asking them to bring everything back home so we least I know what is and isn’t being eaten. It’s frustrating, though to pay for food to be thrown away because the “don’t feel like eating peanut butter that day”! 🙄

  3. TonyaElise says:

    Yes to all of these! We really struggled financially for a couple years after I lost my job and we chose to really try to make it work with me staying home. Thank the Lord, my husband has a better job now (not just better money, but such a better fit for him), and we are blessed to be much more comfortable. But I still do these things. I cook with lots of beans and quinoa and oats. Or I add shredded veggies – squash, zuchinni, carrots, cabbage to recipes to make them stretch. I make homemade whole grain breads to go with meals so everyone doesn’t feel they need to eat more meat to feel full. Apples, bananas, and carrots are foods they can have anytime. And I love packing lunches when we go places. Besides the cost savings, I find if we eat fast food or concessions stand type food on those long days out with little kids, everyone is more tired and grumpy. There is still a place for that food in our life sometimes as a treat, but not on days when I need everyone to walk further, skip naps, and be extra alert to stay together and enjoy the zoo or park or museum. Also, I don’t want our museum days to be about what food we might get to eat. Maybe it is just my kids, but they will become distracted in the middle of a neat performance to think about or ask about what we’re going to eat later. Whereas, if they know we plan to eat foods that they are accustomed to, it doesn’t distract from the actual focus of the outing. There is such value to eating whole foods from home – nutritionally, financially, and otherwise!

  4. Gayle says:

    Happy Birthday! I learned some of these tips from my sister who had 4 kids and then unexpected twins! Thanks for more tips and the reminders!! I can really use them!

    • Angela says:

      Thank you, Gayle ;). Unexpected twins after baby #4 would be quite a surprise! My kids have been praying for twins for awhile. They are so jealous :).

  5. Carrie says:

    I REALLY DO want to cut my grocery budget but honestly, reading about the extremes you go to ,to do it are over the top!! I know that to save money you have to monitor what you’re spending and food is a big deal but it seems psychologically unhealthy for the kids. I know my mom had that kind of control over what we ate and it contributed to me ending up with an eating disorder that I’ve struggled with for decades. I don’t think I could ever live like that again, not when it comes to food and eating, it makes me me feel anxious just thinking about it. Worrying that someone, especially the mother is watching how much and everything you eat and only allowing particular foods as “Free” foods for snacks, I can’t imagine living that way, as the child, teenager or young adult.

    • Angela says:

      Carrie, I appreciate you chiming in. It doesn’t feel over the top here, but it’s the way it has always been. The alternative to not communicating what they can free graze on and what they can’t, is a teenage son eating all the roast beef I was planning for stew that night. It’s just having healthy boundaries. The rest, I guess is a little bit of sales resistance. There’s fancy ads and flashing lights going on all the time to encourage us to spend our money with them. We just spend it thoughtfully and within a plan we have that includes the bigger picture of our future goals. Expecting to cut a grocery budget without sacrifices is like a fat person expecting to lose weight without ever feeling hungry or deprived. It’s not going to happen. We just make sure our sacrifices come on the side of entertainment and not on the side of nutrition.

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