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10 Healthy ways to stretch your food dollar with your kids

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Food prices are rising and many families are struggling to put healthy, affordable food on the table.

There are many ways to help stretch the family food budget, including lots of ways that are also great for kids in other ways.

Some of these pass on skills that can serve kids later in life, such as gardening and cooking from scratch. Many of them have educational value, working in math and science. And all of them involve spending time together and creating family memories.

Here are ten ways to save money on groceries that are wonderful for the kids on all sorts of levels.

Pick your own
Pick your own Alicia Bayer

Pick your own

Take your kids to pick-your-own farms to gather fresh fruit like strawberries, blueberries and apples.  Not only will it taste better than anything in a store, but it will also have more nutrients since it will be fresher and it costs far less.  Oh yes, and it's also fun!

Plant a garden
Plant a garden Toria Bayer

Plant a garden

Planting a garden is a timeless way to save substantial money on groceries.  It also teaches kids wonderful skills, gives you more nutritious food, and allows you to introduce the kids to great new flavors.  Kids also tend to eat more fruits and vegetables when they helped grow them themselves.

Consider planting kid-friendly veggies like cherry tomatoes, purple carrots, striped beets and peas (fun to eat straight from the pod!).

If you want ideas for recipes to use your garden produce, see my Cooking from the Garden board on Pinterest.

Teach kids to cook from scratch
Teach kids to cook from scratch Alicia Bayer

Teach kids to cook from scratch

You'll save a lot of money cooking from scratch and it's also a great way to have fun together.  Kids will learn more valuable skills, and the food will be tastier and healthier. 

For ideas on what to cook with kids, see my Cooking with Kids board and From Scratch board on Pinterest.  You can also check out my husband's Cooking With Kids column.

Clip coupons together
Clip coupons together morgueFile

Clip coupons together

There is something magical about coupons to most small children.  Not only do they love to clip them (which helps fine motor skills) but they love to sort, stack, organize and play with them.  Go through the Sunday ads together and sort, cut and file coupons, then enlist your child to help find coupons as you shop.  Your child will work on reading and alphabetizing skills, plus math skills (money).

You can also find coupons to print online and visit sites to ask for additional coupons by mail.

Look for free windfalls
Look for free windfalls Alicia Bayer

Look for free windfalls

Sometimes there are sources of free foods from friends and neighbors if you just know to look or ask.  Many people have apple trees that they don't tend to, for instance, and they are happy to let you and your kids come and gather the apples rather than let them go to waste.

Neighbors often have rhubarb in their back yards that they never cut or more than enough garden zucchini for the next year.  Some people even post on Freecycle to let folks know that they have backyard produce to spare.  Let people know that you're happy to come pick their extras.  Thank them with a treat made with those extras later, to pass on even more valuable lessons to the kids. 

Sites like Falling Fruit are great for those in urban areas, too.

Learn the lost skill of foraging
Learn the lost skill of foraging Alicia Bayer

Learn the lost skill of foraging

There are endless sources of free, healthy, organic foods all around us if we look.  Learn about foraging as a great way to connect with kids, connect with nature and find nutritious free foods.  There are wonderful books available through the library and many great web sites and more (here are 25 Facebook pages to get you started and here are apps to make it easy).

We learned about foraging as a family and it's been a wonderful way for us to spend time outside, learn about plants, try new foods and save a lot of money. Our six year-old son Alex particularly loved gathering walnuts last fall and he personally collected many pounds of them. This photo shows Alex pounding the soft walnut husks with a rubber mallet to remove the nuts, which dried in mesh bags over the winter to be shelled in the spring, producing gallons of walnuts that we used for snacking and baking.  Other great wild edibles include acorns for acorn flour, mulberries, elderberries (great for flu-fighting elderberry syrup) and hundreds more. 

"Wildman" Steve Brill has a new foraging with kids book out that is also available as a PDF download (I hope to review it soon) and I have many wild edible tips and recipes pinned on my Wild Edibles Pinterest board.  My husband also has a new urban foraging column you can check out and many wild edible recipes in his cooking with kids column.

Eat seasonally
Eat seasonally Alicia Bayer

Eat seasonally

There are so many reasons to eat seasonally.  The food is fresher (not shipped from the other side of the world) and cheaper, plus it helps your family tune into the natural rhythms of the seasons.  Kids learn to look forward to fresh strawberries in June, corn on the cob in July and all sorts of pumpkin goodies in the fall.

Seek out growers in your area to find enough to put up for later in the year (ask farmers for "canning" grade to get imperfect looking foods at substantial savings).  Your kids will learn more valuable skills and you'll save a lot of money.

Learn about gleaning
Learn about gleaning Alicia Bayer

Learn about gleaning

Have you heard of gleaning?  Wikipedia defines this practice as "the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest."

Today, gleaning can mean many things.  It can mean contacting a local farmer and asking if you can come pick what's leftover in the fields for a low price.  A friend of mine gathered boxes of sweet corn with her kids for just a few dollars every summer this way.  It can also mean asking a homeowner if you can gather the falling plums going to waste on a tree you pass.  Larger cities in the U.S. offer workshops and even pass on locations of free excess produce in cities like San Francisco.

Organizations also help coordinate help for hungry families through gleaning principles.  The Society for St. Andrew explains their work as: "Gleaning is the traditional biblical practice of gathering crops that would otherwise be left in the fields to rot, or be plowed under after harvest. The Gleaning Network coordinates volunteers, growers, and distribution agencies to salvage this food for the needy."  Food for Free is another organization that gets food excesses to those who could use it.

This picture shows another type of gleaning, one that we use in our family.  The produce is from a farm family we buy from all summer and fall.  We purchased the melons and squash at the normal price. The tomatoes are "canning grade" we bought at a reduced rate and they threw in one of the flats because they were going to go bad soon.  The box of peppers were also tossed in since they were all imperfect (misshapen and such) and they had more than they could sell.  This same farm family also sells pumpkins for a dollar apiece after Halloween when all the ones that are left would otherwise go to waste.

Learn canning together
Learn canning together Alicia Bayer

Learn canning together

Canning is another lost skill for many of us that's worth learning with your kids.  Nothing tastes better than homemade grape jelly!  It's nothing like that purple stuff from the grocery store.

If you're lucky enough to have family members who do canning, see about getting together for a canning session with the kids.  Otherwise, you can learn from books or community classes.  This is a great way to make memories with the kids, teach them great skills and learn some new ones yourself -- and the results are tastier, healthier and cheaper!

Cook with some flowers!
Cook with some flowers! Alicia Bayer

Cook with some flowers!

Did you know that you can make dandelion syrup that tastes a lot like honey and is full of nutrients?  There are all sorts of ways you can cook with flowers, from growing nasturtiums for salads to making violet jelly.

I have lots of ways of cooking with flowers on my Edible Flowers board if you want some fun ideas.

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Whether you practice a few of these skills with your kids as a fun way to connect and save some money or use these strategies to keep food on the table, these can be wonderful ways to spend time together.  These practices give kids knowledge that can carry them through hard times and they help create memories that last long past childhood. 

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Want to stay in the loop? Be sure to subscribe to my column to be updated when I post articles. You can also find me on Pinterest and elsewhere on examiner.com on the topics of homeschooling, attachment parenting and my national attachment parenting column, and on Facebook at All Natural Families and A Magical Homeschool.

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