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Feeding your family on a shoestring is possible - here's how

Budgeting isn't always easy, especially when food prices are so high but with a few nifty tricks up your sleeve, it can be done!

by: Janine Dunlop | 18 Sep 2018
lady looking at her shopping slips

(image: iStock)

The petrol price has increased, the rand has tanked against the dollar, and there’s always too much month at the end of the money. A recent article on Fin24 tells us that South African families need an extra R1062.38 a month to be able to afford nutritious food and that the majority can no longer afford to eat healthily. 

At the end of her tether, a Cape Town mom posted a question to The Village Facebook group, a South African community of parents of tweens and teens, hoping to gather some clever tips on saving money on her weekly or monthly grocery shop. 

There’s no doubt that this is a hot topic: the thread took off, with parents weighing in on where and how they shop, and what to cook on a tight budget. In no time, a wealth of useful information emerged, from making use of cooking apps, to creative ways to bulk up a meal and feed a large family. 

Make your money and your meals stretch
Lentils, chickpeas and beans were firm favourites among the group members for making meals go further, while soya mince, mince, chicken, and pilchards were the most popular ingredients suggested for economical and nutritious meals. Popular budget-friendly recipe suggestions included a variety of soups, and a recipe called “railway stew” or “cowboy food”, which features sausage, beans, and tomatoes as a base and any vegetables to hand.

Some members swear by a “vegetable box club”, which delivers a box of vegetables per week, and ensures you eat a variety of fruit and vegetables. One member says that it encourages her to constantly try new recipes. Watching out for weekly or monthly specials and comparing prices at grocery stores was a common theme. One suggestion was to find out when close-to-expiry-date food will be displayed. Another member suggests only shopping at certain stores when specials are made available, as you can get food items at up to 50% lower than their usual price. “I understand that these specials can be fantastic - I know someone who gets many meals out of whatever pops up, you just have to stay a bit flexible and try new stuff.” 

Use free apps 
Some members suggest using free mobile apps like and Tasty, which help with menu planning, shopping, and budgeting. promises to “takes the thinking out of ‘What’s for dinner?’” by allowing you to plan your meals for the week and create a customised meal plan. The app also creates a shopping list for you, based on the recipes you have chosen for the week. The mom who suggests this app says, “Since using this app, we have almost no waste. And I don't have to think what I am making for dinner.”

Tasty, available on the App Store, calls itself a “cooking coach”. Offering 3000 recipes, it provides step-by-step instructions and, like Mealime, allows you to customise it according to your preferences, such as dietary needs, speed, and difficulty. 
Another member suggests Wuhu, which she uses to save money on her grocery shop. Previously called Unilever Deals, Wuhu enables you to search for cash discounts at a number of stores, download a coupon code, and then present it at the till to claim your discount. The app boasts around “700 000 subscribers that are returning on a monthly basis to get their favourite deals”.

Go online
Online shopping is frequently dismissed as a cost-saving exercise because of perceptions of high delivery charges, but one mom says she has managed to halve her monthly grocery bill by online shopping through one store: “One of the best things you can do for your budget is do your grocery shopping for the month online. ... It is clinical, quick, and no temptations as there would be in an actual store. I plan my meals for the week x 4. I buy groceries and all my cleaning stuff.” She adds that the store where she shops online has free delivery between 12 and 1pm. Other moms said they can vouch for this approach, as it reduces those high cost “impulse buys”. 

A number of websites were suggested as sources for low-cost recipes. One such example is the website and book, “Cooking on a bootstrap”. The book emerged after Jack Monroe wrote a blog post that went viral in 2013 about the struggle of looking for work as a single mom in the UK. The book is suggested by a mom who calls it “outstanding”. The website has free recipes, with (UK) prices for ingredients, and categorised sections for all preferences, such as breads, soups, beans and lentils, and vegan recipes. A bonus to this website is that the recipes include stories about each dish, written in a wonderfully conversational style.

jars of legumes and beans

The blog, The 1940s Experiment, is authored by a mom who wanted to lose weight and save money simultaneously. In a video about her blog, the author says that cooking authentic, wartime recipes saved her “thousands of pounds”. The mom who recommends this site has researched ration recipes for a class that she teaches, and the 1940s experiment, she says, contains “hundreds of recipes that are still great ways to stretch food and save money today.” 

ALSO TRY: Food24's collection of budget-friendly recipes

And finally, if going it alone doesn’t float your boat, one mom recommends the “Swap Cooking Ideas” Facebook group. She says that a similar question to the one posted on the parenting group had been posted and that “loads of recipes” had been exchanged. This idea of this group is to share ideas for recipes and it boasts almost 148 000 members. 

It’s clear from this social media thread that, in the face of a challenging financial environment, South African parents aren’t throwing in the towel. They are using creative and resourceful ways to ensure their families stay healthy and well fed. 


How to set a realistic monthly food budget and stick to it

(image: iStock) We all know how expensive food has become. And for many it's often hard to make ends meet in our current economic climate. In the past few months I've learnt how to cut my monthly grocery budget by a whopping 40% and I want to share the things that helped me do it.

TELLS US - how do you cut costs on food? We'd love to know!

Read more on: budget  |  recipes

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