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Ideas for cheap food for kids and fun snacks these school holidays

MyBudget founder Tammy Barton shares four practical suggestions on how to prevent a budget blowout on groceries during the school holidays, and how to find cheap food for kids.

Have you ever completed a huge grocery shop on a weekend and thought, “Right, we should be set for the week”, but your kids end up cleaning out the fridge and cupboards by Tuesday (or Wednesday, if you’re lucky)? Buying cheap food for kids can seriously reduce your spending and making fun snacks can be just that – fun.

With school holidays coming up, your kids may seem like bottomless pits when it comes to buying afternoon snacks for kids, especially fun snacks.

As a mum of three energetic kids, MyBudget founder Tammy Barton assures you that it’s totally understandable to feel a bit of financial pressure during this time, especially if you’re on a tight budget. Here’s her top cheap meal ideas for kids:

Take advantage of offers and buy in bulk

“Normally, I would buy whatever is on sale at the time,” Tammy says. “I’d have a look at the ‘Half-Price Specials’ section on Coles Online, and go from there. You’ll be amazed at the variety of items you can get,” she explains. You can also shop near closing hours at grocery stores and bakeries to get the best markdowns on meats and baked goods.”

Warehouse stores like Costco are fantastic for bulk-shopping everyday family essentials such as toiletries, canned food, and fresh produce at discounted prices. While these stores are few and far in between, you can still find opportunities for great deals from your local supermarket. For example, a Coles store in Victoria recently sold 5kg bags of dry pasta for one dollar each. Now that’s some cheap food for kids!

But how do you know where to find incredible offers like that? One of the best things about this digital age is the power to share knowledge and experiences easily at your fingertips.

Try joining Facebook groups such as Markdown Addicts Australia where people share the best shopping prices they come across including cheap food for kids and budget-friendly, fun snacks. Use apps such as Shopfully that lets you digitally browse most of the local shopping catalogues for specials and exclusive offers in your area.

Cook up and freeze-up

Cheap meal ideas for kids do require a little bit of preparation. Although convenient, most packaged foods aren’t as friendly on the hip pocket as cooking your own food. Dedicate one day a week for a few hours to cook and bake big batches of meals and afternoon snacks for kids to pop in the freezer. This will save you hours of cooking time daily!

Tammy enjoys baking savoury muffins such as zucchini bites, and cheese and ham muffins as a school holiday snack, and freezes half of them. For those days when you don’t feel like cooking, instead of spending money on takeaway, at least there’ll be plenty of homemade frozen meals and snacks in the freezer. Future you will thank you!

Not one to let a good deal go by, Tammy also advises buying frozen food items when they are marked half price. “Things like frozen pies and sausage rolls are a great go-to snack for the kids during the holidays,” she says.

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Ration and portion food for the week

Tammy doesn’t mind her kids snacking during the day. “Usually, they would be eating during recess anyway,” she says. “I keep small portions readily available for my kids, like fruit, yoghurt and muesli bars.” But, what if your kids are an insatiable hungry horde?

To keep little hands from helping themselves whenever they please, some parents stash afternoon snacks for kids at the top of the pantry, or find secret hiding places around the house like in the laundry cupboard – don’t tell us that you haven’t tried that before!

Here’s another idea: put out a fun snacks box that’s rationed for the week, and explain to your kids that once it’s empty, it’s gone for the week (and mean it). Let healthier yet cheap food for kids such as fruit & veggies be free to take at any time. Providing appropriate food portions according to their age and activity for the day will also help curb over-snacking in between main meals.

Here’s some cheap meal ideas for kids:

  • Soups with pasta, lentils, and seasonal veggies.
  • Cups of oats mixed with banana, peanut butter, honey, yoghurt/milk and chia seeds, chilled overnight.
  • Home-baked scones and jam.
  • Sausage rolls, vegemite scrolls or cheese & feta triangles baked at home with puff pastry sheets.
  • Tuna muffin melts. A big $4 tin of tuna will make a decent-sized batch.

Afternoon snacks for kids that will fill bellies:

  • Make your own popcorn with a bag of kernels and butter, heated in a covered non-stick pot.
  • Pancakes with whipped cream and maple syrup or honey.
  • Use an edge-sealing sandwich toastie maker to create all sorts of toastie snacks with last night’s leftovers, baked beans, etc.
  • Make your own flatbread pizzas with a jar of homebrand tomato paste and add ingredients that are already in the fridge such as cheese, olives and ham.

Budget & plan ahead as a family

Tammy advises that the best approach is to create a budget so that you have a visual trajectory of your income and expenses over a set period of time e.g. 6 months or 12 months. “It will help you manage your week-to-week finances easier, and prepare ahead for occasions like school holidays and its related extra costs such as camps and family outings. From the budget, you can then develop a shopping list based on this planner,” Tammy explains.

It also helps to include your kids in discussions about household budgeting as a family, and teach them how it works. Try making a budget together – for example, if your child wants a basketball hoop stand or a new bike, then the whole family has to budget together to make it happen. Lessons like this will help teach our younger generation important financial skills such as budgeting and prioritisation.

Do you need help with budgeting? MyBudget’s caring budgeting specialists can show you how to save as a family and budget for all the costs associated with school holidays every term so that you’re well prepared when it comes around.

Call us today on 1300 300 922 or enquire online for a free consultation.

This article has been prepared for information purposes only, and does not constitute personal financial advice. The information has been prepared without taking into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on any information in this article you should consider the appropriateness of the information having regard to your objectives, financial situation and needs.