Being a new parent can play havoc with your bank balance so try these healthy cooking cutbacks and meal ideas for babies and toddlers that won’t loosen the grip on your purse strings.
1. Have a master plan
Planning meals and writing shopping lists may seem boring and old fashioned but it works. In fact, according to personal finance website Thisismoney.co.uk, you could save up to £10 a week by simply making one. Even better, go with a mum friend and swap lists: this way you’ll buy what each other needs and nothing more (and the children can entertain each other)!
“Planning can be a lifesaver for new parents,” says registered nutritionist and child nutrition specialist Charlotte Stirling-Reed from SR Nutrition. “It helps you stick to a strict budget, ensures plenty of variety in your baby’s diet (and that of your family), allows you to make foods in bulk and freeze, factors in leftovers, and lets you know what’s coming up so you don't have to think about what to make for dinner every day.”
2. Shop smart
Cost cutting in the kitchen has to start at the supermarket – in fact, as soon as you walk through the doors. Watch out for tactical shelf stacking, which means more expensive products are placed at eye level, and for shop layouts geared to getting you to walk past things you don’t really need, but will impulse purchase. And don’t forget the frozen aisle, says Stirling-Reed. “Frozen fruits and veg are just as nutritious as fresh ones but they don’t cost as much, keep for a longer and are easy to use. Add defrosted forest fruits to yoghurt or cereal (instead of buying sugary ones) or use frozen spinach in purees.”
“Frozen fruits and veg are just as nutritious as fresh ones but they don’t cost as much, keep for a longer and are easy to use. Add defrosted forest fruits to yoghurt or cereal (instead of buying sugary ones) or use frozen spinach in purees.”
“Avoid expensive branded kids food too,” says registered nutritionist Sam Perkins from Happy Eaters. “If you want rice cakes, buy adult ones and break them up, if you want banana puree, buy a bunch and mash. Make up your own fruit mixes in pots, and buy rich tea biscuits rather than baby biscuits as there’s very little difference.”
3. Double up
Flex your frugal muscles by creating multiple baby meals from just one ingredient:
- Butternut squash - carve into quarters and blend one with onion, milk and butter to make soup, serve another with rice and mascarpone in a risotto (for older toddlers), roast and mash the third quarter with garlic, herbs and crumbled cheese, and make roasted cubes out of the fourth – great for building with!
- Tomato sauce - “I always make a large batch with hidden veggies and it’s a good base for pasta sauces, home made pizzas or bolognaise, and a great dip with breadsticks,” says nutritional therapist and health coach Maria Mitchell.
- Chicken -“Enjoy a roast together, then mince the meat to make chicken and herb rissoles or a shepherd’s pie,” says Jane Clarke, top nutritionist and dietician from Nourish by Jane Clarke. And use up the carcass too. “When the meat is finally cut off the bones, the carcass still has value,” says registered nutritional therapist Maria M Griffiths from the Family Nutrition Clinic. “It can go into the pot again and be cooked up with vegetables and pulses to make a wholesome soup or stock that can used in all sorts of dishes and purees.”
- Natural yoghurt - “Add to cereal instead of milk, or freeze with fruit to make lollies in the summer,” says expert dietician Annemarie Aburrow.
4. Waste not, want not
We’ve all done it – cooked enough to feed an army and the mid-week supper turns into a food waste mountain! Using up leftovers is the number one way to slash your shopping bill because it means you will make more meals from what you buy, and buy less overall. Vegetable scraps collected over several weeks can be frozen and used to make soups and purees, soon-to-be-rotten root veg can be used in cakes to bake with the kids and even tired bread crusts can be reinvented as grilled mini ‘pizzas’ with a squeeze of tomato puree and cheese, or made into bread and butter pudding.
“Use leftover mashed potatoes in croquettes with flaked salmon and dill for an easy fish cake,” says Maria Mitchell. “And leftover veggies from the Sunday lunch can make a lovely soup for small children – throw in a few handful of lentils and some stock and you have a tasty nutritious meal.” Or use pasta leftovers in mini ‘omelettes’, says Perkins. “Add spoonfulls to cup cake cases on a baking tray, add beaten egg and bake for cheat’s frittata that’s easy to make and kids can eat like savoury cakes.”
5. Freeze ahead
Don’t fill your freezer with ready meals; see it as an extension of your store cupboard. Make bigger batches of meatballs, pasta sauces, soups, even hummus, and freeze half in yoghurt-pot sized portions (or ice-cube sized portions for very young babies) so you can defrost when you need them. “Peel and chop old brown bananas and put them in freezer bags, then blend with a bit of plain yoghurt or coconut milk to make homemade ice-cream – you can also add dark cocoa powder to make it a chocolate version,” says nutritional therapist and family nutrition expert Catherine Jeans. “Any leftover herbs can also be blitzed and frozen in ice cube trays to add to stocks, soups and casseroles.”
6. Swap those snacks
Snack foods can be one of the biggest outlays for parents (not to mention providing a trolley loads of salt and sugar), so ditch the expensive branded finger foods in favour of these quick and easy homemade swaps:
- Baby biscuits for buckwheat pancakes. “Just mix eggs with milk and buckwheat flour and add any pieces of fruit or veg you want,” says Jeans.
- Baby porridge for a bag of oats. “We spend masses on baby porridges and ready made oat bars but oats in their basic form are super cheap,” says parenting blogger Jo Middleton. “Make your own granola, or whip up batches of flapjacks with whatever you have in your cupboard. They are great added to crumble toppings too, sweet or savoury.”
- Veg puffs for veg crisps. Thinly slice root vegetables such as beetroot and parsnip and roast on a low heat until crisp.
- Rusks for dried cake. “Cut Madeira cake or fruit bread into fingers and bake in a slow cooker over night,” says Maria M Griffiths. “A big batch will stay crisp for many weeks in an air-tight container.”
- Pouches for meatballs. “Keep some mince aside from your main meals, and roll up with a few herbs and a bit of beaten into mini meatballs, and gently dry fry. They make great finger foods,” says Jeans.