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Eight affordable ways to feed your family healthy meals this year.

This year I’m determined to feed my family healthier meals without spending a fortune. It’s easy to buy healthy food when money is no object, but who can truly say that money is no object when it comes to food? So often I hear, “But you can’t put a price on your family’s health”. True, but a healthy family also needs lots of other expensive things like, say, a roof over their heads and clothes…that sort of thing.

It’s all about getting organised, and doing a bit of research, which it just so happens I have already done for you.

Get healthy this year. Image via iStock.

My big goals with my kids this year - and by kids I mean my children and my husband - is to get them all trying new foods, eating in a more structured way by avoiding endless snacking and increasing their intake of fruits and vegetables.

Instead of my lofty goals lasting for January only, I plan to get it all happening in January and then continue our new, affordable, healthy eating habits for the entire year.

Here are eight affordable ways to feed your family healthy meals that anyone can do. No somersaults or high-wire acts required.

1. Invest in a pantry freezer.

Pantry freezers are an affordable way to take advantage of specials. What good are four loaves of bread for $2 if you have nowhere to store them? So it's time for a pantry freezer, just like the one my friend's mum used to always have stocked up. I remember being at her house and she'd send us out to choose something for lunch.

Sausage rolls...always sausage rolls...

These days I make my own healthy sausage rolls. Pantry freezers don't mean you have to suddenly start feeding your kids unhealthy foods. Make your own sausage roll fillings (with vegetables!) using puff pastry you have stored in there and mince, and pre-prepared vegetable puree. Stock up on frozen berries for shakes, spaghetti sauce you've prepared for the week, healthy pizza bases and you can even freeze lean deli meats and anything else you have found that is on special.

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Buy in bulk.

2. Start buying in bulk.

Bulk buying has been impossible while shopping with three children in tow but this year, with all three of them safely tucked away in school I am finally going to join Costco and with a strict set of instructions to myself (stick to the shopping list!) I am going to take advantage of bulk buying.

My mother, sister and I had always planned to do this. We thought we could buy the things we all use a lot of like toilet paper, paper towels and passata and split it three ways.

Never run out of toilet paper again...

Bulk buying doesn't just have to happen at Costco. Whenever you see something on special, stock up. I have redesigned my grocery budget for this purpose. I still have a weekly amount I spend but I have set aside a monthly amount I use to stock up on specials.

3. Start cooking in bulk.

Designating a cooking day once a week is one of the best ways to save money and feed your family health foods. It stops you from ordering takeaway when you're tired or running late. If you already have a partially cooked lasagne in the freezer, you're all set.

Think of the healthy meals your family enjoys on a regular basis and pre-prepare them for the week. Think of easily freezable things such as casseroles, spaghetti sauce, lasagne, pizza bases, healthy chicken nuggets you have made yourself...anything they'll enjoy.

Also think of the unhealthy foods your children enjoy. Is there a better way to make them? Like making your own fish fingers by crumbing fish fillet pieces. It's not just about dinner foods, either. What are some healthy breakfast options you can make for the week? Banana muffins, frittata, pancakes and any other healthier versions of foods you know they enjoy.

Bake and freeze healthy breakfast and dinners.

4. Do meal swaps with family members.

The idea of doing meal swaps is such a great idea but you do need to ensure you're getting a good deal. I know my kids love my mum's vegetable fried rice and my sister's baked chicken. Then I could make them some of the pizzas they love or anything else their children would enjoy.

Doing a weekly meal swap is such a great idea because it mixes things up. Also, it doesn't need to be on the same night. My sister can request dinner from me on a night she knows she is busy and I'll ask for dinner from her on a night I know I won't have time to cook something healthy.

You can do this with friends as well. It helps if you live close to each other but if it's meals you can freeze then it doesn't matter so much.

5. Start a garden.

My children will eat as many cucumbers and zucchinis as I can give them and according to my mum, these are two of the easiest vegetables to grow. So far I have managed to grow tomatoes and parsley, but that's about it.

This year, it's time to step it up.

Starting a garden is so much fun for kids. I know that the childcare centres they've attended and the primary school they now go to have gardens. My daughter's preschool even had chickens that lay eggs.

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You don't need a large space for a garden. Just think of a couple of vegetables you know your kids will eat and aim to grow them. It will save you money in the long run and it will also give you a fun activity to do with your kids.

Start a garden.

6. Go local. Farmers markets, butchers.

I've been hearing about my local farmer's market for quite a while so I visited it and to be honest, it wasn't that cheap at all. Everything was quite expensive and I ended up buying quite a few foods I wouldn't normally buy that I didn't really need.

Then someone gave me a tip. Go an hour or two than before closing and suddenly you'll be able to bargain the prices down a little further. This works much better at larger markets in your area. Even if you just go once a month around closing time you can take advantage of excellent specials and these are the foods you can use during bulk cooking sessions.

Make it a family day out. Large markets are so much fun and if you give each of your kids maybe $2 or even $5 each, they can choose a little toy and this will stop them getting bored as you stock up on fruit and veg and everything else.

7. Turn leftovers into new meals or snacks or school lunches.

I used to have two large dogs so I never had leftovers after meals. Now, I have a lot of leftovers. Throwing them in the bin is so wasteful and I just can't do it.

Leftovers make excellent snacks for kids. I simply pack up leftover dinner and put it in the fridge. The kids eat it later in the night or after school the next day and I even use leftovers to pack my husband's work lunch.

Sometimes you can turn leftovers into other meals. Whenever I have any sort of leftover chicken I shred it and make soup. All you need is chicken, vegetables, corn and some pasta or rice and the kids will love it. Plus you can freeze soup for later and use it for lunches for as long as you like. You can also use leftover vegetables for soups and lasagnes and even savoury pancakes. Get creative.

Chickens as pets.

8. Buy some chickens.

I mean live chickens, not the frozen kind. Don't scoff. It's heaps of fun and it will save you a tonne of money on eggs. And chickens, if they run too slow. Just kidding.

Watching my daughter's preschool raise chickens and then have eggs made me realise how easy it could be. They bought the eggs ready to hatch and all the kids watched them hatch under a warm lamp. Then the chicks stayed in the little container with the warm lamp and the kids would gently play with them and feed them.

As they got older the chicks got a large pen and they would be given a couple of hours a day to run around before being returned to their pens. Then the eggs began. Eggs are expensive. Having chickens will save you so much money in the long run and chickens love eating scraps like carrot peelings and lettuce trimmings. 

What healthy changes are you going to make for your family this year?

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