How Jody Allen fed a family-of-four for $50 a week for four years.

Video by Mamamia Women's Network.

Jody Allen was on maternity leave with her first child and pregnant with her second when she was made redundant.

The loss of income put a huge strain on her family’s budget, and when the Adelaide mum did the maths, she realised they could only afford to spend $50 a week on food.

“I cried for about six weeks. Like everyone else, I absolutely fell into a heap until I realised it wouldn’t do me any good,” Jody told Mamamia. 

“That was when I got to work and thought, ‘well I’ve got absolutely nothing to lose, except everything if I don’t try’.”

Jody and her family. (Image supplied.)

So Jody set to work, first taking stock of everything in her freezer, fridge and cupboard and using it all up.

"I found out cans of creamy pumpkin soup and I don't even eat it. Just little things like that. You get into the habit of food shopping and buying the same thing over and over and you don't realise how much you actually have."

"So I started designing recipes that would use all that food up... that saved me a lot of money in the first couple of months."

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Next, she went about overhauling her shopping list, changing the way she cooked, and spending some time in the garden, to successfully get her weekly supermarket docket down to $50.

Jody, her husband, and her boys, now aged nine and 10, lived on that same $50 budget for four years. At the same time, she began sharing tips on her blog-turned-website Stay at Home Mum.

Now, Jody the author of four books, the latest of which, The $50 Weekly Shop: Weekday Dinners, is packed full of tips and recipes for how anyone can reduce their spend at the supermarket.

Because she's nice like that, Jody has a shared with Mamamia a few of the ways she keeps her food expenses in check.

Shop according to the season.

Still making mousaka when eggplants are $10 a kilo? It's not the best idea, says Jody. The mum-of-two sticks to fruits and veggies that are in season, because they're cheaper and out-of-season produce "tastes terrible".

Better yet, try growing some veggies in your own garden, so you know it will always be fresh. Even the yellowest of green thumbs can manage a herb garden.

"I do grow a lot in the backyard. Lots of herbs, lemons, watermelon, blueberries, things like that. They're easy to grow -I'm certainly not a gardener."

Treat your freezer like a filing cabinet/whiteboard.

Filing cabinets are great - if you've got one. They're the perfect place to store your important documents and (most of the time) they're full of labels so everything is easy to find when you need it. Jody's freezer is exactly the same. She says her leftovers are packed in clearly labelled containers, so you know exactly what's inside and when it was good. She also has a handy hint so you don't even need to open the lid to know what's inside.

"I use my freezer as a whiteboard. I write down everything I've got. It only takes a few seconds to update it as I go.

"So if I'm making curried sausages I'll cook enough for six meals and put a heap in the freezer for later - and it goes on the freezer."

Listen: Meg Mason shares why nightly cooking is a nightmare in her house. (Post continues)

Batch cook

Speaking of leftovers, Jody always has a huge supply. For her their not an afterthought or happy accident, but a major focus of her meal-planning.

"It saves me having to cook every night. I'm like every mum I'm busy as and I don't really like cooking," she confesses.

"Making a few things in advance and having them in the freezer eliminated that need to go to the supermarket every night or get takeaway."

To do this, Jody spends Sunday afternoon doing her grocery shopping and her cooking for the week ahead.

Keep a basket in the fridge

Always finding soggy lettuce and mouldy cheese in the fridge. Jody has a solution that she calls the "pink basket system".

"I have this pink basket that goes in my fridge. It's right in the middle so you can't miss it. Every item that is near its used-by date or needs to be used up goes in the pink basket and when I cook it's got to come out of that basket."

"If it's in your face you don't miss it... I really learned not to waste anything this way."

Shop the peripheral aisles of the supermarket.

"At the supermarket, I tend to avoid the middle aisles and I only do the outside. All the yummy things are on the inside I don't need, like Tim Tams," Jody tells Mamamia.

"On the outside, you'll find all the things you do need like your bread, your meat your milk, eggs."

Jody adds that she goes in with cash and only enough to buy the things she needs, so she's not tempted to overspend.

Jody likes to make things from scratch where possible. (Image supplied.)

Avoid pre-packaged food.

While picking up a big lasagne from the chilled aisle of the supermarket might seem like the best option on a Tuesday night on your way home from work, it's around double the price of cooking it from scratch and something that adds up over time. This is where your freezer of meals comes in.

Jody says some pre-made food, like supermarket brand choc chip cookies are the exception, but for the most part it's cheaper to make at home, with the added benefit of knowing exactly what's in it.

Snack less, or not at all.

To save money, cut the snacks between meals from your diet. This might sound a little revolutionary to the average eaters among us, but it was exactly the way our grandmas used to eat, and Jody says it's an idea worth revisiting.

"We don't do snacks in our house. We only have breakfast, lunch and dinner and if they don't eat, they starve."

"I find you don't really need snacks. We're getting our total nutrition from breakfast, lunch and dinner.

"But we will have dessert on the weekend as that little reward."

 

Don't be so strict you take the joy out of food.

Perhaps most importantly, Jody advises against getting too strict with meal plans. Yes, have discipline in the supermarket, but allow yourself the ability to treat yourself.

"Just because you're living on a budget doesn't mean you need to eat boring food," Jody says. "I add lots and lots of flavour to every meal because life's too short for boring food."

"There's a big difference in being frugal and being cheap. I'm frugal because I want to pay my house off, because I like a holiday and I'm saving for a pool. I'm not cheap. I'm not doing it just for the sake of it - I have an end goal."

For more tips and recipes, you can pick up a copy of Jody Allen's 'The $50 Weekly Shop: Weekday Dinners' from all good bookstores. 

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