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Let’s talk summertime. For many parents, this means your kids are home from public school. This is also when kids go from eating a few meals and snacks to eating almost non-stop. Something about that sunshine just makes kids more peckish.
Something I realized-
Homeschool parents don’t seem to have this issue. They have the kids home all year long so they already have a structured snack system in place and don’t see any additional increases in their grocery spending for summertime.
Parents who pack or pay for their kid’s lunches during the school year also don’t have this issue. Or at the very least, they don’t have it to the same extreme as those of us whose children receive free breakfast and lunch at school.
Children can receive free meals at school if they are low income or if they qualify for some program offered by the school or district. Some schools give a free meal regardless of income levels. So those of us who save money during the school year with our children eating for free at school, what can we do to avoid the sticker shock of summer groceries?
Some easy things we can do right from the start of summer:
Make a grocery budget
Your grocery budget should increase a little during these summer months to accommodate the extra feedings but not so much that you blow it completely out of the water. Find a happy middle ground that can still give a win-win scenario for everybody.
Make meal plans
Having an easy meal plan in place can help avoid the temptations of spending money on fast food delivery, impulse purchases and help you to stick to your grocery shopping.
Meal prepping in advance can really help to have food ready for kids every time they ask “what can I eat?” or say that they’re hungry. You don’t need to meal plan every snack and meal, but just having a few on hand can really help cut down on your time and stress from stopping what you’re doing every two minutes to feed them.
Some summer foods for kids that you can prep in advance:
Sandwiches– Almost any type of sandwich can do well made in advance, I personally love making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and then freezing them until morning, then I pull them out and put them in the fridge. By lunchtime, they are ready to go.
Pasta Salad– This always tastes better a few days after they’ve been made. You can even proportion them out into little baggies for easy serving sizes.
Freezer friendly breakfast burritos– not only does it give them something warm to eat in the morning, but it can also be filled with anything you want.
Homemade mini pizzas- using a bagel, English muffin, pita bread or even a flour tortilla can work! Just buy whichever cheap bread you want. Apply sauce, cheese, and toppings like you would any pizza. Freeze on a cookie sheet until solid, wrap up, bag and label. When your kid is ready to eat, just pop them in the oven until they’re ready.
Budget-friendly summer snacks you can keep on hand for your kids:
Keeping frugal snacks in the house can help too, but it can prove very useful to your budget to portion them out in advance and set a limit as to how many can be eaten a day.
- Popcorn– can be made even more cheaply if you buy the kernels and make your own popcorn instead of buying the pre-bagged or microwavable popcorn.
- Ice Pops
- Water– kids often confuse hunger and thirst, so especially during the hot summer months when dehydration can get serious, keep water on hand.
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Cheese, pepperoni, and crackers
- Yogurt (I don’t recommend the name brand GoGurts and single portion kid yogurts as these can be extremely expensive, and almost never worth the price tag. Offbrand can be much cheaper, but even better is to buy the large tubs of yogurt and then portion them out into smaller containers at home. The price per ounce is much nicer on the grocery budget.)
- Homemade granola
You might find that keeping healthy cold snacks on hand will be even more appealing to your kids on a hot summers day. So try to think of things that can be stored and eaten straight from the fridge or freezer as these will help to cool your kids off after a long day of playing outside in the summer heat.
Fresh produce that can keep fairly well:
Fresh produce is a great alternative to snacks and can be bought for cheap when in season. When your kid demands food because they’re starving, tell them to grab a fruit or vegetable. If they turn up their nose to it, then you know they are just wanting to eat out of boredom.
- Hummus or peanut butter for the fresh veggies
Tip: When you have WIC or EBT you can get double your money at your local farmers market to increase your savings on produce. This is just one of the money stretching perks for EBT users and low-income families.
Another idea is to have scheduled snack times throughout the day.
This way your kids can watch the clock and get a routine going, knowing that a snack will happen at 3:30 means they won’t come asking you for one at 2:30, 3, or 4 pm.
Pay attention to sales cycles and buy snacks only when they are on sale.
If they aren’t on sale this week, try to find something else that is. You’ll explore new options and prevent overspending. If it’s something that can be stored for a long time (or froze) and it drops to an amazing rock bottom price that is within your budget, stock up a little and enjoys the savings.
Free summer lunches to school aged children
This is a nationwide program, and you can find your location by texting FOOD to 877877 (or COMIDA to 877877 if you speak Spanish). Then answer the question asking for your zip code. After that, you’ll get sent the location and dates of your nearest meal program.
Most of the time it happens at a library or school, but you can get a kids meal for free if you take them to the location in your area. The only rule is that they must be a school-aged student.
Don’t underestimate the power of leftovers. Lunches can be made much cheaper when your dinner from the night before becomes a leftover for feeding your tiny army the following day. Not every adult has the ability to eat leftovers when they’re working somewhere without a microwave or proper cold food storage. So this can be a great way to use up food that would normally be wasted.
Ration the food and snacks that you do buy
This is great for older kids. If they can understand not eating everything at once, and the idea of rationing, this could work. Simply buy enough to cover a week or two at a time, and inform your kids that when it’s gone, it’s gone.
This will keep them mindful of their eating and help you to not need to run to the store for more food as the time goes on. It may take a few weeks before your kids take you seriously, but they will get the picture eventually.
Another idea for rationing
Get a shoe divider or plastic bin for each child and have them labeled with their names and/or the days of the week. Allot snacks for each child and you can use this as a way to see who keeps snacking.
Having your kids home for summer shouldn’t be a budget buster
Feeding the hungry little people on a budget is just as possible as it is all year long, it just requires a little more planning and foresight.
If you’re looking for a frugal activity, you can also do a pantry challenge as a family. Using up all of the food in your house before buying more food, can help to prevent waste and force even the pickiest of eaters to finish the food currently in the house before new products are bought.
*There is nothing wrong with scooping the center out of melons and filling them with vanilla ice cream or froyo and calling it dinner on a hot day. In fact, that might become one of those cherished childhood memories your kid reflects back on later in their life.
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