Feeding a hungry family can sometimes seem as if it might make you go bankrupt, especially if you’re dealing with picky eaters and limited palates. Clipping coupons can help, but saving 50 cents here and there isn’t quite as valuable as choosing budget-friendly foods in the first place. Using shelf-stable ingredients, buying in bulk, and re-imagining classic foods in new ways can all help when you’re trying to satisfy a ravenous toddler and don’t have a lot of money to do it.
Mini muffins: Muffins you can buy are neither cheap nor healthy, but when you make them at home, they cost pennies per serving and can be quite nutritious. A full-sized muffin can be a bit much for a toddler, so bake healthy muffins in a mini muffin tin instead. Use whole-wheat flour and ingredients like shredded zucchini, carrots, pineapple bits, mashed banana, or frozen fruit to add vitamins and minerals.
Rice pudding: There are fewer bulk foods that are more affordable than brown rice, and it makes an excellent pudding. To cook up a healthy (and budget-friendly) version, skip the heavy cream and use milk instead. Add a small amount of sugar, honey or maple syrup to sweeten the pudding without going overboard.
Tofu pudding: Tofu by itself has very little taste, so it’s very suitable for toddlers who are against strong flavors. To make a protein-rich pudding that’s less sweet and far healthier than the instant variety, blend a small block of silken tofu with a few tablespoons of honey or maple syrup. To flavor the pudding, add cocoa powder, vanilla extract, or peanut butter.
Smoothies: Smoothies are among the most famously successful of all snacks for kids, and they’re a snap to make. If you use pricey ingredients, though, they can be fairly expensive per serving. To end up with shakes that are more affordable, use a base of milk instead of yogurt and blend with frozen fruit instead of fresh.
Hummus: Toddlers don’t yet know that hummus is supposed to be a “health food” that they should avoid, so take advantage of that and try to introduce it early. The priciest ingredient you need to make the dip is a jar of tahini, but a little goes a long way. Serve hummus spread on whole-grain crackers or with fresh fruit and veggie sticks.
Graham crackers: You can make your own graham crackers if you’re feeling extra frugal, but even the packaged varieties are relatively affordable. Due to their slight sweetness, grahams don’t need any more accompaniment than a dish of applesauce or a glass of cold milk, and they also form great crispy bread for mini “sandwiches” of fresh fruit slices or peanut butter.
Packaged cereal: In the cereal aisle, look low. Economy-sized, off-brand cereals that are just as nutritious as the well-known boxed versions lurk on bottom shelves, and they’re far more affordable than their counterparts. Buy several varieties and toss individual servings into plastic bags to serve as portable snacks, or mix cereal with dried fruit, popcorn, nuts, granola, and a few chocolate chips for a cheap, tasty trail mix.
This post was contributed by Carly Schuna, who writes occasionally about theatrical costumes at StarCostumes.com.