This New Jersey Mom Keeps Her Family Eating Clean on a Budget — Here's How
Angela Sackett and her husband have raised five children, so although they're down to just two minor sons still living in the home, she has plenty of experience buying a lot of groceries for a crowd and making the budget go far.
Home for the Sacketts is Long Beach Island, New Jersey, where the family is active in the church community, "so we have a lot of people in our home," she says. During the pandemic, the entertaining has largely moved outdoors, but it's as important to her as ever. "We're still trying to maintain that connection because it's really important when people are struggling with isolation."
In fact, hosting people and sharing food is Sackett's primary objective and delight, even if it means forfeiting vacations or other splurges. "I would never be willing to give up providing a meal in order to have some other thing," she says.
Sackett puts her weekly food budget at about $200, about half what it was when all seven family members lived under one roof. (Two adult kids are now married; one is on a mission trip abroad.)
Although Sackett also works as a food photographer, blogger, and coach, "we're primarily a single-income home, and we've been a ministry family for a lot of years. So the budget has always been pretty tight."
A DIY Approach to Eating at Home
One of the ways Sackett saves money is by avoiding packaged bread and baked goods, which can get spendy. And it's because her kids love to bake that she's able to avoid the packaged stuff easily.
"I've given them a lot of freedom in the kitchen, which I didn't grow up having," she says. "It's helpful in that I don't buy a lot of [bakery items] pre-made; if we do, it's a splurge and it's unusual."
Baking isn't the kids' only forte either. "They're pretty industrious that like that," she says. "My 12 year old makes better eggs than any restaurant."
The Sackett family also hunts multiple times each year, which saves on grocery store meat. "We almost always have a full freezer of deer," she says.
Leftovers Come First
Sackett notes that she does buy organic meat at the store. So when she's cooking with meat, she makes it stretch by planning for leftovers.
The key to leftovers, she notes, is putting them aside before the meal as a strategy. "Then I'm prepared if we have an unexpected guest or want to have leftovers for another meal," she says. "Cooking a couple whole chickens on the weekend or early in the week gives me meat for chicken salad, my favorite Thai-inspired chicken soup, and more. In fact, I often double proteins when I cook them to make several meals."
This means she's not setting aside a full, formal meal-prep day, but instead simply "getting a little ahead with every meal and stretching those proteins." She continues, "Soups and casseroles seem old-fashioned but can be updated so easily and are a great way to stretch more expensive proteins."
Sackett also aims for her family to reframe the entire unbecoming narrative around leftovers. "I look at every meal as a meal and not necessarily as breakfast, lunch, or dinner" in the traditional sense, she explains. "I love leftover steak for breakfast. So, looking at dinner, what can I do with this protein tomorrow for lunch or for breakfast that isn't going to feel like leftovers? That has been huge because my kids tend to stick their noses up in the air if I say it's leftovers."
Develop a Smarter Shopping Strategy
Sackett is willing to splurge for her family to eat healthier, higher-quality versions of snack foods. She likes to shop online via sites like Amazon; Thrive Market, the membership platform for natural and organic foods; and the vitamin and organic grocery product e-retailer Vitacost, which does not require a paid membership.
And here's her pro tip: Some sites will send a coupon to your email if you leave items in the cart without finishing the checkout process. Waiting for that coupon to come in has saved Sackett cash from Vitacost.
She also has to make extra efforts to find clean-eating snack food, in part because she cites her geographic area as not having many available options. "There's only one farmer's market that I even can get to within a half hour, and the prices are ridiculous," she says.
She also makes the drive to Trader Joe's, and loves to shop at Aldi. "Things you'll get will be in the exact same packaging," but offered much more inexpensively. "I have loved that they also have a great organic produce section. Their produce section in general is really good. It's limited, but I actually love that — because I'm in and out."
Be a Host on a Budget
Because Sackett and her husband host often, she's learned a few things about doing so without breaking the bank. She's comfortable asking people to BYO in some situations. And she makes batch recipes that go far — and that guests love.
"I literally I think I should write a book on soups someday," she says, because of how often she makes them — and how much she loves them.
First, they're cost effective. "I've used leftover meats to make a big pot of soup," she says. "And without fail, I have never made a soup that someone hasn't said, 'I want the recipe for this.' But usually I can't even give them the recipe because it's literally leftovers!"
Beyond that, soup is just timeless comfort food at a time when many people need soothing. "I feel like soups are underrated," she says. "They're so homey and welcoming."