By James Somper
A mum has revealed how she feeds a family of 10 for £150 a week – and is the queen of the “fakeaway”.
Caroline Barnett, 45, says her meal plans for each week are like a military exercise and that she’s able to save thousands of pounds each year through her thrifty tricks.
The mum-of-eight lives with her husband John, 46, and children Ellena, 21, Joshua, 18, Daniel, 15, Finlay, 11, Henry, 10, Sophia, 8, Florence, 6, and Emilia, 2, at the family home in Evesham, Worcs.
Supermum Caroline cooks everything from delicious takeaway favourites to lunchbox staples – like sausage and egg McMuffins, Nando’s-style chicken and cakes – entirely from scratch using healthy ingredients and never buys ready meals or pre-prepared food from the shops.
She keeps costs down by planing each week’s menu meticulously, making her own bread and cakes and saves time on washing up by giving each one of her eight offspring their own role in tidying up after dinner.
Caroline insists that her tight budget doesn’t limit the range of what she can whip up for her family and uses her creative touch to let the family enjoy fun meals that they’ll remember – like homemade fish fingers and jars of special, home prepared sweet treats.
She said: “I’m a mad planner, I plan everything. My motto is: ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail’.
“You have be military when you have a family this big.
“I’m a sergeant major without the shouting, all the children have a role within the house when it comes to washing up.
“I cook everything from scratch, everything we eat I make myself, I never buy ready meals.
“I like to know what’s in our food, the only way to feed a family is to cook from scratch, we all eat the same thing.
“When you get into the supermarket you get bombarded with stuff you don’t need. I hate waste, I try not to waste anything.
“If I get to a Friday and my fridge is virtually bare then I’m really pleased because then I’ve shopped well.”
Caroline Barnett, 45 of Evesham, Worcester plans family meals on a whiteboard planner
Caroline and husband John have to transport their clan around in the family minibus and have a strict morning routine to get everyone to school or college on time.
She does the weekly shop on a Saturday morning after she sits down and plans the seven days of meals she and her family will be eating.
Her typical weekly shop will consist of enough food for seven days worth of breakfasts, lunches and dinners.
Caroline said: “Breakfast is usually toast, cereal and fruit and porridge.
“Mornings can be a bit crazy getting everyone out on time.
“Lunchtime is mixed, some take packed lunches to school.
“My husband does the sandwiches and I usually add some cakes or sweet treats I’ve made myself, I try to avoid crisps.
“I don’t buy cheap, supermarket alternatives because I know I can save the money by making my own. I make my own bread, cakes and also make my own pizza.”
The supermum said instead of going to one supermarket, she shops around and is always on the look out for a bargain.
She said: “I shop around, I start off at Aldi where I get all my staples from such as tinned food, pasta, rice, passata and other sorts of thing.
“We’ll go to Tesco after that for other bits and I’ll get branded washing powder.
“I do my planning on a Saturday morning. I plan what we’ll have for the week and then I get out and go straight to the supermarket.
“If I’ve seen something that week that I like the look of or want to get the children to try then we’ll add that.
“We work about £140-£150 a week.
“I know what I’m going to cook in my head, it’s all there and I always try to be one step ahead.”
The main event of the day is dinner, which Caroline puts extra special thought into.
Suppers can range from an elaborate “kebab style” chicken shawarma to “cowboy pie” to classic crowd pleasers like spaghetti bolognese.
Caroline also does special “fakeaway dinners” which range from scampi in a basket to homemade fish fingers, chip butty’s with homemade bread eaten in the local park which she calls “chipnics”.
She said: “I try and make memories for the children by doing extra things to try and make each meal special.
“My idea is that they’ll look back on their childhood and they’ll say: ‘wow, do you remember when mum made that’.
“My main concern for dinner is to make sure it’s healthy. We have treats of course, life is dull otherwise. I want people to come together around the table and chat about their day.
“I cook things that anybody could cook, I’m a home cook, I’m a mum that enjoys cooking. I’ve got only a set amount of time to get food on the table, usually 30 minutes. Nothing takes too long.”
Caroline added that the size of her family can make going out for meals far from straightforward.
She said: “We do eat out, when we go on holiday we try to eat out as often as we can.
“We do special occasions and birthdays.
“However, we can’t just say, let’s go out, we usually have to plan it.
“The kids can have what they like as long as they eat it all!”
Caroline said that despite the massive size of her family, she and John never set out to have as many children as they have.
She added: “We never set out to have a large family. We wanted to have two kids five years apart but it didn’t work out like that obviously.
“We discovered that we loved having lots of kids, we both come from small families.
“We were fortunate enough to carry on and I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve had fairly text book pregnancies and births so we’ve been very luck that our family has been able to grow.”