After airfares and accommodation, the next biggest expense when travelling is usually food. And when there are 7 of you, that’s a lot of food! However, it doesn’t need to break the bank. And for us, it didn’t. In fact, most weeks we spent a similar amount to what we would spend on groceries for a week at home, and we still ate well. Very well! And here’s how:
To begin with, we did not eat out a lot. In fact, we averaged one to two restaurant meals a week over the whole ten weeks. The main reason for this was cost. Even in ‘cheaper’ countries, 7 mouths to feed adds up and while I do believe that eating out in a foreign country is a crucial part of travel and experiencing different cultures, you don’t need to be doing it every day. When we did eat out it was great and we always made sure to have at least one ‘authentic’ meal out in each country we visited.
Some of these included schnitzels in Germany, pizza and pasta in Italy, crepes in France and hearty pub meals in England. Not only did we eat some fantastic (and some not so fantastic) food, but we also had some truly memorable experiences. A family with five kids eating out in a restaurant certainly draws some attention and we very often found ourselves in conversation with amazed, amused and intrigued staff and fellow diners. During one meal out in England, the owner of the pub we were dining in was so taken with baby Ben that after holding him for ages, took off with him (with me close behind), bringing him to his house above the pub to show his wife!
Aside from the money factor, eating out can be quite a task when you have five children with you (or any for that matter)! It takes some work and a lot of energy! We always tried not to eat out if the kids were tired or in meltdown mode and would always bring some colouring with us to keep them entertained. One time in Liverpool we decided to really treat ourselves and, being big Jamie Oliver fans, we went for dinner at Jamie’s Italian restaurant. A little more sophisticated than where we would usually eat out with our kids, the place was completely full and the only other children there were in their teens. We were so self conscious about having our kids with us and concerned they may disturb people, that we struggled to relax. One couple kept looking over at us and talking quietly to themselves and I was convinced they were annoyed having our children nearby. Halfway through our meal the lady approached us and instantly my heart began racing. Were we about to be ‘told off’ for bringing our children here? I think I went into shock as she proceeded to tell us that she just wanted to congratulate us on having such well behaved children and that we should be very proud. I had to do everything in my power not to jump up and hug her! I know it’s not really a big deal, but for us it was. And she was right! Our kids actually were being really good, as they often are, and we needn’t have been stressing. We shouldn’t feel the need to apologise for having children with us (until maybe they start fighting and throwing food…….)! And from that moment we had a really enjoyable night!
One other reason we didn’t eat out much – we didn’t have time! Going to a restaurant is quite a time consuming thing, especially with kids. You decide where to go, you get ready, you go wherever it is, order, wait, eat, leave etc…… Bam! There goes two or three hours! Most of the time, wherever we were, there was so much to see and do, it was simply easier and made more sense to have some simple food and spend our time and energy exploring.
As with dining out, this is not something we did often, but still something we enjoyed once or twice a week. This was definitely the easiest option when it came to meals, although not really the healthiest and quite often not the cheapest either. We would opt for takeaway when we were either pushed for time, hadn’t been to or couldn’t find a supermarket, or simply wanted to try a particular food popular with the locals. Besides, it’s illegal to visit England without having fish and chips, isn’t it? It was also a real treat for the kids trying various fast foods in other countries and extremely entertaining watching Peter attempting to order through a drive-thru in another language! We had fish and chips in England, waffles in Belgium, bratwurst in Germany, pizza in Italy, burgers and pastries in France and our absolute favourite – chips with curry sauce in Wales.
This was our main way of eating. And I’ll tell you, regardless of how much money and/or time we have, this will always be our number one way whenever we are in The UK and Europe. Here’s why:
- It’s fun! For us, grocery shopping is a travel experience in itself. We love looking through foreign supermarkets, discovering all the new and interesting foods and choosing which to try.
- Picnics everywhere! When on the road, we would buy our lunches and dinners from supermarkets along the way. We’d then just stop somewhere that we liked the look of to eat our meal which would usually consist of chicken or cold meat, fresh bread and a variety of salads. The kids could be as noisy and messy as they liked (or we could put up with…) and we could enjoy our often very unique surrounds.
- ‘Home’ cooking! As we stayed in a lot of Airbnb accommodation we often had a whole, fully equipped kitchen to make use of. We could plan ahead, shop for a few days meals, and then cook and eat in the comfort of our ‘home’. This was especially great in Paris where we spent a week in a three bedroom apartment. We would walk to the local market, stock up on fresh meat, cheese, vegetables and fruit and then cook big, hearty meals. So much fun and super tasty!
- Really learning about and enjoying the foods and delicacies a country has to offer. We quickly found our favourite foods in each country and these became staples during our time in each place. In Germany our meals often revolved around sausage and creamy potato salad. In Italy we lived on tomatoes, salami, cheese and olives. In France we didn’t go a day without a fresh baguette and creamy camembert or blue cheese and we ate more pan’au’chocolat than I should admit to. And then there’s England. All I can say is if you haven’t heard of or tried Coronation Chicken, go and find some now. Seriously, stop reading this, open up skyscanner and book a flight to England NOW! Trust me!
- So cheap! We couldn’t believe how cheap some of the food we bought was. In Europe especially, we found many, many things cost a lot less than they do in Australia. Even in the UK, where we had heard groceries were quite expensive, we found ourselves paying less than or at least the same as we do in Australia. It was actually really fun and exciting comparing prices and finding great deals on amazing, tasty foods. Germany was definitely the winner for us in terms of ‘cheap’ food. In Australian dollars, a whole wheel of Camembert cheese cost us around $1, a can of beer was around $1.20 and fancy, individual yoghurts were 30₵.
- Fresh, healthy and plentiful! It can be difficult finding a healthy option when eating out, especially when there is so much ‘not so healthy’ and extremely tempting food on offer, and especially with children. With self catering you have an open pantry, so to speak. We would buy beautifully fresh and tasty fruit and vegetables and make healthy meals and picnics, packed full of flavour and goodness. The kids learnt a lot from this too, really enjoying getting involved in choosing the produce and helping cook and prepare.
So there you go! That’s what and how we ate during our ten weeks in The UK and Europe. We ate very well and experienced all manner of foods and all up spent an average of $300 AUD a week on food for the seven of us, and that’s including all meals out!