8 Tips for Meal Planning on a Budget

It’s always a relief to save money, but you might feel like you’ve exhausted all the usual tips. You turn off lights in unused rooms and reduce how often you shop for clothes online. Now it’s time to target your grocery budget and save money to put toward your financial goals.

Meal planning is the best way to get your food spending under control. Check out these eight tips for meal planning on a budget, so you know how to start and why it saves people tons of money every year.

1. Create a Calendar

Think about how you keep track of your upcoming events and commitments. Do you rely on a paper planner or an electronic calendar? Use whichever method you prefer to create a weekly or monthly meal plan.

Deciding what you’ll have for breakfast tomorrow won’t have the same impact as figuring out your meals for the coming week or month. You’ll know exactly what you need to make those meals and only go to the grocery store once or twice to pick up what you need.

Planning one meal each day is an easy baby step into this new routine. As you get the hang of it, you can plan three daily meals and create subsections in your calendar to keep track of everything.

2. Find Simple Recipes

After you know what you’ll use to plan your meals and how many meals you’ll schedule, it’s time to find simple recipes. Look for recipes you’ll love that use only minimal ingredients, like risotto with steamed chicken breasts. You can also scan the ingredient list for things you can use multiple times, like a can of Cajun seasoning or a bottle of lemon juice.

You might have a long grocery list after you finish your first weekly or monthly calendar, but remember that you’ll use most of the seasonings and other ingredients multiple times.

3. Make a Grocery List

Now that you know what you’ll eat in the coming days, make your grocery list. Go through each new recipe and write down what they require. Take the finished list and a pencil to your usual grocery store and record how much each item costs.

Finding the exact prices before you intend to buy anything gives you the chance to add everything up and figure out the total at home. You can adjust your meal plan as needed to reduce how much you need to get.

4. Celebrate Meatless Monday

A five-pound pack of ground beef or package of chicken wings is often the most expensive part of anyone’s grocery list. Cut costs by having meatless meals any day of the week.

Using beans, eggs or lentils as your main protein source is much more budget-friendly than meat and just as effective. It also helps the planet, since meat production creates 11 times more greenhouse gases than plant-based foods.

Go green and save money when you make a veggie burger for dinner, instead of another night of spaghetti and meat sauce.

5. Use What You Have

Don’t forget about the food you have at home. Part of your meal plan can involve using up the canned soups in the back of your pantry or the frozen bag of mixed veggies in your freezer. After you empty your cabinets, plan a regular inventory check to prevent yourself from spending money on food you already have.

6. Incorporate Your Leftovers

Even if you don’t have a large family, there’s no reason to shy away from meals like lasagna or casseroles that yield many servings. Remember, you can always eat the leftovers for your next few meals. Using leftovers from whatever dishes you make means you get to buy less food and plan fewer meals. 

7. Compare Local Prices

Everyone has a preferred grocery store, but that doesn’t mean you’re getting the best deals. Take your next grocery list to different stores around town to look for better prices. You could find fresh produce at the farmer’s market or meat on sale at a bulk store.

Finding even more budget-friendly groceries makes it easy to plan cheap lunch ideas and other meals because you won’t worry about ringing up the total at the cash register.

8. Show Off Your Calendar

When you tape your meal plan to your fridge, you’ll remember what meals you can look forward to. You’ll feel less tempted to panic at the thought of tomorrow’s food and resort to costly drive-thru or delivery dinners.

Embrace Your Food Freedom

People often confuse meal planning on a budget with getting caught in a culinary trap. As long as you don’t get stuck in the routine of your first week or month of meals, you’ll find food freedom. Rotate recipes to keep things interesting. Play with your budget to save money and savor every meal that comes out of your kitchen.