budget living spending

5 Tips for Meal Planning on a Budget

I used to struggle with my weight. I managed to lose 100 pounds in between my sophomore and junior years of college, and I’ve kept the weight off ever since! One of the keys to maintaining my goal weight is meal planning. It allows me to eat healthier than just going through the drive-thru as well as helps me to save money. Whether your goal is to eat healthier, save money, or both, I’ve found meal planning to be key in maintaining my grocery budget as well as maintaining my sanity (because, it is just me, or is deciding what you’re going to eat for dinner one of the most stressful parts of the day?) I’ve been meal planning for months and have learned 6 tips for meal planning success on a budget.

Keep a list of your favorite recipes.

This will cut down the time spent each week planning your meals, which will reduce some of the stress of meal planning. If you’re struggling to find recipes, look for inspiration on websites such as Pinterest and other foodie sites. For budget meal planning, two of my favorite websites are Budget Bytes and Feast on the Cheap, because they list the total cost of the supplies as well as price per serving. That way, I’m not shocked at the checkout!

Take inventory of your ingredients while planning your meals.

One of the keys to saving money on meals is to reduce food waste. Take a look at your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry and determine which ingredients expire soon. Also, take a look at your meal plan for the week and determine what extra ingredients you will have on hand. If one meal calls for chicken, try using the extra chicken in a second meal that week. Although we don’t have a large freezer by any means, I do try to buy ground beef and chicken in bulk and freeze the extra, which reduces the price per pound.

Use inexpensive ingredients in your meals and stretch out meat and proteins.

Some of the cheapest ingredients to buy include rice, beans, eggs, oats, potatoes, wheat, and corn. Since meat is typically more expensive than fruits and vegetables, try to use less of it or make it a side dish instead of the main dish. Also, an alternative to beef as a protein is to cook with salmon.

Plan your meals around what ingredients are in season and what is on sale.

I always check the sales circular while meal planning to see what is on sale, especially for more expensive ingredients like meat. If I have room in my freezer, I’ll buy a little extra to freeze as well. I also buy fruits and vegetables based on what’s in season. The US Department of Agriculture has a seasonal produce guide that I keep bookmarked on my computer for meal planning.

Visit a discount grocer like Aldi’s or Trader Joe’s.

Although I don’t buy all of my ingredients there, I love shopping at Aldi’s because I can get food for cheaper than any other grocer. Plus, Aldi’s has a smaller selection, so I’m not overwhelmed by all of the options! Most of Aldi’s products are store-brand, but I’ve found their store brand to be as good as the name brand products from other stores. I’ve also heard that shopping at salvage grocery stores, where the items you buy are close to expiration or have dents in the packaging, can save money.

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And here’s a bonus tip: Plan for leftovers.

In my household, I typically cook for just myself and my partner, Casey. Since most meals have at least four or six servings, we usually have leftovers. Casey and I eat them for lunch the next day. When Casey is away for military training, I have even more leftovers so I typically eat them for dinner the next night as well.

What are your tips for meal planning on a budget?

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Emilie Burke

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