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How We Create Meal Plans on a Budget

We know you’ve noticed the increase in food prices at the grocery store. And with prices rising across the board, it may feel like it’s impossible to stick to a budget when you grocery shop. With increasing costs in mind, Riley and I decided to try our hands at making meal plans centered around maximizing our dollars. We chatted about this in a recent episode of The Plan to Eat Podcast and we want to share some of our insights about what worked for us.

Below is a list of tips we found helpful for saving us money on groceries, but a highlight of our meal plans was intentionality. The mere fact that we were creating our meal plans with food cost in mind made a huge difference in what we purchased. We picked recipes deliberately so a single ingredient was used in multiple meals and not going to waste. We were conscious of serving sizes, what we already had at home, and how we could use leftovers as money saving meals. 

Not every meal plan needs to be on a budget, but when that is the case for your life, we recommend starting with intentionality around what you add to your meal planner. Budget meal plans do not need to be boring or filled with days of leftover casserole! You can still choose recipes your family loves and find simple ways to cut back on your grocery expenses.

Roni's week of budget meal planning
Roni's week of budget meal planning
Riley's week of budget meal planning
Riley's week of budget meal planning

Use up what you already have at home.

The first step to saving money is using things you’ve already paid for. We always recommend shopping at home before going to the grocery store, but when you’re on a budget, we recommend going deep! 

Scour the back corners of your cupboards to find forgotten items you have on hand. Crack open your freezer and dig for lost ingredients there too. We even recommend doing a dive into your spice cabinet, so you don’t purchase expensive spices you don’t need. 

Compile your ingredients and make a list of what you already have, so you don’t forget them when selecting recipes. 

Use Filters in Plan to Eat to find recipes containing items you already have.

Now that you are aware of all your at-home ingredients,  you can plug those items into the “with ingredients” filter of your Plan to Eat account. This will help you find recipes containing those items and will give you an idea of what else you need to purchase to complete the recipe. And if you find your recipe book lacking, go on an internet search for something new that could meet your needs and keep you on a budget!

Search for “budget friendly recipes”.

If you’re struggling to find recipes in your account that fit a budget meal plan, do some simple research! A quick web search will bring you hundreds of budget friendly recipes. We recommend Budget Bytes because she’s money conscious and breaks down her recipe by cost per serving. 

Use the same ingredients in multiple recipes.

One thing we both focused on with our budget meal plans was selecting recipes that were compatible with each other. We both happened to have multiple recipes with chicken on our plans, so we could simply cook the chicken once (or buy a rotisserie) and then use it for different recipes.

This can be an even bigger money saver if you happen to find a bulk buy on an item you need for multiple recipes. 

A personal struggle of mine is getting caught up in needing recipe variety each week. I choose recipes that each use completely different ingredients and end up buying items that only get used in a single recipe. Focus on recipes that work together, especially when it comes to sauces and spices that don’t get used as frequently. 

Plan recipes with a simple ingredient list.

A good criteria for a budget friendly recipe is a short and simple ingredient list. Seek out recipes with fewer items to easily save money. If you have all the spices on hand and only need to buy a few “main” ingredients, that qualifies too!

Plan recipes that can be scaled up to easily make leftovers.

Not everyone is a fan of leftovers, but utilizing them sometimes will help save money. Leftovers save money by decreasing the number of overall products purchased and only increasing the amounts. Because you are simply making a bigger batch and not two completely separate recipes, the cost per ingredient doesn’t actually go up that much. Particularly if you can get items that are on sale if you buy two or more, increasing the servings and planning for leftovers can be a great bang for your buck!

Don’t buy extras of items you already have.

If you like to be stocked up on household items, a budget week is a time to skip those purchases. For items like soap, TP, or trash bags, take a week off from buying them if you’re already covered!

Shop the in-store sales.

Shopping in the store means you have better access to what’s on sale. You can peruse the clearance or discount sections to see if something you need is there. And you can make a quick recipe substitution for something that’s on sale, but will still work in the recipe you’re going to make. If you have a recipe that calls for ground chicken, but ground turkey is on sale, call an audible and make the swap!

Use your coupons!

An obvious tip is to use your coupons, so instead: Don’t leave your coupons at home! We also recommend connecting your shoppers rewards account to your grocery store’s app and digitally clipping coupons to your account too!

Try breakfast for dinner.

We LOVE breakfast for dinner! It’s always a hit, we always have the items on-hand, and it’s cheap! Pancakes and hashbrowns will please almost any crowd and can be made with very little spending.

Go with a budget mindset.

Potentially the most important aspect of budget shopping is to go to the store with a money saving mindset. Agree with yourself beforehand to not get distracted by the things you don’t need and to stick to your list. Avoid the stores (Target, we’re looking at you!) or the aisles that tempt you to spend more than you need. Or use grocery pickup-delivery and avoid the temptation all together!

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