In order to get started with budget meal planning, we suggest that you follow these tips for saving on groceries.
But you still need to decide what to cook and, by extension, which groceries will stretch your food dollars.
Why budget meal planning works
Meal planning is a must when trying to limit the food budget, for two reasons.
1. You can scope out coupons and sales before you go shopping. With sales in mind, you can create a meal plan for the week around those items.
If fish fillets and broccoli are at a mega discount, make those the star of your week: Fish tacos with steamed broccoli, fish and broccoli cream chowder, fish patties with broccoli slaw. Save time by cooking the meat or beans on the first day and then using it throughout the rest of the week.
2. You can save on groceries because you don’t buy excess food that often ends up going bad. If you walk through the grocery store aisles without a meal plan, you grab this or that, or whatever happens to catch your eye.
Back at home, you don’t have a plan for these foods. So they end up sitting at the bottom of the fridge. You either forget about it or never get around to finding a recipe and it rots away.
With a meal plan, all the groceries you buy have been planned for and have a recipe at the ready. No waste. No excess buying.
Here’s a list of budget-friendly ingredients with recipes for inspiration.
Eggs are a staple for budget-friendly meal planning. They provide a dose of protein that is inexpensive and quick to cook.
Fortunately, the myth that eggs are bad for you because they are high in cholesterol has been busted as scientists realized that the cholesterol we consume in food has actually little effect on our overall cholesterol levels.
Eggs are a nutrient powerhouse. Still, what is in them depends on how the chickens are fed. More nutrient-dense eggs come from chickens that have had free range to eat bugs, or given particular feed, which makes them more expensive. So, you still have to balance price and quality. But even a conventionally farmed egg provides bang for your buck.
Garlicky spinach, millet, and eggs
This meal pairs eggs with millet, a gluten-free grain with a nutty flavor. Millet is less expensive than quinoa and cooks up in 15 minutes, less if soaked beforehand. A good dose of garlic permeates with that special flavor, and wilted spinach completes a truly delicious meal.
Cheaper cuts of meat
Meat is often the most expensive part of a meal. A steak or tenderloin can set you back a good bit.
Learn to cook with cheaper cuts of meat, which includes cuts like beef brisket, chuck, shanks, and cheeks; pork sirloin chop, collar, and belly; lamb shoulder chop, breast, and chump. And, of course, ground meat.
Don’t forget the organs, which pack a hefty nutritional punch and flavor if you can get over any squeamishness.
Many of those cheaper cuts of meat are tough because of collagen, which has been shown to be beneficial for everything from skin to digestion. A long slow cook on tougher cuts will break release the gelatin for tender and moist meat.
This beef brisket recipe can be sliced and covered with a sauce, as pictured, and paired with rice and a salad or shredded to use in dishes like beef barbacoa bowls.
Potatoes became popular in Europe from the Americas for a number of reasons, including that more calories could be harvested for the amount of land compared to grain, i.e. one field could provide more nutrition and easier growing in potatoes than in grain.
That means potatoes are a cheap but nutritious whole food. Potatoes are a source of prebiotics (food for probiotics) and provide satiety – feeling full for longer helps prevent the search for more food.
Loaded baked potatoes
We often think that dinner needs to be complicated, but sometimes simple is a relief. Loaded baked potatoes take some preparation, but the extra effort means more cost-friendly plant protein in the form of rice, chickpeas, and pecans.
Soup has been used as a cheap way to fill bellies for ages. Of course, it helps if the broth is made of nutritious bone broth, as many countries recognize who start their meal out with a bone broth soup to aid digestion. And they also know that soup helps fill you up so you eat less of the main course.
Bottom line: Bones are a cheap way to work more nutrients into your diet. You can get them from leftovers of other cuts containing bones, like whole roast chicken or those beef shanks.
Chicken avocado soup
This simple soup features avocado and chicken and cooks up in a jiffy in a pressure cooker. Pair it with hearty sourdough bread and butter for a filling meal.
If you are on a food budget, learn to love legumes – dry ones, that is.
Pairing a legume with a whole grain makes for a complete protein, so you can rest assured knowing you had protein without breaking the bank. Make sure to soak both the legumes and the whole grains the night before, for faster cooking, better digestion, and more available nutrition.
Experiment with different legumes until you find your favorite. One whole grain can often be substituted for another, so you don’t have to search for a hard-to-find expensive one.
Protip: Cook up a big batch of beans and store it in the freezer. You’ll have beans on hand for a quick meal without realizing that you forgot to soak them.
Black bean bowl with freekeh
With cumin and a little chili, this black bean bowl is a fresh version of refried beans. Corn, tomato, and peppers amp up the veggie section, and a handful of cilantro provides the extra tastiness. Freekeh is an ancient way of preparing a type of wheat. While not gluten-free, freekeh boasts more protein than quinoa and has been shown to be extra satiating.
As noted in the recipe, any grain can be used if you can’t find freekeh or need a gluten-free option.
Bulk up meat with legumes
A way to save on meat without cutting out the meat flavor is to reduce the amount of meat in a recipe and replace it with beans. You don’t need to buy so much meat, but the meat lovers are kept happy because the meat taste is still there.
Chili is a classic example, but you could also do this in a soup, stew, or casserole, like shepherd’s pie.
This chili recipe is a classic. Just tomatoes, beans, ground meat, and corn with all your favorite chili spices. Chili is a bowl of comfort on any day. Pair with cornbread or sourdough buns for a satisfying but budget-friendly meal.
Try heading to a local ethnic food shop to hunt out ingredients you might not know or ask the shopkeepers for food recommendations. Many areas of the world use a lot of spices help ramp up the flavor of what could be a bland meal.
These regions might also make sparse use of meat for religious reasons, such as India (Hinduism), China (Buddhism), and Orthodox Christian countries (Greece, Russia, Eastern Europe) who adhere to a strict vegetarian fast for Lent.
Moroccan chickpea stew
Full of spices to liven up the flavor, this chickpea stew stands for a number of budget-friendly tips: Filling soup, cheap legumes, and a flavorful blend of spices.
With garlic, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, and cumin – it’s sure to become a favorite. Add some carrots, greens, tomato paste, and chickpeas and you have a quick filling soup for figurative pennies.