Meal planning is a great way to simplify your weekly meal planning, and meal planning software like Real Plans can even automate the planning process for you.
However, if you’re like us, sometimes you’ll need to tweak some ingredients to keep your grocery bill within your budget.
- Real Plans software makes it easy to include or exclude ingredients from your weekly meal plan.
To give you some inspiration for stretching out that budget, here are our top 5 ingredients (and a trio of recipes for each) that will fill your belly and tempt your taste buds without breaking the bank.
For a dose of protein that’s inexpensive and quick to cook, look no further than meal planning staple the egg.
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 a 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.
#2. 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.