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How to Meal Plan on a Budget

Meal planning is simply the process of choosing which meals to prepare in the coming days. Learn how to meal plan on a budget so that you can save money and waste less food while eating well!

large serving bowl of chicken caesar salad

Poorman’s Chicken Caesar Salad

Eating good food, both nutritious and tasty, doesn’t require an unlimited grocery budget. Some of the best meals in the world are made from affordable pantry staples.

However, sometimes in the meal planning frenzy of Pinterest and social media, you may find yourself overreaching, thinking that big, elaborate, and expensive is the only way to meal plan.

Thankfully, that’s not at all true. Good food and a balanced budget aren’t mutually exclusive. They do, however, take a little work and planning.

You can easily stay on budget and avoid food waste through savvy meal planning. It’s as simple as taking stock of what you have, planning meals around what’s there, and supplement with a minimal amount of additional purchases.

This is one surefire to meal plan on a budget. You will be eating well AND sitting pretty.

How to Meal Plan on a Budget

Check out these tips so that you, too, can eat well, act your wage, and enjoy life, just a little bit more.

1. Inventory what you have.

All too often, we think we need to go shopping, when really all we need to do is shop our own kitchens. Using what you already have saves you the money you’d spend if you went shopping.

Take a real close look at what you have in the cupboards, fridge, and freezer. I bet you’ll be surprised that there’s more there than you think. That’s usually the case. Most of us tend to overbuy.

Save some money this week by planning meals around what you already have. If you don’t have a great way to keep track of your supplies, download this inventory sheet to make it easy. That will help you know what you have to work with.

2. Plan from your inventory.

Now plan some meals from what you already have. Chances are you bought those items with certain recipes in mind, but you never got around to making it. No problem. Resurrect those recipes this week and plan meals based on what you have.

Not sure what to make? Check out some of these recipes using common proteins:

  • Budget beef recipes
  • Budget chicken recipes
  • Budget pork recipes
  • Budget meatless recipes

stack of melons on sale at a Sprouts grocery store

3. Check the loss leaders this week.

Once you’ve checked your stock on hand and generated a list of ideas of meals to make from those ingredients, it’s time to shop for what you need to fill in the blanks. That means, checking what “loss leaders” are available at your local grocers.

A loss leader is an item that the store offers at a rock bottom price, one that they will probably take a loss on, but it’s worth it to them to have you come through the door.

A great example of this is the boneless, skinless chicken breast on sale for $1.49/pound. It doesn’t really get lower than that. Buy some for this week but add a few extra packages to the cart so that you can freeze it for future weeks. You’ll be able to plan meals around cheap ingredients now and later.

4. Prioritize your spending.

When your grocery budget is fixed, you need to prioritize. You might not be able to buy everything you want this week. Keep a running list of “must haves” and “would likes”. The “must haves” will be your priorities. Buy the “would likes” only as you have funds available.

You’d be surprised what you can do without. Once I started making recipes without every ingredient called for, I realized that we didn’t really miss those black olives or chopped green chiles. Buy the things that pack the biggest punch to your meal planning.

canned goods on shelf

5. Practice stockpiling.

If there is grocery money left after purchasing your “must haves”, think about groceries to stock up on, such as those loss leaders that you know you will use in the coming weeks. You’re much better off buying that chicken at $1.49/lb than paying the full pop of $5 or more.

Check the clearance section for items that are being discontinued or marked down to move quickly. You just might find some “would likes” at great prices.

Buy as much as you can store and afford of the things you know you will use. This will help you stretch your funds just a little farther.

Once you learn how to meal plan on a budget, you’ll find that it’s second nature to you. Your gaze will shift so that you naturally prioritize where to spend your grocery budget. You’ll discover budget recipes you love as well as learn to make expensive take-out items yourself for less.

How do YOU meal plan on a budget?

cart of groceries, hand holding wallet and receipt

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