Are you planning on saving money on food? Meal planning could help. Today’s post will show you how to meal plan on a budget. Read on.
Last year our family went through a period of money insecurity. We are a single income family and a downturn at my husband’s previous company meant we were looking at a few months without salary.
Like any young family, we had bills to pay and no salary meant digging into our previous savings. We took stock of all the possible ways we could reduce our family expenses. Many of our favorite buys were checked off the list as we focused only on essentials.
I took over the budgeting of our monthly expenses. It was easier to give up the non-essentials, but essentials like food are a big spend in a family of 3. With our son’s arrival, we were eating healthily and buying a lot of expensive high-quality produce. I wanted to maintain our clean eating diet at home but bring down our monthly grocery spend.
Related reading: Meal planning tips for beginners
Here is how we managed with budget meal planning;
Tips To Meal Plan On A Budget
- Assess current family meals, eating out and pantry expenditures
Before you start budget meal planning for your family, sit down and assess how your current meal plan looks like. What type of meals do you enjoy as a family? Are there ways in which you can reduce the use of certain expensive ingredients and still cook flavorful meals.
Make an updated inventory of everything that is already part of your fridge and pantry. Are there ingredients that are lying unused? What types of foods do you tend to buy?
Now that you have all the information you need about the type of meals and pantry items make a new budget-friendly meal plan and incorporate recipes that use easy to find ingredients that can be bought in bulk and used in a variety of meals.
- Buy in the wholesale aisle or in bulk food stores
Buy your pantry ingredients like oats, lentils, legumes, rice, oil and other dry ingredients in bulk at a wholesale retailer. This saves a lot of money and you can put in that extra money towards buying fresh vegetables and fruits of high quality.
Depending on your location, check with your local supermarkets about the latest deals and coupons on offer for buying in bulk. Some supermarkets also give near expiry date items at a discounted rate.
What foods to buy in bulk?
Grains like oats, rice, and millets
Nuts and Seeds
Produce like Tea, Sugar, Salt, Coffee, Pasta, Onions, and Potatoes
- Buy more whole foods
If you are living in India, whole fresh foods are cheaper compared to ready meals, packet soups, and breakfast mixes. Bookmark and try some easy and quick-prep recipes that you can make at home instead of buying ready meals. Processed food is high in salt, sugar and fats none of which is good for the body when consumed regularly.
Eating a whole foods-based diet will benefit your health long term. Some ways you can remove processed foods from your diet and incorporate more homecooked meals is by,
- Making homemade dosa batter/freezer-friendly breakfast muffins can be breakfast for 2-3 mornings per week,
- Batch cook dal for 2-3 days. Boil dal and portion it out for 2-3 days of the week. You can freeze the portioned-out dal and add tadka on the day you are making the dal.
- Make batches of energy balls, energy bars, whole fruit yogurt and breakfast muffins that can be used as a quick breakfast option on busy mornings.
In some places, whole foods like vegetables and fruit are not that cheap as in India, in this case, buy large packs of frozen vegetables and fruit from your local bulk store. These can be used for meal prep.
- Don’t include recipes in the menu plan that use exotic/rare ingredients.
Include simple recipes that don’t need exotic fruit and vegetables. The rare ingredients you buy for special recipes will lie unused in your fridge once you made the recipe (we usually try such recipes one-time only) and ultimately go to waste. Rare ingredients are also expensive. Instead, buy easily available local ingredients and make recipes using these. Simple meals cost less money.
Examples: Lentil rice khichdi, rajma chawal, chapati sabzi with a side of salad and yogurt.
- Try going meatless
If you really want to save money on food go vegetarian or vegan. Plant-based meals are cheaper to make, its usually the milk, eggs and meat that costs more money. If it is not possible to completely eliminate animal products, at least go with a reducetarian approach.
You can try one meal a day that’s plant-based or one day of the week that’s completely plant-based, then calculate how much money you save. At one time we spent at least ½ our monthly food budget on milk, eggs, and meat, by implementing a more flexitarian diet our monthly food spending has reduced drastically.
Try these yummy lentil recipes for Meatless Mondays.
- Wherever possible learn how to make some of your favorites at home
Learn how to make fresh yogurt and paneer at home, or how to make nut butter, dosa batter, or your favorite almond milk at home. Learning to make my own foods from scratch saves us a lot of money.
- Make large batches of food
Cooking larger batches of dal, curries, and snack foods like energy balls, energy bars, makhane (lotus flower seeds), homemade chikki, homemade breakfast cereal, chivda save me some time in the kitchen every day.
When we go out we carry our own homemade snacks this saves money as we don’t need to spend on buying snacks outside the home.
Some people like eating fresh food every day, in that case, make sure to measure out how much you cook at each meal, so there is less waste.
The more food that ends up in the bin, the more money you lose. Learn how to use leftovers effectively. Old rice can be turned into stir-fried rice, leftover dal can be made into dal chila, leftover cooked meat can be added to a stir-fried rice dish or added to a wrap and had as lunch the next day.
- Buy non-organic produce
When you are trying to save money buy non-organic produce. Unfortunately, organic produce though good for our health and the planet is very expensive and not everyone can afford it.
Conventional produce is still comparable to organic produce when it comes to nutrient content. And it’s better to eat whole foods than focus on organic vs non-organic debate and leave out the fruit and vegetables from the plate.
- Don’t buy specialty brands that cost more
When we were trying to save money on groceries, we swapped out many of the specialty brands that we were paying an extra buck for with generic name brands. It took me a while to research and find good alternatives where I lived, but it was doable.
Sometimes when you are doing the whole clean-eating thing you start putting on blinders and ignoring much cheaper generic brands assuming that they are “bad” for you.
But that may not always be the case. You don’t need that special rock salt for your meals, you can swap and use regular table salt instead.
10. Prepare more family favorite meals
I started preparing more family favorite meals rather than experiment and have food go to waste. Stick to staples you know everyone will enjoy.
But what if I get bored of the same food? you ask. In such a case I find family-style dinner nights more successful, everyone can select what they like and prepare a meal of their choice.
Example of family-style meals is: Roast chicken with an array of roasted veggies (everyone can select their favorites, roast small portions of a new vegetable if you are not sure how it will go with the family) Build your own burrito, build your own pizza, taco night, etc.
These ideas helped us get through a difficult time without compromising much on the quality and quantity of food on our table. When I looked, I found deals and new ways to buy more and save even more.
You have to take on a new money-saving mindset to really make a difference to your monthly grocery spend. We were able to bring down our spending on groceries and family meals by about 20-30% using these tips, which was a big deal for me at the time.
Hope these tips help as you plan a budget-friendly meal plan for your family. Let me know in the comments below what worked for you.