The best way to save money on food is to meal plan on a budget. Meal planning a few days or weeks in advance will save you money you can use on other things. Making a meal plan will take you a bit of time but it will prove worthwhile in time.

I’ve put together a list of ideas to help you meal plan on a budget for 1, 2, 3 or even more. You can also use these tips to create your very own meal plan templates and healthy meal plan recipes. With these tips, you can effectively create meal plans for different purposes.

Whether you want to meal plan to lose some weight, gain some, or just meal plan to save some money, I’ve got you covered.

Essential tips to help you meal plan like a pro. 

1. Make a menu.

Knowing which meals you are going to have on specific days helps a lot in preventing spending on junk food. Decide which meals you will make for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even the snacks you’ll have in between meals. 

To come up with a meal plan, you can subscribe to a meal planning app like $5 meal plan. If you do this, you’ll cut the time you usually spend making menus and grocery shopping in half.

They have wonderful, diverse and budget-friendly daily meal plan recipes that come as weekly menus together with comprehensive weekly grocery lists.

Their menus are customizable so that you can include recipes everyone loves in your meal plans. It is also very cheap.

Related: $5 Meal Plan Review: Is this Meal Planning Service Worth it?

2. Meal Plan around foods that are on sale.

Look for deals in newspapers, check store flyers and visit coupons sites online to find food items that might be going for a fraction of what they normally cost.

You may be surprised to find good deals and bargains on expensive food items. Be sure to get and meal plan with food items that you’ll end up using so that they don’t go to waste.

3. Incorporate more meatless meals in your meal plan.

Compared to other food items like legumes, eggs, tofu and canned fish, meat costs quite a bit more per kilogram.

Find alternatives to meat(poultry, steaks) based meals by planning your meals around its cheaper, healthier alternatives. Here are some tasty meatless recipes you can have in your meal plan: Black bean couscous salad, sweet chilli tofu stir fry or egg bhurji. 

4. Take an inventory of what you have in your refrigerator, freezer and pantry.

Look at the expiry dates of all the food items you’ve stocked. After you’ve done this, you should plan your meals around food items that have the shortest shelf life. Make recipes that use these foods so that you avoid wastage.

5. Add grain-based meals in your meal plan.

Some grains can be used in many recipes. These include rice, pasta, barley and couscous and can be used in many different recipes. Use them in stews, soups and salads such as…

6. Leave out recipes that need special ingredients in your meal plan.

Avoid recipes that incorporate special ingredients which you may not have. And if you really have to ask yourself the following questions while planning your meals. How much does the ingredient cost? Is the ingredient(s) on sale. Can you use it all up before it goes bad?

It is not worth buying an ingredient if you are only going to use it once. Try a cheaper alternative or try a recipe with an ingredient you already have in your pantry. You can even leave this recipe out altogether if you are on a very tight budget.

7. Don’t let leftovers go to waste.

Start thinking about how you can use leftovers for your meals.

For instance, if you are cooking rice with roast chicken and vegetables for Monday night’s supper, then you can make chicken sandwiches for Tuesday’s lunch. On Wednesday, you can use the bones to make chicken soup and use any leftover vegetables and rice.

8. Meal Plan with seasonal recipes or ingredients.

When vegetables and fruits are in season, they are cheaper. Meal plan around these ingredients to make recipes that are cheap and tasty.

9. Make extra.

For instance, if you have a big bunch of carrots or celery, you can use all of them up by making an extra big pot of soup or something else.

If chicken is on sale, make two batches of roast chicken instead of one. You can then serve one batch for dinner and freeze the other batch in meal-sized portions ready for another time.

10. Find out what your family likes to eat.

Meal plan when everyone is around so that they can help you. Encourage your family members to share their favourites. This way you identify their favourite ingredients and foods you can add in your meal plan. This way, you can get them immediately when they go on sale.

11. Prioritize your spending.

When you have a fixed grocery budget, you need to prioritize the items to spend on. You might not be able to buy everything you need this week. So you must divide your list into “must-haves” and “would-likes.”

The former will be your priorities. You only get to buy the latter when you have the money. It’ll surprise you what you can do without. Only buy the most crucial ingredients you need for your meal plan.

12. Buy in bulk and practise stockpiling.

After buying your essentials, think about groceries you can stock up on. This includes those that are on sale and you know you will use in the coming weeks.

It’s much better to buy chicken at half price now than paying the full amount later. Buying as much as you can store and afford will help you stretch your funds a little further. 

Extra tips on how to meal plan on a budget

Keep your meal plan simple.

Don’t overthink your meals. This is the quickest way to get overwhelmed by the process and end up giving up on meal planning.

When you are working on a budget, stick to the basics. Microwave frozen veggies, grill or saute protein, and make simple sides of rice, bread, pasta or a nice, simple salad to round out the meal.

Routine. Routine.

Meal planning is easy when you eat the same things regularly. If you’re trying to save money, you might have to forgo variety for a while. Just stick to the easy meals your family likes.

Your kids won’t mind chicken strips or grilled cheese once or twice a week. Plus, this will make your life much easier and predictable. It’ll also help you on your way to success. 

Sometimes, you’ll have to take help where you get it.

Don’t feel bad if you’re not magically making from-scratch meals all the time. Even restaurants don’t cook every side from scratch. And, if you kids eat a boxed mac-and-cheese, it’s not the end of the world. It’s cheaper than going out to eat and much better than take-out.

Incorporate more fruit into your meal plan

An apple works perfectly as a dinner side. Kids like cut-up fruit better than veggies. It’s much better than what kids have these days( potato chips or cheese with a side of cheese seem to be at the top of many kids’ menus lately).

Drink simply.

Beverages are one of the biggest costs when you go out to eat. So if you’re trying to eat at home more and are trying to embrace your meal plan, the best way to significantly cut costs is to drink simple.

If the family or you can’t stand plain water, you can try adding a powdered drink mix or freshly blended fruit juice. These are super cheap and easy to make and in the long run, will get your kids to drink more fluids.

When you buy a bunch of drinks, you end up driving up the cost of groceries. However, if the drinks keep will help them keep on track with budget dining, then, by all means, get the fancy drinks which you can buy cheaper at the store than in a restaurant.

Final thoughts on meal planning on a budget

It’ll take a bit of getting used to but once you learn how-to, you’ll find that meal planning is second nature to you. It’ll change the way you look at things so that you’ll start naturally prioritizing where to spend your grocery budget.

Meal planning will help you discover budget recipes to die for as well as expensive take-out items you can make for yourself for much less.

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