Wondering how to meal plan on a budget? My 10 tips for frugal meal planning help you craft a healthy meal plan without breaking the bank.
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- Always start by taking inventory and using what you have in your pantry / fridge / freezer.
- Keep your meal plans simple and your grocery lists flexible to keep costs down.
- Include lower cost meals like vegetarian options in your frugal meal plan.
- SO many Prep Dish subscribers have told us they save money with our meal plans. You can snag a free trial here.
When it comes to meal planning, it sometimes seems like you have to choose between healthy and budget-friendly. After over a decade of helping families with meal planning though, I promise you, you don't!
It is possible to eat healthy food, even if frugal meal planning is your top priority. You just have to be a bit flexible and a bit strategic when doing your weekly meal planning on a budget.
Here are my top 10 budget meal planning tips:
10 Tips for Frugal Meal Planning
1. Take Inventory
While it can be tempting to start your meal planning by scrolling Pinterest for whatever recipes look the best, start instead by taking inventory of what you already have.
Shop your own pantry, fridge and freezer, writing down any ingredients you need to use up. Incorporate that half bag of quinoa or frozen spinach into the week's meal plan to save money and avoid food waste. You'll likely be surprised at how far using what you already have goes toward a frugal meal plan.
2. Batch and Freeze
Batch cooking and freezing leftovers save money in a couple of ways:
1. It allows you to take advantage of sales. Buy one get one free on lasagna noodles? No problem! Make a double batch and stick one lasagna in the freezer.
2. Batch cooking reduces unused items, which is essential for a frugal meal plan. Instead of using half a bag of beans and sticking the other half in the pantry, cook the whole bag and freeze half.
3. The other huge advantage is that having a stocked freezer removes the need for last-minute takeout. A few extra nights of unplanned takeout or purchased lunches can easily kill your monthly food budget. Batching and freezing means you always have something healthy, easy and budget-friendly at the ready in your own freezer!
3. Order Staples Online
You can often save money by buying staples online, rather than at your local supermarket. My go-to resource for this is Thrive Market (affiliate link).
Not only does ordering staples save me money, it cuts down on time each week when I make my grocery list and order groceries or go shopping. Instead of buying marinara each week, I simply add it to my order every couple of months.
Of course, you do have to be careful to only order what you actually need if your goal is to save money. It's easy to get sucked in by the fun extras!
A good strategy for a frugal meal plan here is to create a pantry inventory (you can see my system here!) and stick to it. Rather than browsing Thrive Market each month, simply type in the items on your inventory spreadsheet and order only those.
4. Buy in Bulk
Everyone has certain items that they use almost every day. Many of these products are much less expensive when you buy in bulk.
I save so much money by buying these in bulk and I don't have to worry about running out!
For you, it may be coffee, a certain type of flour, or nuts. Think about the items you use the most and spend a few minutes looking into the potential cost savings from buying in bulk.
5. Keep it Simple
If you use cookbooks or recipe blogs, it can be tempting to choose a bunch of complex recipes, each calling for its own set of specialty ingredients.
This causes two problems. One, it clutters up your pantry and fridge. Two, it can get quite expensive.
If you buy an exotic spice you're likely to never use again, it will likely be costly and it will likely sit in your pantry until it expires. Just one pricey item can thwart your frugal meal planning efforts!
Instead, look for simple recipes that rely on herbs and spices you already have.
Our new Super Fast menus at Prep Dish really highlight how delicious simple recipes can be. We began offering simplified recipes to help people save time on meal prep, but these meal plans are often more budget-friendly too as they require fewer ingredients.
You can sign up for a free trial here if you'd like to try them out!
6. Flexible Grocery List
An organized grocery list is key to successful meal planning but maintaining a bit of flexibility in your grocery list can really help with sticking to a budget.
For example, instead of “cod,” you might write “white fish” on your list. This way you can compare the available types of fish and choose the best looking one that fits your budget.
Instead of “walnuts” you might write “walnuts or pecans” and choose whichever is a better deal that week.
Try writing “3 types of fruit” instead of specific fruits if you're just using them for snacking.
Incorporating this type of flexibility into your grocery list will encourage you to look for budget-friendly items at the store.
I also find that ordering groceries online is a great way to stick to a frugal meal planning budget. It's easier to compare prices from home and you can easily subtract items from your list until you're comfortable with the total amount.
7. Use Everything You Buy
Of course one of the best ways to stick to your frugal meal planning goals is to actually use all of the food you buy.
There are two keys to success for this one. The first is meal prep. There's nothing sadder than buying a bunch of beautiful produce, having a busy week, and watching it all go bad in your fridge.
If you do at least a minimal amount of meal prep, like washing and chopping produce, at the beginning of the week, you're so much more likely to eat the food you buy.
Another key way to avoid wasted food is to incorporate all of an ingredient in your meal plan. For example, if you plan to top a stir fry with green onions, make sure you have a plan for the rest of the bunch so they don't go bad. This article has some great tips on how to do this.
8. Include Vegetarian in Your Frugal Meal Plan
Incorporating one or more vegetarian recipes into your weekly frugal meal plan is a great way to cut costs. At Prep Dish, we often include one vegetarian recipe on our Gluten Free and Super Fast meal plans, as well as tips for converting the week's meaty recipes to vegetarian.
9. Buy Frozen
Have you tried using frozen fruits and veggies in your meal planning?
While there is definitely some produce I prefer to buy fresh, I've found a few frozen items I love. Buying frozen produce can significantly cut costs, especially if you're looking to buy organic.
A few of my personal favorites are frozen mango (just eat it plain, so delicious!), frozen spinach and kale to toss into soups and pasta sauces and frozen berries for smoothies.
10. Invest to Save
Would you be surprised to hear that many of our subscribers cite saving money as one of their favorite things about Prep Dish?
It may seem counterintuitive to think that purchasing meal plans can actually save you money, but it's true!
Our meal plans make sure there are no wasted ingredients and, more importantly, make sure you always have a plan in place so you don't have to hit the drive-thru or pick up a pizza. Our annual subscription comes out to only $3.10 a week, money you can easily save by following an expertly crafted meal plan.
Wondering if it would work for your family? Check out our free trial below! We'd love to welcome you to the Prep Dish community 🙂
FAQ for Frugal Meal Planning
How to budget $100 a week for food?
Budgeting $100 a week for food will of course vary depending on how many people you're budgeting for and where you live in the country. Check out my post on 5 Healthy Dinners in 1 Hour for $100 for ideas!
What is the most inexpensive meal plan?
The most inexpensive meal plan is the one you'll stick to! Sort of kidding, sort of not. Incorporating vegetarian meals, like egg and bean dishes, is one of the best ways to keep your meal plan inexpensive. You can also include these 5 budget proteins. But at the end of the day, sticking to almost any meal plan is less expensive than just winging it at the grocery store or resorting to takeout because you don't have a plan. So be patient with yourself as you work to get your grocery budget down and know that you're on the right track!
How do I make a frugal meal plan?
Definitely read the tips above for more details on how to make a frugal meal plan. In a nutshell, though, plan simple meals where the ingredients overlap. Make sure you have a plan for how to use up each ingredient you buy, And if you want to keep it simple, check out our done-for-you meal plans! The Super Fast plans in particular are quite budget friendly.
How do you meal prep for a week on a budget?
Meal prep is a great practice for anyone trying to stick to a budget. Keep your grocery list flexible so you can snag the best deals. Try making big batches of things like soup and freezing some so you always have something healthy on hand. Watch out for recipes requiring a lot of specialty ingredients you'll never use again. These tips will get you off to the right start!
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