Monday, November 21, 2011

How To Create a Cheap Meal Plan

How To Create a Cheap Meal Plan
How to save money on groceries. How to keep a low food budget. How to waste as little food as possible. All of these needs are important and we've all been here. The following concepts are basic ideas to apply to meal planning. I use these principles especially when I'm in a pinch and have financial need elsewhere. Hopefully you can gain a little from some of these ideas and if you have some great ones yourself, please comment below.

1. Take inventory before creating your meal plan. Write down a list of things you can use in your freezer, fridge, and pantry. Such as frozen chicken, cans of beans or tomatoes, pasta, etc.

2. Write out your grocery list as exact as possible, so that it helps limit the temptation of buying something not on the list. Remember to check for the necessities at home before going to the store (eggs, milk, flour, oil, butter, cereal, etc.).

3. Plan out your week's meals for each day. Make a meal plan that is exact, planning out for 5 days or so. Make meals largely based on what you already have on hand (step 1). After shopping, post this list on your fridge so that your husband (or whoever) can have access to it if they chose to assist with dinner. Make tedious notes including recipe page numbers, what items to sub in, or what recipes to use that should be combined.

4. To aid in costs, plan on making extra from each meal so that it can be lunch the next day, or frozen for a future, grateful date. After eating dinner, I portion out the leftovers into two separate containers for me and my husband for lunch the next day. This takes stress out of the crazy mornings rushing to get to work, and this helps limit the amount of money you spend on lunch during the week.

5. Buy in the bulk section if you have one. This cuts down on packaging costs, and cuts out the name brand cost as well. If you don't have access to bulk, buy store brand. Always compare costs, especially the price per unit.

6. Buy canned tomatoes, and frozen vegetables. It's healthy to eat organic and farm fresh but sometimes the budget is quite limiting.

7. Read your recipes carefully and try to examine if any ingredient can be omitted for costs sake, or if any item you have on hand can be subbed in instead. For example I omit extra herbs a lot or extra toppings.

8. Try to make a meal plan that items can be carried over into the next day's meal. Such as using parmesan or other cheese for a few meals that week, or the same meat for multiple meals.
Example Using a Whole Chicken:
  • Meal One, roast whole chicken with vegetables. 
  • Meal Two, shred chicken for enchiladas or tacos next day. 
  • Use Three, use chicken bones and scraps for making your own homemade chicken stock. Cover bones with water, garnish with herbs, (and celery, onions, carrots if you have it). Simmer for about 3 - 4 hours. Strain and keep the broth. Freeze in individual portion sizes to be used whenever needed. Way cheaper and broth is super healthy without added preservatives.
9. Consider everything you buy from the grocery store. Are there items you are interested in making from scratch at home? I have fallen in love with baking bread at home and that definitely saves money weekly. If you're adventerous you can even make home made pastas, yogurt, kombucha, beer, snack bars, etc.

10. Are there items that can be omitted from the grocery list? This is a question that is hard to ask, but pertinent in certain situations. We've cut out some things such as cereals (if we buy, it's the bagged version), yogurt, ice cream, excess fruits or vegetables, other pre-packaged foods.

11. Don't throw it out just yet. Consider if you can use certain vegetables or fruits in baked/ cooked form. I just made a marvelous apple butter in the crock pot when I didn't use them up fast enough... This made me need to bake a loaf of fresh bread. So delicious yet cheap.

12. On your last day of planned meals, check to see if there are any remaining ingredients. Try to extend these ingredients by being creative for dinner that night. Mine is usually some easy pasta dish, enchiladas, stir fry, fried rice, or simple soup. Usually always vegetarian.

13. Remember that you don't have to live off of Ramen Noodles and Taco Bell. Healthy meals can still be made at home on the cheap.


What are your favorite ways to save?

Want more information? Try out these other posts on Meal Planning:

My Real Life Example (and it's color-coded!): Two Weeks of Meal Planning.

Personal Journey in Meal Planning with 8 weeks of meals included. Meal Plans - 40 Dollar Weeks

Practical Break Down. Making categories and choosing meals: How to Create a Meal Plan in Five Simple Steps


  1. Apple butter with unused apples? That's genius! Even better that I love using the crock pot. Do you have a recipe?

    1. Thanks! I should make this apple butter again and post some pictures.. but for now, the recipe is really easy. All I did was peel, core, and quarter my leftover apples (about 4 or 5 large ones) and place them in the crock pot. Add 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup white sugar, cinnamon stick, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp ground cloves (whatever spices smell good to you), and a pinch of salt. Cook on low for 8-10 hrs. Your house will smell amazing and it tastes great on baked goods...

  2. I have to get back to meal planning. It makes such a difference! Thanks for these tips!

  3. Now all I need are tips on getting my SAHD husband who does all the cooking to get down with a meal plan...Thanks though for real, this was really helpful :)

  4. These are some great tips, thank you!

  5. you know, i have found that just buying fresh veggies (not all work well frozen as you probably already know - me i had to find out the hard way ha - but i know with broccoli and cauliflower i would buy fresh and then come home and chop it up and freeze it in a ziplock... i found usually one head was the same if not a little more in quantity and half the price of frozen. I mean it depends where you buy but for me that was the cheapest option :)

  6. Chelsea from Sunny with a Chance of Sprinkles sent me over today and I love this list! The hubs and I do a monthly meal plan and the method is pretty similar to this. I just started baking my bread at home and so far I have really enjoyed it and the money we are saving! :) Great tips!

  7. Katy- that is a great idea! I should definitely try freezing them myself. I have noticed some veggies are way cheaper fresh (certain times of year) than the frozen. I'm glad to have your "nuggets" of wisdom, I would love to hear more from you some time- I bet you have other super-saver tips :)
    Skye- So encouraging to know other people are doing this! I am all for being thrifty and creative and it makes it super fun to meet other people who like it too!


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