It can be difficult to stay within a food budget, especially for a one-income family, when you’re trying to eat “real food,” not only whole unprocessed foods but also well-raised meats, traditionally prepared whole grains, and unrefined sweeteners, etc.
A little planning can go a long way to help you save money.
Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to determine which meals in your family’s repertoire are on the frugal side for you.
In my weekly meal plan, I have a checklist along the side for various categories, like chicken, beans, beef, meatless, etc. When I pay attention to my own system, I try to make sure my meals span all the categories, so that we have variety in our meals and balanced nutrition. “Budget meal” is also one of my categories.
When you’re planning meals based on a CSA box or in-season Farmer’s Market vegetables, it can be easy to plan one meat-based meal after another, making the total cost of each meal not so frugal, somewhat foiling your attempts to shop frugally on each trip to the grocery store.
Even meals with on-sale ingredients can ring up expensive if you’ve got enough different ingredients going in!
The challenge today is to make sure you have some truly frugal meals in your general meal list so that you can use the fine art of meal planning to further remain in control of your food budget.
If menu planning, especially keeping all the meals nourishing, seems daunting to you, you may want to check out a menu planning weekly helper like the one at GNOWFGLINS. You’ll get recipes, shopping lists, and even “what to do when” guides.
My Favorite 5 Frugal Meals
It was terribly hard to narrow down my favorite frugal meals to a top 5. Because of the way I cook generally, many of my meals are frugal (and yes, many have beans in them!)
- Veggie Bean Burritos
- Tuscan Bean Soup
- Simple Cabbage Soup
- Lentil and Brown Rice Casserole
- Black Bean Soup
Not all frugal meals have to be meatless, but most of my most frugal happen to be. Many meals that include 2 cups shredded chicken are also very inexpensive to prepare, especially if they include homemade chicken stock. (See my recipe collection for more ideas.)
When I was writing The Everything Beans Book, I kept rolling my eyes because it seemed that every recipe was earning a “one dollar sign” rating (out of three) when I was ranking how expensive the meal was to make. Beans are frugal! The Everything Beans Book features all of these recipes plus 25 more winners, including unique ideas like black bean brownies and veggie burgers, three different ways to make beans and rice, and even a tortilla-like wrap made with lentils!
Another bonus? For those of you who work out of the home or just need some quick meals as well (another good goal, to make a list of your top 5 fast meals for when you’re under pressure to get dinner on the table NOW), all five of these take less than an hour to prepare, and Tuscan Bean Soup and the casserole (a slow cooker meal that works great in an Instant Pot!) are under 30 minutes prep, for sure. They can easily be made ahead and reheated and also double and freeze great; a frozen meal is my favorite way to avoid meal prep and be super fast with dinner.
Meal Planning Helps Save Money
The importance of meal planning in general cannot be understated when you’re trying to save money on food.
First, as mentioned, it takes a conscious effort (or a really frugal list of stand-by meals) to make sure you’ve got budget meals at the table each week.
Second, you avoid last-minute changes and trips to the store for missing ingredients, which can really kill a well-intentioned food budget.
Third, you’re able to do things like cook with dry beans, soak whole grains to make your own bread products, and make sure you’re using up all of a bag of spinach that you open, for example. That all takes planning ahead and sometimes two days of work to make it happen. Wasting food is another money waster you might not think of, and a good meal plan will ensure that whatever produce you have in your refrigerator gets incorporated into dinner in a timely fashion (i.e., before it’s brown, mushy, and headed for the trash can along with the money you spent on it!).
If you’re still not meal planning (yikes!), you can find some tips and resources on meal planning here, and Plan to Eat, a sponsor of Kitchen Stewardship, is a nice online resource for holding your hand through the process and simplifying things.
Not a meal planner yourself? If you struggle with real food, or a special dietary restriction, here are a couple for-fee services that will actually plan your meals for you:
- GNOWFGLINS real food menu plans (3 dinners, one breakfast, one dessert and one lacto-ferment every week)
- Heart of Cooking menu plan (allergen-free nourishing menu plans, including dairy free, gluten free, nightshade free, and many combinations of the top food allergies)
- Health Home Happy Grain-free menu plans (by the month, lots of ideas!)
Learn the secrets to getting a healthy meal on the table faster.
Registration for Grocery Budget Bootcamp is open and you caught it at a great time – NOW is your chance to get into this class while Tiffany is accepting new signups!
If you’re interested in learning how to save tons on your grocery budget then grab this opportunity while it lasts!
Check out Organizing Junkie for inspiration, too. You might appreciate the frugal resources at $5 Dinners as well, where Erin Chase shares no dinner that costs over $5 to make. She’s wonderful and includes many (but not all) whole foods recipes.
Disclosure: Affiliate links were used for GNOWFGLINS (I am a guest lecturer and partner with GNOWFGLINS eCourses), Heart of Cooking, and Health Home Happy, so purchases you make after visiting from here share commission with me. See my full disclosure statement here.
Need More Baby Steps?
Here at Kitchen Stewardship, we’ve always been all about the baby steps. But if you’re just starting your real food and natural living journey, sifting through all that we’ve shared here over the years can be totally overwhelming.
That’s why we took the best 10 rookie “Monday Missions” that used to post once a week and made a printable checklist so you can track your progress.
Sign up to get the checklist and weekly challenges and teaching on key topics like meal planning, homemade foods that save the budget (and don’t take too much time), what to cut out of your pantry, and more.