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Eat Well, Spend Less: Make a Frugal Meals List

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

Meatless Veggie and Bean Burritos

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!)

  1. Veggie Bean Burritos
  2. Tuscan Bean Soup
  3. Simple Cabbage Soup
  4. Lentil and Brown Rice Casserole
  5. Black Bean Soup
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.)

Beans Book Cover 200outline

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:

Learn The Secrets To Getting A Healthy Meal On The Table Faster

Simple Ways to Save: Drastically cur your grocery spending in 3 easy steps

Grocery Budget Bootcamp enrollment is closed for now, but Tiffany will be opening up enrollment for a new session soon.

If you want to be notified when the next session starts, just click over and enter your email. In the meantime, when you sign up to be notified, she’ll send you her FREE download Simple Ways to Save teaching you how to properly navigate the grocery store and avoid pitfalls in order to save more money on groceries with very little work (actually, ZERO work!).

This free resource is designed to help you cut your grocery spending right now, so you don’t have to wait to save money. It’s yours for free, when you sign up here!

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.

Check out another chapter of the Eat Well, Spend Less series – Real Food Style: my top 5 frugal foods that I make sure I either purchase or make each week.

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?

Monday Missions Baby Steps Back to Basics

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 got them all spruced up to send to your inbox – once a week on Mondays, so you can learn to be a kitchen steward one baby step at a time, in a doable sequence.

Sign up to get 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.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

8 thoughts on “Eat Well, Spend Less: Make a Frugal Meals List”

  1. Thanks for the coupon code on the beans book! I missed the last one and had been waiting for another to come around 🙂

  2. Frances @ Becoming More With Less

    I’m so happy all my favorite blogs are focusing on frugal meals right now. I am always looking for more inspiration in the kitchen on our pocket change grocery budget. Our favorites right now are Black Bean Enchiladas, Dal Saag (Indian lentils and spinach), Veggie Samosas, and Chana Masala (chickpeas). I imagine meal planning helps when you have a large family and shop online but I find that it hurts our budget and creativity in the kitchen. We never waste food and finding new ways to use scraps is half the enjoyment for me. When I’ve tried meal planning I’ve found that it’s overplanned. Sometimes we get home late and we are so tired that a simple meal of microwaved baked potatoes, or bean quesadillas is all we want. Or the bread is hot from the oven and we are full before dinner rolls around. I still keep beans soaking all the time because we eat them everyday (and I can them). We keep staples on hand and when I use something up, I replace it. I do keep a tally in my head about what needs to be used and what we have. I like the flexibility because I can often use the same ingredients to make a completely different dish if the mood or the timing strikes me. I guess I’m just trying to say that it’s totally possible to eat on a dime and not according to plan.

    P.S. We eat a lot of meatless dishes as well. Hubby can only take it for about 4 days in a row though. One way I stretch our meat is to batch cook it and freeze in one cup portions. That way it’s always ready to add to a meal when he gets a craving!

  3. Suzanne with Laughing Wallet

    Going meatless on most dishes definitely brings down the cost, but the man in my house would rebel if I did it too often! So, I’ve found that in many dishes, I can still include meat, but I can cut the portion down and use veggies to “fill in” for the meat I’ve cut out.

    Spaghetti sauce, for instance is a very easy dish to do half-n-half on meat and veggies. He sees (and tastes) the meat, and the sauce is still very substantial with the mix of meat and veggies, but the cost is reduced AND I think it’s healthier. Everyone is happy! And you can do that with several other dishes, too – chili, enchiladas, etc.

    1. Absolutely! I’m a big fan of using half a pound of ground beef and filling in the rest. My husband doesn’t like too many meatless meals in a row, either, although I have a few that don’t feel meatless, so I can double up on those (the veggie bean burritos above are one, and chickpea wraps another). 🙂 Katie

  4. Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama

    Wasting food is, we know, our BIGGEST problem. I’ve just about gotten our grocery budget down to $300/month for now (we budgeted $500 so the other $200 is being saved up for bulk meat and produce purchases for this summer). Seeing as we have meat around, but almost nothing preserved left, we are really stretching it to do this. I have many jars of different varieties of beans in my pantry…lol. My daughter is the only one who really doesn’t care for them.

    You also reminded me I have oats and wheat sitting in my pantry that need to be soaked and sprouted, respectively. And that tomorrow when my milk comes I need to get on making extra yogurt, because it lasts forever that way. My kids LOVE their yogurt popsicles and it’s such a frugal (and nutrient-dense) snack. Stock is also wonderful for all kinds of things, I just finished some chicken and now I have beef going! (Finally figured that out.)

    And, funny enough, I’m sitting here wondering “what’s for dinner” because…I forgot to soak the beans for chili. Oops.

  5. THANK YOU! You’re amazing. I appreciate the discount code. I’ve been waiting for some sort of sale. I realy appreciate the time and energy that you have taken is sharing all that you have learned/are learning. It’s a huge gift.

  6. Katie,
    I’ve really appreciated the Eat well Spend less series. As my email to you stated (I sent it ~1.5 weeks ago, so I figure cyberspace isn’t that slow. :)) I’ve struggled most with maintaining a budget and adding grass-fed meats, etc. to it, so this series has been great. For those out there who might be transitioning more to veggie meals occasionally, I highly recommend the cookbook _Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone_ by Deborah Madison; it’s quite good (and was my Veg cooking bible for a long time). Another sources for frugal meals and “real food” is _Simply in Season_ ; they do a very good job with keeping things simple and with tasty food.

    Thanks for all your work, Katie!

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