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Cheaper Meal Planning

Just because you've reduced your food budget doesn't mean you have to sacrifice flavor.

Bring out big flavor with a small budget. Use these tips and meal ideas to create a variety of meals on the cheap.

Purposeful Shopping

Do you want to spend less money on food? Then plan ahead. Most shoppers waste money on impulse buys or last-minute trips to the supermarket for missing ingredients. When you're ready to put the skids on wasteful cash flow, try these purpose-driven strategies.

  • Sit down with supermarket sale circulars before heading to stores. Plan out menus
    based on specials and in-season produce.
  • Always make out a shopping list. Shop and stick to the list.
  • Clip coupons from newspapers, magazines, or the Internet for products that you
    buy routinely. Take advantage of double coupons days or in-store specials.
  • Consider stocking up on frequently-used items while they're on sale.
  • Go through cabinets routinely to use up canned and boxed staples.  
  • Buy in bulk when the savings prove good.

    Eating Ethnic

    One of the simplest ways to cut costs is to dine globally. Make it an adventure for your family to try new cuisines. You'll learn fast what most foreign cooks already know: cooking with lots of vegetables and grains keeps food costs low.

    • Adopt an Asian mindset toward meals. Fill plates with vegetables and starches like rice and noodles. Let expensive meats and seafood, if you use them at all, act as flavorful condiments.
    • Play around with spices. Indian cooks add ingredients like coriander, cumin, and turmeric to build depth in dishes that contain large amounts of vegetables or lentils.
    • Focus on whole grains. Italian cooks stock the cabinet with dry pastas (either regular or whole wheat varieties), and add roasted vegetable sauces, tomato sauce, or a sauce where meat is a minor player.

    Meatless Mondays

    Meat, poultry, and fish account for the lion's share of most grocery bills. You don't need to give them up altogether, just cut back.

    • Make the usual roast chicken but put out a wide assortment of vegetables, potatoes, and sides. Aim to fill two-thirds of the plate with side dishes and just one-third with meat.
    • Shop for less expensive cuts of meat and use them in stews or soups.
    • Serve casseroles as the main course rather than dishing up meat and potatoes.
    • Stretch meat by adding grains and vegetables to dishes. Add pasta noodles or bulgur to chicken salad. Mix ground beef and beans to fill tacos rather than using meat alone.
    • Serve breakfast for dinner. Omelets, pancakes, and French toast are inexpensive entrees.
    • Try going meatless at one meal each week. Start with simple, well-loved items like 
      macaroni and cheese. Branch out to ethnic repasts like lentil dals or pasta e fagioli.

    Sep. 28, 2009 9:47 am
    I think that the best way to go ethnic on a budget is to cook main items ahead of time and portion them out through the week... If you cook a large batch of chicken... divide it into meal portions and season it for different things all week.. Chicken salads, chicken tacos/ fajitas, Pasta, Soups... Anything...Even freeze with seasonings already mixed in for an easy pop out of the freezer dinner... already marinated..
    Oct. 23, 2009 10:03 am
    hi i am the food service coordinator for my job we have 2 sites 70 at 1 site and 30 at another we have a low budget for each person $5.50 for each aday 7 days a week 3 meals aday any sugestions on how i can stay in my budget
    Feb. 21, 2010 5:25 pm
    Soup is your friend when you are on a budget. If I were you, I would serve a choice of two soups every day for lunch, perhaps with homemade rolls and a seasonal fresh fruit for dessert?
    Mar. 12, 2010 5:54 pm
    This website is AWESOME!!!! I just came acrossed it looking for cheap meals to feed my family since the economy is so bad! I was in ahh of everything that I have found so far! I am looking forward to finding out how else this will be helpful! I love the shopping list!!!!
    Mar. 17, 2010 3:24 pm
    I agree, you can't beat soups when you're trying to stay on a budget! Also try casseroles, you don't need as much meat in them and if you add some undeluted canned soup, the taste is so good you will never miss the meat. Remember you don't have to buy brand name on the soup either, store brands work just as good.
    Jun. 10, 2010 10:16 am
    when ever i have any leftover vegies i add them to my freezer bucket...i buy whole chickens when they are on sale...i boil and debone one and freeze the broth and meat...when i get enough vegies i make chicken vegie soup...with the chicken being foozen i can use as much or as little as i need...
    Sep. 8, 2010 11:00 am
    What are some different but easy recipe for baby shower. Any creavtive ideas please wanted too..
    Dec. 2, 2010 3:09 pm
    Make double batches of soups, stews, chili, etc...Eat one, freeze the other for later.
    Jul. 23, 2011 9:53 am
    can anyone suggest some cheap HEALTHY meals on this website with ingredients that can be from our garden. Very limited food budget right now. we have corn, peppers (jalapeno, green, banana), tomatoes (cherry, big, yellow cherry), squash, cucumbers, beans, beets, onions...any suggestions?
    Aug. 19, 2011 12:37 pm
    just place the garden ingredient names (maybe one at a time) into the search by ingredient engine on top. I love to do this you never know what you will get. you can add a keyword if you want: soup, sandwich, main, dessert. Good luck!
    Apr. 8, 2012 7:57 pm
    Hi, I havea family of 7, and 625$ a month grocery budget. there ages and needs vary, one is lactose allergic, and one vegatarian, and the other is hfcs allergic, the rest of us can eat whatever... Need help planning meals.... Any suggestions?
    Apr. 22, 2012 4:58 am
    Hi all, I've been searching for a while now for different meal planning ideas. I thought I would share a great blog I found a few weeks ago. Go to: The blog gives you a new menu (7 meals) every week WITH a grocery list! All I have to do is click the link for the menu and then download the menu and grocery list. The thing I like is that the recipes are in word format so I can save and edit them how I like. And the grocery list is in excel so I can add staple things like milk and eggs right to the list before I print it. Everything I have cooked so far has been really good and easy. My two picky teens are eating better than ever and hubby is impressed. Other great tips in the kitchen too! Anyway, it's really helped me get it together in the kitchen...thought it might be helpful to some of you!
    little red rooster 
    Oct. 18, 2012 3:50 pm
    ms. williamson03 i also am an on a very tight budget and i have three kids myself. ages 15'yrs 5'yrs and 14 months one of the things i do is instead of buying my meat at the grocery store i go to the local butcher i get a meat pack that lasts me more then a month in most cases and i get a varity of meats from bacon to differnts cuts of beef chicken ect. i just tell then the amount i have to spend somtimes it is 60 dollers other days it can be thirty dollers i just make sure i always tell them i'm not pickey about what i get. i also ask for beef and chicken bones so i can make soup . if you can buy a deep freezer you can find them cheaply if you look online this helps a lot i buy milk and freez it i am able to freez friut that i bought in the summer i buy frozen and fresh veggies in bulk and freez them also.
    Jul. 25, 2014 7:48 am
    Hello, This is my first post on this site. I am from India. I wanted to know if plastic containers can be used safely for freezing purposes. By plastic I mean the containers used by restaurants for home delivery of food.
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