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How Do I Plan Meals on a Budget?

By B. Turner
Updated Feb 28, 2024
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Groceries often represent a substantial portion of the average household budget. Many people believe that in order to cut grocery costs, one also has to sacrifice taste and nutrition, but this isn't necessarily the case. The key to planning meals on a budget is laying out menus for the week all at once, instead of waiting until the last minute. By planning meals ahead of time, families are better prepared to get the biggest bang for their buck in terms of nutrition, health, and flavor.

Before attempting to plan meals on a budget, families should collect weekly ads from local grocery store chains to find out what's on sale that week. It's also helpful to collect coupons from newspaper and online sources and match them to sale products from each store. Based on this information, shoppers can plan meals for each day based on what stores are offering for sale. In addition to combining coupons with sale items, shoppers should also look for deals on large packages, like meat. By buying when prices are low, families can use some of these expensive products now and save some for later when prices may be higher.

Another way to plan meals on a budget is to cook once for multiple meals. This allows families to enjoy the price savings of buying in bulk without letting food go to waste. For example, leftovers from a roast chicken dinner can be transformed into soups, sandwiches, or casseroles for the next day. This technique also helps eliminate waste, and ensures leftover food isn't left to go bad in the refrigerator.

Thinking outside the box can also help families successfully plan meals on a budget. Instead of sticking with the traditional meat-based dishes, buyers can look for protein-packed alternatives that cost much less than beef or chicken. Eggs or peanut butter both contain large amounts of protein, and cost less than meat. The same is true of legumes or beans, which offer plenty of nutrients and fiber at a very low cost. Vegetarian pasta dishes can also provide filling, healthy meals at a fraction of the cost of those containing meat.

Another way to plan meals on a budget is to skip processed food and stick to the basics. Packaged and processed items often cost much more than simple produce or dairy, and typically contain just a fraction of the nutrients offered by more complete foods. Avoid sodium-loaded products and junk food, and shop the outer aisles of the grocery store for food as natural and unprocessed as possible.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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