How low can you go? Can you imagine $50 to $75 per person, per month? These are pretty extreme budget meal plans that involve minimal meat and dairy products. However, we enjoy our meat and dairy, so we did not omit them and managed to come up with a modest budget of $100 per person, per month with 2 adults and a teenage boy. In this article I will share a few tips to help make your budget meal planning a success.
Learn to cook with whole foods:
This is by far one of the best investments you could make for your budget and your health. You might be able to get by on super cheap processed foods for really cheap, but it gets old and usually is poor for your health. Learning just the basics of cooking opens up all kinds of possibilities and will make you more flexible when trying to reduce your budget.
Make a budget meal plan:
This may sound difficult and time consuming, but in reality its pretty easy and only takes about an hour each month once you get the hang of it. Ours usually takes up a sheet of paper where we write out each day of the month and plan a dinner for that day. We don’t bother to plan out every meal, just the dinner, the rest of the meals are pretty standard. We just assume we are going to buy certain foods when we run low for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Also, we usually leave a day or two per week to eat up the left overs for dinner, and we almost always eat the left overs for lunches as well. Use the meal plan to create a shopping list for the entire month, or every two weeks.
Only buy what is on your list:
Pretty self explanatory, but it is worth mentioning because it is super easy to start seeing things you want or might think you need while shopping. We are pretty strict about only getting what is on the list, plus it helps when our son wants to buy something “can we get this?”…. “Is it on the list? nope, not this time”. (Harsh I know lol) : )
Learn to use spices:
You can REALLY stretch a meal by using more spices or adding other products as filler with properly seasoning. For example, lets say you are making soup that calls for 1 pound of meat, which gives the dish a lot of its flavor. One way to make the meat go further is to half the amount called for in the recipe, then add beans for filler, and use more spices to make the meal delicious.
Use cheaper products as filler:
This was mentioned in the previous tip, think of beans, lentils, pasta, and rice to stretch your dollar. Think you cant eat like a king with these foods? Think again. With beans as your base for a dish you can make delicious soups and stews. Lentils have been added to our diet for a few years, try things like lentil sloppy joes, or lentils with bacon and onion. I’m a big fan of lentils, if you haven’t tried them, they taste similar to a split pea and are soft. In general we like to use these fillers in a dish with some type of meat to get a good hearty flavor.
Use every bit of your meat:
There is an enormous amount of nutrition and flavor that can be extract from the fat drippings and bones left over from meat. For example, we make chicken thighs A LOT($0.80/lb on sale), if possible we save the drippings and bones for soup. Now we have taken a $5 chicken dinner and stretched what we paid for into another meal that could possibly serve 3 or 4 more meals. Another favorite of mine is beer can chicken, not only is beer can chicken ridiculously cheap to begin with(whole chickens again about $0.80/lb on sale), the whole carcass provides protein for somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 meals for 3 people. Again, save the chicken carcass for soup, just throw it in the freezer inside a zip lock until you are ready to use it.
Buy meat, dairy, and cheese on sale:
In addition to learning to cook, this is probably the biggest contributor to our budget meal planning. Get in the habit of buying all your meat when it is at a good discount, we will buy 2 to 3 months worth of chicken or pork when it goes on sale for half its normal price. Most weeks a local grocery store will have a sale on milk and cheese, but we don’t buy more than we need for the month very often.