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  • Writer's pictureErica Lucas

43 Tips to Meal Plan on a Budget!

Updated: Apr 9

Is anyone else losing sleep about that grocery bill? I know I am! These days, the price of groceries is forcing many of us to use a food budget. Meal planning on a budget includes using items you already purchased plus thinking ahead for meals and snacks. Planning to split items across multiple meals will help save money each week (such as a two-pound bag of carrots for three dinners and two pounds of ground beef for two lunches). 

To meal plan on a budget, you can use these four things: a meal planner system, store flyers, savings apps, and a notes page for items to use up from your pantry, freezer, and fridge.

Answering the question, "What's for dinner?" in advance removes the stress associated with last minute arrangements, reduces the chance of ordering unhealthy take-out food, and helps you shop for groceries efficiently and with a budget-friendly mindset.

Why Meal Plan?

  • helps you stay within your grocery budget

  • takes out the stress of last minute meal prep

  • helps you take advantage of grocery sales

  • ensures a variety of foods

  • improves the chances of eating healthy

  • reduces time spent shopping - stick to your list!

  • creates a Master Grocery List over time

  • reduce food waste by using up what you have already purchased

  • stock up on pantry staples using savings apps

  • planning for healthy meals is easier

Meal Planner System

You can meal plan a few days at a time, a week, a month, or a season. Your system could include a printable weekly meal planner sheet, a grocery list, and a notes page for "use up" items, events, and special occasions. I recommend my Meal Planner Essentials Kit, which includes these printable pages in one system. Your system may also include a scheduled meal planning day, a grocery shopping day, and a meal prep day. They might all be the same day for you, but they are usually different days for me. 

Store Flyers

Most stores have their flyers at the door and online. I only scan and plan for items I know my family eats to stay within my food budget. For the weeks we have room in the budget, I may shop for new or fun items. 

Savings Apps

Savings apps like Fetch and InstaCart can aid in budgeting, if you look for items you normally buy. Fetch often has points for JIF peanut butter, which is a staple in my home. I avoid looking at the points for items we do not buy normally. 

Notes Page

Use a blank sheet of paper or grab the Notes Page from my Meal Planner Essentials Kit to keep track of items in your pantry, fridge, and freezer that need to be used up. Using up these items will help save money in the coming week's grocery budget! I also note any special events, guests, or car dinners I need to plan for (sports mom life has us in the car four nights a week). 

43 Tips for Meal Planning on a Budget

Here are 43 of the best tips to meal plan on a budget each week. Find the the best way that works for you!

  1. Scan and Plan! Organize your recipes. I have a master binder organized by type (vegetarian, sausage, dessert, etc.) and the meal has to be enjoyed by 4 out of 5 of us to make it into a sleeve in the master recipe binder. I keep a table of contents at the front of each section. 

  2. Don't start with a blank week - template some meals in advance so you have to fill in less each week. For example, Taco Tuesday is dinner every Tuesday night and Spaghetti Saturday repeats each Saturday night. 

  3. Plan a salad night. Google "healthy cold salad recipes" for a new ideas and find affordable and easy dinner meals. 

  4. Keep a calendar of meal ideas made in the past to get quick ideas for future weeks. 

  5. Choose "crowdpleaser" recipes. Pasta fagioli and chicken breast dumplings are fan favorites in my house. 

  6. Choose 5 ingredient meals. Less to prep, less to clean up, and easy to make. On a tight budget, these recipes are great to repeat each week. 

  7. Keep your basics stocked. Create a master grocery list of all the regular items (yogurt, apples, etc.) for an easy way to shop fast. 

  8. Put your calendar on "seasonal autopilot" - set one month of meals and repeat for three months. 

  9. Utilize meal kits as an effective way to plan for busy nights. Add fresh produce for healthy choices. 

  10. Create your own meal kits in advance. Chopping veggies in advance is a great way to save time on busy nights.

  11. Slow Cooker! I have learned to pay attention to my meal planning pain points. Busy days drain me completely. I never feel like prepping or cooking on those days, and I love putting a meal in the crockpot to do the work for me. 

  12. Instant pot! Great for meals and side dishes. We cook chicken breasts, eggs, and potatoes weekly in our Instant Pot to use for meals. 

  13. Set weekend or non-busy days for the “new recipes" night. Use tried and true recipes the other six nights. 

  14. Planning leftovers as meals is a good way to save time and money. 

  15. Serve meals directly into food storage as well as on plates for meals. Reserving the food in storage right away helps plan for using up leftovers. 

  16. Batch cook. I batch cook meatballs and lasagna monthly. I also plan "leftovers" after lasagna night because I make an extra large batch on purpose. 

  17. Cook for the lowest common denominator. My youngest likes plain pasta so I leave some to the side for him, but coat the rest of the noodles with sauce for my other children. 

  18. Sheet pan meals. My kids love my sausage one pan meal: sausage, onion, pepper, carrots, and potatoes.  

  19. One pot pasta meals! Love this hack and it saves lots of money. 

  20. Jordan Page says planning monthly is bad. I disagree. I like planning for the month so it’s all done at once but I might shop a few times during the month. Her point is to be able to be flexible and take advantage of grocery sales. I repeat the same weekly meal plan for an entire season... but shop sales each week. Do what works for you!

  21. Ask for help. Have a teen or spouse take over Friday night dinner. 

  22. Declutter cookbooks. Too many choices can led to decision fatigue when it comes to planning meals.

  23. Meat free Mondays! Theme nights make it simple to plan. 

  24. Make space for grace. Yes, take-out is perfectly acceptable if you have room in the budget. You can save extra money with homemade pizza night instead of take-out, too! 

  25. Organize your pantry. It is easier to plan from your pantry then augment your meal plan and grocery list after planning to use up what you have. 

  26. Keep a stash for easy meals and sides - Kraft Mac and cheese? frozen lasagna? I’m hippie adjacent. I read labels, shop organic and local, but I also feed my kids Kraft Mac & Cheese. 

  27. Use printables. Hundreds of choices for weekly blank and completed meal plans out there in GoogleLand (and my Etsy shop).

  28. Plan combo nights such as soups and sandwiches, meat and sides, or soups and salads. 

  29. Keep a list of favorite meals handy and regularly shop for the ingredients. Stock up on sales so you can pop those faves into a week easily. 

  30. Pick a planning day and build a habit of meal planning. 

  31. Build a shopping list while you plan. Repeat weeks for a month and build a Master Shopping List!

  32. Plan ahead: if you plan on Wednesdays, then have the current plan run Monday through Sunday. Gives you a few days to shop for the next Monday through Sunday. 

  33. Plan breakfast for dinner! Add fresh fruit as part of your healthy meal plan. 

  34. Make double pasta on pasta nights and save 1/2 to use as a cold pasta side dish for dinner the next night. Pour some Italian dressing over the second 1/2 pop in the fridge. Budget meal prep and budget meal plan by doubling pasta and planning ahead. 

  35. Plan from your shelves. What do you have that you can use up?

  36. Keep “use up“ bins in your pantry, freezer, and fridge so you can plan a couple of things from what you have (hello sweet potatoes sitting in my pantry right now). 

  37. Build “extra” into your weekly grocery budget for sale items to stock up. Meat is BOGO? Your pasta sauce is $4.99 instead of $8.99? Then plan to use up from your extra inventory in coming months.

  38. Use store apps to pre-order or organize your grocery order. Even get your order delivered to your home! You can still find some of the best deals without going to the store. 

  39. Use up 10 minutes now to make planning dinner later easier. Meal prep while the coffee is brewing. Take out that meat to thaw. Start the crockpot. Chop those veggies.

  40. Meal prep while unpacking groceries. Keep out produce and herbs, and prep them for use later. 

  41. Need variety? Plan international nights. Try new ingredients and recipes!

  42. Plan around events and tasks that take you out of the house. This helps reduce food costs and keeps you within your budget. Make ahead car dinners for the win! 

  43. Create a daily to-do list based on your weekly meal plan. Which days do you have time to bake bread or meal prep a simple pudding dessert? 

Weekly meal planning makes grocery shopping, meal planning, and budgeting even less time-consuming for me! 

Read this blog post next for three hacks to organize your recipe binder!

FTC Disclaimer: Please note that some links may be affiliate links, and I earn a commission from your purchase. These links share products at no extra cost to you. I may receive some products in exchange for my honest review. My opinions are my own and are not influenced by brand, person, or company. 


Catharina B
Catharina B
Oct 12, 2021

In my house everyone cooks, it's me, my husband and our two teenagers. Every friday is pizza night, tuesday and thursday are leftovers and we always make 8 portion recipes so we have enough for lunch the next day. The teenagers have free school lunches so it's only the adults Who need a lunchbox. The meals that need to be cooked that noone is responsible for is easy food like hot dogs and such, on our designated cooking day we all have to cook from scratch. Last week I tried Lauren Nicholsens honeyglazed salmon.

Catharina B
Catharina B
Oct 12, 2021
Replying to

I really liked it. Here is the recipe:

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