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On a Budget? Here are 6 Meal Planning Hacks You Need to Try!

I’ve finally made a huge career change that I’ve been thinking about for years! But such a big move means we have to focus even harder on sticking to our budget. The biggest expense we’ve been trying to trim down is our food costs so we’ve been meal planning on a budget.

With Baby A (do I call her Toddler A now that she’s 1?) to make us a party of 3, we’ve been meal planning and ordering groceries for the week to help us stay on budget and eat healthier! I will certainly miss the days of ordering DoorDash because we didn’t feel like cooking… But I think this will set a good example for A in the future as well.

We’ve learned a thing or two meal planning regularly and I thought I’d share my favorite hacks below! Have a genius hack or two of your own? I want to hear about it! Drop me a line in the comments section below!

6 hacks for Meal Planning on a Budget

1// Vegetables are cheaper than processed food.

Not only are veggies healthier than processed foods, most states don’t charge sales tax on fresh produce. Save yourself money by filling up meals with vegetables where possible. We even put veggies in our mac and cheese to fill us up!

2// Reduce waste by freezing leftover veggies.

Buying in bulk can be really cost effective for items you use often (like onions) or that last a long time (like potatoes). Most people hesitate buying veggies in bulk because they worry that it will go bad before they can use it.

We cut and freeze the extra veggies we order to reduce food waste. I try to do this with veggies that will be eaten cooked as freezing can cause veggies to become a bit mushy when thawed later.

For example, we had to buy a whole cabbage for a lo mein recipe we were trying out. Instead of letting the rest of the cabbage go bad or eating cabbage for a whole week, we chopped and froze it in individual serving bags. This makes it really easy to throw in recipes later!

Good veggies to buy in bulk and freeze:

  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Green Beans
  • Carrots

3// Get to know your staples.

We keep a list of staple ingredients we use all the time. Get to know the ingredients you love and use. This will make it super easy to plan your meals for the week, especially if you get into a creative roadblock like we do.

We try to keep these staples on hand all the time which is especially useful

4// Plan a “default” menu.

This goes along with knowing your staple ingredients. We plan a “default menu” with our staple ingredients which helps us if we don’t know what to make. We can deviate from it of course, but it gives us a loose guideline which helps more than you’d think! Our default menu is the below:

  • Monday: Protein Bowls
  • Tuesdays: Casserole or Crock Pot Meal
  • Wednesday: Leftovers from Tuesday
  • Thursday: Pasta
  • Friday: Pizza

This structure gives us a framework for meal planning. Protein bowls is a mix of veggies, protein, and rice. This can become fajita bowls one week! Or Thursday is a pasta dish. This can be anything from Mac and Cheese, Spaghetti Squash Pasta, Garlic Lemon Orzo, or flavorful like these Hakka Noodles.

5// Practice discipline.

This is the HARDEST part of meal planning. We only get groceries once a week. That’s it. If it’s not on the list for the week, we can’t get it (unless it’s milk for the baby – that’s the only exception.) This forces us to meal plan each week, stick to our budget, and get creative when something is missing.

For example, our casserole this week was a green bean casserole. We didn’t get enough green beans so we used broccoli instead. It turned out delicious! We never would have attempted this is we weren’t tied strictly to our “groceries are ordered once a week” rule.

6// Use delivery services or pay in cash.

To help us practice discipline, we’ve found that sticking to a budget is much easier if you go to the store with a finite amount of cash or you order your groceries through a service like instacart.

This makes you calculate how much your weekly grocery bill will be so you can find more cost effective alternatives or remove items you don’t truly need.

I used to feel like getting groceries delivered was too “bougie” and a waste of money. But with a pandemic and a little one at home, the amount of time and money we’ve been saving using Instacart has changed my mind! We get the instacart express membership which helps us save on weekly deliveries.

You can also try Amazon Fresh (deliveries from whole foods!) or order ahead and drive up services like Click and Collect from King Soopers or Target’s Drive up. Most apps also have coupons and deals in them to help you save money too!


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