Re-addressing Meal Planning on a Budget

After 2 years of successfully implementing my monthly meal planning, I have learned ALOT!

First disclosure: I am NOT a good photographer, this is not a full time food blog, and I am horrible at making food look sexy.

I am a Wife and Mom, figuring life out and discovering how, with the help of my culinary-trained husband, I can make healthy food taste really yummy on a very tight budget. So don’t let my iPhone photos deter you from trying out some of these delicious, easy recipes on here.

Now to business. 

I was asked by a friend to share for a few minutes at a MOPS (Mothers Of Pre-Scoolers) meeting this morning and I realized, in my attempts to prep speaking on this topic, that I had WAY too much info to condense into 5 minutes.

As a result, what felt like a train wreck, I stood in front of these beautiful ladies, after drinking way too much coffee, and downloaded a bunch of info that I hope they were able to find useful.

So, thankful to them for their generous feedback, I now want to update you on how to spend $400 (or less) to feed 4 in a month, in as concise of a manner as my brain allows.

1. Establish your budget

Maybe it’s $400, maybe it’s $600. Maybe it’s usually $1000 and you want to cut back, so see how far $800 gets you for the first month. Set yourself up for success otherwise you’re destined to fail. Make small cutbacks and work your way to a smaller amount each month.

This budget by the way does not include dining out or household supplies (i.e. Toilet paper, paper towels,etc.). Those are 2 separate categories in our budget and each get between $75 to $150 depending on projected expenses for the month.

2. Make your list

Not your shopping list, your food list. I will clarify, but stick with me.

Start with breakfast. What are your favorite foods. Coffee? Creamer? Snacks? Lunch? More snacks? Dinner? Couch date treats for when the kiddos go down (any other parents out there? i.e chocolate, ice cream, Cheetos puffs, etc.) Keep your favorite recipes in mind.

When you buy foods you love you’re more likely to stick to a budget because you don’t feel like you’re giving up your life.

3. List your priorities

Here’s the kicker: think of that dollar amount you budgeted, now ask yourself:

What are my priorities? Organic? No preservatives? Gluten free? Cage-free? Non dairy? RAW? Fish? Red meat? Must have cheese with everything? Oh sorry maybe that’s just me… Wine anyone? 

(Maybe wine needs a separate budget for you; be realistic and honest about what’s important.)

Level your priorities: what is the most important? Can your budget afford it all or do you need to adjust your standards? 

We’re grown-ups, sometimes we need to actually “grow up”.

For my family it is important to find foods that don’t have preservatives or additives. I know we will consume plenty of unhealthy foods outside our home, but due to our family health history there are certain preservatives that lead to digestive issues we are predisposed to; therefore, we need to stay clear of preservatives on a regular basis.

 It took some homework to find the right snacks and cereals I am ok with that taste good AND are cost effective. I end up rotating when I buy them based on sales. 

Again, put in the leg work up front, and it gets easier!! I promise!!

I also know the importance of organic. Because no preservatives is of higher importance to me, I choose select produce items such as kale, spinach, and certain fruits that are always organic, the rest are not, unless the sale prices are better. 

If your budget is a top priority sometimes other things need to go. Coffee creamer for instance. We CHOOSE to alternate weeks of using creamer to save those $3 on a week that it needs to go elsewhere. But RAW milk is a must, so that will always take presidence over anything else.

It’s your budget. It’s your choice.

4. Grocery list #1: Bulk items

Take all those wonderful food items you listed. Copy and paste it. Now, delete all the food that is unnecessary to your daily function. 

Ok now, look at items that can be bought in bulk and separate those onto a Costco list. If it helps, these are my Costco items: 

  • bread (they come in a 2 pack and I freeze one loaf)
  • Meat: chicken, ground beef/turkey, Italian Sausage (I change up my meat choice each month to avoid redundancy)
  • cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, and Romano are staples in this house)
  • yogurt
  • butter
  • eggs
  • hummus
  • snack item: usually pita chips or “food Should Taste Good” multigrain chips
  • salad packs: Asian chopped salad or sweet kale are my favorites
  • deli meat
  • apples- always check the price, sometimes these are better at the grocery store
  • cereal-again only sometimes, depending on the selection. 
  • peanut butter
  • strawberry preserves
  • coffee
  • Creamer-if price is right

 If you don’t shop Costco it will be difficult to stock up; I couldn’t work my budget without them. 
Your first month doing this method you may spend a little more because your stocking up on everything, but each month the list changes a little because it’s not time to buy every item every month.

5. Grocery list #2: Grocery

Ok, go back to that first favorite food list. The remainder of those items go here.

Now, picture yourself in the grocery store. Where do you start? Do you wonder aimlessly? Or do you go in with a mission? If you’ve got kids, I suggest having a mission or its like shopping hungry; you end up grabbing random boxes and opening that box of cookies before even making it to the register.

I start at the left side of the store and I go aisle by aisle making by way to the back of the store than over to the middle and I finish on the right side. I make my list in the order that the food appears in the store. That way I’m on a fluid path and don’t have to jot across the store back and forth weaving through all the other shoppers because I forgot an onion.

Side note: my grocery store of choice is Sprouts. Their produce prices are the best and their sales are incredible. Their bulk bins are also a great way to get my kids involved in the shopping process and save a little extra too.

If you don’t have kids and can go to multiple stores for key favorite ingredients, please, do so! I make exceptions for Trader Joe’s if I really want their mango sorbet or pot stickers and fried rice.

6. Implementation: Bring Cash Only

Now that your budget is set and your lists are made, it’s go time. Look at that list at the beginning of every month. Add special items, delete unnecessary items. 

Be flexible! Life changes. One month you might have a new house guest every week, the next it might be a birthday, you might be on vacation. You are in charge!

Once you have established this outline, it’s as easy as adding and deleting a few items each week. Asked on what your family needs.

And yes! I said CASH only! When you have cash, you quickly become aware of the importance of certain items. You might find some items end up back on the shelf. No one wants to be at the register with not enough money to buy what’s in the cart. 

I’ve been there! Please, spare yourself, take my word for it! Handing back one item at a time to return as you watch your total decrease $1 at a time to what it’s supposed to be, ya that can be embarrassing! Not to mention the people behind you rolling their eyes as they comprehend your need to hand back that $2 box of muffins. Puts things into perspective!

7. Eat left overs/ Don’t waste

When you’re on a budget it forces you to consume everything purchased. You eliminate waste, you teach yourself self-control, you enjoy what you’re eating because you worked hard for it, you appreciate the needs of the world. 

When I start to get grumpy about eating leftovers, I quickly am reminded of the abundance I live in and blessings I have. It’s a quick sanctification process (for all you Jesus followers out there hehe) and it gives me a chance to teach my kids the importance of a grateful heart.

8. Have fun!

Remember, either your budget is a priority or it’s not. For us, it was necessary for the goals we have for our family. Making small sacrifices every month has been a huge payoff in other areas for us. 

Enjoy the process and you’ll soon realize that your money is buying you EXACTLY what YOU want. YOU are in control! YOU have hand selected every item that will be eaten in your house and will enjoy it so much more because you were intentional in the process. Trust me, your dinners will actually taste better to you because they were planned and not just a bunch of random items put together at the last minute (or worse, fast food).

9. One more thing

So often people say they can’t eat healthy on a tight budget. I’m here to tell you that is a lie! When my cart is filled with carrots and hummus or celery and peanut butter as snacks it’s much cheaper than when I grab those BBQ chips. Produce is cheap! Especially when you’re buying seasonally ripe items. Also to mention, I feel better, eat less, and have more energy because I’m eating real food that is meant to sustain me, not to drag me down and make me crave more. 

10. Ok this is the last- for the parents

Stop buying separate meals for your kids. That’s not budget friendly. It’s setting your kids and YOU up for failure. All kids go through picky stages, yes, some much more than others, but let them participate in the process and always provide healthy options. It can be fun. If they don’t eat the broccoli today, try again in a few days.  Keep it up! It’s hard, but press through! Those couple years of hard work will make family meals so much more enjoyable and affordable later. You can do it! I’m cheering for you!

Thanks for reading. Please let me know if you have any questions. I am still learning and refining my process too, so if you have any suggestions or feedback, please let me know; I LOVE to learn new tips!

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