Living on a budget can be challenging and with the skyrocketing prices of most foods, planning meals on a budget is getting even more difficult. You want to prepare healthy meals for your family but that can seem almost impossible on a tight budget.
But there are ways to create a low cost meal plan that provide nutritious meals for your family that they will love.
Fresh Product is a Must
Fresh produce is a necessity for a healthy diet, but it can quickly drive the cost of meals up. To include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in your meal plans, you will need to focus on purchasing the items that are in season and therefore are more abundant and more affordable. You can often search online to find multiple recipes for seasonal vegetables and fruit so that you can enjoy many different dishes each week with a few of the same key ingredients. It is also a good idea to purchase extra-large quantities of any produce that you can freeze for use later.
Focus on Sale Items
The weekly circular from your local store is your best resource when trying to plan affordable meals. Most of the items that are on sale will also work well with the produce that is in the season. There might be times when you are not familiar with recipes which include certain sale ingredients but a quick google search will remedy that issue. This is also a great way to introduce your family to new foods and dishes that you might otherwise not have tried.
Find Affordable Meat
Meat is an item that is not on sale as often as some other staples. But if your family wants to enjoy meat in each meal, then you need to be willing to get creative. Finding cheaper cuts of meat is a good alternative to going meatless for some meals. Boneless skinless chicken is a premium item and is priced accordingly. But if you are willing to buy bone in and remove the bones and skin then you can greatly reduce the cost of your chicken. Also, when there is a good sale on the bone in chicken, be willing to buy extra and remove it from the bone and freeze it in serving sized freezer bags for easy use later. Cheaper cuts of beef can be cooked in a slow cooker for tender and very flavorful meat with little investment of your time.
Whole Grains and Beans to Stretch Your Budget
Adding whole grains and beans to meals will help you to stretch your budget and your expensive ingredients. Black beans and whole wheat couscous can be added to soups, salads and casseroles to increase the portions by as much as 20%. The grains will make the food more filling and will keep you feeling full longer.
Plan and Prep
Planning ahead is a great way to maximize your time and the food that you purchase. If you need diced vegetables for three meals in a week, then cutting them at one time will reduce the prep time for the other two meals. It is also a good way to purchase larger packages at a cheaper per ounce cost. In addition, buying larger packages at a discounted rate means that you can make two meals more affordably and then freeze on meal for use later. The theory to cook once and eat two or three times is a great way to save both money and time.
Seasonal savings are great but they might lead you out of your comfort zone at times. Be willing to purchase new foods and try different dishes that you have never made before. This is a great way to maximize your food budget and to add variety to your meals. You might be surprised to learn that you really enjoy some very affordable foods that you never tried before.
As you begin to branch out and try new foods and new dishes, it is very important that you keep your pantry organized. You will find that you have increased the number of staples and spices that you need so it is important to keep them organized. It is not cost effective to buy an item that you already have but have lost in the back of the pantry.
Many times you will save leftovers with the best of intentions of eating or using them in another dish. But your savings will not increase unless you actually use your leftovers. Planning meals to account for leftovers is a great way to be sure that you are not wasting food and money. Roast a chicken early in the week knowing that you will add the leftover chicken to rice and beans for chicken tacos later in the week. Leftover meat and veggies can be used for soup, pot pies or in omelets.
Farmers Market Finds
If you have a farmers market in your area, that is a great way to purchase in season veggies. But you might need to be willing to buy whatever happens to be left over as closing time nears. The vendors are happy to sell their produce at a reduced rate rather than have to load it up and return it to their farm. You might also find that as you become a regular the vendors will expect you and will begin to offer you better deals and even throw in the occasional free item to keep you returning each week.
Keep Your Meals Interesting
Cooking on a budget can get boring and repetitive but shopping at local ethnic markets will offer a great way to incorporate affordable variety into your low-cost meal plan. Many items such as rice noodles and Asian sauces which are expensive at a grocery store are very affordable at an Asian market. Following these few tips will allow you to create a variety of healthy and good tasting meals for your family without breaking the budget each week.