Learning how to make healthy meals on a budget may seem challenging, but with the right strategy, it’s entirely within reach. By tapping into your creativity and a little strategic planning, you can enjoy nourishing meals that won’t break the bank.
This guide will dive deep into meal planning on a budget and how to save money on groceries. In addition, we’ll share healthy, budget-friendly meal ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Keep reading to learn how easy it can be to nourish your body while still eating cheaply.
Table of Contents
How To Plan Your Meals On A Budget
Planning out your meals ahead of time is key to sticking to your weekly or monthly meals budget.
When you see the meals you will make for the week, you can customize the list and research sales beforehand. Let’s dive a little deeper into how to create a weekly meal plan on a budget.
- Plan meals based on sale items and seasonal produce.
- Go through your fridge and freezer before shopping to see what you already have at home.
- Consider ways to enhance leftovers (e.g., expand soup servings with more broth, protein, or veggies)
- Pick a few staples that can be used across meals (e.g., onions, garlic, and leafy greens can be used across the board for a breakfast skillet, soup, salad, pasta, etc.).
- Include some meals that use frozen vegetables, which last longer and save you time on busier days.
- Eat at home instead of dining out (it’s healthier and saves money).
- Drink water instead of expensive beverages.
- Doing the above will help you stay on budget without sacrificing what you need.
How To Choose Budget-Friendly Meals
Sometimes the hardest part about making budget-friendly meals is knowing where to begin or what to make. Here are a few cheap meal ideas to inspire you:
Eggs: Eggs are versatile and convenient. Add in vegetables for healthy fiber and nutrients. A simple omelet is a great choice.
Yogurt: Yogurt is relatively affordable and healthy. Add in fresh fruit, homemade granola, or nut butter for protein. Use what you have on hand and keep it as simple as possible.
Breakfast Toast: Use wheat bread for healthier whole grains while still sticking to your budget. Add peanut butter and bananas for a balanced meal.
Chia Seed Pudding: Chia seeds are a great source of protein and fiber, and a little goes a long way. You can get many servings from one bag of chia seeds. Flavor ideas include chocolate, vanilla, coconut, berry, or apple cinnamon.
Overnight Oats: Oats are a cheap food option that happens to be nutritious and perfect for breakfast. Overnight oats save you time in the morning and can be prepped ahead of time. Check out this high-protein overnight oat recipe with seven flavor options.
Soup: Soup is a perfect option for eating cheap. You can make a large batch for several servings. Try some of these soup ideas:
- Broccoli Cheddar Soup
- Minestrone Soup
- Potato Soup
- Tomato Soup
- Chicken Noodle
- Lentil Soup
- Black Bean Soup
- Leftover Soup (using leftover veggies that need to be used up)
- Butternut Squash Soup
- Carrot Ginger Soup
- Cream of Mushroom Soup
- French Onion Soup
- Mexican Tortilla Soup
Stew: Like soup, stews are a great choice for budget meals. You can save time by making stew in an instant pot or slow cooker.
- Stewed Beans
- Vegetable Stew
- Beef Stew with Carrots & Potatoes
- Chicken Stew
- Vegan Mushroom Stew
- Indian Stew
- Moroccan Inspired Stew
- Creamy Tuscan Stew
Salad: When thinking of cheap meals, salads are often one of the first things that come to mind! Salads can be dressed up for delicious flavor and health while still staying on budget. Here are a few salad ideas:
- Refreshing Fruit-Based Salad (add in sliced strawberries, blueberries, or mandarins for a fresh burst of flavor)
- Tomato Avocado Cucumber Salad
- BBQ Chicken Salad
- Greek Salad
- Asian Style Slaw Salad
- Leftovers Salad (again, using any leftovers before they go bad)
- Beetroot and Feta Salad
- Grilled Tofu Salad
Dinner tends to be the hardest meal when it comes to budgeting. This is for a few reasons:
1. You are tired and end up ordering food/eating out
2. You pair dinner with wine/expensive drinks
3. You spend more time and energy on dinner and use more ingredients in your meals
However, dinner doesn’t have to be pricey or time-consuming. Here are a few cheap dinner ideas I know you will love. And yes, they are healthy too!
One-Pot Dishes: Save time on washing dishes with a one-pot recipe that doubles as budget-friendly. You can use frozen veggies or inexpensive produce.
Throw everything together in one pot and whip up a healthy meal for the whole family. Double a recipe for lunch leftovers or freeze to have on hand. Try out one-pot pasta meals, hamburger helper, or tofu fried rice.
Slow Cooker Recipes: Throw together your budget-friendly meal into an easy slow cooker recipe. Here are a few ideas:
- Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken
- Slow Cooker Soup
- Mac n’ Cheese
- Vegetarian Bean Chili
- 15 Bean Soup
- Slow Cooker Stuffed Peppers
- Slow Cooker Meatballs
Other Convenient Budget Recipes:
- Rotisserie Chicken with Frozen Vegetables
- Bean and Veggie Tostadas
- Risotto with Squash and Asparagus
- Cheese Lasagna
- Baked Potatoes
- Baked Taquitos
- Simple Enchiladas with Chicken or Veggies
- Frozen Pizza with Added Veggies
How to Save Money on Groceries
Saving money on groceries is essential when trying to eat on a budget. Here are some top ways to keep costs in check.
Shop Around For The Best Bargains
Sometimes you have to go to a few stores for the best prices. While produce may be cheaper at one store, canned or frozen items may be more affordable elsewhere.
Pay attention to price differences, and you will soon get the hang of a budget-friendly shopping routine.
Check Grocery Store Circulars For Weekly Sales
Don’t sleep on the sales that grocery stores offer. Many people wait for sales when shopping for clothes and other items but forget to do the same with groceries.
Sales are always happening at your local stores. Planning meals based on weekly sales is a great way to save money. You can even use a rebate app like Fetch Rewards to get cash back on your purchases.
Explore Farmer’s Markets
Check out your local farmer’s markets, farm stands, and ethnic markets for affordable food options. You can often find better deals and also support small, local businesses.
Shop In The Bulk Section And Frozen Section
This tip is especially helpful for those with a larger family. Buying in bulk will save you money, and frozen food will last longer without going to waste.
For food items that you know you go through quickly, bulk is the way to go.
Compare Store Brand vs. Name Brand Pricing
Store brands are often cheaper and can help you stay on budget. These products are nearly identical to name brands, so you will still get the same quality, and sometimes even better quality.
Create a Spreadsheet
Make a spreadsheet with good, better, and best prices for frequently-purchased items. This will help you stay organized and know where to shop.
If the majority of your best prices are at one store, you can shop there and decide if the few items that are not at the best price point are worth an extra drive.
Check the Pantry, Fridge, and Freezer First
Avoid purchasing ingredients you already have to reduce waste. Food waste plays a huge role in surpassing your budget.
Get Creative with Ingredients on Hand
Use what you already have to create meals and reduce waste. You’d be surprised what you can throw together, and it’s fun to be creative.
Ask your kids to help. Sometimes they have awesome ideas that you might not have thought of before.
Take Advantage of Price Matching
Take advantage of price matching, double coupons, loyalty programs, and discounted items. All of these tools are helpful when shopping for cheap healthy meals.
Make a List and Stick to It
Keep a running list of needed items to avoid impulse buying. Stick to it, and do not add anything extra. You can also look into curbside pick-up options to prevent the temptation.
Purchase Staples Instead of Convenience Items
Prioritizing staple items is the way to go. You will go through less food waste, and these items can be used for multiple recipes.
Convenience items tend to be more expensive in the long run and are generally less healthy.
Buy Minimally Processed Foods
Make homemade alternatives for a healthier option that also saves you money. When you make things yourself, you know exactly what is in it and can avoid preservatives and inflammatory ingredients.
When you make homemade alternatives, you can make a much higher quantity and freeze what you don’t need.
Stock Up On Great Deals
Stock up when great deals are going on. You can freeze meats, shredded cheese, fruits, and berries. Store grains, legumes, canned and dried goods properly for extended shelf life.
Buy Produce in Season
In-season produce is always cheaper and healthier. Produce that is not in season has to be shipped from around the world, which increases the price.
You could even grow some of your fruits and veggies in a small garden, following the in-season chart.
Find the Cheapest Places to Shop
Explore discount or outlet stores, membership warehouses, and dollar stores for the best prices. You might be surprised at the quality of food you can find in these stores for affordable prices.
I hope you have found this guide informative and helpful for staying on budget while eating healthy. While healthy food may be a bit more expensive than cheap, processed food, it is worth the investment.
You can easily prioritize both your health and budget by following these tips. With time management and strategy, you can enjoy nutrient-rich and affordable meals that everyone in your household will love. It may require you to implement a few new habits and stay disciplined, but you can do this!
What’s your go-to choice for a healthy meal?
About the author: Anjali Shah is a food writer, best-selling author, board-certified health coach, nutritionist, mom of two, and an advocate for healthy, clean eating for individuals and families. Her work has been featured on Oprah.com, Women’s Health, Cooking Light, Reader’s Digest, CNN, Food Network, SELF, Glamour, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, Whole Foods, SHAPE, and at Kaiser Permanente. Anjali grew up a “whole wheat” girl, but married a “white bread” kind of guy. Hoping to prove that nutritious food could in fact be delicious and desirable, she taught herself how to cook and successfully transformed her husband’s eating habits from a diet of frozen pizzas and Taco Bell to her healthy, yet flavorful recipes made with simple, wholesome ingredients. After becoming a mom, Anjali expanded her work to include strategies and techniques to combat picky eating in kids of all ages. Anjali started The Picky Eater in 2011 to make healthy food accessible, tasty, and easy to make at home.
I’m John Schmoll, a former stockbroker, MBA-grad, published finance writer, and founder of Frugal Rules.
As a veteran of the financial services industry, I’ve worked as a mutual fund administrator, banker, and stockbroker and was Series 7 and 63-licensed, but I left all that behind in 2012 to help people learn how to manage their money.
My goal is to help you gain the knowledge you need to become financially independent with personally-tested financial tools and money-saving solutions.