Do you know how much you spend each month on food? Adding up the total amount you spend on food each month can be a rude awakening! All the little trips to pick up this or that accumulate and then you wonder where all the money went. Lots of people don’t pay attention until they start budgeting.
Maybe you really want to lower your grocery budget, but you’re convinced you can’t eat healthy on so little. If you think eating ramen and frozen burritos is the only way to reduce your grocery budget, think again.
Healthy foods don’t have to be expensive. You can eat real, whole foods on a pretty tight budget.
You need a meal plan
One of the best ways to spend less on groceries is to make a detailed meal plan and stick to it. If you know what you’ll be eating for a week or more at a time, then you can get all the groceries at once. You’ll prevent having to run out just for one thing (which usually turns into one cart full of things). A menu will also seriously reduce the chance of resorting to fast food or take-out.
I sure don’t feel qualified to share my own meal plans with you. I’ve shared some of our favorite frugal meals here and there, but that alone didn’t seem to really be enough to help anyone get a handle on their own grocery budget.
Honestly, on my own, I’m not very good at meal planning. I’m a little too spontaneous. But fortunately for our budget, we live much too far from any form of take-out to ever have that as a fallback.
I wanted to try something new
I am a well-oiled machine when it comes to frugal grocery shopping. I sometimes do our monthly shopping trip without a list and still stay under budget most months. I have cooked from scratch for so long that I often lay aside menu planning and fly by the seat of my pants.
That’s fine when I’m making the same ol’ meals I usually make, but it becomes a problem when I get in a recipe rut and start craving something new.
Since I don’t plan meals far enough in advance, I don’t usually have the right ingredients on hand when I get a creative twitch and I turn to Pinterest to find some fresh recipes. Fortunately, living in the boonies without access to a store nearby has taught me to be pretty resourceful at substituting and tweaking.
Unfortunately, my substituting essentially turns the fresh new recipe into something that looks and tastes just like one of our trusty regular recipes.
Enter Frugal Real Food Meal Plans
Earlier this year, I found a menu plan called Frugal Real Food Meal Plans. I was really curious for several reasons:
- A $330 monthly grocery budget was pretty close to our normal food budget
- The plan uses real foods (not processed foods)
- The shopping lists and prep lists were already made
- I wanted to get out of my recipe rut
My hope with Frugal Real Food Meal Plans was two-fold:
For my family, I hoped that this meal plan would help us get out of the rut of eating the same meals that I have been cooking from scratch for years. Although they are frugal and healthy, I was pretty eager to incorporate some new recipes and foods into our menu.
Secondly, I hoped to find a meal plan that I could point my readers to so that they could eat healthy on a limited food budget, too.
So at the beginning of the year, I decided to see how Frugal Real Food Meal Plans worked for my family. Then if it was a success I would share it with you.
I am happy to report that it was a win!
I have really enjoyed making new recipes and actually having the ingredients to make them! I love not having to think about what I’m going to make for dinner out of whatever ingredients I happen to have.
The shopping lists are wonderful! There is a monthly shopping list with all the staples and non-perishables on it. It has prices listed so you can know what to expect and know if you’re getting a good deal. Each week has an additional shopping list with produce and dairy. Sometimes I cheat and shop for two weeks of produce at once because I don’t go in to town every week.
Another really neat thing is the way the meal plan is set up, meals build on one another. For example, you might make a batch of cornbread muffins and eat half with tonight’s meal and the other half in two days. Or the leftovers from the chili one night will be used as a topping for the baked potatoes you’ll have another night.
The recipes are designed to use similar ingredients so you don’t have half a cabbage and half of a squash going bad in the fridge because the recipe only called for that much. When that is the case, there will be another recipe coming up to use the other half.
The meal plans include breakfasts, lunches, and even some desserts too! Even though I usually stick to peanut butter and jelly for lunch, it is nice to have more exciting healthy options if I’m in the mood for something more interesting.
If you want to feed your family healthy food but feel like it’s just too expensive, then you should give Frugal Real Food Meal Plans a try.
You really can do this! A grocery budget of $350/month is totally doable if you want to make it happen.
Do you need Frugal Real Food Meal Plans to be able to eat healthy on a tight budget?
Absolutely not! I have been feeding my family on $300/month for years without a special meal plan. Just whole foods, cooked from scratch.
Is it really convenient to have a detailed shopping lists, all the recipes and prep instructions laid our for you, meals that build on one another, and are designed for a low grocery budget?
Of course! At the same time, remember that the meals won’t cook themselves. You still have to do work. Sometimes it’s as simple as putting everything in the crock pot in the morning, but you are still cooking. From scratch. Which does take effort.
Whether you use someone else’s meal plan, make your own, or you fly by the seat of your pants, you can eat healthy on a limited food budget. If you buy whole foods, cook from scratch and are carefully about only buying what you’ll use (not wasting food), you’ll surprise yourself with how little you’ll spend!
Are you interested in freezer cooking?
I’ve found that freezer cooking is another great way to menu plan. Freezer cooking really cuts down on my prep time in the kitchen. If you want meal plans that can go straight from the freezer to the oven, skillet, or slow cooker, then I recommend MyFreezEasy. You can read about my experience with this style of freezer cooking here.
How about you?
- Does it feel like eating healthy costs more?
- Are you diligent at meal planning? What’s your secret?
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Karen Mueller says
While I applaud your efforts, I will have to say no, you can’t eat healthy on $300/month. Classifying this as real food on a budget is very true; however, I cringe when people call it healthy as things like potato soup has very high glycemic index and thus is bad for diabetes and cholesterol though I do really love it so.
Thus once you take out things with excessive salt, sugar, starch, it leaves very little that one can purchase in the way of cheap ingredients so $300 is never going to be doable to truly eat healthy but its way better than anything you can purchase pre-done.
I do appreciate your tips for re-using and have started doing more of that in preplanning meals and hope that will save my budget.
I agree with you Karen- I’ve never been able to feed my family of 3 a truly healthy diet for less than $900 a month, and that’s really working hard at it with farmer’s markets and sales.
I find that when you eat truly healthy (no grains, no legumes, no dairy, no sugar, low fruit, low starch, only organic, pastured, free range, non-GMO, etc food from local sources) it is incredibly expensive. And anything less than this is not truly healthy so I am always laughing when I see a healthy meal plan with lots of pasta and bread included (indeed usually the main source of food because it’s cheap). That’s not healthy, sorry.
I don’t think you’re being quite fair. It sounds like you follow a paleo diet, which is only one school of thought on healthy eating. Granted, I don’t believe that a lot of pasta and bread is healthy either. But for people who have to watch their food budget (and who doesn’t?), there may need to be some moderation and balance. Or maybe it means your family eats vegetarian three nights a week since the “holy grail” of meat is so expensive.
You also have to consider cost of living. Where I live, a $300 food budget is tight but definitely doable. Now, back home in California, my budget would have to be almost double just for the bare bones.
”I find that when you eat truly healthy (no grains, no legumes, no dairy, no sugar, low fruit, low starch, only organic, pastured, free range, non-GMO, etc food from local sources) ”
Where on earth have you learned what determines healthy? No grains, no legumes, low fruit?
Lol this sounds so pretentious. Because you personally can’t consume these things does not make them all unhealthy. loads of pasta and bread sure, but grains, legumes and fruit? to those with no intolerances, extremely beneficial. I also have farmer friends who consume lots of home made breads, milk straight from their jersey cow, lots of potatoes etc, and are some of the healthiest people i’ve ever known, and their children too.
I love reading your blog and get excited to see new updates! You inspired me to start my own blog about our debt. It’s still very much a work in progress but I’m excited to finally be blogging like I always wanted to 🙂
Toni & GUY Deals says
very nice post
Healthy eating does not cost more in terms of dollars, but, as you mentioned, it costs more in terms of time and effort because someone is going to have to cook the food you purchase.
I meal plan around here. I plan for two weeks at a time, and, like the meal plan you mentioned, I try to use the same ingredients over again so I don’t let half of something go bad. There’s no real secret to what I do. I look at the grocery store ads to see what’s on sale at a good price, think about what I know I have and start planning with those things to put something together. I get tired of the same thing over and over again so I’m constantly adding new things, and I try to make sure we don’t have stuff back to back so it doesn’t get boring (ie. no Italian two nights in a row, not all tomato based things all week, etc.) I’m also a big fan of convenience foods where it’s appropriate. I buy “instant” brown rice instead of regular brown rice because it cooks faster, and I almost always have an emergency frozen pizza in the freezer.
That sounds great Amy! You have this meal planning thing down! I love the “emergency” frozen pizza. 🙂
lol! I call them emergency pizzas too.