Reader Question: Meal Planning For The Budget

Meal planning and budgets go hand in hand but not everyone takes the time to do them. Although meal planning is a weekly chore the more you do it the easier it will get for you. For people who want to stick to a grocery budget creating a simple meal plan helps them to be creative in the kitchen while saving money in their wallets.

This week’s reader question pertains to my nightly “What’s For Dinner” post on my Facebook fan page. If you follow the blog regularly you know that we have a Grocery Budget of $190 a month.

We work with this number to create healthy, quick, frugal meals whilst trying to get the best bang for our buck. We often have people ask us how to grocery shop because they want to learn how to save money in their budget. It all starts with a commitment otherwise you may make it through the first week and return to your old ways.

You also know that we like to use coupons but only on items that we know we will use in our meals. We have gone back to basics and have saved so much just by cutting out the “wants” and replacing them only with the “needs”. Planning takes time so don’t give up if you feel overwhelmed start slow and work your way up to a full weeks meal plan.

Here is our reader question… 

How do you feed 5 people for $5 and have a complete meal? I’m single and I can’t eat for $5. Even if I buy a pizza slice and pop that costs me $5.50.

What am I doing wrong?

Signed,

Dude, Please Help me

Once a week we like to splurge on something that we want to eat that we wouldn’t normally prepare. I don’t believe in depriving the human body of its desires, especially food. We aim for $5 meals or less but sometimes we spend more but that’s OK  The last thing you want to do is be a Meal Drill Sargent and stress over not creating a $5 meal every night. Cut yourself some slack until you build up a recipe stash that holds all your favourite frugal meals.

Cost Breakdown Of A Meal

I don’t calculate every spice I use to a “T” but I believe I have a good estimate in price. Pasta with a Sauce made with sausages, onions, mushrooms, peppers… will feed 7 people. This is our cost using coupons and flyer sales.

Cost: $5.25 approximately 

  • 2 boxes of pasta sale $1.00-$0.75 coupon=$0.25 each
  • Sausages sale $1.88
  • cans of  Aylmer tomatoes  sale with coupon $0.50 x 2
  • can tomato paste $0.59
  • onion $0.15
  • 1 carrot $0.09
  • fresh mushrooms Sale $0.99
  • 6 cloves of garlic free from father-laws garden
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil Approx $0.25 = $5.45 as I forgot the oil in the original post at approximately $5.25
  • I also tossed in some herbs from the garden, fresh basil and parsley.
Meal Planning For The Budget

Not all our meals are this frugal as it really depends on our meal for the night and how much the ingredients cost us out of pocket. We like to eat quality food so sometimes we have to bite the bullet and deal with paying a higher price. We have worked hard this year creating new recipes and cooking homemade meals.

It’s been fun but we also realized how much convenience foods cost us in the grocery budget. We started posting our shops in The Grocery Game Challenge to help us to be accountable for our grocery budget for 2 and to motivate others to stick to theirs. I hope you will join us and post your weekly shop and save along with us.

We are not full-fledged weekly meal planners but we are working on it slowly and so far so good. Some weeks we have the entire week completed and others we simply throw together using what we have on hand. I print out our free weekly  MEAL PLANNER and sit down with Mrs. CBB to see what meals we can create using our stockpile in the  Pantry and Freezer  and by reviewing our Pantry and Freezer inventory lists.

Once we know what we have to work with we look at the weekly flyer specials and try to match up coupons if we can. Sometimes we just want to try something new so we put the ingredients we need on the shopping list.

My friend Dennis makes a weekly meal plan with his wife and I have learned quite a bit from Dennis who blogs at What to cook?. They cook nutritious meals that don’t compromise on flavour and easy on the budget. We also check out Aunt B on a Budget out of Duncan, British Columbia who always has some great recipes up her sleeve.

Meal planning takes time but after a while I know we will get the hang of it. Eating out vs eating in like the reader suggests they have done will always cost you more money. When someone does the work for you, your pocket-book will pay as it’s no secret that convenience costs money. Learn to cook at home and eat out as a treat once in a while if you are hoping to stick to a grocery budget.

Frugal Meals 

Some of the frugal meals we’ve created and prepared are below. You can also find many other sweet treats and recipes from the CBB kitchen in the Mr.CBB’s Kitchen Category.

I can’t tell you what your budget should be or when you can and can’t eat out, only you can make that decision. When meal planning if you have to ask yourself, “How much should my grocery budget be?”, working out a personal budget first is probably a good place to start.

How do you meal plan in order to stick to your grocery budget?

Quote-Budget and Money

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Mr. CBB
I’m from the UK and now a recent permanent resident in Canada. I bought my first house at the age of 21 after University then my second at the age of 24. I’ve always been fascinated with personal finance, savings, learning to make money and watch it grow while combating debts along the way. Canadian Budget Binder is a place where I get to share my experiences with personal finance and learn about yours along the way. I hope you stick around and check me out on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest where I am active on all social media sites. Cheers, Mr.CBB
Mr. CBB
Mr. CBB

Comments

  1. Before we grocery shop we sit and plan what we want to make all week and consider what we already have in stock. It worked well until I stopped dieting and my parents starting inviting us over all the time lol

  2. Tara Knott says:

    Have been recently inspired by you Mr. CBB to start up inventories of fridge, freezer and pantry and keep these in mind while shopping. Am starting slowly to plan around more on what I have instead of what I would have gone out and bought. Pantry seems to be getting emptied, making way for more staples bought with coupons if possible.

    • Good for you! Too many times we load up on crap we never use and it sits there. No more! We are sticking to the budget and cooking filling tasty meals from scratch when we can at home. We eat lots of fruit and veg and stay away from buscuits and those snack bars etc…. just full of crap and I don’t care how many calories they say are in them. You can make a tray of brownies for $5.00 instead of getting those boxed ones that they portion for the people who overeat or are counting calories… they make a fortune off of people like that.

  3. There are three in our household (myself, wife, and a toddler). We plan meals based on the weekly flyers in the Sunday paper. A typical grocery store visit runs $120 a week, but that also includes household items such as laundry soap, personal hygiene items, and baby items. We buy store brand for most things and use coupons when it makes the name brand itemscost less than the store brand items.

    • Thanks for sharing! What types of meals does your family make and eat? Do you cook from scratch or do you buy processed convenience type foods. We also use the flyers and when it’s on sale, we grab it if we know it’s a staple in our pantry and we will use it. For example the cous cous was reg $3.29 a bag on sale for $2.29 so we grabbed about 8 bags for the year. What we save using coupons on household items and personal hygiene then goes towards fruits, veg, meats, etc.. so we stay away from food we don’t need. We also check all of the reduced racks to get these great items cheaper. Sorta works itself out. Cheers Mr.CBB

  4. We eat on about the same budget per month that you do – somewhere around $200. For us, the key isn’t so much planning exactly what we are going to be eating each night. Instead, we focus on eating what is on sale at the grocery store. Also, we eat cheap meals several nights a week. For instance, we eat each of these at least once a week: breakfast for dinner (either eggs or pancackes, sometimes with turkey bacon), vegetarian spaghetti, and chicken salads. Also, we have cut down on the total quantity of meat that we eat. Not eating a pound of hamburger at every meal not only improves your health, it also decreases your grocery bill.

    • Good points, you can either spread out that pound of meat with a huge meal that you can eat several meals of cut it in half. We don’t eat alot of meat either to be honest and that helps. Cheers Greg! Mr.CBB

  5. Mary F Campbell says:

    Like Jen, I plan the week in terms of meals…I have a worksheet with Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner & Evening Snack Categories – 28 blocks in all.

    The first thing I do is fill in 3 meatless suppers using beans &/or lentils, then comes the 3 fish meals per week sprinkled between the lunches & dinners, next up is our 4 soup or salad type meals during the week, there is one pasta supper with assorted veggies & one supper that uses eggs are added…then I look at the flyers. At this point, I already have 12 of the 14 possible lunches and suppers boxes already filled in. We have room for 2 meals of meat or meat substitutes in our week and will be based on what’s on sale. If nothing is on sale at a decent price, I include a couple of meals with nuts & seeds and homemade bread or savory muffins/biscuits/scones.

    Breakfasts tend to alternate between cold cereal, hot cereal, toasted english muffins, yogurt, homemade egg McMuffins and homemade muffins & quick breads depending on what we have on hand. This one is easy – you get each option once a week.

    Evening snacks tend to be fresh fruit or veggies & dip in the summer but in the winter we tend to like something warm and filling.

    One of the things to consider when making the menu is portion sizes. If my bean/lentil dish makes multiple servings we can have leftovers & quite possibly freeze some for another week which cuts down on the mount of cooking we do. The same can be said for say our crustless quiche – we get 4 meals out of the one we do. I try to make this mid-week so we can have 2 servings one week & 2 the next week by reducing the beans & lentils meals down to 2 and increasing the egg meals to 2. The portion sizes also help keep us on track calorie wise…1800 for Larry & 1200 per day for me.

    Once the meal plan is set, I post it on the fridge. It makes things easier when it’s time to cook & let’s us look forward to our favorites during the week.

    Next I check the pantry to see what ingredients I need to make the dishes that I have planned & make up my grocery list to include these items plus any items that I stock in my pantry, because we use regularly, that are on sale and/or I have coupons for.

    We’ve been using this method for 10 years now and it certainly makes life easier than trying to come up with something off the top of your head when you get home & are already hungry. We used to turn to either packaged food or take-out & that was killing both our budget and our waistlines!

    I like to try at least 1 new recipe per week just to keep things interesting. We have oodles of regular favorites as a result that we alternate for the rest of the week. It would be unusual to see the same dinner twice in a month!

    Varied and healthy eating has also allowed us to stay on our budget but I have to admit I have fallen down on the portion control & we need to get back on track with that. One day at a time…healthy eating, daily exercise & mind expanding activities…that’s the goal for us.

    • That sounds like some serious planning, good for you Mary! What is a crustless quiche? Do you have a recipe you can share with me? What do you do with your beans and lentils as I need more ideas? Cheers Mr.CBB

      • Sorry to butt in on this string but I just had to comment. Indian cooking is a wonderful place to look for inspiration on cooking with beans and lentils. Meat is far less common in the Indian diet than it is in ours so there are many, many great Indian recipes incorporating beans and lentils.

  6. Another thing that can help is going through your pantry and looking for stuff that needs to be used….SOON! This eliminates food waste (throwing money away) and can save you some money on a meal you didn’t even know you had, especially if you’re willing to get creative.

  7. Mary F Campbell says:

    Mr. CBB, I do my crustless quiche in a 9 x 13 pan in the oven..it is very rich so use light cheese and 1% cottage cheese. Here is the recipe:

    CRUSTLESS QUICHE

    1/2 c. butter
    10 eggs
    1/2 c. flour
    1 tsp. baking powder
    1/4 tsp. salt << I skip this as there's enough sodium in the cheese
    1 lb. lg. curd cottage cheese
    1 lb. Jack cheese

    Melt butter, whip eggs until fluffy. Add flour, baking powder, salt, cheese, butter, half of Jack cheese. Pour in 9×13 inch greased pan. Top with remaining cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes and 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Cool.

    There is also a smaller & lighter Crustless Spinach Quiche on all recipes.com. See the following link:

    http://allrecipes.com/recipe/crustless-spinach-quiche/

    The second one calls for frozen spinach so it's great for all year long!

  8. mycanuckbuck says:

    Basically, it’s gotta be something without meat. I was thinking pasta or vegetarian – and you’ve covered that!

  9. wow that is SO cheap for a meal! That’s a crazy budget!

    I don’t watch my food costs closely. I know I should but I just love to buy on the go and enjoy expensive items (goat cheese, sushi, scallops). I’m not giving up my expensive tastes but I think if I planned better I could save a lot!

    • We enjoy expensive tastes as well, just not every week. Where we save money with coupons we are able to supplement the costs of those expensive tastes which is fine with us. We also eat goat cheese, shrimps, fish and plenty of European and Asian foods. We went round to my mates the other day and he taught me a simple recipe I will share with everyone soon that was tasty. Food doesn’t have to be boring that’s for sure! Thanks for dropping in mate! Cheers Mr.CBB

  10. In the States, I have bought a head of cabbage, small bag of potatoes, three ears of corn, one eggplant & one tomato for $5 that fed three people. I was able to slice the eggplant 1/2 inch thick and layer with diced tomatoes. We don’t eat meat and it was a healthy meal.

    Great post!

    • Thanks for sharing. It’s not difficult to eat healthy on a budget at all. It really boils down to cooking in the kitchen and staying away from convenience foods. We don’t each much meat either but lots of veg. Cheers Mr.CBB

  11. I always look through the store ads to see what’s on sale and where before I go shopping. I make a list of what we need, and we basically have the same things each week, with a little variety based on the sales. Dried beans, rice, and potatoes are staples. They’re incredibly versatile, cheap, and store really well. Our budget (for two) is about $25 a week.

    I think we’re pretty lucky in Arizona. Fresh produce is extremely cheap if you go to the right places. I usually get tomatoes 3-4 pounds for $1.00, onions 6 pounds for $1.00, carrots 3 pounds for $1.00. These things can make great sauces to dress up rice dishes, or to make vegetarian tacos. Our meals usually come in at $3.00 or less, with enough leftover for lunches the next day.

    Thanks for sharing your tips and being an inspiration to all of us on a budget!

    • Wow, that certainly is cheap. I would love to have a $100 budget per month. Yes we have the same type of staples but unless people take the time with them, convenience always wins and costs! Cheers Mr.CBB

  12. Good tips here Mr. CBB. May I add one more? If your reader is resident in Canada, they can inquire about the availability of the Good Food Box program in their community. This program operates in many communities across the country, on the principal of cost reduction through combined buying power. Its aim is to provide access to affordable produce, preferably locally grown. Anyone can participate in the program and each person can buy as many GFB’s as they want to. The boxes must be prepaid. All of the money is put together and used to purchase whatever produce is seasonally available. The produce is bought in bulk and then packaged by volunteers. Administrative costs are funded through community programs whose members benefit from the work experience and routine provided by doing the packaging. It’s a win/win and a tremenduous value. From October to April we buy two GFB’s monthly for our household of two, at a cost of $10.00 each. They provide a sufficient amount of food that, when paired with what we have in our pantry, we need do very little supplementing.

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