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Approaching Meal Planning when Your Budget is Tight

At one time or another, we all encounter one of those weeks – a time when funds are tighter than usual. Since grocery bills are an expense we have every week, it’s a natural place to look for ways to trim costs. This article is packed with practical tips for meal planning on a tight budget, including a full meal plan and shopping list!

Tighter budget weeks

There are many reasons why you may be facing a tighter budget. Maybe an unexpected expense came up, like a car repair or plumbing emergency. Maybe it’s a special occasion, like needing funds for a trip or a birthday. Or maybe the end of the month arrived and somehow ends just don’t meet. Regardless of the reason, we all find ourselves needing to trim expenses sometimes!

Fortunately, there are ways to trim your meal expenses when you need to. Below are some tips for reducing your grocery bill. To help with your planning, I’ve also included a full week’s worth of budget-friendly meals (all gluten free and vegetarian), along with an editable meal schedule and grocery list.

girl holding groceries

Money saving meal planning tips

Here are some ideas on how you can trim your grocery bill this week:

  1. Eat at home and plan your meals. You already know that eating at home instead of restaurants will save you money. Creating a meal plan is critically important to helping you stick to it! Not planning ahead can make you susceptible to just grabbing takeout when you’re tired or feeling indecisive about what to make for dinner. Eliminate that possibility by planning ahead and being well prepared for the entire week.
  2. Take inventory of your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Make a list of the food you already have so you can build on these ingredients to make your meals. Don’t be afraid to be a bit creative. Every so often, I round up all our open boxes of gluten free pasta and toss them together for one or two meals. By utilizing what you already have in your kitchen, not only will you save money, you’ll also reduce waste and clutter! 
  3. Drink only water. This week, don’t purchase juice, sparkling water, alcohol, soda, energy drinks, etc. Just drink your own filtered tap water. If you don’t already have a habit of drinking enough water every day, this may help you get into that habit too!
  4. Skip desserts. I know I’m not making any friends by saying this! However, desserts are an unnecessary indulgence, so when the going gets tough, the budget-conscious cut out desserts. 
  5. Skip pre-washed and pre-chopped produce. As a busy working mom, normally I’m an advocate for products like pre-chopped, pre-washed veggies and fruit. These not only save a ton of prep time, but they also can encourage healthy eating by making it more convenient. However, pre-chopped and pre-washed foods also cost more. So skip them, at least for now. Invest a little more time in your food prep this week, and your wallet will thank you.  
  6. Use dinner leftovers for your lunches the next day (or even the next two days). This will reduce the number of recipes you use during the week and therefore the number of ingredients you need to purchase. You can even increase your recipe measurements and create one dinner and two lunches for your family from one night of cooking. This saves both time and money.
  7. Use a grocery shopping service. Check your local grocery stores to see if they offer grocery pick up or delivery services. Although this service usually involves a small fee, what you’ll save by not setting foot in the store will be well worth that fee. I find that utilizing a grocery shopping service means no impulse buys or grabbing any extra items off the shelf. You’ll end up purchasing only what you need, no less and no more.
  8. Use coupons — but only for what’s already on your grocery list. Coupons can be a great way to save money, but only if you strategically search for items on your list. Don’t be swayed into purchasing items simply because you have a coupon for them. A great place to find coupons is on your local grocery store’s website — they often sort coupons according to your past purchases and therefore highlight items you’re likely to need again. 

shoppers buying produce

Low-Cost Weekly Meal Plan

To help with your planning, I’ve prepared a low-cost, vegetarian, gluten free weekly meal plan for you. This is designed for two people, so you can adjust accordingly for the number of people you’re cooking for. Below, I’ve provided an estimated cost per serving, which assumes that you already have some basic staples in your kitchen, such as cooking oil and standard herbs and spices.

The full editable, downloadable meal plan includes meals and snacks for the entire week. You can easily edit/remove any meals as needed. Here are the included recipes:

Breakfasts for the week

  • Simple Sweet Potato Hash (Beachbody): $0.92 per serving
  • Gluten free English muffin with almond butter: $1.64 per serving
  • Greek yogurt with half a banana: $1.01 per serving
  • Oatmeal with cinnamon and blueberries: $1.31 per serving

Snacks for the week

  • Apples: $0.79 per serving (cup of slices) 
  • Strawberries: $0.87 per serving (cup of slices)
  • Bananas: $0.12 per serving (half a banana)
  • Greek yogurt: $0.89 per serving (⅔ cup)
  • Hard boiled eggs: $0.38 per serving (2 eggs)
  • Baby carrots with hummus: $0.78 per serving (10 baby carrots and 2 Tbsp of hummus)

Lunches and dinners for the week

  • Easy Crockpot Black Bean Soup (Stockpiling Moms): $0.51 per serving. This was an all-time favorite recipe of my husband’s grandfather, so we prepared it regularly for him!
  • Cauliflower and Cheddar Soup (Martha Stewart Everyday Food): $2.78 per serving. Substitute vegetable broth in the recipe to make it vegetarian)
  • Beyond Burger with Quinoa Salad: $3.37 per serving. Substitute another veggie burger option to reach this less expensive serving cost; otherwise, with the Beyond Burger, this meal is $5.42 per serving.
  • Smoky Corn Chowder (Real Simple): $1.16 per serving. We love this recipe in our house! We omit the bacon and crushed red pepper, and we use reduced fat half-and-half or even substitute almond milk.
  • Zucchini and Basil Frittata: $1.67 per serving
  • Gluten Free Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce: $1.77 per serving. This one couldn’t be easier: just boil the noodles and heat up the sauce! We like to add fresh basil and garlic to our marinara sauce.

Your free weekly menu

Download the full week’s menu here!

This is an editable PDF document.

Your free weekly grocery list

View the grocery list here!

This is a viewable Google doc. Either print from there, or create an editable document by clicking on “File” and then “Make a Copy”.

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Full meal plan for a tight budget week

 

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Gluten Free Vegetarian

GF Veg is a blog sharing gluten free vegan recipes and meal plans to support wellness.

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