How Do You Plan a Family Meal on a Budget?

Published on February 27, 2021 by Lauren
You asked, and I’m answering: How do you plan a family meal on a budget? Since the pandemic hit in March 2020, most of us have had our families home pretty much 24/7. We used to get a break from cooking relying upon the school or work to fill in some of the gaps. Now we seem to be planning and cooking 3 meals a day plus snacks. Yikes! It’s havoc on a grocery budget!
plan a family meal on a budget

How To  Plan a Family Meal on a Budget:

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you may know, I didn’t always have a grocery budget in place. When I first started my financial journey, we were spending about $150 a week on groceries AND eating out at least once a week. That was coming out to about $800 a month in FOOD. It turns out we weren’t that far off; an average family of 4 spends around $900 a month and a family of 5 is closer to $1100 on groceries!
I’ve learned A LOT since then, and I am lucky to be able to share my tips on how to plan a family meal on a budget. Once we started planning our meals and shopping during sales, I was able to feed our family for around $250 a month. That was a BIG difference! Trust me when I say it can be done.

How do I start a family meal plan?

This is not to suggest you go into the store and just grab a bunch of random protein, produce, grains, and sale items. You need to shop with a plan. If you shop without a plan in mind, you will buy things you don’t need AND you will forget the things you do. The former is a waste of money, and the latter will have you running back to the store before you can make your meal or ordering take-out. Neither of these will meet your goal of working to plan a family meal on a budget.

I have created my family meal plans to be delicious, family-friendly, and money-saving.  You have everything you need including ingredient lists, the best stores to shop (Aldi is one of my perennial favorites!), and preparation instructions. If you want to have even more fun, you can get together with a group of family or friends and have a freezer meal swap party. This way everyone can cook a little and get a variety of meals.

There are a few winners in this category. It’s always good to have a few of these ideas in your toolbox. One of our family favorites is spaghetti and marinara sauce.  I share my grandmother’s recipe for the best ever homemade spaghetti sauce, and I promise once you’ve had the real thing, you will never go back to the jarred sauce.
Homemade mac and cheese is another super cheap family meal you can make. If you want some variations on the classic, my family loves bacon mac and cheese and, for a little extra protein, beefy mac and cheese. 
We also love a good chili, and this is sure to please with surprise ingredients like cinnamon and chocolate chips (yes, really!). It’s not too spicy, so even kids like this one.
You can get creative with some ideas when you see things on sale. Consider having things on hand for tuna melts, BLT’s, pasta salad, bean burritos, or even breakfast for dinner which was an instant hit with my family when I served pancakes and eggs for supper.
Saving money on groceries through meal plans and freezer cooking can be one of the smartest financial decisions you can make for your family.  Since you are preparing the foods yourself, you’ll know the ingredients are fresher and less processed, meaning it’s healthier food too.
Start where you are as you plan a family meal on a budget:
  1. figure out what you are currently spending on groceries each month
  2. set a goal of what you would like your grocery budget to be
  3. begin by cutting down your monthly budget by 25% each month and stay within that limit
  4. allocate 1/3 of your new budget for fresh foods, 1/3 for dry goods, and 1/3 for loss leaders
  5. use my meal plans to help you start a meal plan and prepare a targeted list of what to buy and when and build a pantry and freezer full of meals to have on hand
  6. consider organizing a freezer swap party with family and friends to get more variety in less time
  7. have a few fail-safe cheap family meals in your repertoire just in case you aren’t in the mood for anything in your freezer while you build up your inventory
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