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Hey friend! I’m going to put you on to a practice that consistently saves people time and money. Meal planning! I’m even going to show you how to tweak that practice to help you save even more. Are you ready? Today we’re talking about meal planning on a budget.

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A Handy Shortcut

Before we dive into the tips, I want to share a valuable tool with you. Meal planning is a great way to save time and money, but many people struggle with the actual act of planning meals. If that sounds like you, check out The Scientific Meal Planner.

It’s a meal planning app that generates healthy, plant-based meal plans for you, based on the nutritional guidelines of the Daily Dozen.  It’s designed to help you eat plant-based in a way that will benefit your health.

There’s a free base plan available, so you can set yourself up and generate a healthy meal plan to follow through the week. If you love it, the premium version offers additional features for added convenience at a low price point. Learn more here.

Meal planning on a budget with The Scientific Meal Planner

Meal Planning on a Budget

Meal planning can help you save money on food in several ways. For starters, you’ll reduce food waste by purchasing only the food items you actually need. (Say goodbye to the science experiment in the back of your fridge).

Having a meal plan in place also helps you avoid the drive-thru window on the way home from work and takes the stress out of mealtime. If you’re looking to streamline your cooking life, this is the tool you need.

Now onto the tips for meal planning on a budget!

Plan Smart

The first part of meal planning on a budget involves planning smart. Incorporate some (or all) of these tips into your planning process and let the savings begin! 

Shop Your Kitchen

First things first, start in your kitchen. Have a look through the fridge, freezer and pantry to get an idea of what you already have to work with. Plan to use anything with a short shelf-life or nearing expiry first. Make it part of your meal plan within the first couple of days so you don’t end up throwing food in the trash. 

Shop the Flyer

The next step is to look through your local grocery flyer to see what is on sale. Don’t sweat it if you don’t get the weekly flyers, try an app like Flipp or Reebee to get access to all the current flyers in your area.

Once you know what deals you can take advantage of, plan to use those ingredients in your meal plan. If your local grocery store allows it, you can even use the app to price match items that may be cheaper at another store.

Utilize Ingredients in Multiple Ways

You can save yourself some time and money by utilizing the same ingredients across multiple meals. For example, rice could be used in many ways throughout the week. Serve it with a curry or stew, add it to soups, use it in burritos, rice bowls or in a stir fry. The fewer ingredients you need to purchase for the week, the more you’ll save.

Plan Meals Seasonally

When you’re planning your meals, try to stick to fruits and vegetables that are in season. These will be less expensive and more likely to be on sale. As a bonus, they’re also likely to contain more nutrients than the out-of-season produce that has travelled a great distance to get to you. 

Plan Meals Around Staples

Get familiar with the lower-cost staples at your local store (these may differ regionally). Look for things like carrots, potatoes/sweet potatoes, onions, pasta, rice, beans, lentils, bananas, oats and more. Once you get a feel for the low-cost ingredients available to you, start planning meals that utilize them in different ways.

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Shop Smart

Here’s a little secret that everyone should know, the grocery store is designed to make you spend more than you intend. True story. Incorporate these tips to help you save at the grocery store. For more handy shopping tips check out How To Eat Plant-Based on a Budget.

Eat First

This might sound silly, but take a moment to have a snack before you go shopping. When you shop hungry you’re pretty much guaranteed to spend more money. This is because the grocery store is set up to entice you into impulse buys, especially at the cash register. Have a snack so you can keep your blinders on and stick to the items you came for. 

Make a List

Once you have your meal plan set for the week, check to see which ingredients you already have and make a list of what you need to purchase.

Have you ever stood in the middle of the grocery store wondering if you had a specific ingredient at home? Only to toss it into your cart and then find 3 sitting in your pantry when you get home? Frustrating, isn’t it?

Have you ever been in the middle of cooking a meal, only to realize that you’re missing a vital ingredient? Sucks, doesn’t it? Avoid this by shopping with a list so you don’t miss any ingredients and avoid buying that 4th bag of rice.

Stick to the Basics

If you’re relying on a lot of faux meat and cheese products or processed vegan substitutes, this will inflate your grocery bill quickly. Processed and packaged items are significantly more expensive than whole foods.

Keeping it simple will really pay off here. Stick to staples like beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas, tofu and tempeh to make up the proteins in your meals. Whole grains like rice, oats, whole grain pasta and quinoa are also much cheaper than the little side dish packets sold in the middle aisles of the grocery store. They happen to be healthier for you too.

Consider Bulk Buys

If it’s in your budget, consider buying larger packages of items that you use often. Especially for things like dry beans and grains. Often the unit cost of the larger package will be cheaper than buying the equivalent amount in smaller bags. Just be sure that the item you’re buying in bulk is something you consume often enough to justify the larger package size. 

If packaging the remainder is a concern, don’t get caught up in the idea that your food storage containers have to be pricey or fit a specific aesthetic. A case of mason jars is inexpensive and they work really well for storing dry pantry goods as well meal preps and leftovers. 

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Prep Smart

Once you get your groceries home, you can save even further based on the way you prep your meals. Use these tips and watch the savings roll in. 

Fill Out Meals With Budget-Friendly Staples

When you’re meal planning on a budget it can be helpful to fill out meals so they stretch a little further. Using budget-friendly staples here can save you a lot. Satiating foods like potatoes, beans and rice fit the bill really well.  Adding beans and grains to soups will make them heartier and more filling. Serving a stew or curry over rice, a baked potato or sweet potato will make them more satiating and stretch your meal across more servings.

Get Savvy With Substitutions

Most recipes are pretty forgiving, so don’t be afraid to use substitutions for expensive ingredients or ingredients that you don’t currently have on hand. 

Some examples:

Grains – These are often easily substituted in soups, salads, bowls etc.  Don’t have quinoa on hand? No problem. Sub in the same amount of cooked rice, bulgur or any other grain that happens to be on sale that week. 

Cashews – These can be pricey. Try substituting sunflower seeds instead. When soaked, they will also blend up well in a creamy sauce or dip. You can also try using half the amount of cashews and subbing white beans in for the rest. Beans are much less expensive than nuts and they add a lot of fibre and nutrients. Win-win. 

Condiments – Things like soy sauce, coconut aminos, tamari and Braggs liquid aminos are all used to add some umami flavour to a dish. They can all be used pretty interchangeably with only subtle differences to the overall flavour of the dish. Streamline your condiments by investing in only one or two of these and subbing them into recipes that call for similar condiments.

Hopefully, these examples help spur some ideas of where else you can make some savvy substitutions to save money on your meal planning.

Use Frozen Fruit/Veggies

Many people avoid these options because they feel they are less nutritious. That’s actually a myth. Most frozen fruits and vegetables are frozen at peak freshness and maintain their nutrients better than fresh produce that travels a long distance. Frozen fruit and vegetables are not only nutritious but economical as well. This is also a great way to enjoy some of those out-of-season items you may be missing. 

Make Your Own Staples

If you have a blender, consider making your own plant milk. While the pre-made cartons are handy, it’s cheaper to make your own if you have the equipment. With just a blender and a straining bag or some cheesecloth, you can make a number of different plant-based milk alternatives. Blend water with hemp hearts, cashews, almonds, oats, or virtually any other nut to make easy plant milk.

A blender can help you make other staples as well. Consider using it to make nut butter, hummus, flours (like oat flour or chickpea flour) and your own dressings and sauces. These items can be whipped up quickly and are often cheaper to make yourself.

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The Bottom Line (TL;DR Version)

Meal planning is a great way to save money on your groceries. You can supercharge those savings even more by using these tips for meal planning on a budget. These tips will help you plan smart, shop smart and prep smart. 

Planning smart involves bringing some strategy to your meal planning. Plan smart by shopping your kitchen, planning around weekly deals, planning seasonally, around staple foods and utilizing ingredients in more than one meal. 

Shopping smart involves making good decisions at the store and avoiding some of the pitfalls retailers set you up for. Shop smart by eating first, making a list, sticking to the basics and carefully considering bulk buys. 

Prepping smart involves making choices in the kitchen that can help reduce your cost per serving. Prep smart by filling out your meals with low-cost foods, making savvy substitutions for expensive items, utilizing frozen foods and making some of your own staples.

Try utilizing these practices and see how much money you save. If you have more tips for meal planning on a budget, share them in the comment section below!

How to Eat Plant-Based on a Budget

Learn More About Scientific Meal Planner

Free Meal Building Guide

Free Batch Cooking Planner

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