Meal Planning can feel overwhelming for so many people. When you have to come up with meals for your whole family and don’t want to break the bank, where do you start?

I know what it’s like to have to eat on a budget. Currently (while I am writing this blog) is month 7 of my husband being out of work. My blog income is our primary source of income besides unemployment and, due to that, we’ve had to get government assistance and our grocery budget is VERY low.

But, instead of feeling discouraged about feeding my family well, I’ve decided to come up with a strategy to make sure we are eating healthy on our budget. If you are in a similar boat, or just need to decrease that food budget, check out these 4 tips below to keep you on your budget!

#1 Create a budget

Okay, this may seem silly to even have to say but, if you don’t have a budget to get started, it is SO easy to overspend on food.

We follow the Dave Ramsey principles laid out in the book The Total Money Makeover (which has helped us pay off over 70K in debt and kept us afloat during this difficult financial time) In his book, he talks about using a cash envelope system for all of your budgets and I am going to encourage you to give it a try.

The premise of this is that instead of swiping your card (either debit or credit) you take all of your budgets out in cash and put them in appropriate envelopes (for example create an envelope for groceries, gas, pets etc…). The reason this works is when you are swiping a card you aren’t thinking about spending. There is something psychological about swiping vs. actually handing over cash and, when you can see the amount in your wallet dwindling, you think twice about some of your purchases.

When you are trying to eat on a budget, you have to make sacrifices and say ‘no’ to some food purchases that come up and, when you actually create a dollar amount of how much you want to spend each month, you are more likely to say ‘no’ to things that are more luxury.

For our family of 5, we spend about $80- 100 a week and are able to have plenty of food for our family to eat all of our meals!

How do we do it?

#2 Take Inventory

In order to create a meal plan and eat on a budget, you need to know what you have. After you’ve created your budget, your next step to take an inventory of what you have on hand. This will not only keep you from having to go out and buy last-minute items that you thought you had and didn’t (I can’t tell you how many times we’ve run out of cumin or garlic!) and allows you to make a plan based on what you have.

I can guarantee you that you have more food items on hand than you realize. So often we buy things that get pushed to the back of the pantry or forgotten about so they stay there forever. Also, after looking at an ingredient for so long (for us it’s tons of cans of beans and tomatoes) you forget how to be creative with your food.

Having a pantry inventory allows you to get a framework going for your meals and, as previously stated, keeps you from spending money on items last minute. If you can plan out what you need, you can search for the best deals in advance instead of a last-minute and more expensive purchase.

#3 Eat from your pantry

When making your meal plan, the best way to start saving money is to eat from what you already have. If you’ve done the step of creating the pantry inventory you are a step ahead.

A few years ago, I went to the First Steps to Success Conference with Dani Johnson and it changed my life in many ways. During her War on Debt seminar, she talked about this concept and challenged us to try to do this for an entire month. We were allowed to get fresh foods (maybe produce or meat) but that’s about it.

It forced us to not only be a little more creative, sometimes eat a little boring, but allowed us to save so much money. This might not be the most fun for your family but I know you have those cans of tuna or big container of oatmeal that is staring you in the face each day. Instead of buying another protein to add to your salad or yogurt for breakfast, use these options to keep you on your budget yet another day.

To make it most successful, invite your family in on this challenge and make it a game. Otherwise, you’ll just get a lot of pushback from them about eating the same few things or trying new dishes they’ve never had before.

When we took this challenge we went an entire MONTH before we had to buy anything but produce! It saved us $400 that month!

#4 Make a Plan

Now that you know what you have, you’ve committed to eating from the pantry before buying a ton of things and have a small budget amount created to buy the other things you need, it’s time to make a plan.

Having a plan will keep you focused and on your budget because you will only eat what you have planned to make. When you commit to this you’ll save money and most likely eat less and more healthy. If you want more tips on how to specifically eat healthy on a budget, read the article I wrote that focuses on healthy eating!

When planning your meals, I recommend picking 2-3 meals that you can rotate for breakfast and lunch, have a small list of snacks available for the family and plan out which dinners you will make based on what you have. One goal I made for 2018 was to make one new recipe each week. This way, I can keep my same rotation going for most meals and mix it up every once in a while so everyone doesn’t get bored. You can see the recipes we’ve made so far this year right here!

When you’re planning your meals from what you have, head to Pinterest to get some recommendations or, even better, check out the site SUPER COOK! Supercook allows you to enter what you have in your pantry and gives you recipe ideas based on your personal inventory.

If you’ve already created a pantry inventory than you can just type the items in and subtract things from the dashboard as you use them. This way, the website can tell you which foods you need on hand to grab at the store.

Hopefully, these tips help keep you focused on staying on a budget and make meal planning less scary and overwhelming. When you get a good system in place (which could take time), meal planning becomes so much easier and more of a game to figure out how to stay on budget while being creative.

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