Your budget has been a little tighter as of late and you have fully committed yourself to a lifestyle of frugality. I commend you.
You have dedicated your time to budget creation, minimizing your unnecessary expenses and contributing more to your debt reduction and savings account.
Or maybe (sometimes bad things just happen) you have gone from a two-income household to a one-income household.
You have made the necessary changes, but for some reason your grocery budget is still suffering and you have hot dogs on your weekly menu about three times too many.
Making a meal plan is hard. Making a meal on a tight grocery budget can be absolutely overwhelming.
To avoid you having to eat cornflakes and hot dogs Monday through Friday in order to make your budget work, I have included 7 breakfast, lunch and dinner suggestions to get those creative meal planning juices flowing.
Use them for inspiration. Adjust and modify them to your dietary needs and expand on them. You’ll see, once you get the ball rolling, it gets a lot easier.
Oatmeal is incredibly cost efficient, because it yields a high number of servings for the amount you buy and it is satisfying and filling.
It is also very versatile. You can eat it on its own, add some milk, brown sugar, syrup, fruit, or sprinkle it on yogurt.
Even if you decide to opt for the slightly more expensive organic oatmeal, it will last you quite a few breakfast portions.
And honestly, who doesn’t like a bowl of warm oatmeal on a cold winter’s morning before heading out into their day?
2. Pancakes or Waffles
If oatmeal isn’t your thing or you just need a break from the high-fibre breakfast option, pancakes/waffles are a great alternative.
The recipe can be easily adjusted in case you don’t have any milk or eggs on hand. Just use water instead (also great for those of us who are lactose intolerant).
Dust off that waffle iron that you haven’t used on ages and you’ll be surprised how many waffles you can make with one batch of batter.
Or use you cast iron pan to make delicious and fluffy pancakes.
Dress them up with anything ranging from seasonal fruit, powdered sugar, syrup, butter or whipped cream. You’ll be amazed how long they will keep you from getting hungry for lunch.
3. French Toast
Let’s say you have some bread left over that is a little too dried up to use for sandwiches, but still good enough to eat. Keep it around for next day’s breakfast and turn it into delicious french toast.
It only needs three ingredients: slices of bread, some milk and an egg or two.
A lovely alternative to pancakes, waffles and oatmeal. And again you can dress them any way you feel like: butter, sugar, syrup or whipped cream.
4. Eggs and Toast
For anyone, who doesn’t have a sweet tooth in the morning, how about the old favourite of eggs and toast.
We got scrambled eggs, sunny side up eggs, poached, hard boiled, soft boiled (so that the yolk is creamy and you can dip pieces of buttered toast in it, yum).
Eggs are a great source of protein. Toast will give you the glucose boost you will need in the morning and the combination is a sure winner to hold you over until lunch.
5. Milk Rice
Growing up milk rice was one of my favourites. We usually had it for lunch or an afternoon snack, but this is also a great alternative as a breakfast food.
There are different ways you can prepare this dish. I have read people use leftover plain rice, let it boil in some milk and serve with cinnamon sugar.
The recipe my grandmother used, instructs the uncooked rice to be cooked completely in the milk and then serve it with cinnamon sugar.
Regardless of your personal preference, you can make a big batch from it, store it in the fridge and feed yourself and your family 2-3 servings.
6. Homemade Muffins
Personally, I prefer the mini muffins my mom used to make either with peaches or blueberries. The mini ones are easier to portion control and just so much fun.
Any simple muffin recipe will do for this breakfast option, since you are already saving a ton of money by not buying the artisan muffins from those big chain coffee shops.
You can make big batches, freeze them and heat them up each morning.
7. Toast with Jam
There is nothing wrong with keeping it simple by having some toast with jam and a cup of coffee or tea.
It is said breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but that doesn’t mean it has to be super complicated and incredibly fancy.
Lets face it, we are not royalty and we are trying to embrace the frugal lifestyle and if toast and jam is, well, your jam, then you roll with it. Mornings can be tough enough already, lets make sure you have at least your breakfast to look forward to.
Who doesn’t like leftovers? Well, I guess, if dinner wasn’t so great, then the leftovers won’t win any awards either. But usually leftovers taste even a little better, because the flavours had a chance to fully unfold overnight in the fridge.
So, I’m a great advocate of leftovers serving the purpose of lunch either reheated in the way they were served the night before or turned into sandwiches.
They are delicious. And you don’t have to worry about stopping anywhere to buy lunch or trying to figure out what to scrounge up from your pantry. It’s a win-win situation.
9. Vegetable Soup
Years ago I read an article about using the stalks and peels of the vegetables we prepare for dinner to boil them down for vegetable stock.
I thought that was a brilliant idea. Whenever you peel potatoes or carrots or any seasonal vegetable, wash and save the peels and stems in a freezer bag you keep in the freezer (I usually use it within 6 weeks of starting it).
Once the bag is relatively full, add the contents to a big pot filled with water and let it boil for a good 2-3hours.
Remove the vegetable peels and save the broth. You can add potatoes, seasonal vegetables, rice or even little pasta shells to turn the broth into a healthy soup.
You can also use the broth to prepare other dishes that call for the addition of stock.
To add meat protein, you could also add the bone of a ham or beef bones before boiling the peels as well.
10. Build your Own Pizza
Let’s say you have some bread slices or tortilla shells leftover, maybe some cheese and tomato sauce (ketchup will do the trick as well).
You can easily make a meatless personal pizza or add some salami or pepperoni, if you have some available. It’s a quick, delicious and economic lunch option.
11. Old Fashioned Sandwiches
There is nothing wrong with scouring your fridge to make a good old fashioned sandwich with some mayo, mustard, lunch meat (or maybe there are some slices of roast or chicken pieces left over from last night).
Maybe you have a few slices of cheddar or mozzarella cheese left over as well. You could turn your sandwich into a panini or a fancy grilled cheese sandwich. The options are endless.
12. Baked Potato with Sour Cream
Back in my university year when I had neither time nor money I would buy a few baking potatoes and a small pack of sour cream (if it was on sale) and make a baked potato for dinner.
The potato baked itself, so I could get some more homework done while dinner was cooking and the price was very well manageable.
13. Mac and Cheese
If you want to stay away from the boxed version of your childhood favourite meal, there are plenty of recipes available on the internet to satisfy your cheese and pasta cravings.
The quickest and most economical one I have found is a 3-ingredient mac & cheese recipe that is ready in 15 minutes. All you need are elbow pasta, milk and cheese.
It is a perfectly quick lunch option for those cold, damp autumn days.
I know, rabbit food isn’t for everyone, but sometimes lettuce and cucumbers are on sale. So, what’s one to do? It wouldn’t hurt to mix up the mac & cheese lunch days with a little green and fibrous option once in a while.
Salads are so versatile and just waiting for your creativity to take over. You can make a classic Cesar salad with leftover chicken from last night and some ranch dressing before both go bad in the fridge.
Or how about tuna salad? I recently had to switch from mayo to olive oil for my tuna salad and it really wasn’t bad at all.
You just add a spoon of oil to the flaked tuna, add a little salt and pepper and mix it either with your lettuce of choice or you can put it on a tortilla wrap. It’s delicious, quick and cost friendly. I swear by it.
15. Beef Patties
When there is a good price on ground beef, I usually pick up a large pack and plan my week’s meals around it.
One of my go-to and comfort foods is a modified version of the German beef patty recipe called boulette.
I use half the pack of ground beef, add a slice of bread that I have soaked in water for a few seconds (drain the water before adding it to the beef), add spices of your choice (mine include salt, pepper and chilli powder mix).
Blend all ingredients well with hands or wooden spoons, form meat into patties and fry in a pan with olive oil until cooked through.
I like cutting my patties into slices, putting them on toasted bread and adding some ketchup and mustard and eating it like a hamburger.
Half a pack of ground beef usually yields enough patties to last at least two dinners and a lunch.
Spaghetti with tomato-meat sauce used to be my absolute favourite as a child. And sometimes it still is my greatest comfort food.
Remember that half a pack of ground beef that you saved? You can use that to make a rich tomato sauce for your spaghetti.
Depending on your time and the price of tomatoes you can either use fresh tomatoes to make a sauce from scratch or opt for a pre-made one (there are some organic tomato sauce options that don’t break the bank and are quite tasty).
And if push really comes to shove you can add some chili spice mix to the beef while it is cooking and add about two cups of ketchup.
The longer you let it simmer, the better.
Any leftover meat sauce from the spaghetti dinner can be used for taco night the next day. It isn’t really necessary to add special taco seasoning, if money is tight.
You can always heat up the meat sauce and add a bit more chili spice mix to give it a bit more of a kick.
Chili is another one of those meals that is so versatile and very forgiving when modifications have to be made to adjust for a tight budget or lack of certain ingredients.
You can stretch the meat portion by adding carrots, use canned or dried beans, use canned tomatoes (or none at all if acid reflux is a concern), use ham or beef or make it vegetarian.
There are so many recipes available that accommodate a wide range of dietary and budget needs, as well as recipes that can be easily made in a slow cooker that take barely time to prepare.
19. Beef Stew
So, the meat options at the grocery store were very slim, but you got this enormous steak for a good price. It isn’t the greatest cut and you know, if you prepare it the traditional way, it’ll be chewy and a disappointment,
But what if you cut that steak into very small pieces and make a stew out of it?
In a big pot place the cut up beef with some olive oil, onions, garlic, salt and pepper. Fry it until browned. Add seasonal vegetables such as carrots, mushrooms, broccoli etc and cook until the vegetables are even browned. Add 3-4 cups of water and let simmer for an hour.
Thicken the stew by combining a tablespoon of flour with some water and stir it into the broth. Let boil for about 15 minutes.
We like to keep the side dish extra to mix it up between mash potatoes and rice, but you can also add the potatoes in with the rest of the vegetables.
One batch usually lasts two dinners and a lunch.
20. Rice with Vegetables
You had enough of eating meat for one day and need a break?
My go-to meal when I want to use up all the vegetables in the fridge before they go bad is a simple veggie and rice stir fry.
I chop up what vegetables I have on hand and cook them in olive oil with some salt and pepper.
If I have rice already cooked I will add a little water to the veggies before I add the cooked rice to keep it from sticking and burning (you can also use soy sauce).
It is a super quick meal that will keep you from wasting any vegetables.
21. Pork with Spicy Gravy
I haven’t shared any pork recipes, so this last suggestion is dedicated to a recipe that has slowly evolved into a staple in my house: spicy pork.
It is very simple, but has given me a lot of comfort after I had a rough day at school or work.
Pork chops (the boneless ones) were sale, excellent! Sprinkle them with salt, pepper and chili spice mix on both sides before frying them in a pan, covered to avoid drying them out.
When cooked through, remove the chops from the pan and add one cup of water mixed with a tablespoon of flour. Let the gravy thicken and season to taste.
We usually serve the pork and gravy with rice, but I can imagine it’ll be just as tasty with potatoes (maybe mashed).
I want to add a few general ideas to help out with grocery buying.
First, buy fruits and vegetables that are in season. If you really need a produce that is not in season anymore or one you do not use regularly, I suggest checking out the frozen fruits and vegetables. They are usually reasonably priced and last longer than fresh produce.
Buy spices you use often. Having a spice rack is great, but it is an expensive investment that may expire before you can make full use of them all. You can always modify the recipe.
For items you know you use a lot of, buy them in bulk.
Freeze items you prepared in big batches to keep them from going bad before having had a chance to enjoy them. There is nothing worse putting effort into a meal and then having to throw it away, because it spoiled.
Having a very tight grocery budget does not mean you have to miss out on nutritious, home cooked meals.
Like with most things in life, sometimes all it takes is a little imagination and creativity to make the best out of what is available to us.
Proper nutrition is important. It keeps you healthy and productive. Do not punish yourself, because your budget asks for frugality.
Be kind to yourself and your body. Give the meal ideas I have listed a try and adjust as needed. Being creative in the kitchen can be fun and very fulfilling.