We have had a very tight grocery budget for the past 6 years. We currently spend $70 a week on our family of 5, though we only had $40 a week in our budget a few years ago. Over the years I have learned a few tricks that help save us hundreds of dollars on our grocery bill.
With such a tight budget, though, we have learned to be creative, to be content with simple meals, and to find many ways to stretch a buck.
Over the next few months, I thought I would share a few things that I, as our family’s main shopper and cook, have learned about running a frugal kitchen. Today’s post gets right down to the practical question of meal planning on a budget–what do you eat?
These 5 meals are very simple and extremely frugal, but they are also tasty and filling. We often have some version or combination of these meals each week. I have based my prices on a typical grocery store here in Virginia. You may find the prices higher or lower depending on your region of the country and the type of store you frequent.
5 Meals for $5 or Less
Meal #1: Fettucine Alfredo w/ Chicken and Peas
Ingredients–-Boxed fettucine ($1.00)
Jarred alfredo sauce ($2.50)
One chicken breast, shredded ($1.00)
Half a bag of frozen peas ($.50)
We tend to use meat as a side dish in our house. I bake or grill a bunch of chicken, shred it, and then bag it into one or two cup portions. I then put those bags in the freezer for later use. (Check out what else frugal people freeze here!) Our grocery store typically marks down meat on Saturday mornings, so I scour the meat department searching for the best deals. About once a month I can find a bag of organic chicken breasts (with 8 breasts in it) for less than $5.
Tip: Ask the produce manager of your local grocery store when they mark down meats, fruits and veggies, and dairy. Change your shopping schedule to fit those days. You’d be amazed at what you can find!
Meal #2: Homemade Vegetable Pizza
Ingredients:–⅙ jar of spaghetti sauce ($.40)
1 bag shredded cheese ($2.50)
Baking ingredients for crust ($.50)
Green pepper ($.75)
We have homemade pizza about once a week. (See my Best Ever Homemade Pizza Recipe.) I love the flexibility of it. I can use up whatever leftover vegetables I have on hand, any leftover chicken, or sausage. We’ve even put ground deer meat on it! Our current favorite pizza is a simple mozzarella with tomatoes and fresh herbs from our garden. Yum!
Tip: Try growing your own herbs or vegetables. If you don’t have much room, use containers on your windowsill or porch. I’ve been amazed at the amount of basil, oregano, and cilantro we’ve gotten already this year from our little plants. Definitely a great investment!
Meal #3: Potato Tacos and Crock pot Refried Beans
Ingredients–4 potatoes ($1.00)
1 Green Pepper ($.75)
½ cup frozen corn ($.25)
1 jalapeno ($.40)
Juice of 1 lime ($.50)
Corn Tortillas ($1.00)
Family serving of Crockpot Refried Beans ($.50)
This is one of our favorite fasting recipes. (In the Orthodox Church, we fast from meat and dairy before Easter, Christmas, and several other times throughout the year. Because of this, I have a lot of vegan recipes up my sleeve!) Get the full recipe for Potato Tacos here.
Tip: Going meatless can save a lot of money. I mean, have you seen the price of beef lately? Yikes. Even if you aren’t a vegetarian or fasting for religious reasons, incorporating two or three meatless dishes into your weekly menu can be a real help for your budget.
Meal #4: Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup with Cornbread
Ingredients— Homemade Vegetable Stock (free)
Two chicken breasts, shredded ($2.00)
Two carrots ($.30)
Two celery stalks ($.40)
1 cup cooked penne pasta ($.50)
1 onion ($.50)
1 package cornbread mix (or, even better, make your own!) ($.60)
Dried herbs from your spice rack, or fresh from your garden
Soup is one of the best meals you can make when you’re on a tight budget. We often have what I call “dump soup.” (I’m so poetic, right?) I will literally dump anything I can find in my refrigerator or freezer into the crock pot and let it work its magic. I try to have one grain (rice, pasta, or potatoes), one protein (chicken, hamburger, venison, or beans), and several vegetables (onion, carrots, celery, leeks, frozen corn, peas, green beans, anything at all). Combine those with homemade vegetable or chicken stock, and you have a frugal mom’s dream meal.
Tip: Making your own homemade stock is not only cheaper (it’s free, basically), but it is also tastier and healthier. You can control the ingredients that go in, so there’s no added chemicals or artificial flavors. Win-win!
Meal #5: Kielbasa and Pineapple with Rice
Ingredients— Polish sausage or kielbasa ($3.00)
Jar of pineapple chunks with juice ($1.00)
Family serving of rice ($.50)
Half a bag of frozen peas ($.50)
This meal is my secret weapon. It’s my go-to supper on crazy nights. You know the nights where you have meetings and baseball practices and choir concerts–all at the same time. I can make this supper in literally 15 minutes and all of us love it.
Simply slice the sausage and throw it into a large skillet with the pineapple and juice. Let it cook until all of the liquid has evaporated off. While that is cooking, make a pan of instant rice and throw the peas into the microwave. Voila! A quick, frugal, and (fairly) healthy meal. Who could ask for more?
Tip: Plan for crazy nights. Have two or three meals on hand that you can make in 15-20 minutes. Knowing that you have those meals ready may prevent you from going through the drive through and spending a bunch of money on an unhealthy meal.
(Check out my 8 Frugal Meals for When You Don’t Feel Like Cooking to find more quick and frugal recipes!)
If you want more ideas, be sure to check out Erin’s site $5 Dinners. She has recipes, grocery lists, instructional videos, and more! You can even sign up to have meal plans and grocery lists sent straight to your inbox! Talk about simple. 🙂
Eating well on a budget can be done–it just requires creativity and planning.
What are your favorite frugal meals?