If you’re like me, one of your biggest expenses is your food. Its embarrassing, and wasteful. Money that is spent on food is money you will never see again. It’s not an investment, or even fun to spend, its just something to keep you existing. Are you ready to cut down your eating expenses so that money can be put to better use elsewhere? Here’s how you can make a cheap meal plan, without resorting to Ramen Noodles. If you’re just here for my two week meal plan, scroll to the bottom of this page.
Buy Meat in Bulk, Locally
This step does cost you more money upfront, but it really saves you a large sum of money overall- not to mention, the meat is higher quality, fresher, and won’t shrink when you cook it.. The local meat is not injected with salt water solutions (adding extra weight, and making your burger shrink when cooked) whereas local is not. Check out this article to learn more about that.
Call your local beef and pork farmers, let them know you’re looking to buy a portion. If they have a portion they’re willing to sell, they’ll let you know when its ready (when the animal will go to the locker) and exactly how much that will cost. Some farmers and ranchers even let you visit the farm and hand select which animal you’d like. You also get to determine about how much of each cut you’d like (such as mostly sausage, or mostly ham). If you’re not interesting in contacting the farmer, you can go directly to a local locker.
Here is what Rode Farms out of Scott County, Indiana charges:
You determine beforehand what cuts you’d like.
Pork- $0.50 /lb
Beef- $1.28/lb live weight, this dresses out to 63-65%, which means the meat is actually around $2.03 / lb
And this is what the Scott County, Indiana Walmart currently charges:
Sausage: $3.48 / lb for Jimmy Dean
Bacon: $5.98 / lb for Oscar Mayer
Hamburger: 2.96 / lb for Tyson
That’s quite a price difference isn’t it?! And don’t worry, local meat is just as safe (if not safer) than the meat from Walmart, it too has to pass a USDA inspection. Not to mention, with local meat, you get to see how the animals live and eat before being harvested.
Utilize Amazon, Aldi, and Farmer’s Markets
I mention Walmart in here a lot because for the most part, its a store that most people have access to. That convenience comes with a price however- so try to avoid it whenever possible.
Amazon has great deals, especially when it comes to it’s Prime Pantry. This lets you find great deals on non refrigerated foods, and best of all, it shows up on your doorstep- no need to brave the public or crowds if you don’t feel like it!
Aldi is a smaller, cheaper, and more efficiently run Walmart, Aldi is my best friend. You can definitely see the difference in their prices. This week, Aldi milk is $0.99 a gallon, as compared to Walmart’s $3.49 (the Aldi and Walmart that I price checked are within 1/2 mile of each other in Seymour, IN). I have seen milk there as low as $0.79 a gallon, and eggs as low as $0.69 a dozen. And no- they aren’t anywhere near expired! Still not convinced? Check out their website for yourself!
Local Farmer’s Markets
In farmer’s markets, you need to shop for produce that’s in season, and able to actually grow there (Northern Michigan people- don’t expect locally grown citrus!). The reason why the farmer’s markets are so much cheaper, is because of the lack of shipping / inspection / processing costs. Read this article to learn more about that. Since I get to ride with my husband (a truck driver) I get to see pricing first hand. In Washington State- we visited an onion farm that charged $7 for 25 lbs, that’s about 100 onions, or $0.07 each! In Walmart, those same onions are now about dollar a each. Now of course this is a massive, large scale operation, and local farm’s aren’t going to be *that* low most likely, but they’re still cheaper than a Walmart! Local Farmer’s Markets can really put the cheap in ‘cheap meal plan’.
Buy ‘multipurpose’ foods
I personally believe the reason why people hate meal planning so much, is because its easy to fall into a boring meal pattern. Multipurpose foods is a term I made up (obviously ) and use to describe foods that can be used for a variety of dishes. If you don’t have a lot of money to spend, it can be easy to fall into a rut of eating the same boring foods. For example, a box of “Hamburger Helper” is not multipurpose. You either eat it, or you don’t- there’s very little you can do to change it up. But a bag of pasta is different, it’s what I call multipurpose. You can make butter noodles, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, pesto, pasta salad, and more! Here are some of my favorite multiuse foods.
- Pasta $4.48 / 5 lbs at Walmart (butter noodles, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, pesto, pasta salad)
- Italian Loaf of Bread; $1 per loaf at Walmart; (toast, sandwiches, croutons, garlic bread, bread soup bowl)
- Hamburger $2.03 / lb at Rode Farms; (tacos, taco salads, cheeseburgers, chili, tomato beefsteaks, casseroles)
- Sausage $0.50 / lb at Rode Farms; (breakfast, chili, queso, casseroles)
- Potatoes $0.99 / 3lb at Aldi; (baked potato, French fries, chips, mashed potatoes, hashbrowns, potato skins, fried potatoes)
- Eggs $0.89 / dozen at Aldi; (hardboil, scramble, fry, make deviled eggs, omelets, and they are key ingredient in many baking type recipes)
- Bologna $1.00 / lb at Aldi; (eat it on a sandwich, or fry it alone)
Extra Ingredients to Amplify your Cheap Meal Planning
Accessory Type Foods
These are helpful accessory type foods that you wouldn’t eat alone, but should definitely be used when you’re cooking.
- Butter. Put it on your toast, butter cheeseburgers, cookies, potatoes, pasta, and more.
- Extra virgin olive oil. This ingredient is why so many people in the Mediterranean are healthier- they use it in place of butter! Use it to sauté vegetables and mushrooms, drizzle it lightly over grilled fish, and add it to your pasta.
- Tomato Paste. This stuff is awesome and its probably my most used ‘extra’ on this list. Use it to make tomato soup from, or to pour onto your fresh burgers, meatloaf, or plain cooked pasta.
- Broth. Regardless of its chicken, beef or vegetable- its great to sauté veggies in, or to make soups, or chili with.
- Canned Chicken. Its relatively inexpensive, and it keeps a long time without the use of a refrigerator. Use it on tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos (I like Mexican food okay!!), in butter noodles, and in salads.
- Bacon. Great for salads, hamburgers, and breakfast.
- Flour. This is a key baking ingredient, and its low in cost- perfect for a cheap meal plan.
- Milk. Also a key baking / cooking ingredient, and its great to drink by itself
- Peanut Butter Use it for PB & J sandwiches, add to your toast, waffles, and pancakes.
- Assorted Veggies and Beans. I typically keep asparagus, bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, and black beans.
- Maple Syrup. Not multiuse, but its good for breakfast foods such as French toast, waffles, and pancakes.
- Tortillas. Make quesadillas, burritos, tacos, and more.
Herbs and Spices
Herbs and Spices are really good for you! They greatly increase how much flavor your dish has, they help fill you up quicker, and they’re full of nutrition, such as calcium, iron, vitamin K, and vitamin C. Keep in mind, there’s plenty more available than what’s listed here, but these are what I personally use.
- Chives. Add it to cheeseballs, baked potatoes, soups, pastas, and fish. They work well in basically all egg and cheese type dishes.
- Parsley. Use it in chicken sandwiches, casserole dishes, steak rubs, tomato sauces, and lots of seafood type dishes.
- Basil. Use it to improve your veggie based dishes- add it to vegetable soups, sautéed asparagus, sautéed peppers, sautéed mushrooms, salads, veggie pizzas.
- Oregano. Add it to anything chicken based, such as chicken salads, chicken sandwiches, roasted and chopped chicken in salads, you can also add it to burgers, dinner rolls, beans, and pesto.
Meals you can Make:
- 2 Scrambled eggs ($0.15)
- 2 Boiled Eggs ($0.10)
- 1 Omelet ($0.30)
- 2 Slices of Toast ($0.14)
- French Toast ($0.30
- 2 Pancakes ($0.32)
- 1 Waffle ($0.28)
- 2 Bacon Slices ($0.20))
- 1 serving of Sausage ($0.25)
- 1 Serving Biscuits and Gravy ($0.68)
Lunch / Dinner
- Hamburgers ($0.69)
- Hamburgers with Tomato Sauce ($0.79)
- Cheeseburgers ($.079)
- Cheeseburger Wraps ($0.80)
- Chili ($0.90)
- Chicken Chili ($1)
- Chicken Quesadillas ($0.65)
- Pizza Quesadillas ($1)
- Tacos / Burritos ($0.55)
- PB & J Sandwiches ($0.40)
- Garlic Toast ($0.30)
- Tomato Soup ($0.25)
- Grilled Cheese ($0.35)
- Fried Bologna / Grilled Cheese and Fried Bologna Sandwich ($0.40)
- Macaroni and Cheese ($0.55)
- Butter Noodles ($0.21)
- Butter Noodles with Chopped Chicken ($0.51)
- Spaghetti ($0.45)
- Mushrooms and Onions that are sautéed ($1.11)
- Bell Pepper that is sautéed ($0.98)
- Asparagus that is sautéed ($0.26)
- Baked Potatoes ($0.90)
- Fried Potatoes ($1.00)
- French Fries ($1.00)
- Mashed Potatoes ($1.00)
The 2 Week Cheap Meal Plan:
Day 1: Scrambled Eggs and Toast; Cheeseburger; Butter Noodles ($1.29 a day)
Day 2: Pancakes; Chicken Quesadillas; PB & J Sandwiches and French fries ($2.37 a day)
Day 3: Sausage and Boiled Eggs; Chili; Garlic Toast with leftover Chili ($2.00 a day)
Day 4: Waffles; Hamburgers with Tomato Sauce and Baked Potatoes; Macaroni and Cheese ($2.52 a day)
Day 5: Bacon and Toast; Butter Noodles; Tomato Soup with grilled cheese ($1.45 a day)
Day 6: Pancakes; Sautéed Mushrooms, asparagus, onions, potatoes, and bell peppers; Butter Noodles with Chicken added ($4.18 a day)
Day 7: French toast; Chili and PB & J Sandwiches; Cheeseburger wraps ($2.40 a day)
Day 8: Pancakes; Salad with chopped chicken and baked potato, Spaghetti ($3.67 a day)
Day 9: Biscuits and Gravy; tacos; cheeseburgers with mashed potatoes ($3.02 a day)
Day 10: Waffles; Butter Noodles with chopped chicken added; Sautéed Mushrooms and Bell Peppers with fried potatoes ($2.90 a day)
Day 11: Scrambled Eggs and Toast; Quesadillas, Chicken Noodle Soup ($1.44 a day)
Day 12: Biscuits and Gravy; Macaroni and Cheese with French fries, Cheeseburger Wraps ($3.03 a day)
Day 13: Bacon and Omelet; Grilled Cheese and Fried Bologna Sandwich; Chicken Chili ($1.90 a day)
Day 14: Scrambled eggs and Pancakes; Pizza Quesadilla; Baked Potatoes and Cheeseburgers ($3.16 a day)
The median of all these days? About $2.52 a day. Insane right? If my husband and I ate ‘out’ at fast food restaurants for every meal (which is easy to do, being in a semi) it would cost us about $18.00 a meal, or $45(ish) a day!
So, is my monthly grocery bill actually $152.00 for the two of us? Sometimes. Sometimes we’re really frugal, we stay on the wagon, we cook 3x’s a day, and we watch our calories. Then there’s the *other* days, where we buy $40 worth of girl scout cookies, and shamefully eat McDonald’s. I guess there’s a balance to be found. My point is, we have successfully lived off $2.52 a day, and if you’re willing, you can too.
As always, thank you for stopping in and reading!