How to Plan Healthy Meals on a Budget

*THIS IS A GUEST POST BY Ashleigh Baker FROM newvirtue.com.au* 

There are undoubtedly some wonderful benefits to enjoy from putting your grocery bill on a budget; you save money, you’re more likely to make healthy choices and you will definitely become more creative in the kitchen!

Healthy Budget = Healthy Eating

After an enlightening conversation with my stepmother, I learned a great deal about how to budget your food bill and make the most of smart choices on ingredients. I am so excited to say that since putting my family grocery list on a tight budget, I have saved over $130 per week on food - where we previously spent $250+ each week, we now usually spend around $120! We now enjoy a well-planned healthy diet, rarely waste money on expensive snacks and I have learned a heap of new recipes to keep things interesting.
So today I am showing you how I do this every week with an example of my weekly plan and shopping list.

1.Consider what your weekly budget should be

While I won’t go into details about creating a household budget in this post, it is smart to consider your household budget, how many mouths you need to feed and how often you will shop, in order to determine a realistic food budget. I personally made my budget somewhat strict, allowing $130 per week to feed my very active husband, my toddler and my pregnant self. After stocking my pantry with baking essentials, oils and minimal cleaning products, I now rarely spend over $120 each week. Any difference in cash I have left over goes into our account, is recorded in the budget and saved for the weeks where we need to re-stock pricier items. Eating healthy is not expensive when you avoid over-priced, gimmicky products and just stick to purchasing mostly whole foods.

2. Create a draft meal plan for the week

I made a decision early on that I was not going to stress myself out with cooking something different for each family member if they were fussy. I understand this is not the case for everyone, so just do what you can with the cards you have been dealt. While I’ll eat just about anything, there are foods my husband generally won’t eat and there are foods my daughter is fussy about, so I base my meal plan on meals that we are all relatively happy with. Since I take this approach, I only ever write one meal plan per week, which suits the whole family.

Here is an example of one of my weekly plans:

3. Create your shopping list

When I started doing this, I realized I had absolutely no idea about the price of any item on my list! So, I used the Coles and Woolworths online shopping app to find prices of each item. If my list was too expensive, I would find alternatives or change the meals on my plan until everything fit into the budget.
Of course, in the very beginning it was extremely difficult since I wanted to stock up on certain spices, oils and baking supplies. I managed to work those items into the list over a number of weeks.

Here is a list of all the main ingredients I have in my fridge and pantry: 
I have divided the list into my occasional items (I purchase these when the budget allows or when we run out) and items I generally buy each week:

4. Finalize Your Meal Plan

Now that you have created a shopping list that fits within your budget, ensure you have everything you need for the meals on your plan. Make changes to your meal plan to work within your budgeted list if necessary.  

Now get ready to shop! See below for helpful tips on this process.

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Helpful Shopping Tips

  • Check out local greengrocers and markets for better quality and lower prices
  • Keep an eye on sales at supermarkets and boutique grocers
  • Stock up on bulk items when they’re on sale if you can
  • If you spend under budget, make sure you keep that money in the food budget ‘envelope’. This way, you can add it to future weekly shops that require a few extra items without going over budget
  • When buying your meat, always remember to look at the Use By dates and make sure they fit with your food plan
  • Try to make enough food for dinner that you can have leftovers for lunch the next day
  • You can freeze extra loaves of bread, meat etc for use later in the week
  • Try to restrict yourself to one shopping trip per week so you are not tempted to grab extra items every time you go
  • If you cannot control yourself and always end up with extra items in your trolley, shop online and have items delivered
  • Learn recipes that only require a few, occasional ingredients or leftover ingredients. i.e. Chicken or Vegetable Stock, scones, banana bread etc. These can often get you through until your next shop is due
  • Maximize the use of your ingredients to make other healthy meals. For example: If you buy a whole chicken, you can slow cook it in water with vegetables like celery and carrots, then retain the broth as stock to use in soups and other recipes later
  • Planning meals for the week can take a while in the beginning. After a few weeks, why not just repeat previous plans or use some favorite meals to mix and match a new plan? The idea is for this process to make your life easier, not harder. Do whatever suits you and your family!
  • Make sure you work treats or desserts into your budget too! You are more likely to eat a controlled diet with this method so don't deprive yourself :)
  • Try to include whether or not you'll be eating out through the week and work with your 'social budget' to pay for restaurant meals. Don't use your food budget for meals if you can avoid it because it takes a big chunk out of your allowance
  • BE PATIENT! This process works best after a bit of trial and error, so keep at it! It's worth the money you save. Also, having your healthy meals already planned out is stress off your plate! (Pun intended ;) )

Ashleigh Baker

Check out Ashleigh's FREE Wellness eCourse Getting Ready to Get Well + become a part of her ladies only New Virtue Optimal Living Community on Facebook!

Ash Baker is first and foremost a Mother to a toddling girl with another on the way, wife to a strong and loving husband, health and fitness focused with a creative mind and a love for all things that are beautiful in this world.

As a Wellness Coach, Ash takes great pleasure in sharing her passion for helping others live optimally, as the creator of the New Virtue blog. New Virtue is a space designed to explore a balanced approach to leading a healthy, abundant lifestyle that gives back to the rest of the world. It all starts with setting you on the path to becoming the best version of yourself. In a time full of extremists, New Virtue offers a step back to achieving harmony in all areas of your life.

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