Budget meal planning doesn't mean you'll need to eat ramen noodles every day. Creative shopping strategies shake up your nightly meal while keeping other areas of the budget -- like your clothing allowance and entertainment funds -- intact. You might even fit a nice bottle of wine into your food budget for your next romantic evening at home.
Meat is the protein of choice for carnivore couples, but taking a cue from the vegetarian set means more green on your plate and in your wallet. Serve up an occasional meatless meal. All varieties of beans, lentils, eggs, nuts, nut butters and soy products pack the protein you usually get from meat without the high price tag. When you do plan a meal around your carnivorous cravings, don't overlook cheaper cuts of meat. A good soak in marinade blasts the least expensive cut of meat with flavor and makes it nice and tender.
Create New Recipes
That fabulous gourmet pizza recipe you started making last year lacks the same culinary star power it once had when you eat it weekly. Preparing the same meals multiple times a month will likely lead you into a dinner rut. Spice up your old standbys to make dinner more interesting. Even small switches to your usual recipes wake up your taste buds. A literal dash of spices takes your go-to dishes from college cafeteria to high-end restaurant. Make use of that sleek spice rack by experimenting with different spices to add flavor without a lot of cost.
Bulk Up on Cheap Ingredients
The fiber of whole grain foods keeps your body regular while keeping your food budget under control. Buy a variety of grains in bulk to keep on hand for a quick meal. Seasonal vegetables are usually the most affordable and work well with grains. Pasta is another staple when it comes to affordable ingredients. Pasta dishes work well with or without meat. Instead of sticking with tomato sauce, try pesto or white sauce with your noodles.
Mom Knows Best
You spent your teen years ignoring her advice, but now that you're on your own you probably realize your mom had a few good ideas. Some of your favorite meals growing up could save you money at the store. Add your own touch to recipes like mom's classic meatloaf by adding salsa, corn and black beans to the mix for a Tex-Mex version. If your mom was more Peg Bundy than Betty Crocker, look beyond your family for culinary inspiration.
Meal Plan Tips
The meal plan itself becomes the road map for your daily cooking activities. Your go-to budget meals, with or without new secret spices, give you a starting point for the plan. Browse the weekly grocery ads to find the best deals for the week. These items combined with staples in your pantry build affordable meals. Don't forget to write out your grocery list as you write your meal plan. The list gets you in and out of the grocery store in time for yoga. Sticking to a list also helps you avoid those bags of chips or packages of cookies that will drain your food budget.
Based in the Midwest, Shelley Frost has been writing parenting and education articles since 2007. Her experience comes from teaching, tutoring and managing educational after school programs. Frost worked in insurance and software testing before becoming a writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with a reading endorsement.