I'm sure you've pinned and clicked through many of these on Pinterest. I'm a big fan of them myself - the only problem with the vast majority? They're not realistic. I have yet to find one which would actually feed my family - 6' 2" hubby, 6' eighteen year old son, thirteen year old son, and myself.
The taglines are so enticing... "How I Feed my Family of 7 on a $85 Weekly Budget", "How to Feed a Family of 5 on $200 a month", "How I Feed my Family of 6 for $200 a Month", and my personal favorite, "Real Food Meal Plan: Four Weeks Four Mouths $330".
I could spend this entire post breaking down the feasibility of each of these four examples, but I'm here for a better purpose today. Let me just point out that what these posts, along with the hundreds like them have much in common; they're only counting dinner, the meals are pretty much chicken, rice, and some canned stuff thrown in for good measure, and often they are talking about feeding small children who eat like mice. If these families are making this work, good on them, but not even one of them would work for my family. First off, we need to eat actual food. Secondly, we're not that fond of chicken. We like it, don't get me wrong, but if I served chicken on Monday, chicken soup on Tuesday, chicken rice on Wednesday, chicken tacos on Thursday (you get the idea), my family would revolt.
Yes, you cannot be too choosy when you're eating on a budget, but food is not just fuel, it should be flavorful, nutritious, and delicious. That is what we are used to. Which is probably why our grocery budget was absolutely out of control. I was spending my (pathetically sad) $300 weekly paycheck on food, and when you do that , there is not much left over for things like bills, or heaven forbid - fun. Which is why I decided to take a good look at some of these and come up with a plan that can actually be used on a large scale.
Another thing I'd like to mention is that I have yet to come across a Canadian budget meal planner. I'm sure they're out there, but I've only clicked through American ones. Why does that matter? Because I cannot go to the grocery store and pay .89 for a dozen eggs, nor can I get a whole chicken for $3. My cost could be double some of these in some cases. So I had to tailor it to my food prices. Now, if you're living in the States and you're reading this, you could possibly shave about a third off of my cost, just because your prices are lower in many areas, which is just an added bonus for you.
Before I get into the meal plan - three meals a day, every day, for one week - I'd like to share some pointers that will make this so much easier for you. What I'm about to tell you is no secret - many of the links and posts widely available offer much of the same advice. Actually, a large number of these "Feed your family on a budget" posts do not actually contain meal plans, they just give you pointers like 'clip coupons', 'buy in bulk', 'batch cook', and 'love your crockpot'. All fine suggestions, but we don't have a whole lot of coupons here in Canada (not like in the States), and I have yet to find a coupon for anything in the produce section. Buying in bulk means you need a place to store all of your bulk (and it means cans and boxes, which I am not fond of), no one wants soup or stew every night, and don't get me started on batch cooking. Tried it once - no thank you.
So here are my pointers:
Plan Out Your Week.
Whether it starts on a Sunday or a Tuesday doesn't matter. Get a pen and a piece of paper and find a comfy chair. I write out the days of the week, and the first thing I do is make a note of which days I'm working. Nights, actually, I work 11pm-6:30am, which should make this whole cooking three squares a day even more difficult for me, so if I can do it, so can you. The reason you're doing this is so that you do not plan a complicated dish on a day you're going to be excessively tired or busy running around. Use leftovers or simple dishes on those days to make your life easier.
Write Out Your Meals
Write down seven breakfast dishes, seven lunches, and seven dinners. You'll trim this down as you decide because some dishes are 2-day deals, i.e. oatmeal, chili, or soup. But writing down three for each day gives you a variety of choices. Whatever you decide to take out can always be pushed to the next week. Now trim your list. My list includes two different kinds of oatmeal, donuts, and muffins, and that covers my week. My lunches are tuna melt pie, scones, and sandwiches. My dinners consist of chili, soup, pizza, sliders, and pasta. More on all of these later, but you can see a wide variety of food - actual food. I highly recommend Pinterest for this exercise because you can just search "cheap dinner", "budget friendly meals", etc., and you'll get a ton of ideas. Draw on your own experience also. There's nothing wrong with meatloaf, spaghetti, or whatever your family has always loved. So trim your list by making notes of which meals will have enough leftovers for a second day, you'll see what I mean in my plan.
Write Out ALL The Required Ingredients.
You mean even things like salt or pepper? Why? A couple of reasons. First, you're going to make one trip to the grocery store. You heard me. One. Can't do that if you missed something. Second, you may think you have an ingredient, but when you go to the cupboard to get it while you're cooking you find that you are out of it. That sucks and has happened to me more times than I like to admit. Third, you may think you need an ingredient, but guess what? You have four of them in the back of the fridge because you keep buying it. Going once and getting everything you need and only what you need saves you time and money. If you're like me this will be very strange. I am used to shopping 2-4 times per week. I am also used to throwing stuff out because I forget I bought it because I had no actual plan for it, and now it went bad. More money wasted. And I work at a grocery store - so if I can limit my food purchases to once a week, you definitely can.
Trim Your List
Once you've written everything out, go through your cupboards, fridge, freezer, pantry, and everywhere else you house foodstuffs and cross off anything on your list that you have on hand. Most likely you have things like salt (I was almost out of pepper, so that will stay on the list next week), baking powder, or flour. But you may be surprised at what you do have sometimes, tucked away in the shadows. Now you have your basic list. I whittled a list of over 60 items to less than 30 - sweet. This is what you will venture out to buy. If you are a coupon clipper, now is the time to go through your coupons and see what you have that will help you with your list. I am not into coupons, not because I don't want to be, there just isn't much that I purchase in the coupon world. I do suggest 2 apps here that will help you immensely. If you are not using the flipp app to shop, you're nuts. I absolutely love it. At this point I pop in my basic list and look for sales on the items I need. I usually only shop at two stores, FreshCo and Real Canadian Superstore, the first because the prices are great (but the selection is meh), and the second because although the prices are a bit high, I can often find anything FreshCo doesn't carry here (plus I work there so I get my [truly mind boggling, how do they stay in business] 10% discount). Both stores price match, and I can do that right from the app. The second app I suggest is Checkout51, which saves you a little bit here and there. You just look to see if anything you bought is offered, take a pic of your receipt, and you're good. You won't get rich off of it, but it's easy and it helps a little. This week I got $1.00 cashback for buying the Eggo waffles, which I was buying anyway. *NOTE* I don't know how widely these apps are distributed, I live in Ontario, but I'm sure you will have something similar in your area.
And buy ONLY what is on your list. Yes, those strawberries look so delicious. Sure, that cake is on sale. Oh yeah, the chips are 2 bags for $5. Do not give in. You are on a budget. Whatever reason got you here, you must think of it and buy only what you see on your list. And only make this one trip. It may be to two or three stores, but do it in one go. It's a time saver in the end, but it also cuts down on the temptation to impulse buy.
The only time I encourage you to go off list is if it is an extremely good price and it is something that can keep for a bit. Maybe you only need one can of romano beans, but they're on sale for .88, and that's a good deal. I would buy maybe four or five cans (all different), and possibly use them the next week.
Okay, enough about all that. I'm sure I'm not really telling most of you anything you don't already know. Here is the part that made you visit here in the first place:
7 Day Meal Plan for a Family of 4 for about $100
Breakfast: Banana Chocolate Chip Muffin
(2-day recipe - approximate cost per day <$2, my cost was $0)
Lunch: Tuna Melt Pie + Salad
(2-day recipe - approximate cost per day ~$7, my cost was $5.50)
Dinner: Beans & Pasta
(approximate cost <$5, my cost was $3)
Day One Notes: I made the muffins and pie the day before and the salad was simple, I bought a big bag of organic mixed spring greens for $5 which will make about 6-8 servings, a great addition to a smallish lunch and easy enough to take to work. The beans & pasta is a staple dish in our home and very simple:
1/2 pkg elbow macaroni
2 cans romano beans (do not drain them)
2 strips bacon
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
1 onion, chopped
salt & pepper to taste
1] Boil pasta
2] While pasta boils, chop bacon & fry until crispy, do not drain. Add onions and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add spices and stir.
3] Add beans and liquid to bacon/onion mixture and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and stir once or twice. Let cook another 5 minutes.
4] Drain pasta and add to bean mixture. Remove from heat. Stir until all pasta is covered and serve.
Day one cost about $14 if you purchased all the necessary ingredients. My cost was about $8.50.
Breakfast: Banana Chocolate Chip Muffin
Lunch: Tuna Melt Pie + Salad
Dinner: Southwestern Style Chili
(3-day recipe - approximate cost per day $5.50, my cost was <$4)
Day Two Notes: A pretty easy day with two meals consisting of leftovers so no need to cook. The chili can be made stovetop (as I did) or in the crockpot, as the recipe calls for. I froze the third day's serving as it is actually a little less than what would feed all of us and I think it would be great for chili cheese dogs next week. The chili pricing includes the toppings: cilantro, sour cream, and shredded cheddar cheese.
Day two cost about $14.50 & my cost was about $9.50.
Breakfast: Slow Cooker Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal
(2-day recipe - approximate cost per day $2. My cost was $1.50)
Lunch: Bacon, Cheddar, and Chive Scones + Salad
(2-day recipe - approximate cost per day $6. My cost was $4.50)
Dinner: Southwestern Chili
Day three notes: The oatmeal cooked overnight and was hot and ready to go in the morning. I baked the scones the day before and froze half of them for next week.
Day three cost about $13.50 and my cost was <$10.
Breakfast: Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal
Lunch: Cheesy Frittata + Salad
(2-day recipe - approximate cost per day $6. My cost was $2.)
Dinner: English Muffin Pizzas
(Approximate cost $9.)
Day four notes: The pizzas are another fun staple in our house, and so simple to make!
2 packs (of 6) of english muffins
2 small cans pizza sauce (you can get away with one but we like a lot of sauce)
1 can mushroom pieces and stems
1 snack pack of mini pepperoni
1 onion, sliced
1 sweet pepper, sliced
2 cups shredded mozzarella
Halve the muffins, spread pizza sauce, top with cheese, then all other toppings. Bake at 350deg for about 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and slightly browned. Feel free to add or remove any of the toppings, put whatever you like on them, they're quick, easy, and delicious.
Day four cost about $17, with my cost about $13.
(Approximate cost is $3.50)
Lunch: Frittata + Salad
Dinner: Golden Coconut Lentil Soup
(2-day recipe - approximate cost per day $2.50. My cost was $0)
Day five notes: Yeah, I know you got all excited about the donuts, then clicked on the link and got weirded out when you saw what the donuts were made of. Trust me, it's okay. It's just a little cheat and we are not a bunch of snitches, so our secret is safe.
Day five cost about $14.50 and my cost was $8.
Breakfast: Slow Cooker Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal
(2-day recipe - approximate cost per day is $2. My cost was $0)
Lunch: Reuben Stromboli + salad
(approximate cost $12.50. My cost just over $11.)
Dinner: Coconut Lentil Soup
Day six notes: Remember when I told you to write out EVERY ingredient and then go from there? I did not write the dressing down for the reuben recipe because I really just glanced at it and came to the conclusion that it was only for the dip, and I was not going to make the dip, so I did not need the dressing. So I did not put it on my list at all. Boy was I wrong, and I don't even know how I missed the necessity of the spread on the bread. Anyway, I always have mayo in my fridge, so that was a quick save.
Day six cost about $17 and my cost was about $11.)
Breakfast: Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal
Lunch: Chicken Nugget Eggo Waffle Sliders
(Approximate cost $12)
Dinner: Sausage & Egg Sliders
(Approximate cost $14. My cost about $13.)
Day seven notes: Today turned out to be slider day, I don't think I planned it, but I didn't hear anyone complaining. I have to give you the link to Chicken Waffle Sliders because that's where I got the idea for my chicken nugget sliders, and I like to give credit when credit is due. I took their idea but made it easier by just buying a package of Jane's chicken nuggets and topping each one with a little mayo, lettuce, and 1/3 of a grape tomato. Yum!
Day seven was the most expensive day by far at $28, with my total around $25.)
The approximate total cost for 3 meals a day which actually, realistically, feed a family of four for 7 days turned out to be about $119. My total was a little lower at $84.50. Your total would also differ depending on what you already have in your home. However, even if your fridge is empty and your cupboards bare, I have shown you how to keep your family well fed on about $120.
One last thing I would like to comment on before I send you off: drinks. We drink a lot of water in our house. (Real) juice is a weekly treat, and pop is a rarity, really only when we have company and we all indulge, a few times a year. We also drink coffee (the adults) and tea, both hot and iced. If you're trying to wean yourself or your family off of pop and juice, try squeezing the juice of a lemon or orange into a pitcher of water. Maybe some fresh mint (slightly muddled), or even a few chopped strawberries. Ease your family into it. I won't judge, it's your family, you can ingest what you like, but I feel like if you just give good old H2O a chance, you may find you enjoy how refreshing it can be. And it's also a heck of a lot cheaper ;)
I thank you for sticking around, I know, this was a really long post, but I wanted to be as thorough as possible because the very simplicity of the other posts made me feel it was a waste of time to click through. Comments are always welcome - let me know if you've tried my plan, or if you have any inexpensive but delicious recipes I can add to a future plan.
Hi! I'm Sonja and I'm glad you're here! I'm happy to share some recipes and gardening tips with you while I let you know about great (or not so great) products, services, and media I encounter.
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