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Monthly Meal Planning on a Budget

Are you wanting to cut back on your expenses? Do you have a bunch of kids to feed, and an increasingly limited amount of time to make nutritious meals for them? Does your family have special dietary needs that you need to meet without breaking the bank? Well, we do, and it can be HARD to feed everybody without mortgaging our first-born child’s soul. Over the years we have developed some tips and tricks for meal planning on a budget to keep everybody full and keep our pocketbook happy. When we first got married in 2009 it was right smack-dab in the middle of the FIRST recession of this century. The first one. It’s ridiculous that we already have a second. I just feel like that needs to be said. I started monthly meal planning on a budget so we could emphasize whole foods as close to their natural state as possible, and keep our costs down. We do this in several ways · Using a Meal Plan and sticking to it as best we can (while making substitutions as necessary) · Growing at least a small portion of our own food every summer · Buying frequently used foods in bulk to save on costs · Cooking as much from home as possible to avoid losing money to takeout · Making easily grabbed nutritious snacks available to stave off hunger between meals

Now, there are plenty of ways that I don’t follow this to a T, but these are my general principles. Right now my family is on food assistance, so thankfully our food budget doesn’t come directly out of our pockets, but this also means that it can fluctuate dramatically every six months. Yes, SNAP benefits are based on a combination of household size and income level, which means if you make $25.00 more per month than you usually do, the next time you need to recertify your benefits can drop by over $100.00/month. I’ve had it happen. The lowest our family size has had is $412.00/month to feed a family of five. The most we’ve had is being capped out at our max benefit size during the pandemic, at $800+/month. That has been nice, since it means that we can afford higher quality food and more produce, but we’ve also seen inflation hitting food prices significantly, so it almost doesn’t matter. Monthly meal planning on a budget has allowed us to save on time and money every month! But even before we were on SNAP, our food budget was very tight. I work hard to prepare for leaner times by building up a reasonable food storage – storing pantry basics like grains, flour, and beans in 5-gallon food-grade buckets. We keep canned goods like beans and tomatoes on hand to bulk up our meals, and we stock up on seasonings and spices like salt, sugar, and garlic powder. I preserve our summer produce by freezing, fermenting, and canning. All of this allows me to set up food for times when our finances can’t really handle a large food budget. This came in handy when Hubs and I decided to move our family across country to go back to college – I was able to cut our food budget down to $40.00 per week (basically for fresh fruits and veggies) and we lived off of what I had stored in the freezer and pantry. I got really creative with some of our meals by the end, but at that point my goal was to use up our stored food, not bring more stuff in.

Now you may be saying to yourself “But, I don’t HAVE a garden! I’m renting, I don’t have the ability to tear up the lawn and put a garden patch in! My family doesn’t qualify for SNAP. I don’t have room in my home for food storage!” And I get it. Believe me I do. We’ve had to put our family of five into a one-bedroom apartment, we’ve been renting for years now (even through we own a home in a different state), our income was once just $10.00 too much every month to qualify for any food assistance, and we’ve gone to food pantries a lot over the past 5 years to make ends meet. But my goals for food stability stay the same. When we didn’t have a place to garden, we found friends who were willing to let us use a bit of their own gardens to plant in. When we weren’t able to garden at a friend’s house we bought containers to garden in. When we didn’t qualify for SNAP we kept our budget down as best we could by going to food pantries and dented-box stores to buy what we needed. When we didn’t have room for food storage we improvised by turning our furniture into places to store food, and covered it up with pretty tablecloths to hide it from view. I would save glass jars so I could store dry goods in them, or ferment veggies to use through the winter. There are always things we can do to help make ourselves more self-sufficient. Sometimes it just takes creativity and a bit of prayer!

Now, if you find yourself in a position of wanting to cut down on your food budget, store up for a rainy day, or both, then here’s my advice: 1. Find a free meal plan that you like. There are LOADS of bloggers out there who post free meal plans on a regular basis, so take advantage of those. Sign up for their email newsletters, and use that plan to make life easier for yourself. Coming up with a meal plan causes me a great deal of anxiety, so I was delighted to find a Paleo Meal Plan from The Roasted Root. 2. Make a consistent schedule for getting groceries. For my family this is about twice a month, with periodic trips to a local store to get fresh produce when needed. 3. Use your meal plan to figure out where you can stock up on pantry basics and keep track of what you need. When you get groceries buy one or two extra things every trip until you have that food stocked to a comfortable point. 4. Visit food pantries if you have no money, and dented can stores to find great deals on food. 5. Set up a garden in any way possible. Even if you’re just growing lettuce in a box on your window sill, this will cut down on costs at the store. Because you’re not buying THEIR lettuce at a considerable markup per ounce. Monthly meal planning on a budget has been an exercise in creative thrift for me and my family, and it has allowed us to prepare and maintain our family through times of financial difficulty. Download our free grocery list printable from our shop, and sign up for our email newsletter!

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