Budget Meal Planning


School is starting and with it comes football, soccer, scouting and all the other activities in which children participate.  I’m soaking in the last few precious hours of our slower paced summer life before the whirlwind begins tomorrow.

As I’m preparing all the backpacks, washing “first day of school” clothes, and getting football gear ready for practices, I have to admit that meals are the last thing I am worried about.  In fact, I secretly wish a little angel would show up this week and have dinner each night out on the table ready for us.  Any angels out there?  No?  Alright then, I guess I need to fall back on my trusty menu planning.  If you haven’t read my blog about Menu Planning, check it out first since it will give you the basics of getting started.

Now, there is menu planning, and then there is BUDGET menu planning.  With lots of extra expenses this month because of school and activities starting, I’m paying closer attention to our grocery budget and trying to keep it low.  This means I need to do my menu planning a little differently.  In addition to planning meals around what is on sale and what I have on hand, I am also trying to stretch each meal as far as it will go.

I start with some basic items such as chicken, hamburger and potatoes.  From there I think of various meals I can plan with those three items.  I can get 3 dinners out of 2 roasted chickens, 1 dinner out of 1.30 lbs hamburger and 3 meals/side dishes out of a 10lb bag of spuds (plus a few left over for next week).   Then, I fill in the gaps with vegetables, fruits, other sides and a few dinners without meat.

Some tips about meat when you are planning a budget meal:

1. Plan at least two meals a week without meat.  Meat is expensive and dietary guidelines show that we don’t need it at every meal.

2.  Make your veggies count!  Most countries outside the US, serve more veggies than meat on a plate.  A good rule of thumb is to have 2/3 of your plate in veggies and grains while the other 1/3 is your meat or protein.  This not only helps your health — but your pocketbook.

3) Look for less expensive cuts of meat.  Our family loves stroganoff.  To cut costs — but not flavor — I make it with hamburger instead of sirloin tips.

4) Stock up when stores have sales on meat.  The nice lean hamburger I priced this week had a $2 off coupon on it.  Meat freezes well and when you can get it on sale, you’ll save a trip to the grocery store as well as some cash.

5) Hunt, fish or raise poultry.  I know this isn’t for everyone, but we live in Montana and many of us do take advantage of this opportunity.  If your family hunts, fishes and/or raises poultry, beef, or pork, you can cut your meat costs in half or more.  Our family depends on this meat for cutting our grocery bill significantly.  It’s something to consider!

Okay, here is a Budget Menu Plan for one week.  Now, I priced out all the meals based on someone who would have to buy everything at the store.  (You can save even more if you use wild game, raise your own chickens, grow your own vegetables & herbs, bake your own bread/tortillas and make your own taco and Ranch seasonings.  Guess we’d have to call you Martha, then!)

After pricing the veggies today, I would recommend hitting a local Farmers’ Market for cheaper prices on herbs and tomatoes.  I also didn’t account for any coupons so your total cost definitely could be even less.  And if you’re wondering, I did my price shopping at Albertson’s and Walgreens.


Roasted chicken  (Click HERE for my favorite way to prepare chicken)
Mashed potatoes with gravy
Steamed carrots with butter
(Notes: Bake 2 chickens tonight.  Use one for dinner and save the other one.)


Chicken Tacos with Corn & Black Bean Salad  (use roasted chix from last night)
Spanish Rice (1/2 bag of rice cooked with 1 cup of salsa)
Mandarin Oranges (2 cans at Walgreens for $1 this week)
(Note: The cost of this meal includes shredded cheese and cilantro for the tacos)


Broccoli with Rigatoni Pasta (Cook noodles according to package.  Meanwhile steam broccoli then add noodles and a drizzle of olive oil, chopped basil and ½ package of Italian Dressing Mix.  Stir well.)
Red leaf lettuce salad
1 loaf of French Bread (save out 4 pieces for tomorrow)


Potato Soup (using cubes of potatoes from your 10lb bag. You can add chopped ham or clams for variations)
Carrot sticks with ranch dressing
Homemade Croutons (take the 4 pieces from yesterday cut into small squares and bake until crunchy)
(Note:  The cost of this meal includes cream for making the soup)


Chicken Salad on Wheat Bread
Homemade Tortilla Chips with salsa (Take the left over tortillas from Tues. and cut circles into eighths, sprinkle with taco seasoning and bake for about 8 minutes in a 400 degree oven.)
Jell-O with bananas (I married into a good mid-west Lutheran family—Jell-O is a staple!)
(Note: The cost of this meal includes celery and mayo for the chicken salad)


Hamburgers with bean sprouts (bean sprouts help add bulk and make the meat go further, plus it’s yummy!)
Homemade Ranch Potato Wedges (Cut 4 large potatoes into eight wedges, place in Ziploc bag with 1 Tbsp mayo and 3 Tbsp of dry ranch dip mix, shake until coated then bake at 400 degrees for 35-40 minutes)
Banana Bread (use the last of the bananas)
(Note: The cost of this meal includes buns, tomatoes, lettuce and mayo)

My total cost for these 6 meals came to $53.34 and I will have a few leftovers for the weekend.  That comes to $8.89 per meal and for my family of five that is $1.77 per serving!  (Disclaimer: If you have teenage boys, you’d better double that price per serving!) Now THAT is budget menu planning!  Of course, I would highly encourage you to match grocery store sales to coupons in order to lower that cost even more.  I estimated a reduction of roughly $7.00 in coupons which could have been used on this grocery bill, so the total could have been easily been under $50.

So, see it is possible to have a plan, a budget AND healthful tasty meals all in one week.  You can use this menu as is or feel free to change it up according to your family’s needs and likes.  With a little planning, creativity and willingness (this is key), you will ease yourself and your family back into the school/activity routine smoothly—even without the divine intervention of a little angel from above.

Feel free to leave a comment if you have questions, want a recipe or the grocery list for this menu plan.

Enjoy this blog?  You might also like Erin’s previous posts on Back to School Shopping on a Budget,  Discount Shopping Deals…Even on Vacation,  Orchard Homes Country Life Club Celebrates 100 Years and 10 places to Hunt for Coupons.   AND, be sure to check out the “Missoula Save it Club”  on the home page of MakeItMissoula.com (See the Daily Missoula Fix buttons in the left navigation bar) for savings updates throughout the week!

Back to the Save It blog home page.

Click here to see the Coupon Queen’s “Save It” archive.


Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian.  Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques and trying to maintain a well-run, happy and organized home for her family.