Meal-Planning on a Budget: Part 2

On Monday I described how I meal-plan and grocery shop once a week.  Meal-Planning on a budget also requires making inexpensive choices for your meals.  Here are some examples of what I have been cooking recently:


  • Oatmeal: I make oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins almost every day of the week.  I haven’t found anything else as cost-effective, filling, and healthy for breakfast.
  • Other: We occasionally eat pancakes, fried eggs, or omelets for breakfast, but it’s rare these days since we’ve been eating all of our eggs for lunch.  Sometimes we have fresh fruit with our oatmeal.


  • Sandwich: We eat egg salad or peanut butter and jelly almost every day of the month.  Naomi is an expert at making egg salad, and Brad loves PB&J sandwiches.  I boil the eggs on the first day of the week, and we can get 4 days of egg salad out of a carton of eggs.
  • Fruit: A sliced watermelon or cantaloupe can be a side dish for lunch for most of the week.  Depending on the season and sales, I may serve a half banana, grapes, raisins, apple slices, peaches, strawberries, or other fresh fruit on the side.  Someone gave us a large container of fruit cocktail once, and we ate that with our lunches for a long time.
  • Vegetable: Carrot slices (with ranch dressing) are the most popular with my kids, followed closely by “Ants on a Log” (celery with peanut butter and raisins).  I have experimented with cucumbers and zucchini (with ranch dressing) but the kids were not big fans.  Carrots and celery can be sliced once at the beginning of the week to save on prep time.
  • Dairy: I usually buy a block of sharp cheddar cheese, and then cut it into chunks each day to eat with our lunch.  Recently we had yogurt instead of cheese for a couple of weeks.


  • Meat: We don’t usually eat a lot of meat.  It’s expensive, and Americans in general tend to depend too much on meat for their diet.  When we lived in China Brad chose to eat vegetarian for a year, and then the following year he drastically limited his meat-intake.  So I have learned to cook many dishes with little or no meat.  These days we eat meat more as a garnish than as a main course.
  • Vegetables: Our dinners tend to emphasize vegetables, and I’ve been trying to keep introducing new vegetables that are in season.
  • Rice, Pasta, Breads: We often fill out our meals with rice, pasta, breads, or other starches.  This week we’ll have Bean Soup and Fresh Tomato Soup with Bread on the side, and we’ll have Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo and Spaghetti over pasta.
  • Beans: We don’t always eat beans, but I occasionally make my parents’ Bean Soup, Chili, or Taco Recipes.
  • Variety: Sometimes we get in a dinner rut, but dinner is the meal that I am most likely to experiment with and vary from week to week.


  • Keep It Simple: We usually drink water, milk, or orange juice (made from concentrate).  Brad and I drink generic coffee from the coffee pot.  We like to drop lemons or limes (sliced and frozen) into our water pitcher.  Occasionally I will make iced tea from tea bags.
  • Use Your Blender: Brad likes to make Homemade Frappuccinos or Fruit Smoothies for our family as a special treat.


  • Homemade: I intentionally don’t purchase sweets because our family has very little self-control!  (If it’s in the house, it will be gone within 24 hours).  When we want a snack, I’ll bake up a batch of cookies, find a recipe on-line, or pop a bag of popcorn.  Brad likes to eat PB&J as a snack.  The kids and I usually eat a small bowl of cereal with milk or a graham cracker with peanut butter after nap-time.
  • Date Night: Brad and I rarely go out for a “Date Night,” so on special occasions he will go out and buy us both a pint of ice cream.

How do you save money on groceries and grocery shopping?

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9 Responses to “Meal-Planning on a Budget: Part 2”

  1. Katherine A. says:

    Simple and healthy! I sometimes mix plain greek yogurt / honey / bananas into oatmeal as well. Makes it more substantial and changes the flavor a bit.

    Greek yogurt is kind of fun (gross on its own), but fun to mix a variety of things into. And you can use it as a substitute for sour cream.

    • Jessica says:

      I’ll have to experiment with the Greek yogurt! I’ve heard it’s really good for you, but I haven’t tried it yet. My kids love yogurt–they think it’s a form of ice cream. 🙂

  2. Heather says:

    We also eat very little processed foods, and I do alot of cooking from scratch. I found a breadmaker at a yard sale last year for $5, and use it 2-3 times a week to bake our bread. We eat alot of oatmeal for breakfast as well. For lunches it is mostly leftovers, pb&jelly, or egg salad sandwiches. I also found a recipe for a bean sandwich spread that I am going to try out. For dinner I serve meats stretched in soups, casseroles, pasta dishes, etc..We rarely serve meat by itself. My husband is a big eater and we are expecting our 3rd child, and meat is very expensive to serve as the main thing. I rarely splurge on sweets, except when there is a great deal on ice cream!! The only other thing I do is serve more meals with beans, I love beans, but my husband is not that crazy about them, I just stretch out the days between meals with beans so he doesn’t complain too much:) THanks for such a great blog.

    • Jessica says:

      We just got a breadmaker this past year (free at the end of a church yard sale!) but I haven’t figured out how to use it! I also have a “new to me” sewing machine that I don’t know how to operate. You’ll have to let me know how that bean spread turns out!

      • Heather says:

        Just wanted to add that you may be able to pull up your bread maker directions online. THat is what I had to do since the lady selling it couldn’t find her booklet. I looked up the brand and entered the serial # listed on the machine and could pull up the directions on using it. Hope this helps!!

        • Jessica says:

          Thanks! That IS a big help! I’m in the middle of painting my kids’ bedroom right now, but hopefully I’ll get some time before the end of the year to figure it out. 🙂

  3. Heather says:

    We eat a lot more meat than you! My hubby is a carnivore and I’d be happy to go without, most days. We also eat a lot of prepackaged cheese and yogurt for lunches away. Eating away from home gets expensive when you don’t have time to prep.

    • Jessica says:

      When we got married Brad was a total carnivore too! He lost 35-40 lbs when we first moved to China due to the diet and lifestyle changes that came with living there. Subsequently, he also noticed a sudden improvement in his running speed for marathons and ultra-marathons. So he began experimenting with all kinds of changes, hoping they would improve his race times. 🙂

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