An easy step-by-step guide to help you plan a menu on a budget. Plus a free printable menu planner to make planning your healthy and budget-friendly menu a breeze.
Eating Healthy on a Budget
Over the past few months I have focused my posts on how to eat healthy on a budget. You can see an overview of all of my tips in this post titled 5 Steps for Eating Healthy on a Budget. For each of the five steps I have written a more in depth post on how to follow them. The five steps include:
- Choosing budget-friendly, nutrient-dense foods
- Planning a menu (this post)
- Finding good deals on healthy foods
- Making food last longer
- Using leftovers
If you are looking for more help in eating healthy on a budget, I recommend reading each of these posts.
Planning a Menu on a Budget
Trying to eat healthy and stay within your budget can be challenging and frustrating! I know personally how overwhelming it can be to achieve this. This year we are on a particularly tight budget. Because of this, as well as the never ending rising costs of food, I have racked my brain for ways to meet my family’s nutritional needs without spending a fortune.
To help myself achieve this, as well as all of you lovely people, I came up with a simple way to plan a budget-friendly menu! Using this free printable as a guide, you can plan a healthy menu on a budget with just seven simple steps:
- Write down the foods you need to use up
- Write down the foods that are on sale at your grocery store
- Print off and have handy the list of 62 Healthy and Cheap Foods from this post.
- Plan a few breakfast ideas that incorporate the foods from steps 1 through 3.
- Plan a few lunch ideas that incorporate the foods from steps 1 through 3.
- Plan a few snack ideas that incorporate the foods from steps 1 through 3.
- Plan a weekly dinner menu that incorporates the foods from steps 1 through 3.
These steps may seem basic and silly, but following them has really helped our family plan a menu on a budget. And I know it can help you too!
Step 1: Write Down the Foods You Need to Use Up
With your menu planning guide and a pen in hand start by looking through your fridge. What foods are in there that need to be used up? Write all of these items down on your list.
Next, look through your freezer (and deep freezer if you have one). What foods are in there that need to be used up? Write these items down on your list as well.
Last, look through you cupboards and pantry. Is there anything in there that needs to be used up? Write them down.
This list of food items that need to be used up will guide your menu planning in steps 4 through 7. By using the foods you already have on hand, you will be reducing the amount of food you need to buy and preventing food waste. That’s a lot of money saved!
Step 2: Write Down the Foods That are On Sale
For this step, you will need to look at the weekly ad of the grocery store(s) you will be shopping at. Sometimes these ads come in the mail. If you do not receive weekly ads in the mail, you can easily find them on their store website or store app.
Once you have located the ads for the stores you will be shopping at, look to see what foods are on a good sale. Are there any that you like? Write these foods down on your list.
To ensure that your family’s nutritional needs are met, look specifically for sales on fruits, vegetables, whole grain foods, lean meats, sea food, dairy foods, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.
You will be using the foods you wrote down in this section as a reference guide for planning your menu. By using foods that are on sale in your menu plans, you can avoid planning a menu that requires high cost food.
Step 3: Print off your 62 Healthy and Cheap Foods Guide
In my last Eating Healthy on a Budget post I wrote an extensive list of 62 nutrient-dense and budget-friendly foods. These foods are typically lower priced year round and offer your body multiple of the nutrients it needs. Incorporating these foods into your meal plans is a great way to eat healthy on a budget.
If you scroll to the bottom of the post you will find a link to the printable version. I recommend printing it off and using it as reference when you are planning your menus.
Step 4: Plan a Few Breakfast Ideas
Using the foods you wrote down in steps 1 and 2 and the printable guide for Healthy and Cheap Foods from step 3 as guides, come up with a few breakfast ideas for the week. I generally like to come up with 3 or 4 ideas that can be repeated throughout the week.
Here are a few of my favorite easy and budget-friendly breakfast ideas:
- Fruit and Yogurt parfaits
- German Pancakes
- Cottage Cheese, Avocado Toast
- Whole Grain Toaster Strudels
- Egg Bites
- Homemade Granola with Milk
Step 5: Plan a Few Lunch Ideas
Using the foods you wrote down in steps 1 and 2 and the printable guide for Healthy and Cheap Foods from step 3 as guides, come up with a few lunch ideas for the week. For this section, I like to think of a few make-ahead or low prep lunch ideas for myself as well as a few ideas for my kids to take in their school lunches.
Here are a few of my favorite things to plan for myself:
- chicken salad sandwiches with veggies and hummus
- make ahead burritos with salsa and a salad
- protein salads in a jar
- Tuna fish sandwiches with steamed broccoli and apple slices
Here a few of my kids favorite things I plan for them:
- Make ahead Protein Mac and Cheese
- Pesto Pizza Buns
- Lunch Meat Sandwhiches
- Whole Grain Bagels and Cream Cheese
- Yogurt and Granola
- Lentil Meatballs and Noodles
To help yourself or your children plan lunches that will meet your’s and their nutritional needs, check out this post I wrote about 4 Steps for Packing a Healthy School Lunch. When I am planning my lunch ideas, I like to use the free printable from this post, and choose foods from each of the 4 categories to have on hand.
Having lunches planned and ready to go will help prevent last minute eating out, saving you lots of money and ensuring you fuel your body with the nutrients it needs.
Step 6: Plan a Few Snack Ideas
Using the foods you wrote down in steps 1 and 2 and the printable guide for Healthy and Cheap Foods from step 3 as guides, come up with a few snack ideas.
Just like with step 5, I like to plan a few snack ideas for myself and my kids.
Having healthier snacks planned and ready to go will keep you from getting overly hungry and eating whatever you can get your hands on fast.
Here are a few of our favorite snack ideas:
- Fruit and Yogurt
- Trail Mix
- Lightly Flavored Popcorn
- 5-ingredient no cook Granola Bars
- Apples with Peanut Butter
- Muffins (lentil muffin recipe)
- Clementine with String Cheese
- Protein Balls
Step 7: Plan a Weekly Dinner Menu
This is the last and final step for planning your menu on a budget. To me this often feels like the most daunting step. To make this process easier, budget-friendly and successful a few things have helped me.
First, come up with a theme for each night of the week to guide your planning. This makes that terrible decision making process much easier. Here are the themes I typically use to plan my menu:
- Sunday: Soup/Salad
- Monday: Meatless
- Tuesday: Taco/Mexican
- Wednesday: Global Cuisine
- Thursday: Sea Food
- Friday: Leftovers
- Saturday: Sandwiches or Pizza
Next, write down what events you have going on each day. This could be anything from a child’s sporting event to having family in town. Listing these events will help you plan a menu that works better for that day. For example, on the nights when my kids have sporting or church events, I choose easier meals that can be prepped ahead of time (crock pot meal), or whipped together really quickly (gourmet nachos). When family is in town, I plan menus that can feed more people without costing a fortune.
Once you have written your themes and events down, you can start the menu planning process. Be sure to reference the foods you listed in steps 1 and 2 as well as the printable guide for Healthy and Cheap Foods from step 3 as guides when planning your dinner menu.
Tips for Planning Healthy Meals
To ensure that the menu you plan is balanced with the nutrients you need, try to include food sources of fiber, healthy fats, protein and a few different colors of produce at each meal.
For an easy to reference list of foods for each of these categories, check out the free printable in this this post.
Free Printable Menu Planner
You can use any menu planner you like when planning your menu on a budget, but the one I created is super helpful and makes following these steps a breeze.
I created two versions of this printable. A one-week version and a two-week version. If you are interested in the one-week budget-friendly menu planner, click on this link, or the image below.
If you are interested in the two-week budget-friendly menu planner, click on this link.
For printable instructions on how to fill out these forms you can click on this link, or on the image below.
Good luck on your healthy and budget-friendly menu planning journey! I’m cheering you on!