How to Feed Your Family on a Tight Budget

Struggling to figure out how to feed your family while staying within a tight budget? With food costs continuing to climb, it can be challenging for frugal moms with limited resources. Not to worry, though. There are several strategies you can put into place to keep bellies full without breaking the bank! We’ll share helpful tips below along with some easy frugal meal ideas you can try.

A family setting the table for a meal.

Meal Plan

You’ve probably heard it a thousand times, but it bears repeating – meal planning is a great way to save money on your groceries. By taking a few hours each week to plan out meals ahead of time, you are able to shop for only what you need for meals, ensure you have everything on hand for the week, and avoid the dinnertime scramble of “what should I make?!”. Planning ahead allows you to stretch your grocery budget by avoiding impulse buys and reducing waste.

Plus, meal planning offers several health benefits. It gives you more control over what goes into your body, and you’re able to customize meals based on your dietary needs (if that’s a concern for you!).

Meal planning doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. I like to remember the acronym “RIPS” to help me:

Review: Review grocery circulars to see what’s on sale this week. Are there any good loss leaders? Or are you better sticking with one store due to mileage and gas?

Inventory: What’s already in your pantry, fridge, or freezer? Make an effort to use these ingredients in your meals, especially if you have produce or other products that are on the verge of going bad. This will not only help save money, but also reduce food waste.

Plan: Using the information from the first two steps, plan your meals for the week, prioritizing what you already have and any spectacular sales. I like to personally choose a mixture of new and tried-and-true recipes for the week, but you may want to stick with just family favorites. Totally up to you.

Make your grocery list according to the meals you plan to make. Don’t forget to also include any extras you need, like milk for cereal or fruit to snack on.

Shop: Go shopping based on your grocery list, and stick to it!

One exception to that rule: I always like to brose the clearance section at my supermarket. Sometimes, there may be amazing deals on meats, breads, or overstock. If I have extra in my budget, I grab these while they’re super cheap, and then use them in future weeks.

Additional tips for shopping: don’t shop when hungry, compare brand prices, and compare unit prices among different sizes.

A woman checking the prices on her grocery receipt while leaning on a shopping cart.

Make Frugal Recipes that Fit Your Dietary Preferences

My career path started as a dietitian, but I’m not here to food shame anyone. If you don’t care about nutrition, that’s totally cool. If you do care about it, that’s cool too. I’m here to support you either way.

Figure out what your preferences are for your family, and make a list of go-to frugal meals that you can make that fit those desires. For example, here are some of our favorite dinners, which I believe (in my personal and professional opinion) are relatively balanced:

  • Tacos – Anytime I’m not sure what to make, this is my go-to, because you can get creative with with. Think corn tortillas (with a little char, please!) topped with seasoned roasted sweet potatoes, beans, sautéed greens, and a homemade spicy Greek yogurt sauce (just mix yogurt and hot sauce or chipotle peppers).
  • Stir fry – The basic formula I use is grain + veggies + protein + sauce. Your grain could be brown rice, noodles, or quinoa. Your veggies can be pretty much anything you have on hand. Protein might be chicken, canned fish, of even leftover deli meat. Your sauce could be soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, peanut sauce…you name it.
  • Egg Casserole – Another classic “use up the fridge” meal. Mix together a bunch of eggs with some cooked veggies and cheese, and bake. You could go with broccoli, greens, onions, peppers, butternut squash, or really any veggie you’ve got on hand.
  • Loaded potatoes – Bake potatoes, then top with veggies, beans, salsa, and cheese. Easy peasy.
  • Ramen – Wait, ramen as a balanced meal? I think so! Sauté up a bunch of veggies (fresh or frozen), add broth and a little soy sauce, then add noodles (no seasoning packets). Top it all of with a soft boiled egg and YUM. You can also add leftover protein to this, like leftover cooked pork or chicken.
  • Chili – Whether beef, chicken, or vegetarian chili, you can typically make a big pot for a relatively reasonable cost thanks to the reliance on many inexpensive canned or dry goods.
  • Protein + veggie + starch – Meals don’t always have to follow a recipe or be fancy. What protein is on sale this week? Great, cook that and pair it with any veggie and starch of your choosing. We often make roasted chicken drumsticks with carrots and potatoes, or Italian sausage on a roll with a salad.
  • Rice and Beans – The quintessential cheap meal. Combine instant brown rice with a can of tomatoes, a can of green chiles, a can of beans, and some avocado or cheddar cheese. Boom, a 15 minute meal is ready.
  • Breakfast for dinner – When all else fails, breakfast for dinner is easy and quick. Eggs, toast, bacon, and fruit salad are our go-to.
  • Tuna bowls – Combine cooked rice with canned tuna, avocado, quick-pickled cucumbers, and hot sauce.
  • Tuna potato salad – Roast potatoes, then toss them in a bowl with canned tuna, tomatoes (fresh or canned), spinach (cooked from frozen), and honey mustard. So good.

Hopefully these help with your mealtime inspiration! You can also find frugal healthy breakfast ideas here too, as well as our Dollar Tree Meal Plan that has specific recipes to follow.

Use Leftovers

Leftover food is an inevitable part of cooking, and I’m always surprised how many friends tell me they don’t eat leftovers. If you struggle to enjoy leftovers too, here are some suggestions on how to make them more appealing:

One Protein Multiple Ways

Whenever a particular protein is on sale, it’s smart to come up with a variety of ways to use it. Even better if you can cook it once and then repurpose it for days to come!

For example, you could make a big batch of plain shredded chicken in the crockpot. One night, you create buffalo chicken wraps with it. Another night, it gets made into a BBQ chicken pizza. On the third night, you make burrito bowls. So many options!

Get Creative

If you have random leftovers, think about ways you can completely transform them into something new. One of my favorite options is taking leftover mashed potatoes and making these crispy potato flatulas. It’s such a unique way of turning them into another meal and feels nothing like the first use.

Here are some other creative ideas:

  • Extra marinara sauce from pasta can get used another night in shakshuka
  • Stale bread can be transformed into French toast, croutons, or panzanella salad (this watermelon panzanella is one of my very favorites in the summer)
  • Leftover roasted turkey or chicken can get tossed into a homemade curry recipe
  • Leftover ham can get made into homemade hot pockets
  • Extra roasted veggies from last night’s dinner can get thrown into today’s quiche for brunch

Freeze leftovers

Just because you made it tonight doesn’t mean it has to get eaten this week! Soups, chilis, casseroles, and other similar dishes freeze quite well. You can freeze them in single serving portions that can quickly be reheated on nights in the future when you don’t feel like cooking.

With these simple ideas you can easily transform any leftover food so that nothing goes to waste while still creating delicious meals your family will love.

Leftovers in food storage containers in the refrigerator.

Become a deal hunter

If you love the thrill of a good deal, this is the tip for you. Start keeping an eye out on deal websites, Facebook groups, and local stores for great food deals that you can use to stretch your budget.

You may be thinking – duh, of course I know to shop the sales! But I’m referring to deals beyond that. For example…

  • Holiday clearance – My favorite shopping days of the year are when Target and Walmart’s holiday food clearance goes to 70-75% off. Look at what’s marked with holiday packaging that you can still use year round. You can do this for Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter. Think baking mixes, coffee (yes, I scored Dunkin coffee the other day for less than $2 per bag!), snack packs, cereal, etc. I’ve also been known to stock up on candy for the next holiday. 😉
  • International grocery stores – If you’re lucky enough to live near an international grocery store, these can be great places to score deals on items like rice, beans, lentils, produce, and spices.
  • Flashfood app – This app partners with local grocery stores. They post discounted items, and you can purchase them right on the app. All you need to do is swing by the store to grab them. It can be an excellent way to feed a family on a tight budget, especially if you meal plan around the discounted items.
  • Food shows – Are there any free food expos happening near you? For example, a gluten free expo or a vegetarian food expo? These can be great places to score free samples and valuable coupons for future shopping. Even if the brand doesn’t have coupons displayed, you can ask if they have any coupons for the product (never hurts to try).
  • Online food clearanceSlickdeals and Hip2Save are my favorite places to keep an eye out for online food deals. There are frequently deals for products on Amazon (like snacks, cereal, etc), and can be a great way of scoring items for cheap.
  • Buy Nothing groups – I’m always surprised how often I see food in buy nothing groups. Someone posted a bunch of frozen fish in there the other day – fish! You may not feel comfortable with that (depending on the environment of your neighborhood, haha) – but there are often sealed cereals, spices, coffees, and other things people post simply because they don’t use them or opened another package previously and didn’t like it.

With any of these tips, the key is to not buy things you don’t need or won’t use just because it’s a good deal. The goal is to save money on what you’d already be purchasing – not spend more than you would have otherwise!

The Bottom Line

While it’s challenging – especially with rising food costs – it is possible to save money on groceries and still feed your family delicious balanced meals. By meal planning, making use of leftovers, and getting creative with recipes, you can ease the financial burden that comes along with feeding a family.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *