With the school year about to begin soon, and new costs coming up, it is important to budget. One of the heaviest expenses in your budget can be food. Meal planning and sticking to a food budget can not only help you reduce your expenses but can also help you make more conscious and healthier food choices. Here are some tips and tricks for meal planning on a budget, along with some budget friendly recipes to try out.
Meal Planning: The first step is to make sure you’re really planning – make a menu for your whole week, or even the next couple of days and try your best to stick to it.
Planning out your meals well in advance is crucial for any of the other tips to work. This way, you can also make sure that your recipes are an informed decision and that every meal fits like a puzzle, resulting in you having to buy fewer ingredients. Strategically choosing your meals will help you spend less on fewer ingredients. For example, if one recipe requires half an onion, try using the other half of the onion in your next meal by strategically choosing a recipe that requires half an onion.
Plan for leftovers: Leftovers are not only a budget saver, but also a time saver.
If you plan for leftovers, you will always have backup meals for those days when you absolutely do not feel like cooking. Instead of relying on take out and food delivery on those days, rely on your leftovers.
Leftovers also do not mean that you have to repeat all your meals. For example, if you make chili for dinner today, use the leftover chili to top off your nachos tomorrow. Use some of these “cook once, eat twice” meals that will help you save time and money while keeping your meals interesting and varied.
Plan in order of expiry dates and perishability: At some point or another, everyone has had to throw out food beyond its expiry date. However, throwing out food often can mean wasted food and wasted dollars.
While making your menu for the week, try to use most of the delicate fresh produce like tomatoes during the first half of the week. Less perishable vegetables like potatoes and carrots can be used for later meals. It is also important to reiterate the importance of planning here, because strategically planning your meals and buying fewer ingredients, makes you less likely to go beyond their expiry dates.
Plan according to you and your family’s likes: Another way of saving food and money is to make sure what you’re putting on the plate is actually going to be eaten. This can be a struggle especially if you have a particularly picky eater in the family. Planning out meals that everyone likes can help take some pressure off the person cooking in the house.
At the same time, you might want to experiment with new recipes – so know what ingredients to absolutely avoid and assign one or two “experimental” meals per week. Make sure to first cook these meals in smaller batches in case you or your family ends up disliking it.
Plan out meatless meals: A vegetarian diet, apart from its health benefits, will also benefit your wallet. Simply put, meat is expensive. Switching out meat for vegetarian and vegan sources of protein such as eggs, legumes and tofu will help you stay within your budget owing to their usually cheaper prices. Even if you do not want to cut out meat from your diet completely, even having two meatless days in a week can impact your budget in a positive way.
Now, to practice the above tips, here are three recipes to try out that are budget friendly with few basic ingredients:
- Risotto: Trying out something like risotto, which is a rice-based dish, gives you a chance to try out a new recipe while having an alternative meal half ready for the picky eater in your family. If they don’t like the risotto, you can easily whip up some beans to go with some extra rice. You can also use the extra for your next meal. The ingredients list includes chicken stock, which you can substitute with vegetable broth to make the dish vegetarian. Similarly, if you want to make this a heartier dish, add some chicken or mushrooms to the risotto.
Step 1 – Bring stock to a simmer in a saucepan over medium. Reduce heat and keep warm.
Step 2 – Melt the butter and heat the oil in a large skillet or wide-bottomed pot. Add the rice; stir to coat all the grains, 1 minute. Add 1 ladle of broth (½ cup to ¾ cup), stir, and leave it alone until broth is nearly absorbed, 2 to 3 minutes. (Run a wooden spoon through it; rice should slowly fill in the channel.)
Step 3 – Stir, add another ladle of broth, and stir again. Cook undisturbed until the broth is absorbed, 3 minutes. Repeat until about 1 ladle of broth remains, 15 to 18 minutes of total cook time for the rice. Turn off heat.
Step 4 – Add salt, remaining broth, and cheese. Stir gently for 2 minutes. Serve immediately in warmed bowls, with more grated cheese over top, if desired.
- Tofu scramble: The great thing about this recipe – apart from how easy it is – is that you can play around with the spices and use whatever is in your pantry. I personally make a different version of this dish often, by adding some curry powder to the spice mix and sprinkling lemon juice on top of the finished product. Check out other instructions before following the recipe below.
Step 1 – In a small bowl, combine cumin, thyme, paprika, and turmeric. Add 3 tablespoons of water and whisk to combine.
Step 2 – In a large skillet over medium heat, heat oil. Add tofu to the skillet in an even layer, season with salt and pepper. Let cook undisturbed for 7 to 8 minutes, until the undersides are golden.
Step 3 – Add garlic to the skillet, and stir into tofu. Cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes, then add spice mixture and nutritional yeast if using. Stir to incorporate all ingredients, then continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 more minutes, until all water has evaporated and spices are fragrant. Season to taste with salt and pepper to taste, garnish with cilantro, and serve immediately.
- Grape popsicle: This is a prime example of using fewer ingredients, and is one of the recipes from Student Life’s Simple Summer Recipes for Students IGTV series. It only requires three ingredients – red grapes, lemon juice and grape juice – and is a much healthier and budget friendly option for cold cravings during the summer. You might have to purchase popsicle molds once, but it’s a worthy investment even if you make these popsicles a few times. Make sure to buy one with a funnel in case you don’t have one already.
Recipe (video here):
Step 1 – Rinse 3 cups of red seedless grapes and remove stems.
Step 2 – Add grapes, 1 tbsp of lemon juice and 1/4 cup of grape juice into a blender and blend until smooth.
Step 3 – Pour mixture into six 8 oz popsicle molds, dividing equally.
Step 4 – Freeze for at least 7 hours or overnight until solid.
Step 5 – Gently remove popsicles from popsicle mold and enjoy!
Hopefully these ideas will help you make a better meal plan for you and your family. Leave a comment below if you use any of the above tips or recipes, or if you have any tips of your own!