America has a food obsession. We have grocery stores at every major intersection, restaurants on every corner, and fast food chains to fill the gaps in between. Most of middle-class America’s disposable income goes to food. Grocery bills can range anywhere from $600 to upwards of $1400 a month for a family of four in 2022. Creating a meal plan and sticking to a grocery budget will help you keep your body, mind, and bank account healthy.
My family needed a meal plan that was simple. I needed a plan that only required me to put in an hour or two a week and would provide meals that were healthy, delicious, and could be eaten again and again without growing old. Simplicity is the key. The meal plan couldn’t take up all my time and it couldn’t be too exhausting to prep for.
I don’t mind eating a lot of the same things, in fact, I suspect that most families have favorite meals that they stick with. Why not use that to your advantage?
If you can reduce your grocery budget by several hundred dollars per month, the money you save could easily offset other expenses, like a car payment. And if you are already “living the FI life”, it could speed up your journey to financial independence.
I have developed a template that allows 2 people to easily eat for less than $300 per month with money left over and I plan on sharing how you can implement a similar plan in your own life. This meal plan is adaptable and should work for a family of 4 as well.
This meal plan focuses on simplicity and repetition. It is well suited to buying in bulk at discount prices. We tailor 80% of our meals around what we can buy in bulk at Costco and fill in the blanks with special deals on pre-made dishes or specialty cuts of meat.
Many grocery staples are still inexpensive. As you might imagine, oatmeal and rice are relatively cheap. In contrast, steak and fish are expensive. Compare 20¢ per serving to $10 per serving
The key here is not to convince you to eat only oatmeal or all steak but to find the balance that provides maximal satisfaction for the most efficient cost. If you were to eat lobster every day at some point, it starts to taste like soap. If you have smoothies every day you will stop enjoying them. So how can we minimize our time in the kitchen, maximize the money in our wallet, and still have a great time enjoying all the options that we are blessed to have?
There are 15 to 20 staple products and ingredients we buy every month. These items make up the core of our monthly meal plan. The remaining 20% gets filled in, and I will share our strategy for that as well.
Costco Meal Plan | Ingredients
1. Flour – 5.59
Bread costs anywhere from $3 to $6 dollars per loaf, so we make our own bread. And because time is precious, and we both work we use a bread maker. So a couple of nights a week I put the 5 to 6 ingredients in the bread machine and the next morning I wake up to a fresh loaf.
Total Cost: $5.59
Cost Per Loaf: 0.18¢
Serves: 31 Loaves (94 cups total)
Once you add in the other ingredients including butter, the cost approaches 50¢ per loaf. Each loaf provides 15-25 slices( we prefer thin slices). A loaf will last 3-5 days for two people, and at three slices per serving our cost is 5¢ to 10¢ per serving. We use the bread for toast, sides with soup, sandwiches, and to make paninis.
Whole wheat bread, white bread, sourdough, and rosemary cheese bread. Oh yeah!
If you want to know what bread maker we use, as well as our other product recommendations please see our links below.
2. Oats – 7.99
We also start at least half of our mornings with oats. Sometimes we dress them up with a banana or some raisin cinnamon. Oats are very inexpensive and very versatile.
Total Cost: $7.99
Cost per Serving (½ cup): 7¢
We often add Bananas or cranberry or raisins, maybe some type of nut, and a sweetener such as honey, brown sugar, or maple syrup. But the average cost of this meal is 25¢ per serving. This is our breakfast at least 15 out of 30 days.
Fun fact you can use your oats to make oatmeal bread in your bread maker as well.
3. Greek Yogurt – 5.79
We add this to smoothies and occasionally to oatmeal
Total Cost: $5.79
Cost per Serving (½ cup): 36¢
4. Berries/Mango (Frozen) – 9.99
We use it in our smoothies, we will also substitute Frozen mango when available. We use a ½ cup serving each and get 20-25 servings per bag
Total Cost: $9.99
Cost per Serving (½ cup): 0.39¢
5. Kale, Spinach, or Mixed Greens – 3.99
These can be used in salads or smoothies, and each will provide anywhere from 15 to 20 servings depending on how much you use. We use 1-2 cups and estimate the cost at 20¢ per serving
Total Cost: $3.89
Cost per Serving (1 cup): 20¢
And at this point, if you’re thinking bread and kale – ugh!
Trust me, with a little creativity it can be delicious!
So far we have spent 33.25
6. Black Beans – 4.69
- We make our favorite Chipotle dinners at home
- Chili Recipes
- Bay leaf and lime and rice
- Fantastic with Chipotle at home
- Pair with beans to make a complete protein
8. Potatoes – 7.49
- Roast for 45 minutes at 400 Fahrenheit
- pair with onions, sweet potatoes, and other vegetables
use a mandolin, chef knife, or a kitchen grate to make hash browns
- We use it in omelets
- Roasted vegetables
10. Sweet Potatoes
- This may be the perfect carb
- I could have one every night at dinner
- I typically just microwave for 6 minutes then allow it to cool down and add cinnamon and just a small amount of butter
- Unbelievable tasty and healthy
11. Cereal – 8.69
- Very few brands meet the nutrition requirements to come home with us
- We buy Kashi and Granola at Costco
- We also like making our granola from scratch- very simple and cheap
12. Eggs -8.59
Costco has moved to organic cage-free eggs, and while I often buy them there just out of convenience you can probably find them cheaper somewhere else
- one of our staple breakfasts is scrambled eggs or an omelet with bacon, onion, and avocado
13. Almond Milk 5.99
- We use it in smoothies, it has a longer expiration date than milk
- And fewer GI issues
14. Maple Syrup 10.49
- Maple syrup is our sweetener of choice in smoothies and homemade granola. It can be very expensive if you buy it at a grocery store, but very affordable at Costco in bulk. This will last us 3 months
15. Peanut Butter 9.29
- Although we prefer the natural peanut butter, and use it in smoothies and on toast and sandwiches we often end up with JIF
- We also make some healthier dessert options using oats, maple syrup, peanut butter, craisins, and or nuts.
- We keep it simple, throw it all in a food processor, and make little energy balls with them
16. Raisins/Craisins – 7.49
- We use it in salads and in homemade granola
Now at 87.38
17. Deli Meat 8.99
- We use it in paninis and omelets
So meat has been suspiciously absent so far – but I am not a vegetarian. I purchase meat differently from a lot of people. Sometimes we go ahead and buy the chicken in bulk at Costco, but they do not have the lowest prices on chicken.
My current method is to comb a website called Deals to Meals, and I do this once a week. They will collate the ads for major grocery stores nationwide and tell you who has the best deals. Then I will plan to 2 meals around that deal using either their website or Budget Bytes. The meat stays fresher, and it injects some variety into our diet. By basing it around the weekly ads, you are sure to prevent wrecking your budget on meats.
Know the Price Per Unit
- Boneless skinless chicken breast (anything less than $1.99/lb is exceptional)
- Whole Chicken – $.99/lb (you are insourcing the works) – I rarely do this
- Fresh Fish $6.99/lb
- Frozen Fish $3.99/lb
- Pork Chops (bone-in) – $1.99/lb
- Pork Chops (boneless) – $2.49/lb
- Pork Roast – $2.49/lb
- Ground Beef – $2.49/lb
- Ground Chuck – $2.89/lb
- Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts/Tenderloins – $1.99/lb
- Flank steak $6.99/lb ( Fajitas)
- Beef Roast – $3.99/lb
- Beef Stew – $2.99/lb
- Top Sirloin 5.99 / lb (one of my goto cheap cuts)
- Chuck Boneless Roast $5.99/lb (Perfect for Beef Stew and pot roast
- Tenderloin Steaks $13.99/lb (AKA Filet Mignon. These suckers cost $20/lb at the grocery store
- Sirloin Tip Steak $4.98/lb
- T-Bone Steak $8.87/lb
- Beef Stew Meat $4.58/lb (Variety of meats, useful for anything done in the slow cooker
1 of 3 options
- eggs, deli meat, avocado, tomato
- Oatmeal with berries and cinnamon
- Nuts and coffee
- Leftovers from dinner the previous day
I will pour through recipe books and online recipe websites like Budgetbytes, to pick out two recipes; then we typically make at least eight servings, so each meal lasts up to 4 days. I also love recipes that pop up on my Facebook feed via Tasty
Dinner is where we inject variety.
I have created a Pinterest Board which you can follow for budget meal ideas, You are not locked in, but you should consider using some of these principles when adapting this to your life
Finally, we have to fill in the gaps.
Sometimes you want something different, and you don’t want to make it. Well historically my wife and I would get Chipotle or Panera or some other inexpensive restaurant, but I have found that by purchasing a few pre-made meals at Costco, we can dramatically decrease our food cost in this area as well.
When We go to Costco or Panera, we spend $20-30. But If I shop at Costco and pick a few Items that have a manufacturer rebate we can usually get the cost down to $2 to $5 per Serving. We try to shop for the items that have an active instant manufacturer rebate at Costco. This past week we chose Rosemary mint lamb shanks and Beef Stew. We also purchase a box (4 pack) of frozen pizzas each month.
Disclaimer: I love Chipotle and think that they provide a great value, but if you can decrease how often you eat out from once a week to once a month you could save $50-100 per month easily. The same principle could be applied to alcohol as well. If you purchase a case of beer or wine at Costco instead of drinking at a bar or restaurant, you will be saving mega dollars.
To make it a month on $300 you need to make it 28-31 days. Seven days a week, four weeks per month. + 2 to 3 days on the side
For breakfast, we split fairly evenly between protein/fat based meals like an omelet with avocado and bacon and a more carbohydrate breakfast like oatmeal and yogurt or a smoothie. The average cost of our breakfast runs 50¢ to $1 per serving
averaged out to 75¢ per serving x 60 servings = $45
For lunch, We have either leftovers from dinner or a panini
The average cost per serving is between $1 to $3
$2/serving * 60 servings = $120
For dinner, We alternate between Chicken, Beef, and Vegetarian. When we take time to make a meal, we usually have enough for several nights, and although some nights the meal may be as little as $1/serving and other nights if we have steak it may stray to $15 per serving. If you can keep the average at around $2 per serving you will crush your food bill
$120 for Dinner
Sum : $45 + $120 + $120= $285
Alternatively, if you give yourself the much more luxurious $3 per serving average at dinner you will round out at $345 for the month
Which is still really good!
Look for the small wins. At any given time in my life, I have a solid three to four meals that I repeat on an almost weekly basis. I have used this strategy without realizing it for years. I like the predictability. I’m going to be comfortable making the meals and so the barrier to entry is going to be a lot lower. I know what ingredients I will need, and If I don’t have an ingredient, I feel confident substituting or omitting it. I am always looking for ways to save time, so if it’s delicious, and it came out of the slow cooker, then it will stay on my radar. With bread, I stick with the two to three recipes I’m comfortable with that way I can throw the ingredients in the breadmaker with reckless abandon. I don’t need it to be perfect; I need it to be simple.
With both of those tools I have all my ingredients ready; I throw the ingredients in right before I go to bed and come back the next morning to a finished product. This framework for managing food maximizes my how much food I will have ready and minimizes the time I have to put in the kitchen.
By gaming it out and making the core of your diet these inexpensive but healthy meals, You have room in your budget to make much more interesting choices later on.
2 Additional Resources
Use this website to clean out your fridge and pantry.
Supercook is a recipe search engine that lets you search by ingredients you have at home. Find thousands of recipes you can make right now with the …
Plan your 2 meals on a budget, feel free to inject variety here. Try not to sacrifice too much simplicity in the process
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