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Budget Friendly Meal Planning Tips to Start the School Year Right

Image of a person holding a calculator in front of produce at the grocery store.

Living on a budget and looking for ways to reduce food expenses while still enjoying tasty, healthy meals is something many of us struggle with daily. And now that the kiddos are heading back to school, many of us are looking for time-saving tips to feed the family, while still saving money! So to help you start the school year right, we have compiled a few quick tips and strategies that will have you shopping like a pro in no time.

  1. Make a master list of 10-20 meals. Ask everyone in your family for a list of their favorite meals, highlighting foods that can be quickly prepared, ones that don’t require too many ingredients, and ones that contain similar ingredients. If you’re looking for some extra inspiration, here are five meal-planning apps that will help get you organized and plan ahead.

  2. Plan your menu around what you already have on hand. If we’re being honest, we all have food that sits in the back of our pantry, just waiting to be used. Organize what you already have in your refrigerator, freezer and pantry and arrange into categories. You will be amazed at how many meals you can plan using the foods that you find! In addition to reducing your grocery bill, this will help to eliminate duplicate purchases.

  3. Focus on using foods that are currently in season. When produce is in season, it’s at its cheapest. In addition to your local grocery store, you can shop a nearby farmers’ market for deals on produce. Need help figuring out what to buy when? Here’s a list of fruits and vegetables for every season.

  4. Experiment with vegetarian dishes. Vegetables just so happen to be a hot food trend of 2016, so jump on the bandwagon and eat vegetarian once a week or more (think #MeatlessMonday!) to increase your consumption of healthy plant foods and save money. Proteins such as beans, nuts, seeds and eggs are often less expensive than meats, highly nutritious and easy to prepare. Not sure what to cook? Why not give a White Bean Salad With Asparagus and Artichokes or Caramelized Onion Veggie Burger a try? You can also check out the Mushroom Council’s website, which is full of delicious recipes incorporating these natural hidden treasures.

  5. Save on staples. Be aware of when your local grocery store has sales on staples like olive oil, nuts, beans, etc., and stock up. Eatingwell.com put together a great list of staples that will help you cook a delicious and nutritious meal every night of the week.

  6. Look for meal-stretching foods and recipes. Get familiar with which foods and recipes are the most cost-effective and look for inexpensive ingredients that have nutritional value – such as eggs, lentils, beans and sweet potatoes. You can also look for versatile foods that can be included in a number of recipes such as chicken or tofu. Finally, make sure to check your local grocer for sales so that you can take advantage of the discounts and stock up on staples like canned and frozen vegetables (Birds Eye has great varieties).