There’s no way around it - food is expensive. Most of us spend a large part of our paycheck on groceries, take-out, and restaurants. And sometimes it seems like eating healthy can cost even more money. But there are many ways to make food affordable and still eat things that are good for you. These 8 frugal meal plans will help you easily plan for and afford groceries.
Most of them are easy, and all are focused on a specific lifestyle or type of person. Check out these 8 frugal meal plans to save money and feel great about what you’re eating, too! But before we get into those let's discuss how to get started with frugal meal planning!
How to start frugal meal planning
So if you’ve never used a frugal meal plan before, you might be wondering where to start. These tips can help you begin and save money and time in the process.
Remember that you should use whatever methods work best for you when you plan or do frugal meal prep. It’s a great idea to check out many suggestions and then create something unique that will be right for your meal planning schedule.
Use what you have
By searching your kitchen, you might find a lot of canned goods and non-perishable items that will make great side dishes or even whole meals. Go through your kitchen and check what is still within the date that you can use. If you find anything that is no longer good, this is also an excellent time to toss it.
You probably have a lot more items in your kitchen than you’d think. Also, consider trying out new recipes for foods you find that you might not usually use. Who knows, you could find a new favorite dish!
There are many ways to use what you have. Sarah Rae Smith of The Kitchn advises making soups and casseroles to use up any extra items in your cupboard. Be creative and willing to try anything. You can also use apps such as Magic Fridge and Supercook that will give you recipes for whatever ingredients you have sitting in your cabinets!
Don’t waste food
When you cook meals, make enough for that meal, and extra if you want leftovers. But be sure to eat everything from the meal within a few days. So if you’re trying to stick with frugal meal planning, not wasting food is as essential as spending less on it. If you have leftovers to eat, opt for that rather than eating out or paying more.
Plus, it can save you from needing to cook every single day. This is a big plus for those who don’t like kitchens much and want to do as little as possible. You can try cooking larger batches of food less frequently and eating leftovers for a couple of days.
Buy what’s necessary
Being frugal means using what you have and making smart buying decisions when you go shopping. It’s important to buy what you need, or you’ll end up spending more later when you run out of meals or want a snack. When you go to the store, be sure that you already know what you need to buy. Also, be sure to check different prices to get the best value.
It’s a good idea to also balance out what you pay more or less money for. For example, you might buy the more expensive organic chicken. Then you can purchase the less expensive pasta and canned goods. Balance what you do by spending more where it matters to you and less where it doesn’t.
Make a list of meals
Before you head to the store, write out a list with your frugal meal plan. Include each meal in the list and what ingredients you’ll need for it. The following frugal meal plans can save you some time in that department. They include meal ideas for a whole week.
Although it isn’t included here, you may also want to add snacks to your list. That way, your between-meal eating is already planned out, and you have some items on hand. Feel free to include snacks on your grocery list, so you pick up healthy things.
In addition to making a list of your meals, you should also think about the time it takes to cook. Then fit that into your schedule. Some people prefer to meal prep and do everything in a few hours on one day, like Sunday. You can also do your cooking each day instead of prepping. But remember to add in the time it will take.
Most of the meals mentioned here are fast and easy, but if you enjoy cooking, a few will take a bit longer to make. Schedule your meals to be at certain times every day, or if that isn’t possible, then do a meal prepping day once or twice a week.
8 Frugal meal plans for every lifestyle
Here are 8 frugal meal plans designed for many different lifestyles. Mix and match, or use whichever one makes sense for you. These are designed to be pretty flexible. It's easy to switch some ingredients for others that you like better or whatever you have in the house. The main point is to be organized and save money. Enjoy!
1. Simple frugal meal plans
The ideal plan for those who are minimalists and want to keep things simple. You’ll use only a few ingredients for each meal, and most of them will allow you to be a bit creative with the ingredients, as well. You can use what you have. So if you need a fast and straightforward meal plan, this should be your go-to.
For this plan, you will repeat each meal every few days. There are enough meal ideas to keep boredom away, but eating the same thing a few times helps with simplicity. You can also make larger portions and stretch this out for a few more days if you like.
These frugal meal plans are quick and simple, which is great for super busy people on the go! Also, each meal links to the recipe, so you have it handy!
Simple breakfast meal plan ideas
Planning your breakfasts has never been easier with these tasty recipes! There is nothing more simple than cereal but it's nice having a variety of ideas to choose from.
Simple lunch meal plan ideas
These simple lunch meals consist of sandwiches and salads so you can switch up what you have each day. Check out our cold lunch ideas article for even more frugal meal plans!
Simple dinner meal plan ideas
After a long day at work, it's hard to get the motivation to cook because you're already tired. These dinner recipes make frugal meal prep a cinch.
- Pasta with chicken
- The perfect baked potato
- Chicken stir fry
(If you alternate each dinner, you can have each one twice and then have the leftover night).
2. Frugal meal plans for the super organized
If you love to do frugal meal prep and are great with planning, this is a good option. Most of these will require some prep the day before, or you can instead do all your meal prep on the weekend. So if you enjoy trying out recipes and like high-quality meals, check these out. Remember, you can prep and then freeze or refrigerate most things.
Breakfast ideas for the organized
Here are some breakfasts that are delicious and not too complex to prep. You can switch it up depending on if you are craving salty or sweet that morning.
Lunches ideas for the organized
These lunch ideas are fantastic for frugal meal prep, and you can swap out healthier ingredients too. Also, if you buy your rice and other items in bulk it can save you even more money with your frugal meal planning.
Dinners ideas for the organized
Here are some delectable dinner ideas for your frugal meal plan! Also, having nights that are dedicated to leftovers saves time and money.
- Chili and cornbread
- Homemade pizza
- Salmon and asparagus
- Burgers and fries
- Chicken tortilla soup
- Meatloaf and mashed potatoes
- Leftover night
3. Frugal meal plans for large families
If your family is big, mealtime can be challenging. This frugal meal plan will help you stay organized while also saving some time. All the meals here can be made for several people at once. Some are simple, and some others take some prep work, but you can alternate between the simple and challenging, so it fits your schedule.
Large family breakfast meal plans
Whip up these mouth-watering breakfasts that the whole family will love! Casseroles are perfect for frugal meal planning because you can make them in bulk and freeze them for later.
- Breakfast casserole
- Waffles (can be frozen or homemade)
- Potato and sausage skillet
- Cereal and fruit
Large family lunches meal plans
We rounded up some delicious yet diverse lunch recipes to make eating frugal even easier! So, whether you're eating healthy or it's a treat day these lunches will not disappoint.
Large family dinner meal plans
Frugal meal prep comes in handy when creating large dishes for your family. So here are some tasty ideas to get you started.
- Baked ziti
- Chicken pot pie
- Spaghetti and meatballs
- Leftover night
- Loaded baked potatoes
- Roast chicken and veggies
Another tip is to use leftovers from dinner for midday snacks! What a great way to prevent wasted food and save time on finding something to eat.
4. Frugal meal plans for couples
When it’s just the two of you, it’s pretty easy to run out for take-out or to snack on whatever you have around rather than planning real meals. This plan will help you stay healthy and bring some structure to mealtime.
Plus, there are plenty of fun options that you can make together. Frugal meal prep can become a date night activity. Or you can cook after work or alternate who makes the food depending on the day. Find out what is best for you and save money, also.
Breakfast ideas for couples
These breakfasts are great for couples and don't take much time to make. So these are perfect for busy couples too.
Lunch ideas for couples
Packing lunch for each other is a great way to stick to a frugal meal plan and make the day much simpler. So give these easy recipes a try for yummy lunch ideas.
Dinner ideas for couples
Whether you love savory soup or are craving some good old-fashioned mac and cheese these dinner ideas are great for date nights. You could even opt for breakfast for dinner one evening.
- Stir fry with zoodles and veggies
- Chicken burgers
- Breakfast for dinner
- Steak and veggies
- Potato soup
- Macaroni and cheese
5. Frugal meal plans if you’re single
Being single means you can eat whatever meals you want. But it also means you might lack organization in the kitchen because of having too many options. It’s also easy to eat unhealthy food because you don’t have to stick to a set mealtime and might reach for the easiest thing. This frugal meal plan will bring structure to your meals and help you be super organized when grocery shopping.
Breakfast ideas for one
Here are a few simple breakfast ideas for single ladies! We know you are busy and on the go so we kept these breakfasts quick and simple.
Lunch ideas for one
These super-simple frugal meals are easy to make and yummy too.
Dinner ideas for one
These succulent dinners are fantastic for anyone eating solo. But just because it's dinner for one doesn't mean that it can't be savory!
- Mediterranean salad
- BLT sandwich
- Steak sandwiches
- Fettuccine alfredo with chicken
- Beans and rice
- Leftover night
- Fish and chips
6. Frugal meal plans for super busy ladies
When you’re busy, being frugal and healthy with food is a challenge. These mealtime ideas are fast and simple to make. They will save you from eating out while you run around to various activities and won’t cost you hours in the kitchen. Some of these meal ideas require less than five minutes to make!
Quick breakfast meal plan
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day but can be hard to fit into a jam-packed schedule. So, here are some quick go-to ideas that you can grab even if you're in a hurry.
- Frozen waffles or pancakes
- Cereal or granola bars
Quick lunch meal plan
It's so easy to hit the drive-thru at lunchtime but you can have hearty meals without grabbing take-out. These are also quick to prepare which can reduce the temptation of not packing your lunch.
- Tuna sandwiches
- Chicken quesadillas
- Taco salad
Quick dinner meal plan
Dinner doesn't have to be a big fuss and it can still taste good even if it is easy to make. So, give these quick dinner recipes a try to make your life easier.
- Chicken fried rice
- Chef salad
- Chicken and veggie sheet pan dinner
- Turkey burger
- Black bean and rice burritos
- Meatball sub
7. Frugal meal plans for the amateur chef
If you love cooking and spend a lot of time in the kitchen, this plan is perfect for you. You might struggle with being frugal if you love cooking because you’re always buying new ingredients or trying out meals that end up working or not working.
All the meals here require a bit of talent or a possible recipe. It’s a great way to enjoy your hobby of cooking while also being frugal.
Breakfasts for chefs
What better way to start the day than with a flavorful breakfast. So, try these tasty treats if you are in the mood to cook.
Lunches for chefs
These delicious lunch recipes are anything but boring!
Dinners for chefs
Put your cooking skills to practice with these savory dinner ideas.
- Bacon-wrapped chicken
- Chicken and wild rice soup
- Pulled pork sandwiches
- Beef and broccoli
- Veggie skillet
- Pineapple chicken
8. Frugal meal plans for those who hate cooking
Hate cooking? Check out these meals if you want to eat healthily but spend as little time in the kitchen as possible. It will help you to make fast and easy foods that will still taste great.
All of them can be thrown together in a matter of minutes. You can also save even more time by opting for some pre-cooked ingredients like chicken and buying pre-packaged stir fry or veggies.
When shopping, think about what will save time but will also not cost too much extra cash. If you want, you could cook a large batch of meals on the same day and freeze them to save yourself from having to do too much during the week.
Breakfasts for people who hate cooking
These breakfasts are for those of us that want it ready yesterday. So if you aren't a morning person give these quick and easy breakfasts a try.
Lunches for people who hate cooking
You can throw together an appetizing lunch without much effort with these ideas.
Dinners for people who hate cooking
Whether you want breakfast for dinner or have a hankering for some Chinese cuisine these dinners are super simple to make.
- Eggs and toast
- Chicken and rice stir fry
- Sloppy joes
- Beef and bean nachos
- Chicken lettuce wraps
- Beef lo mein
- Sausage and veggies skillet
How to save more money when shopping for frugal meal plans
So even if you are planning out your meals, that doesn’t mean that things won’t get expensive. Rather than allow your shopping to get out of control, use these techniques to keep yourself from overspending.
Bring a list
Remember to always go to the store with your list ready. Otherwise, it’s pretty easy to walk in and buy a bunch of things that don’t go together or you don’t really need. And then you’ll probably need to keep going back to the store because of forgotten items. The cost of not shopping with a list can be a lot greater than taking the time to make one.
Try sitting down for a few minutes while you do your frugal meal plans and write out what you need. Another easy way is to keep a list with you, either in a notebook or on your phone, and add to it throughout the week. If you’ve never made a grocery list, check out these free pre-prepared ones from Ziplist.
Set your budget and do not spend more than you planned
In your budget, set aside a specific amount for groceries each week or biweekly. It’s better to do this rather than just waiting to see what you spend because you can remain frugal this way. So decide what you’re willing to pay and then stick with that.
If it helps, bring a calculator with you to the store, and use that to stay on track as you shop. When you get to the cashier, you won’t be surprised by the total, either.
Try a “no spend” week
Try buying your groceries at the beginning of the week and then refusing to spend extra on food throughout the week. Instead, opt for eating everything in your kitchen. This will help you to not overspend and stay frugal with your food choices.
If no-spend weeks are new to you, Amanda L. Grossman of Frugal Confessions put together a great list. These no-spend printables and trackers will help you stay organized.
Try these frugal meal plans to save time and money!
Frugal meal plans can be easy and even fun. So if you’ve never cooked much or are new to frugal meal planning, try out one of the time-saving plans mentioned above. It’s an excellent way to get started with this new lifestyle.
When you plan out your groceries and meals, you may also find that you are generally healthier and find it easier to stick to what you’ve decided. This can stop you from going out to eat because you know you have food at home that is already prepped or easy to make.
Frugal meal plans save money and time because you are preparing your meals and using everything you purchase. This is ideal for most people, whether you are single, have a large family, or are simply very busy. So try out these ideas and see what you like best!
Also, sign up for our completely free "Savings bundle challenge" that includes a 30-day meal planning challenge! This will help kick off your new frugal meal planning routine and make it easier to stick with! Don't forget to subscribe to the Clever Girls Know podcast and YouTube channel for more fantastic frugal living tips!