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5 Ways That You Can Make an Easy, Affordable Meal Plan

Use these tips to make a meal plan, and a shopping cart full of greens doesn't have to break the bank.

When it comes to shopping for nutritious meals, there are no handouts. If you don’t take the time to plan ahead, maintaining a healthy diet can end up costing you hundreds of dollars more per month than eating processed food, snacks, and junk. Encouraging? Not really.

So how can you eat healthy without spending a fortune? This guide can help you get started.

Use A Weekly Flyer To Plan Your Meals

Planning your meals ahead of time instead of going to the grocery store to pick up this and that can help you to save time and money while also reducing food waste.

Plan your meals according to weekly specials. If you don’t get a flyer in your mailbox, most grocery store chains now post their specials online.

Start each meal with a protein, such as fish, a lean meat, or legume. Vary the type of protein you eat with each meal—don't forget about tofu, peanut butter, and eggs. If money is tight, stick to inexpensive legumes such as lentils, garbanzo beans, or kidney beans.

Next, check out deals on produce. Use a cookbook index or do an online search for recipes that use ingredients on sale that week. This may involve a little creativity.

Choose Cost-Effective Recipes & Cookware

Think big. Dishes such as stews, curries, soups, and casseroles can be stretched to make up several meals. If you don’t own a slow cooker, consider buying one. They go for as little as $20, and not only can you make huge meals—guaranteed to produce leftovers—but you’ll also save on time.

Look For Inexpensive Ingredients

If you want to stretch your budget, put some of these nutritious, low-cost ingredients on your list every week:

  • Potatoes (Yes, plain old potatoes are good for you.)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Leafy greens
  • Apples
  • Carrots
  • Cabbage
  • Squash
  • String beans
  • Brown rice
  • Oats

Remember to shop based on what’s in season where you live. This may mean making do with less “exotic” fruits and vegetables during the winter months.

Buy Staples in Bulk

If you don’t have the time or the patience to drive to ten different stores to find the best deals each week, pick one day per month to shop for dry goods. Make a trip to your local wholesaler or bulk goods store for staples such as tea and coffee, whole wheat flour, rice, pasta, cereal, nuts and seeds, and dried fruit. Think long-term—buying in large quantities will get you the most bang for your buck.

Other Money-Saving Tips to Keep in Mind

  • Most established grocery store chains allow you to sign up for a card to collect points and get rewards or rebates. If you shop at the same place every week, this can actually pay off.
  • Make use of apps such as Cook Smarts, Pepperplate, Plan to Eat, or Ziplist to save time creating a grocery list and meal plan, organize recipes, and even track local sales.
  • If you’re a student or a senior, call around to find out if any local chains offer a discount on a particular day of the week.

Planning a meal isn’t rocket science. It’s more about building the habit of making a weekly list, shopping for sales, and learning to say no to items that are unhealthy or out of your price range. Once you've got a system established, you'll be better able to save money, avoid food waste, and enjoy nutritious, home-cooked meals.

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