meal planning on a budget
Budgeting and Saving Money,  Meal Planning,  Recipe Roundup

Feeding a Family of 5 on a Budget

When we moved to Indiana, one of our main goals was to get back into the black. After years of not quite making ends meet and living paycheck to paycheck, we had and still have a lot to pay off. Keeping those goals in mind, our monthly budget for groceries for a family of five, plus two dogs and two guinea pigs is $400. That’s including all the breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, and treats we eat in a month along with stuff like cleaning supplies, dog food, critter supplies, deodorant, shampoo. You get what I’m saying. All our food and household items. When people hear we eat well on less than $100 per person, per month, they want to know our secret. Here is how we meal planning on a budget for an entire month, along with some tips, tricks, and what are we will be eating during the month of October. This post may contain affiliate links which means I make a small commission if you buy something via my link. This does not cost you anything.

How We Do Our Meal Planning on a Budget

The real secret is that there isn’t one. I’m not an extreme couponer. I don’t dumpster dive or have any insider knowledge about when things go on clearance. Saving money takes effort and for us one way takes the form of a monthly meal plan. I spend the better part of an afternoon taking inventory of our cupboards, panty, fridge and freezer. Using what’s left from last month as a guide,, I select recipes that utilize those ingredients first and then use the weekly sale ads to plug in other recipes featuring seasonal produce since it’s often less expensive and tastes better.

Then we do one large shopping trip at the beginning of the month to buy anything that will last 30 days in the fridge, freezer, or pantry along with fresh fruits and vegetables for the entire first week of the month. That’s meats, cheeses, deli meats, bread if we aren’t making it ourselves (when we are making our own these long loaf pans are our favorite), pastas, crackers, raisins, eggs, granola bars, frozen veggies, beans, tortillas, canned foods, sauces, dressings. Our budget for the monthly trip is $250. Which leaves us $50 a week for milk, fruits, vegetables, anything we forgot or couldn’t find during out monthly trip, and stocking up on sale items.

Monthly meal planning on a budget

How to Stretch a Dollar and a Meal

Plan around the sales. We tend to plan side dishes based on what’s on sale so we might not know what sides we are eating until the weekly fresh produce trip. We also stock the freezer when

Shop at home. I learned this one from my mom. She is the queen of shopping at home. She’s the first person to tear through the craft cupboard to find the stray bag of glue sticks or scour the pantry for an alternative before bouncing off to the store for a replacement. We do a pretty thorough pantry and freezer check before we shop so we don’t end up re-buying what we already have at home and can make sure nothing is hanging close to it’s expiration date

Plan multi-purpose meals. We tend to cook meals that can be used multiple ways and I’m not just talking leftovers. This month instead of buying lunch meat we bought a ham to bake up in the slow cooker. What’s left will be used for sandwich meat and in a quiche the next night. That $13 ham will lend itself to two dinner and a lunch for our entire family with plenty left for other purposes.

Add healthy fillers.
Meat is not only expensive but it’s not great for the earth (unless you are buying local, pasture-raised meat which we can’t always afford right now), so we add brown rice, chick peas, and quinoa as alternative ways to get more protein and fiber in our bellies.

Check the calendar. I always take a glance at our family calendar to see what events we have going on and plan meals we can reasonably make and eat on busy nights. That often means planning to use our Crock Pot or Instant Pot. Doing this helps to keep us out of the Culver’s drive thru most of the time.

budget meal planning

October Meal Plan

The kids and I will be out of town on a short trip to visit family over fall break so my husband will be eating some pre-made meals from the freezer on the days we are out of town. The list of dinners is a few meals shorter than it would have been on a different month.

We buy yogurt, fruit, eggs, cereal and oatmeal along with the ingredients needed to make a large batch of dairy free pancakes and cinnamon French toast. If there is money leftover in the budget, I will cook up breakfast quesadillas and friend egg sandwiches for the freezer. Most mornings the kids pick what they want for breakfast, as the month goes on the choices get more limited.

Everyone is on a different lunch schedule. Guy is at work, Harp is at school, and I’m working from home with both the boys except for those two mornings Indy is at preschool. We try to keep things simple because our schedules aren’t. Lunches are a lot of leftovers and simple meals like sandwiches, wraps, roll-ups, pasta, and the occasional stir fry. Every few months, I use some of my budget to make freezer quesadillas, pretzels dogs, burritos, and fajita and curry bowls. When there aren’t leftovers, those get jammed into lunch boxes the night before and are thawed by lunch time the next day.

This is what we are eating this month. And yes, all five of us will eat all of these food, spiced and spicy meals included. Our kids eat what we eat from the time they have teeth to chew it with.

Meal planning on a budget for a family of five


  • Lauren T

    Awesome. Food is our biggest expense. I’ve cut it down but it’s hard. I’m trying to do what your mom does. Why the dairy avoidance?

    • Rachel Brandt

      My youngest can’t have dairy yet. All my kids outgrow their intolerance eventually but he has not yet so avoiding dairy makes it possible for the whole family to eat one meal. Saves time and money.

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