Eat Well, Spend Less: When Two Meals Become Five

Last week in the Eat Well, Spend Less series I did a lot of talking about menu planning and making your meals fit together, and this week, I’m going to demonstrate with five of my favorite go-to meals and a typical week of meal planning in our household.

In our house, we often start by planning two main meals for the week and building from there. We aim to plan five total meals each week, leaving some room for flexibility. Flexibility is key when you have two working parents and four kids, each with their own schedule for life. Those five meals are intended for Monday-to-Friday consumption, though they have been known to creep into the weekend here and there. Weekend meals are generally whatever we have left that needs to be cleared out of the fridge: makeshift quesadillas and wraps, leftovers or something that will end up on the blog that is separate from the meal plan.

The goal in planning our meals for the week is to get the most bang for our buck by (1) using plenty of pantry staples that we keep stocked and buy only as needed, (2) incorporating a meatless or vegetarian option or two, (3) using similar ingredients in multiple meals to avoid over-purchasing and (4) making more than will feed the family so we can use leftovers for lunch and other meal components.

Grocery Budget Breakdown

Produce $40
Meat $30
Dairy/Eggs $20
Whole Grains/Staples $10-30
TOTAL $100-120

The majority of our budget consists of fresh produce. Whether from the farmers markets during the growing season or stocking up in the store, I have no problem filling the fridge with organic fruits and vegetables in their whole, unaltered form. They are snacks, side dishes and main meal components each and every week. Our meat allotment is smaller, and this mostly has to do with an increase in meatless meals, a reflection on proper portion size, cost per serving and the desire to splurge a few times a month on more expensive cuts than eat mediocre options daily.

Dairy and eggs are used in sauces, smoothies, breakfast bakes, frittatas and more. This would also include any yogurt or sour cream we purchased and, of course, cheese. Finally, the whole grains and staples are things we stock in our pantry and purchase as needed and also the packaged foods we do purchase like organic blue corn chips, pretzels and coffee.

A few things: We are a family of 6, but our kids are still relatively young at 11, 6, 4 and 2 years old. As they get older, our budget will increase because we’ll have to purchase more food for larger portion sizes. We buy a good percentage of organic groceries, and we try to keep our purchases local whenever possible.

Now that you have the budget, let’s start planning the meals. These should give you an idea of how everything breaks down from meal to meal. To round out the week, we’d probably plan in a burger night or a even a steak and potatoes night to satisfy the man of the house.

Roast Chicken

When purchasing chickens, know what size you’re getting. A fryer chicken is smaller than a roaster, but they can also be the cheaper per pound of the two. A broiler sits in between those two. Sometimes you can get a deal on multiple fryers, which can help keep the cost down and produce more chicken stock, which is exactly what we do with the bones once we’ve had dinner and then removed any extra meat for leftovers. Round out this meal with a rice or pasta side dish and a steamed or sautéed vegetable mix or salad.

Mediterranean Bean and Barley Salad

Chickpeas, white beans and barley make up the base of this salad. A few fresh vegetables and herbs give it life and add to the flavor profile. We serve this with tzatziki sauce and pitas. Add a side of fresh fruit and crudités for a perfect spring and summer meal. We make our own pitas (or naan) and plenty of them. Dry beans are a great bulk item to purchase and keep on hand, and even organic varieties can be frugal. When boiling these, double the amount needed, so you can use them later on.

Chickpea and Vegetable Curry with Leftover Chicken

Those extra chickpeas come into play and meet up with a head of broccoli and cauliflower and a cocktail of curry spices. We’ll also be using a bit of leftover chicken and the stock that we made from it. Served over a bed of rice, this is a quick and easy meal that feels nothing like leftovers.

Catch-all Pizza

Pizza is a favorite for many, and you can make it cheaper and easier by using homemade flatbread as the base. Rather than purchase pizza sauce, make your own. You can go with tomato, but a simple garlic sauce is also delicious and any leftover fresh herbs you have can be blended in for a sort of impromptu pesto. Top with anything you have laying around, making up fun combinations and interesting new favorites. One of ours is sliced potatoes and zucchini on pizza with goat cheese.

Southwest-Style Chicken Vegetable Soup

Soups are a fantastic way to keep the budget low, especially if you’re making your own stocks and broths. Just toss whatever seasonal vegetables you have laying around in alongside beans, pasta and other grains for an instant meal. This one is full of extras from the week, as well as a few mix-ins that won’t break the bank, including frozen/fresh corn, hominy and chipotle peppers.

So, now you’ve seen a bit into how we work our menu and make food stretch and last around here. Take a minute to visit the other wonderful posts in the Eat Well, Spend Less group and see their favorite frugal meal ideas as well.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups leftover chicken, shredded or diced
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 red green pepper, diced
1 small yellow onion, diced
6 scallions, diced
6 cups chicken stock
15 ounces white hominy
1 cup frozen sweet corn
1 cup chickpeas, cooked
1 cup black or white beans, cooked
1/2 can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (less to control spice level)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add in chicken and spices and sauté until heated through. Remove from pan to stockpot and add remaining olive oil. Sauté vegetables until tender. Move vegetables to stockpot. Pour chicken stock over the vegetables, and then add in hominy, corn, chickpeas and beans and bring to a simmer for 30 minutes.

Serve with grilled corn tortillas, corn chips or homemade flour tortillas.

Makes 4-6 servings.
Copyright © Food for My Family.

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  1. Nice breakdown, Shaina. You’re incredibly organized and it is obvious working well for you.

    This soup looks wicked! Warm spring days are still just a memory, so I’m going to have to simmer some soup this week, I think.

  2. That’s a fantastic breakdown, and has also caused me to reevaluate my grocery budget. There are only two of us, and we’re easily spending that much, if not more a week. I know that groceries are more expensive in NJ than MN, but it can’t be that drastic. Time to take stock and reassess.

    • Actually, I did some sleuthing, and it looks like average food cost is actually the same comparing NJ and MN, but if you look Newark versus St. Paul, our average monthly grocery prices are $150 more per month. I think it’s because we have limited local options during the winter months.

  3. Ha! I am right at $180 a week because of all the organic meat and produce I buy. ITs killing my budget, but I just cant NOT get organic beef… I would be well served to be more organized and thoughtful about my proces, as you have outlined! 🙂

    • We do, too, so the only way we can make it work is by adjusting how we eat. If we were buying full meat servings for each meal, we would be spending so much more money. We get a lot of our organic produce, during winter months especially, at Costco, and during the summer we make friends with the farmers market vendors. Like really close friends. 😉

  4. Thanks so much for this post. I’ve been working on making healthier meals while keeping my budget low and this post gives me some great ideas to work with!

  5. With prices seemingly constantly on the rise these days this is such a great post.

  6. Great post… I totally aspire to cooking/feeding my family like this but often my disorganization (or laziness? or subpar cooking skills) get in the way. I have a similar family size (kids 12,8,5 &1), but waste and bad planning seem to keep my grocery budget higher.

  7. Thanks for this! Very helpful and inspiring! My husband and I have been married 2 years, and it is “just us” for right now, but I still struggle to keep our grocery bill under budget!

  8. So helpful and now I’m so jealous of our organization skills. I need a serious Shaina Bootcamp makeover!

  9. I just love your strategies and the planning that goes into your budget/shopping. It inspires me to be more on top of my own!!

  10. You are one organized lady…and that salad looks heavenly.

  11. Okay, that catch all pizza looked amazing. Love all these tips!!

  12. Wow! It’s nice to know that I’m right on track! My kids are 5, 3, and 1, and we’re sitting at right around $120/week, and we get our milk delivered from a local dairy, and our meat is from a special all-natural company that is local to CO, WY, NE, and KS, so my main purchases are fresh produce, dry/canned goods, and some other fresh dairy like eggs, yogurt, and sour cream.

    We too, try to limit our portions to the appropriate size for our family members, and try to eat clean whenever possible. Our local farmers’ markets are only in the summer around here, so produce is something I try to stock up on during the season and preserve as much as we can afford to buy.

    I’m excited to be here, thanks to Carrie over at Denver Bargains, and am so excited to try some of your recipes. The photos look so amazing – I get hungry each time I stop by!

  13. You are so organized and I am amazed at your budget! Wow!

  14. I don’t know if the prices are much higher where I live but that budget seems tight for a family of your size. I do a lot of shopping at Whole Foods (otherwise known as Whole Paycheck) and boy does it add up fast!

    • I think a lot of it has to do with our menu, obviously. It is a fairly tight budget, but we try to make it work. Obviously there are weeks where we go over, but most weeks, that’s the budget we try to maintain. Second, while I really enjoy baking, it’s not something I do often, and we don’t eat a lot of sweets. I can’t imagine what it would be if I were making a few tarts, a batch of cookies and a cheesecake each week.

  15. Lots of great tips and love all of the recipe ideas… I definitely spend more than I’d like to on groceries each week… Going to be reevaluating a bit. 🙂

  16. That is a great post! That soup looks really yummy! But I thought the pizza looked the best! I guess that is typical!
    It is so hard in the northern states to keep a high produce content in our diet, I find that I use alot of home canned foods to supplement our diet as well lots of salads as romaine and leaf lettuce are fairly cheap.

  17. How fun to find you through Katie at Kitchen Stewardship. Really enjoyed your Eat Well, Spend Less post. What a wonderful site you have! I look forward to following your blog and trying many of your recipes. Thanks so much! Blessings, Kelly

  18. Talk about economizing and still having variety! You know, I hadn’t tried dryed beans until recently. They taste so much better than the canned versions. I soak large lima beans and then simmer them with just a little onion and chicken broth. They turn into the creamiest, most delicious meal. Separate and freeze and you have lunches (once a week) for a month. Can’t get my family to try it. They don’t know what they’re missing. It’s delicious and costs $2!

  19. Its starting to get chilly where I’m at and nothing like some hot soup on a cold night. I’ll have to try out your recipe, I’m sure my family’s gonna love it. Awesome blog and recipes.


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