How to work more frugal meals into your weekly menu

Rice and beans on a plate.
July 16, 2019
by Erin Chase

When money gets to be tight, there’s one place you can make significant changes quickly to help with the dollar pinch. That place would be your grocery line item on your monthly budget. 

Food is often one of the highest monthly expenses, but it’s also the easiest to control. Below I’ll share some ideas and recipes on how to work more frugal meals into your weekly menu, so that you can find money in your grocery budget to use in other areas of your life. 

First, let’s start with your pantry and freezer. Take inventory and come up with a few meals that you could make with what you already have. I would guess that most families would find upwards of 10 meals, already in their kitchen. Plan to make those 10 meals over the next 4-6 weeks - even if it means serving toaster strudels with green beans one night. Not that that has happened at my house. ;) 

Next, let’s incorporate more meatless meals into your weekly menu. Yes, I’m talking about rice and beans-type meals. Beans have a bad reputation of being boring or bland, but they are neither of those when you can jazz them up with other inexpensive ingredients. 

Meat is often the highest priced meal ingredient in your grocery cart, so I only recommend buying it when on sale. If buying on sale isn’t always an option, consider adding more meatless meals into your dinner rotation instead.

Erin’s Rice and Beans Recipes: Rice & Beans Budget Recipes; Tips for Cooking Rice & Beans;  Ranchero Black & Pinto Beans; Black Beans with Mango & Cilantro; Red Quinoa with Black Beans, Corn and Avocado  

Now, let’s talk about spending less time in the kitchen. Time equals money, so when you are saving on both, you are really rocking the dinner hour. 

If you plan ahead, you can cook a meal once - but serve it twice! It’s pretty easy to re-purpose extra parts of meals to make new and different meals. If you play your cards right - you likely won’t hear any complaining from the family, especially if you serve a different side dish on the second serving night. 

Here’s a perfect example of Cook Once, Serve Twice Meals: Make Slow Cooker Mississippi Beef Roast, and use the leftovers to fix Shredded Beef Oven Tacos.

Finally, and this one might be tough to hear - if you are going to take the time to create a plan, do yourself a favor and follow through with it. Don’t flake out on your own plan. :)

Just cook what you were planning on cooking, even if you don’t feel like it. Yes, we all have those days that go awry, and we can come up with 99 reasons why we don’t feel like cooking what’s on the menu. But, you should stick to your meal plan - because when you don’t, you end up throwing food (and money!) into the trash can. 

Work hard to follow through and make the meals you planned on cooking, and enjoy the feeling of success at the end!

When making your meal plan each week, consider how you can use up what you already have in your pantry and freezer, look for new rice and beans-like recipes to incorporate into your regular dinner rotation, and do your very best to stick to the plan you set each week. With these few small tweaks to your meal planning, you’d be surprised at how many more dollars you’ll find in your wallet each week. 

Erin Chase is a mom of four boys and the founder of $5 Dinners, a food blog dedicated to sharing inexpensive, easy meal plans and recipes, as well as other tips and tricks to save money on food.