Healthy meal planning on a budget

Busy families run best when things are planned ahead, and that goes for activities as well as meals. Meal planning might sound time-consuming — and it can be — but with a little practice, it can become a great time- and money-saver for your family. Here’s how.

Woman planning meals

1Work around the likes.

Start with a list of things that your family loves. “Healthy meals do not have to be as expensive as many people think. By finding five or six key foods that your family enjoys that are also inexpensive, you can create a tremendous menu that allows you great meal variety while saving a lot of money that would otherwise be spent on other foods,” says Jared Meacham, a fitness/lifestyle coach who blogs at “Creativity and planning are the key.”

2Be a planner.

Meal planning for a week at a time can help you stay organized, spend less and eat healthier. “Planning weekly menus is an economical and strategic way to get the whole family involved in healthy eating. Ask family members to suggest favorites, giving each the chance to contribute to the family meal,” says Juliet Zuercher, R.D., nutrition coordinator at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center in suburban Chicago. “By writing a menu, a grocery list can be made, which saves time and money at the store. Build in leftover meals and repeats throughout the week.”

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3Cook ahead.

Love to cook? Take advantage of the weekends to make a big protein that can be used throughout the week as well. “Prepare your protein dish by making roasted turkey breast or beef roast on a Sunday. Having a protein source ready to go makes cooking far easier and saves time,” says clinical nutritionist Stella Metsovas. For instance, she suggests using leftover roasted turkey in turkey tacos, stir fry, chili and soup.

4Shop the ads.

Watching the sale flyers from the local grocery stores isn’t just a task for extreme couponers. It is also a great way for anyone to spend less on food. “Look in the weekly ads for your local supermarkets to see what’s on sale (i.e., fish, chicken, produce, etc.),” says Erin Macdonald, R.D., nutritionist, mom of four and co-founder of U Rock Girl!.

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Some healthy food are always bargains. “Some of the healthiest foods (beans, lentils, brown rice, sweet potatoes) are the least expensive and give you the most bang for your buck. When the market has a great deal on something, buy extra and freeze for a later time,” says Macdonald.

More tips for healthy meals

5 Simple, healthy food swaps
Healthy eating habits for busy families
5 Easy (but healthy!) family meal ideas