12 Money-Saving Meal Ideas

12 Money-Saving Meal Ideas
Written by Irina Vasilescu

Whether you’re living alone, as an elderly couple or a still-growing family, it is important to set up a monthly budget. This lets you know exactly how much income is coming into the house, where the money is going, and how much funds you can allot on a savings account. For the average American family, here’s a breakdown of how a typical monthly budget is allotted:

  • Rent or mortgage = 25%
  • Personal items and activities = 12-25%
  • Food = 10-15%
  • Personal expenses = 2-10%
  • Utility costs = 2-10%
  • Transportation/car-related expenses = 2-5%
  • Debt, savings and miscellaneous expenses = Below 15%

As you can see, the budget for food does make up a significant amount of a monthly budget. If you can reduce this by one-third or even one-half, the money that you will save can go towards your other important expenses. But how exactly can you save money on food without depriving yourself of the vitamins and nutrients needed to nourish the body?

The solution is actually simple: decrease your reliance of food that’s convenient to buy. This includes mixed salads, fancy lattes from coffee shops, fast food, restaurant meals and even pizza delivery. Sure, it is very convenient and fast to order food on the go but unless you know where the ingredients are sourced, you are not really 100% certain of the quality of food that you’re getting.

When you line up at the office pantry, for instance, and you force yourself to get ingredients for a salad. You will usually get chunks of overripe melon, mushy strawberries or unpalatable pineapple. The same thing holds true for veggies which are not so fresh anymore, unless you slather them with oodles of dressing.

You know that you can easily consume the same food item at home for less and with better quality ingredients, but you fail to do so simply because of a lack of willpower.

All in all, what you need to know is that there are plenty of ways for you to save money on meals and eat a lot better – be it at home or in the office. By taking the extra time and effort in planning your meals, you can eat healthy, nutritious, delicious meals without paying restaurant prices for them. Read on to find out how you can do just that.

Top 12 Money-Saving Meal Tips to Follow

To eat better and healthier while cutting back on your food budget all at the same time, here are a few tips that you can follow:

1. Skip processed food

If you’re a working mom who cannot be bothered to even move a muscle once the kids go home at night, you might be tempted to simply order pizza. There’s nothing wrong with doing this every once in a while but if you do it often enough, the costs would crop up and your family will be left with barely nutritious meals to eat.

To give you the extra inspiration to save money on meals by making them yourself, realize that processed food is not cheap at all. Take cheese slices or cheese spread as a basic example. You can buy a block of good cheese at a really reasonable price. But when you look for similar cheese products like grated, sliced or even cheese spread, the cost becomes significantly higher because it has already been processed.

When you go for the most basic ingredients, you can have better quality food items at almost a fraction of the price.

2. Make your own food from scratch

Experts recommend buying a bread making machine which has become popular for the past few years. Instead of buying bread from the bakery or the supermarket, you can actually save more money by purchasing the raw ingredients and dumping them all on the breadmaking machine.

Not only will you have freshly baked bread to serve your family during meals, but you can also save a significant number of dollars as compared to buying ready-made bread. The same thing holds true for other kitchen items that you need like fruit preserves, spreads, etc.

3. Use vegetables as the main star of the dish

Instead of always using beef, pork or chicken as the main star of the dish, use them as flavoring instead. Buy a slow cooker and slow-cook the cheaper bits of beef or pork and add veggies for a mouth-watering dish. If you have leftover chicken, use it as a base for a roast chicken garden salad. Leftover veggies can be turned into miso soup.

Go online and look for recipes that use vegetables as the main star of the dish without scrimping on flavor, and save money in the process.

4. Plan menus in advance

One of the most annoying questions for moms is this: What are we having for dinner? If you don’t want to be bombarded with such questions from your kids, simply plan a menu in advance.

For instance, you can have chicken on Mondays, beef on Tuesdays, pasta on Wednesdays and other meal ideas until the end of the week. If you know that Mondays are chicken nights, you can quickly grab that package of chicken breasts, thighs or legs and cook it up for your entire family.

Planning meals in advance will also give you an idea about the nutrients content of the food that your family is eating.

5. Buy fruits and veggies which are in season

Halloween is pumpkin season so you can easily stock up on preserves, pies, muffins and similar dishes with the orange veggie as the main ingredient. Do the same thing year-round. Buy whatever fruits and veggies are in season and incorporate them in your meals.

6. Purchase cheaper types of fish and cuts of meat

Mackerel, coley, tuna and other fish types are cheaper to buy in the local markets. For beef and pork, some cuts are cheaper to buy than others.

If you’re worried about flavor, let the seasoned meat marinate or cook slowly on a slow cooker so that you can extract the most taste. It pays to get to know a local fish supplier in your area so that you can get first dibs on really cheap fish types at low, low prices.

7. Grow your own food

What better way is there to save money on meals than to grow your own food? Even if you only have a window sill or a small space in front of your apartment to grow plants, there are plenty of herbs, spices and small fruit or vegetable-bearing trees that you can grow.

What’s good about taking this route is that you can rest assured that no harsh chemicals were sprayed on the herbs, spices or whatever fruits or veggies you managed to grow at the end of the season.

8. Skip the pre-packaged salad mixes

When buying food from the supermarket, remember that those pre-packaged salad mixes cost a lot more – especially if it already includes a tub of dressing. It’s just as easy to buy your own greens, mix your own dressing and prepare a deliciously refreshing salad at home.

9. Grow your own spices

If you love cooking with herbs, grow them in your own home. If you love cooking with spices, look for stores which sell them in bulk. The per-ounce price is usually cheaper than when buying them in quaint little glass bottles. Just make sure that you will use up all the spices readily, because these usually have a shelf life of one or two years.

10. Whenever possible, buy food in bulk

Some stores sell kitchen staples at lower prices than others. Make a price comparison of the rates offered by different superstores, grocery stores or supermarkets in your area.

If you’re buying one or two weeks’ worth of food supplies, do a few quick calculations in your head. Does it make sense to buy a gallon of juice over the individual juice boxes? If yes, you should definitely buy in bulk.

11. Master those potato and chicken recipes

Russet potatoes can be bought at a few cents apiece, and they are rich in vitamin C, potassium and fiber. You can easily bake, stuff, mash, slice or roast them. Chicken which is sold boneless and skinless is also a very versatile yet cheap ingredient that you can incorporate in a lot of meals.

12. Use canned fish and stock up on frozen veggies

If there’s one type of canned good that you should always have in your kitchen, it’s none other than canned salmon or tuna. These are rich in Omega-3 fats which help with your heart’s health. You can use them on tuna spreads, pasta or salads. For veggies which are not in season, you can simply buy the frozen variant so that you can still get the same amount of nutrients without having to pay an arm and a leg at the counter.

By implementing these money-saving meal ideas in your kitchen, you can eat healthy, hearty meals but still cut back on your food budget.

About the author

Irina Vasilescu

Irina Vasilescu is our crafty designer. She joined the team three years ago and is also involved in the writing process.


  • All these tips are useful for saving money, but even if one has no need to stick to a specific budget when it comes to meal planning, if they implement these ideas they will be eating healthier, and that is a good thing.

    I used to like to go to restaurants and eat, but I’ve recently started to detest the idea of going anywhere and eating anyone’s cooking but mine. I like to know that things are clean and that hands have been washed before any meal prep is done.

    When I cook things myself, I feel more confident about the quality of the food and I save money too.

    • I used to really eat out a lot because I hate having to prepare my own food but when I did some calculations and estimations on how much money I’m wasting then I never went back to the habit again and besides, it’s better to eat in the comfort of your own living room while watching your favorite show.

  • Budgeting for meals is probably the hardest part of my monthly calculations and estimations. It’s almost always a pain in the neck to have to estimate how much and how many. I tend to just dine outside just to save me the pain of having to go through all of it.

  • It’s amazing what power forward thinking can have over your finances. Meal time is a big one that can be better planned. It’s not always going to be easy but once you know what you’re doing you’re not as easily distracted.

  • Thanks for the useful tips. I’m quite a foodie and I enjoy making dishes from scratch whenever I have time. I get to save money and I can choose quality ingredients. My favorites are skinless garlic sausage , crab cake,, baked chicken, pork and chicken terriyaki and all kinds of pasta dishes.

    Maybe I’ll try growing my own food next time.

  • Smart planning towards meal preparation will certainly reduce costs in the long run. It’s not always simple to plan for it because circumstances sometimes befall us and cause shortage of time or some of us may not even have the resources to do things in certain ways to save. But all we can do is do our best.

  • This is a pretty good (and very useful) post. My brother is usually the one to jump to potato chips and processed things because it’s cheaper, but hopefully I’ll be able to nudge him towards these tips and finally eat healthier, while getting delicious, creative food, and be able to save money. (He’s a big fan of chicken, and I’m a fan of potatos, so this’ll be perfect)

  • Buying in bulk has been the biggest money saver for me. I eat beans and a whole grain, either rice or corn, 4 times per week, and I buy only bulk beans and grains now because I same sometimes dollars per pound doing so.

    The cost of bulk spices and teas is also dollars less per pound, For some spices the bulk price is so shockingly low compared to the packaged price I can hardly believe it is the same product! If it wasn’t for bulk, I would not have enough money to eat nutritious food at all.

    • For certain food and drink items, buying in bulk is an incredible money saver. You see this less often when buying toiletries and other household items in bulk, though. You can save hundreds of dollars per year on foods in bulk, but you won’t necessarily save hundreds in household non-food items when buying in bulk. Unfortunately, some people think that buying in bulk is ALWAYS cheaper, and that’s just not the case.

  • Everyone thinks they have too much time and too little money to handle cooking from home. However, when people realize how much money they actually save and how much improvement their overall health will make, they often change their tone.

    • The fact of the matter is that cooking from home won’t always save you more money. There are plenty of healthy options that cost the same amount of money out as eating in by cooking at home. These days, with rising food costs, the costs are actually very similar for eating at home and eating out for certain segments of the population. My out and in budgets are identical, and I split them 50/50 as far as where I eat and whether I prepare the food or not.

  • I’m a frequent customer at costco. Yes you have you pay a membership fee, but the savings I’ve netted from buying all my food in bulk as already paid for the membership itself a few times over. Not to mention that some of their food, like their pizza and chicken, are delicious. I also think I’m going to start looking up the ideal seasons for purchasing fruits and vegetables. Thanks for the article!

    • When it comes to Costco, so many people are stingy and don’t want to pay the membership fee because they don’t think it’ll pay off. However, a Costco card will pay for itself within three or four trips, and you’re going to make dozens of trips throughout the year. The fact of the matter is that the company has very affordable food, wide selections, and the food itself tastes great.

  • I would say your budget estimates for the typical American family are too low, especially for housing, transportation and food. People would be shocked how much they spend on these items if they were to do an household expense breakdown, which I encourage. it is informative! I follow most of these tips, particularly growing your own food, preparing your lunch and making meals in advance. About a month ago, I made spaghetti sauce and chicken noodle soup and frozen them. When the temperature dropped, I warmed the soup in no time and had hearty, healthy meals. I’m cautious about recommending canned goods because oftentimes they contain ingredients, such as sodium, in high amounts that are not healthy.

    • I’d have to agree with you. Transportation and housing costs are almost always on the rise, except perhaps for gas prices at the moment. Then food is something that costs a lot, and you can’t exactly stop eating food, and you can only cut back so much on its consumption. Therefore, the estimates for these categories definitely need to be a little higher, perhaps a lot higher in some cases.

  • Growing your own fruits and vegetables and even spices couldn’t be any easier. Some of these things take relatively little maintenance to grow and can even grow year-round in the right environments. Far too many people don’t give even small-scale growing a chance because they think it will consume too much of their time and resources. That’s just not the case.

  • Interesting read. I am always looking for ways to save on my family’s grocery bill and meal plan — and some of these are great time savers too!!

  • I’ve really found that re-learning recipes has been the biggest money-saver for me. I’m a vegetarian, and that transition years ago had actually saved me a ton of money, just like the tip on making vegetables the focus of dishes. These days, I tend to find items that can be bought and stored in bulk to base my meals around. Pasta, canned vegetables, canned beans… They last a long time without going bad, they’re usually cheap, and if I do end up having a ton leftover when I need to clean my cupboards, they can go straight to a food drive.

  • Some great advice here. I used to spend a small fortune on lunches at work but have saved so much since switching to packed meals.
    I’m pretty certain that more than 10 per cent of our income goes on food though – sometimes it seems like grocery shopping uses up all of my spare cash. I would love to see some cheap and healthy recipes on this blog as I usually tend to just eat jacket potatoes when I’m broke. I’d like a bit of variety!

  • Great article, thank you for sharing these great tips! I used to live on canned fish while I was in grad school, I don’t know why I ever stopped buying it. And I’m excited to learn that russet potatoes are rich in vitamin C. I’ve always been told not to eat too many potatoes, I’m guessing because of the carbs? My family is always buying packaged salads and it actually drives me mad. I simply don’t like it, its actually tastes different to me. I should email this linked to my family!

  • I’ ve always been too greedy to pay for convenience food, except on very rare occasions. I figure: I actually like cooking, and if I don’t feel like it, my boyfriend can do it or we can arrange something easy and/or quick together. Otherwise, what feels convenient is actually being translated in money content, and I sort of think about it like — if I want a delivered pizza, that’s around 17$ for two, vs a few bucks for dressing our own pizzas. That’s around an hour of work! On minimum wage, of course.

    Skinless boneless chicken is not so cheap, for price per pound. I usually get the chickens whole. They are cheaper. I can just cut through them to get the meat cuts I want and cook everything in different ways — bones make soup and sandwich meat from the excess meat; breast meat goes marinated and in the oven, later cut to stripes; legs make a nice portion for two, a curry or whatever else!

    Thanks for the article!

  • Thank you so much for sharing, this is actually really helpful and I think of it as something that we really need in our society today. Surely, if everyone has done that, it might put some people out of business but I guess it’s something for the wise and smart, if you know what I mean.

  • Definitely agree that learning to cook will save so much money in the long run. And when you get good enough, it can put you off the processed stuff for good. And I cannot sing the praises of frozen veggies enough. I’m also lucky enough that I live fairly close to a number of farmer’s markets, should I cook something that absolutely requires fresh ingredients. Great advice overall in this post.

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