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Creating Budget Friendly Meals

Creating budget friendly meals for your family isn’t difficult but it does take a little forethought. You can save a great deal of money over the course of the year by taking a little time to plan your meals.

It is important to have a yearly plan, a monthly plan and a weekly plan to get the most out of your budget. By planning in this way, you can take advantage of seasonal vegetables and meat when they are at their cheapest.

It is also important to set money aside to buy pantry basics in bulk when you see them on special. Cans of food are a must to have on hand as they have a long storage life and come in handy when you get to the end of the working week and don’t have the money to buy fresh food.

The best way of creating budget friendly meals is by growing as much of your own food as possible. Pots can be used in apartments and small spaces so there really isn’t a reason not to try growing some of your own produce.

Table of Contents
Yearly Plan
Monthly Plan
Weekly Plan
Pantry Must Have Items
The Most Economical Vegetable Crops to Grow
Creating Budget Friendly Meals
Reducing Food Waste

Planning

When planning it is important to be flexible in everything you do. Don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients in recipes depending on what you have on hand or what is available in your garden.

Yearly Plan

The yearly plan is focused on fresh fruit and vegetables. It is also important to know when certain meats such as lamb is in plentiful supply as the price will be less.

It is also important to be aware of the effects of climatic conditions on price. Droughts and flood will have a major impact which makes being prepared even more important.

The table below gives a general guide on when produce can be found at their best prices however it is best to be flexible and keep an eye on your local stores and farmers markets as many factors can change the times that they are in abundance.

SpringSummerFall/AutumnWinter
MeatChickenLamb, Pork, Turkey, DuckBeef, Pork, Turkey, DuckBacon, Ham
FruitBerriesStone Fruits, BerriesStone Fruits, Apples and PearsCitrus
VegetablesPotatoes, Carrots, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Spinach, Lettuce, OnionsCarrots, Tomatoes, Zucchini, Cucumber, LettucePotatoes, Pumpkins, Carrots, Tomatoes, Zucchini, Cucumber, Lettuce, OnionsPumpkins, Spinach

Meat

As more meat is imported the traditional oversupply seasons may change so it is always best to keep a look out for specials.

  • Lamb – Lambs are usually born in the spring then will go to market through the middle of summer which is when there will be an oversupply. These Lamb Recipes use lamb mince and cheaper cuts.
  • Beef – Traditionally the oversupply period is in the late summer to early fall or autumn however beef prices are heavily affected by imports and export demand. Hamburger mince is the cheapest to buy however it does have a higher fat content. Try these budget friendly Beef Recipes.
  • Chicken – The best prices are found during the late spring to early summer. Always look for barn raised or free-range birds. Whole birds will always be cheaper than buying just the breast meat or thighs. See these Chicken Recipes for inspiration.
  • Pork – Fresh pork is cheapest during midsummer to mid-fall or autumn. The best prices on cured pork may be found during the cooler months. Pork Recipes
  • Seafood – Always look for sustainably farmed fish. They are usually cheaper than wild caught. Salmon is usually cheaper in the spring to early summer. These Fish Recipes use cheaper fillets of fish and canned fish.
  • Turkey and Duck – The best prices can be found from the midsummer to the fall or autumn.

Fruit and Vegetables

Drying Apples in the Oven

Fruit

Homemade jams, jellies and chutneys taste so much better than anything you can buy and they will usually keep for up to 2 years when stored properly. If you don’t have that particular fruit tree in the garden then knowing when the required fruit is in season will save a great deal of money.

In season fruit can also be easily canned in a light syrup in a water bath canner. There is no need to invest in an expensive pressure canner. The fruit can then be enjoyed on their own or in your favorite dessert.

Look for imperfect fruit for canning. They will be cheaper and the quality is usually the same. Imperfect fruit may have an unusual shape or the skin may have blemishes.

  • Stone fruits – It will depend on the variety but you will start to see them in the store from early summer to the middle of fall or autumn.
  • Berries – Berries are at their most abundant from late spring through the summer.
  • Apples and Pears – These are usually harvested in the fall or autumn which is when you will find the best prices.
  • Citrus – Citrus fruits are picked after the first few frosts in the late fall or early winter.

Vegetables

Growing Pumpkins and Squash from Seed

Root vegetables and pumpkins store well especially if you have a root cellar. For other vegetables; it is best to freeze as freezing will maintain the most nutrients in the vegetable and it is an easy way to preserve excess produce when it is in season.

  • Potatoes – In cooler climates potatoes are in season in the late fall or autumn. In warmer climates they are harvested in the late spring to early summer. Store in burlap or hessian bags in a cool dark place.
  • Pumpkins – Harvest time is in late fall or autumn to early winter which is when you will find the best prices.
  • Carrots – They are harvested all year round in warmer climates but are cheaper during the warmer months.
  • Broccoli, Cauliflower and Cabbage – These are grown through the winter in warmer climates with best prices found in the spring. In cooler climates you may find the best prices are in the fall.
  • Spinach and Silverbeet – Late winter and spring is the best time to find these leafy greens on special however they are easy to grow at home and can be grown in pots if you don’t have much room.
  • Tomatoes – The best prices will be from early summer through to the fall.
  • Zucchini and Cucumbers– These are harvested during the warmer months from the beginning of summer through to the fall or autumn.
  • Lettuce and Salad Greens – Lettuce can be grown all year round but the best prices are in the spring to the fall. Consider growing lettuce from seed or buy lettuce seedling then grow out in a pot.
  • Onions – They are grown all year round however the best prices are usually in the spring and the fall.

See this category Vegetables for recipes which make the ordinary vegetable the star of the meal.

Monthly Plan

On the last day of each month take a moment to refer to your yearly plan to see what might be available to buy during the coming month then make a note on your grocery list to look for these items in particular at the store.

You may also need to buy more ingredients for canning or pickles to have on hand. Check your pantry for items which need restocking then wait until you see the items on special before purchasing.

Look for recipes using the items which will be in season or will be harvested from your garden during the month. These recipes should also use basic pantry ingredients or ingredients you have found on special.

Weekly Plan

Refer to your monthly plan then decide which recipes you would like to make for the week with what is available in the garden, your pantry and with what is on special at the store. This way you don’t buy anything you don’t need.

It is always best to take the time to look at the catalogue of your local stores before you go. They can be found online which saves a lot of time. This way you will know what to look for then you can better budget for the things you need.

As hard as it is, try to keep to your list except when you see a bulk buy of something you know you will use. Never shop when you are hungry and if you have children consider going either early in the morning or at night when you can leave the children with your other half.

Pantry Must Have Items

Having these pantry items available to you will make a big difference when creating budget friendly meals. Always buy these items in bulk where possible as they are used on a weekly basis. Buying in bulk will always save money especially when you see bulk items on special but be aware of the best before date before purchasing.

Always keep bulk items in airtight containers to prevent pest contamination and maintain freshness. Store in a cool, dark and dry place. Always throw out bulging cans, discolored food and food which smells sour or off.

IngredientStorage Life
Flour1 Year
Sugar2 Years
Salt and Pepper2 Years
Rice2 Years
Dried Pasta2 Years
Rolled Oats1 Year
Corn Meal (Polenta)1 Year
Dried Beans2 to 3 Years
Dried Fruits1 Year
Canned Tomatoes, Beans, Vegetables, Creamed Corn and Fruit1 to 4 Years

Consider making your own bread. Some breads don’t take a lot of time and use the pantry basics above. Try these Bread Recipes.

The Most Economical Vegetable Crops to Grow

If you are paying for water then you will need to weigh up which vegetables will provide the most produce using the least amount of water. These crops grow quickly and provide continuous picking throughout the season. There are links to growing guides below for more information on growing each vegetable.

  • Spinach or Silverbeet – Silverbeet is particularly hardy, can be grown in pots and provides continuous picking throughout the year. It is a must have for the garden.
  • Bell Peppers or Capsicum – They don’t take much room and provide a continuous supply of peppers.
  • Tomatoes – Tomatoes can be grown in pots to save water and produce up to 200 tomatoes in one season depending on the variety.
  • Lettuce – Lettuce and salad greens grow quickly from seed or seedlings and take up little room. They can also be grown in pots.
  • Cucumbers – They can be grown up a fence or in a pot with a stake and will continue to produce throughout the warmer months.
  • Radishes – Radishes grow quickly from seed with some varieties maturing in 4 to 6 weeks from sowing.
  • Pumpkins and Squash – These are definitely worth growing if you have the room due to the amount they produce and their storage qualities. There are varieties available which take less room for small backyards.
  • Zucchini – Zucchini does take more water than other crops but they do provide continuous picking throughout the warmer months.
How to Grow Capsicums

Creating Budget Friendly Meals

Creating budget friendly meals which taste great isn’t difficult and doesn’t always take more time. A great deal of money can be saved by cooking from scratch. For people who aren’t confident cooking this way it can seem scary and time consuming but it doesn’t have to be.

Cooking is therapeutic and a great distraction from the stresses of the day. Some dishes can be put together in the morning before work then slow cooked on low filling your home with wonderful aromas to come home to.

By cooking from raw ingredients, you can control the quality of the ingredients and omit preservatives and additional salt from your diet. Try the tips below to improve your diet and save money.

Breakfast

  • Consider making your own muesli from rolled oats (which can be bought in bulk) and your favorite mix of dried fruits and nuts. Put in season fresh fruit on the top.
  • The same muesli can be warmed up in the microwave with water or milk for a healthy porridge in the cooler months.
  • Pancakes are cheap to make from scratch for a weekend treat. Add your favorite berries when they are in season.
Lemon and Thyme Pancakes

For more inspiration see these Breakfast Recipes.

Lunch

  • In the warmer months consider making a salad or salad wrap with salad items from your garden or which are in season.
  • In the cooler months make soup from pumpkins grown in the garden or which have been purchased at the beginning of winter. The soup can be frozen into serving portions for the week ahead then reheated in the microwave. Homemade soup is always cheaper and more nutritious than store bought.
  • For a weekend treat try a quiche or slice using in season vegetables. Vegetable fritters are also a cheap and moreish meal which uses pantry ingredients.
Sage and Onion Pumpkin Fritters Recipe

Try these categories on Soup or Salads for healthy recipes using home grown food.

Dinner

  • A quick and healthy meal for the family is simply meat and three vegetables with variations on this theme. Pick the vegetables from your garden or what is in season then simply steam, boil or stir fry. Serve with homemade chutneys.
  • Potatoes can be simply baked in the oven, boiled, mashed or roasted with their skins on in chunks to save time.
  • Meat can be simply grilled in a grill pan or baked in the oven with a marinade. Weekday cooking doesn’t need to be complicated, just keep it fresh and simple.
  • Stir fry’s can also be quick and simple to make. Save money by making the sauce from scratch with a few basic pantry ingredients. Soy sauce, oyster sauce, garlic, chili and minced ginger is handy to have on hand to make a variety of Asian meals.
  • Slow cooker meals are perfect for throwing ingredients together in one pot then leave to cook during the day. You can use cheap cuts of meat as the slow cooking with make these cuts tender. The recipes often use pantry basics such as tinned tomatoes, beans and stock.
  • Pasta is a cheap pantry staple and quick to cook. Save money by making your own sauce with either tinned tomatoes, passata sauce or cream. Pair with mince meats and in season vegetables such as spinach or shredded carrot and zucchini.
Ginger and Lime Marinated Chicken

For Dinner Recipes, see these categories Pizza and Pasta and Rice and Stir Fry’s.

Desserts

  • Homemade cookies can make a lot for a little money and they keep well. Cookies only need pantry basics with one or two additional items for flavor.
  • Cakes are cheaper made from scratch especially when you buy flour in bulk. If you have problems with cakes falling then look for recipes which cook on a low heat 320ºF (160ºC) over a longer time.
  • Fruit desserts are simple to make and don’t cost much when you use in season fruit. Tarts and pies can use everything from berries to apples and pears. Try making short cut pastry from scratch, it doesn’t take much effort and saves money.
  • There isn’t much difference in the quality of cream between the cheap and expensive brands so there is no reason to pay more.
Chocolate Chip Cookies

For recipes see this category on Cakes and Desserts or Cookies.

Reducing Food Waste

Reducing food waste will ultimately save you money. It is only natural to want to cook plenty of food for your family so that no-one goes hungry and it is also hard to judge how hungry your family will be.

There are however a few things you can do to make sure any leftover food doesn’t go to waste. Keep in mind leftovers can be reheated for up to three days after cooking but they should only be reheated once to prevent food spoilage.

  • After dinner, cover any leftovers then place in the fridge. Use reusable containers or lids to reduce plastic waste which will also save money on buying plastic wrap.
  • Include the leftovers in the next night’s meal adding more sides or meat to make enough food for dinner. The leftovers can be reheated in the microwave.
  • Otherwise reheat the leftovers for lunch the next day. They can be taken with you to work in a microwave safe container in a cooler bag with an ice pack. Microwave on high for 3 to 4 minutes until heated through. Who doesn’t like a lunch that’s free?
  • Any vegetable leftovers which are no longer safe to eat can be placed in the compost.

Tip

All of the recipes on this site have money saving tips to give you ideas on how to save more money when creating budget friendly meals for your family. There are also options for dairy and gluten intolerance sufferers however it always wise to check the ingredients with the person who has the intolerance before creating the meal.

If you are looking to buy pantry basics in bulk, Amazon is a good place to start but be sure to check the best before dates before purchasing. (Paid link)

To Print or Save this guide to Creating Budget Friendly Meals, click the button below for the PDF File.

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