How to create and stick to a weekly food budget
I grew up in a home where our weekly meals were planned in advance each Saturday by my amazing mom, who always tried out new recipes and kept things fresh in the kitchen.
Fast forward to 2020, and balancing a full-time job, a side hustle and personal commitments, I’ve quickly realized why my mom was so strategic when meal planning – she had no other option.
Life is so busy for everyone this decade, but it doesn’t have to mean you’re living off fast food, takeout or frozen burritos.
Here’s how I plan out my weekly trip to the grocery store in order to eat well all week long, while sticking to a budget and reducing my meat consumption.
Before heading to the store, take a quick peek in your fridge, freezer and pantry. Be sure to use up fresh produce first before restocking, or try freezing it so to avoid wasting perfectly good food.
Another great tip is to blend up any veggies or fruits that are about to go bad and make a soup or smoothie!
SEARCH FOR RECIPES
By far, this is where I see most people go wrong. If you’re a seasoned pro, you likely have you staple meals or side dishes you can cook in your sleep, but most of us require a little more direction.
Utilize the hashtag feature on Instagram and search for specific recipes or ways of eating. Popular hashtags that help with plant-based cooking are:
Pinterest is another stellar option for recipes, which is super easy to refine what you’re looking for. I often use the words “plant-based” or “vegan” paired with secondary words like “easy dinner” or “30-mintues or less.”
A few of my favorite plant-based food bloggers are:
I stick to recipes that are typically less than 10 ingredients, if possible, just to make things easier during the workweek.
MAKE THE LIST
Once you’ve figured out what recipes you want to make, sort your grocery list into four different categories:
Produce: Fruits and veggies.
Protein: Tempeh, tofu, lentils, beans, etc.
Frozen: Frozen fruit, veggies, rice, ice cream, etc. If it needs to be put in the freezer, add it here.
Miscellaneous: Nuts/seeds, nut butters, dried fruit, seasoning, sauces, etc.
Save this template to your phone or computer if you're looking for an easy way to remember this!
At the bottom of your list, write out your *tentative* meal plan for the week.
Here’s an example of something you might consider, which requires cooking at least three days – Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday:
Saturday: Date night out!
Wednesday: Lentil leftovers + brown rice
Thursday: Falafel wraps + roasted veggies
Friday: Leftover falafel + veggies + quinoa
SPLIT UP GROCERY TRIPS
As you can see above, we eat a lot of veggies in our household! Since we have a Costco membership, I like to make a super quick trip to Costco every other week to stock up on organic produce, almond milk, granola and nuts.
To put things in perspective, a massive bag of organic broccoli is roughly $5 to $6 at Costco and a bag that’s MUCH smaller at Trader Joe’s is about $3.
Trader Joe’s is a perfect place for the bulk of your shopping, especially for plant-based proteins. For example, a block of organic tempeh is less than $2 at TJ’s and $4 at my local grocery store.
Trader Joe’s also has amazing prices on frozen items like cauliflower rice, which can be up to $4-$5 at a standard store, and is only $2 at TJ’s.
STAY ON TRACK
By now, I can typically tell you how much I’ll spend just by looking at my cart, but I wasn’t always this way. Here are a few tips I use when trying to stick to my budget each week ($125-$200 depending on what we need):
Produce, since I mostly organic, honestly takes up a big chunk of my budget. I factor this into what I’m cooking and opt for frozen produce when possible. Blueberries, peppers and cauliflower rice are all produce I buy frozen each week to cut down on cost.
Be leery of “trendy” food items, as they can oftentimes not only be far more expensive, but they also tend to be higher in calories. A recent example of this is Oatly oat milk. While, yes, when consumed in moderation it’s totally fine, but when you’re pouring a cup or more a day, that’s far more sugar, calories and carbohydrates than other unsweetened plant-based milks, like almond, rice, cashew or coconut.
Embrace lentils and beans! These are very inexpensive forms of whole food-based plant protein. When buying cooked beans in a can, always opt for organic. It’s usually 10 to 20 cents more, but totally worth it as organic beans are farmed without using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
Allow yourself to indulge in a few extra items. While grocery shopping, I tend to buy a kombucha or two that was never on my list, and maybe some fun new ice cream or cracker items. The key to remaining within your budget is to limit these types of purchases to 2 or 3, not 10 or more. :)
I love when people tag me on Instagram while they're at the grocery store to show me what's in their cart! Shoot me a DM or email if you're looking to learn more about healthy eating or creating a sustainably healthy lifestyle.