Here Are 10 Weeks of Budget-Friendly Meal Plans to Make Right Now

updated Feb 9, 2022
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Eating well doesn’t have to cost a lot. Begin the week with a meal plan in mind, and last-minute food delivery charges and impulse-buy ingredients disappear from the balance sheet. Make meal plans work for your budget by highlighting affordable ingredients, avoiding waste, integrating leftovers, and substituting with ingredients already in your pantry. Here are eight weeks of budget-friendly meal plans that deliver cozy, satisfying dinners without sacrificing flavor. Use these plans as is, or mix and match to suit your tastes and budget.

Credit: From Left to Right: Joe Lingeman, Emma Christensen, Maria Siriano, Joe Lingeman

1. A Week of Cheap and Easy Pantry Dinners

Focusing on keeping your grocery budget down by building your meal plan around cheap pantry ingredients, like lentils, beans, rice, pasta, and tortillas. Bonus points when you already have some ingredients on hand and don’t have to toss them in your cart. You might start with basic ingredients, but with a line up that includes, cheesy burrito bowls, One-Pot Broccoli Pasta, and Chicken Sausage and Lentil Stew, this week’s dinners are anything but basic.

Get the plan: A Week of Cheap and Easy Pantry Dinners

Credit: From Left to Right: Emma Christensen, Joe Lingeman, Olive & Mango, Joe Lingeman, Emma Christensen

2. A Week of Cheap and Easy Low-Carb Dinners

First and foremost, this budget-friendly meal plan is just plain delicious. And easy! Even if you’re not focused on keeping your carb count down, Lasagna-Stuffed Spaghetti Squash, Smoky Pork Tenderloin, and Green Goddess Chicken Skillet are easy meals the whole family will enjoy.

Get the plan: A Week of Cheap and Easy Low-Carb Dinners

3. A Budget Meal Plan for a Family of Four

This meal plan leans on pantry staples like beans, tomato sauce, salsa, and that smorgasbord of grains you have inadvertently collected. There’s no need for a long ingredient list here, since you’ll repeat ingredients throughout the week for dinners like Tex-Mex Migas, Baked Black Bean and Avocado Burritos, and Breakfast Grain Bowls.

4. 5 Budget (but Not Boring) Dinners

Shake up your meal plan with these anything-but-boring recipes. Serve meals like Sheet Pan Honey-Chipotle Chicken and Sweet Potatoes and Peanut Chicken Power Bowls by buying more affordable cuts of meat (thighs versus breasts) and using grains that are probably already in your pantry. It’s OK to use recipes as inspiration, just as this meal plan does using leftover chicken, veggies, and peanut sauce for the Chicken Lettuce Wraps.

Get the plan: 5 Budget But Not Boring Dinners

5. 5 Budget Dinners for Feeding My Family

A key principle for feeding a family on a budget is to use ingredients that you have already purchased. Put the pantry staples and freezer finds to work this week. Use up the last few pieces of broken lasagna noodles, the stray jar of marinara sauce, and dried herbs in Easy Slow Cooker Lasagna Soup, while Slow Cooker Taco-Stuffed Potatoes use potatoes, taco seasoning, and ground beef you have in the freezer. Fill out the week with Vegetable Jambalaya, pizza, and Thanksgiving Lentil Salad that will also serve as lunch for the week.

Credit: Jerrelle Guy

6. A Week of Budget-Friendly Vegetarian Dinners from Jerelle Guy

Focus on serving satisfying vegetarian dinners this week with the help of Jerelle Guy. If you have a stack of corn tortillas left over from last week, use them for Lentil Taquitos with Avocado Crema. Cool nights call for a cozy pasta bake like this Seaweed Casserole that has all of the salty sea flavor of tuna without the fish. When you’re tempted by the takeout menu, set a pot of Turmeric Egg Drop Soup on the stove or take it easy with Cinnamon Toast with Almond Butter and Banana.

Credit: From Left to Right: Joe Lingeman, Christine Han

7. 5 Cheap and Healthy Slow Cooker Dinners

This week of meals is light on both cost and effort. Lean on the slow cooker to turn pantry staples into hearty dinners like Slow Cooker Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, Slow Cooker Black Bean Chili, and Slow Cooker Golden Chickpea Soup. Lean on affordable dried herbs and spices to infuse dried beans and juicy chicken thighs with flavor as they simmer all day long.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

8. A Week of Budget-Friendly Family Meals

This meal prep plan provides everything you need to prep a week of budget-friendly meals in advance. Feed a family of four breakfasts, lunches, and dinners with just $75 by shopping the sales, making smart substitutions, and relying on the comfort of repetition. Meals this week include Slow Cooker Creamy Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal for breakfast, Roasted Fall Vegetable Soup for lunch, and Sheet Pan Chicken and Roasted Vegetables and Crunchy Black Bean Tacos for dinner.

Credit: From Left to Right: Yossy Arefi, Joe Lingeman, Justin Bridges, Joe Lingeman

9. A Week of Cheap and Easy Instant Pot Dinners

Among the many reasons we love the Instant Pot, it makes easy work of cooking up basic pantry ingredients like pasta, lentils, beans, and rice. And those ingredients are the star of this budget-friendly meal plan that includes dinners like chicken enchilada bowls, spaghetti with meat sauce, and lentil soup.

Get the plan: A Week of Cheap and Easy Instant Pot Dinners

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

10. A Week of Budget Friendly Family Meals for Winter

This week of meals is full of comforting favorites like lasagna soup and chili mac. Breakfasts and lunches are included too, so you’ll be set for a week of coziness no matter what the weather brings.