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Our guide to meal planning on a budget

If you’re finding yourself gravitating to the takeout menu or swiping towards UberEats night-after-night, it’s likely you’re feeling uninspired in the kitchen. We show you some meal planning on a budget tips that you actually want to eat.

One of the most frequent questions we get asked is,”How to plan healthy meals on a budget that are tasty, affordable and nutritious?” Meal planning on a budget can save you time and money, but not if the food goes off before you get to it. Done right, batch cooking can supercharge your savings.

MyBudget spoke to Queensland nutritional therapist Amber Sagal and she spilled the beans on health-enhancing, weekly meal plans on a budget.

1. Prioritise whole grains, pulses and beans when batch cooking

Amber says: “Animal sources of protein tend to be more expensive, whereas beans, rice and oats are easy to store, and they’re nutritious and cheap. Lentils, chickpeas, butter and black beans come in cans and the dried versions are even cheaper. When meal planning on a budget, you can substitute lentils for meat in recipes such as pasta sauce or burger patties and a lot of people wouldn’t pick the difference. Soak and cook dried beans and then freeze them in batches.”​

Harem mesh bags of grains and nuts including cannellini beans, macadamias, almonds, kidney beans, hazelnuts.

2. Invest in basic spices

Meal planning on a budget is made so much tastier with spices. Amber says: “Mexican spices, like cumin and paprika are great, as are Italian spices, like thyme and oregano. Curry powder is a good staple for your pantry too. An easy, cheap, healthy dinner would be a curry made from curry powder and a tin of coconut cream, with chickpeas, your choice of frozen veggies and seasoned with salt and pepper. Canned coconut cream is a favourite of mine for weekly meal plans on a budget because you can add it to curries, smoothies, rice and lots of other dishes.”​

Wooden bench with a spice rack, onion, garlic, chilli and a mortar and pestle on it, herbs hanging behind and bench.

3. Think Buddha bowls

If you’re apprehensive about how to plan healthy meals on a budget, Amber says: “Buddha bowls are a really easy way to combine different foods into a meal. You take a base ingredient, like rice, potatoes or beans, and then you add various veggies, condiments or protein, like tinned tuna or a boiled egg. A Mexi Buddha bowl could have black beans and rice seasoned with spices as the base, and then whatever frozen or fresh veggies you have available.”​

Black table with a fork, napkin and salad bowl on it  with tomato, chickpeas, quinoa, red cabbage, rocket, avocado and red onion.

4. Go easy on animal protein

Meal planning on a budget is easier if you incorporate more veggies. Amber says: “Meat is an important source of vitamin B12 but you don’t need to eat meat every day or in large quantities to get the recommended allowance. Once a week is fine or using meat as the side dish instead of the main event is a great way to save money and make your grocery budget go further. A good source of B12 for vegetarians is nutritional yeast.”

5. Buy components, not the processed packaged version

Weekly meal plans on a budget don’t have to be big commitments. Try starting small by choosing the components over their packaged counterparts.


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Amber says: “Breakfast cereals are expensive and usually not very nutritious. When meal planning on a budget, it’s better to buy oats and make porridge. To make sure you’re getting healthy omega oils and add one tablespoon of chia or flax seeds. They’re a bit more expensive but you’re only using one tablespoon. Dressings are another example. Olive oil mixed with vinegar and a pinch of sugar, salt and pepper is healthier and a lot cheaper than packaged dressings.”

Stock up on batch cooking essentials:

  • Dried or canned beans (chickpeas, lentils, black beans, butter beans, cannellini etc.)
  • Rice (any type, but brown rice is a good prebiotic for gut health)
  • Potatoes
  • Rolled oats
  • Spices (cumin, paprika, thyme, oregano, curry powder)
  • Canned coconut cream (or milk)
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Canned tuna (consume in moderation)
  • Fresh or frozen veggies
  • Fresh or frozen fruit
  • Eggs
  • Meat (in small quantities)

MyBudget knows how to do meal planning on a budget! For more money-saving ideas like this, subscribe to the MyBudget Blog or follow us on Facebook.

Do you need help with budgeting? MyBudget’s caring budgeting specialists can show you how to save on food and help you identify the gaps in your budget.

Ready to find out more?

Call 1300 300 922 or get started today

This article has been prepared for information purposes only, and does not constitute personal financial advice. The information has been prepared without taking into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on any information in this article you should consider the appropriateness of the information having regard to your objectives, financial situation and needs.

All customised budgets and consultations with money experts are subject to MyBudget’s qualification criteria. We recommend that you read and consider our Product Disclosure Statement.

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