December 22, 2022

5 Tips for Making Family Meals on a Budget

Between 2020 and 2021, the average cost of groceries rose by 3.5 percent. Most people prepare meals on a budget, and when money is especially tight, planning nutritious meals can be stressful. Take heart. There are many ways you can save time and money on family meals, as well as resources that might be available in your community to help your family connect with food and friends. Try these five tips to plan, prepare, and share your family meals.   

1. Build meals around your favorite staple foods 

Every culture and region has staple foods around which many meals can be prepared. Examples include grains like rice, corn, teff, and wheat, as well as vegetables such as yams and potatoes. These ingredients tend to be inexpensive, easy to transport and store, and delicious and filling. Use them as a foundation and add texture, flavor, and additional nutrients with stews, sauces, fillings, and stir-fries made from proteins and produce that is available at your local food pantry or grocery store. Building meals around grains, legumes, and produce tends to be less expensive than focusing first on meat. 

2. Check the pantry before you shop and cook  

Limiting food waste is one way that you can get the most out of your meal budget. Consider picking one day a week (or however often works for you) to make a nonperishable pantry item the star of your meals. This could be a staple ingredient like the ones listed above, or something fun and different like a can of pineapple. Which other ingredients would you need to turn that pineapple into a filling breakfast smoothie or a tangy sauce to go with your favorite veggies? Find a recipe, then do a quick online search for other meals you could make from those ingredients before you shop. 

3. Think about multiple meals for each ingredient 

As mentioned, it’s great when you can plan ahead before food shopping, but sometimes we have to get creative with what is available and affordable! For example, when canned green beans are on sale, you might stock up based on your budget. As you’re adding these to your cart, think about the other ingredients you have available to mix and match. Green beans can take center stage in a garlicky stir-fry with rice one day, and play a supporting role in three-bean salad the next. 

4. Give leftovers a makeover 

Repurposing leftovers can save time and money. What are the easiest dishes for you to make and enjoy as a family? Perhaps burritos and wraps, pasta night, or cold and hot sandwiches? Consider what building blocks you have in your cupboard, like tortillas, dried pasta, or canned tomatoes. Adding one or two inexpensive ingredients can turn your family’s go-to beans and rice into a hearty tortilla soup! Talk with your family about their favorite kinds of foods and makeover your leftovers with their ideas. 

5. Connect with nutrition programs near you 

Everyone deserves to enjoy food that is nutritious and delicious, and eating on a budget should not change that. If you’re looking to tap into nutrition resources in your community, consider connecting with your local food pantry, school nutrition staff, community center or library, or city or tribal offices. They can help you access food, meet other families, or volunteer.  

A few small changes like these can make a big difference in supporting healthful eating habits and building relationships in your family and community. Happy new year! 

Learn more about planning and preparing healthy, affordable meals in the new year and find recipes to nourish your family at

- By Kohleun Adamson and Maddy Moritsch, MS, RDN