My REALISTIC Budget & Meal Plan for the Week + FREE Planning Sheet! (Options for Gluten Free, Dairy Free & Keto!)
There are quite a few meal plans circling around the web. I follow many of them and some of them are wonderful, realistic and inspiring, while others tend to be very unrealistic.
What happens with the unrealistic budget friendly meal plans are that they get me really motivated to save, only to cause disappointment later when I realize that the prices they are paying are just not possible in my area.
What I did in order to make my meal plan budget more realistic so that I can actually stick to it is to start at the lowest price possible for my family and go up from there. What I mean is that I first took the “standard” budget suggestion which is $100 per person per month and figured out if it was sustainable.
We are a family of three so this would mean that our grocery budget would be $300 per month or $75 per week. This budget would include ALL consumables. That means not only food but dog food, cleaning supplies, paper products etc.
That budget seemed pretty low but doable. We shop once per week because it makes it easier to judge how much we need to last us 6-7 days rather than double that for 2 weeks or 30 days for the entire month. I have tried shopping every 2 weeks and monthly in the past and I always ended up running out of things and having to go back to the store and spend even more money.
Shopping once a week allows me to be able to purchase items to last us only a week which makes it much easier to figure out and also prevents us from going back to the store and accidentally spending over budget.
So for the first week that I started this budget, I took my $75 to Aldi. I figured if I could make this work, Aldi would be the best place to shop since it’s the cheapest store in our area.
I got almost everything on my list but I realized that Aldi doesn’t have absolutely everything we need. Both my husband and my son eat gluten-free and my son also eats dairy free. I am also currently on the keto diet so we need a few specialty items that Aldi does not carry. So we were going to have to go without those items or I was going to have to make a trip to Hy-vee in addition.
So even with not getting everything on my list and getting the absolute cheapest of every item on my list that they carried, I still ended up about $10 over budget before even going to Hy-vee. I figured maybe that was just a bad sale week so I would try again. I tried a few more weeks and was still over budget and still had to go to Hy-vee. This just wasn’t working.
So I had a pep talk with myself and realized that this budget was just not realistic for our family. I decided to up our budget by $20 increments each week until we hit that sweet spot. It turns out that for us, our sweet spot is $130-$150 depending on sales.
Maybe this sounds like a lot for a family of three to you, maybe it doesn’t. The funny thing is that raising our grocery budget actually ended up saving us even more money. How? Well trying to stick to the $75 budget made me want to cross essentials off our list and not buy enough food. I was in the mindset that we NEED to stick to this budget so if we have to do without so be it.
Well by having that mindset we ended up not having enough food and home and ate out which obviously caused us to spend even more money. Now I know that’s not an excuse and not everyone would do that but we did and we wasted money. By raising our grocery budget I am able to get plenty of food plus extras to last us that week and some even carry over to the next week.
We always have plenty of leftovers so some nights I don’t even have to cook. When we have plenty of food in the house we are not tempted to eat out. Eating out costs a lot more money than make at home meals do so even though we have raised our budget we are still saving money.
Now that I have explained what our budget is and why our budget is set this way, I would love to share our meal plan for the week with you!
- THR: Steak Italiano with veggies and baked potato. Find the Steak Italiano recipe HERE.
- FRI: Chicken breasts with mashed potatoes and gluten-free gravy and veggies.
- SAT: Slow cooker steak bites with mushrooms & onions with baked potato and veggies.
- SUN: Gluten free spaghetti with beef and mushroom sauce and garlic bread.
- MON: Grilled cheese and tomato soup. (we use gluten-free bread and tomato soup for this and my son uses Go Veggie cheese slices)
- TUES: Gluten free pizza (we use the Udi’s pizza crust for this. My husband gets hamburger and mushroom and my son gets a cheeseless pizza with turkey pepperoni and mushrooms)
- WED: On the last day of the week we usually eat up leftovers and/or snacks to clean out the fridge before I pick up the next order for the next week
We are actually not big breakfast people. My husband usually just has a protein shake and I usually just drink coffee. I usually will get gluten-free cereal or waffles or something like that for my son.
For lunches, we almost always just eat leftovers, sandwiches or snacks.
For snacks we usually do fresh fruit, (2-3 different kinds that are on sale, usually grapes, oranges, apples, bananas, and strawberries) some type of chips or pretzels, cereal, applesauce, fruit cups or jello, popcorn, pb&j or chips and salsa. Since I am on the keto diet I also add in a few extras for myself such as string cheese, pickles, pepperoni, eggs and pork rinds.
I know snacks are not listed here. I don’t really plan which snacks to eat each day since we have quite a few options and never know what we’re in the mood for, so I always write the list of options we have available for the week on the back of the planning sheet.
Since I eat the keto diet, I modify these to fit my diet. For example on spaghetti night, I just put the sauce over broccoli instead of noodles and on pizza night I make myself a keto crust. If you eat keto and have questions about substitutions, please ask in the comments or shoot me an email by clicking the little envelope at the top right corner of the site.
Why does my meal plan start on Thursday? Hy-vee’s sale cycle starts on Wednesdays and I order online Wednesday evening when the new sale starts and I pick up our groceries the next day on Thursdays so that is when our meal plan for that week starts.
We have veggies at every meal. We use frozen veggies because according to the Hy-vee NuVal score they are no less nutritious than fresh. They are also flash frozen so basically the same as fresh and much cheaper. Plus they get cooked anyway so there is really no difference. I stock up on these when they go on sale and keep a freezer full of them so that I can just grab what sounds good with whatever dinner I am making.
I also do my best to make sure we have a protein, a fruit or veggie and a carb with every dinner so that it’s balanced and we feel satisfied and don’t feel the need to snack later.
I order our groceries online via Hy-vee’s Aisles service. Using this service allows me to save time and money. I can type in the items I am looking for in their search bar or I can just browse the categories. Then I can filter all the items by dietary needs as well as price low to high so that I know I am getting the best price. This really allows me to stay on budget without having to spend hours at the store comparing prices.
Hy-vee is localized to the Midwest but there are a lot of other stores around the county that offer a similar service. I know a lot of stores are now using Instacart for instance. You can GO HERE to check and see if your store is one that they serve. If you find your store, you can just sign up and start shopping! You also get $10 off your first order!
One nice thing about ordering online with Hy-vee is that I can pick up my groceries or have them delivered and as long as my total is at least $100 there is no extra charge for either service.
Check with your local grocery stores to see which ones offer online ordering. You can also get a lot of great deals by ordering online with Amazon Prime Pantry. I have used this service in the past and loved it!
I am going to do my best to share these meal plans with you each week. So if you are loving this content, please comment below so that I know you would like to see more!
If you would like to start meal planning, or if you already meal plan and just need a better planning sheet, you can download the one that I created and use weekly for free HERE.
SHOP AT ALDI? NO DIETARY RESTRICTIONS? CHECK OUT HOW TO FEED YOUR FAMILY FOR $2!