How to Build a Weekly Meal Plan on a Budget

Planning your meals on a weekly basis can help you stick to a budget and ensure that food does not go to waste. Be sure to include a few daily snacks and budget in beverages when you're building the plan.

Determine Your Budget

If you haven't done so yet, look over your finances and establish how much money you can allocate towards meals. Be realistic about what your food budget. The Center for Nutrition and Policy Promotion reports that a weekly low-cost meal plan for a family of four costs about $167 with young children and $197 with older children. A very thrifty meal plan for a family of four runs between $131 with younger children and $150 a week with older children.


  • Don't forget to include SNAP benefits and WIC vouchers in your budget calculation.

Understand What You Have

To stretch out your food budget, don't let anything go to waste. Food specialists Georgia Jones and Donnia Behrends suggest that you start your weekly planning by taking an inventory of your pantry, freezer and refrigerator. List what items you have and note what perishable items need to be used first.

Use Recipes

Use an interactive meal planner like this one to plan out your meals for the week. Base the first few meals of the week on the items you need to use right away.

Choose meals that are nutritionally balanced but don't cost a fortune. If you need ideas or inspiration, browse through SNAP-Ed's recipe finder, which publishes recipes that are both low-cost and healthy.


  • A healthy plate is half vegetables and fruits, one-quarter grains and one-quarter proteins.

Make Your Shopping List

Compare your meal plan to your current food inventory. Write down what items you need to buy and their prices, on a shopping list.

Browse through coupon inserts you get in the mail or the paper to find savings on the items you need to buy. Check the weekly ads for nearby grocery stores. If one has a few of your list items on sale, you may save more by shopping there.


  • You'll get better prices and a better selection if you shop at a large grocery store rather than a convenience store or gas station.

Buy the Food

You can take small steps to save money when you shop for your meals. Jones and Behrends note that hungry shoppers spend more, so eat before you go. They also recommend that you shop no more than once a week if possible. When you shop every few days, it's easier to spend more than you planned.


  • Keep your eyes on products on the top and bottom shelves; items at eye level tend to be more expensive.