Five Dollar Meal Planning


It feels like every time you turn on the television you are bombarded with five-dollar meal deals offered by chain restaurants. And numerous online resources are offering five-dollar meal planning ideas, programs, and plan subscriptions. What is the fascination with five dollars? Well, five dollars is easy to understand and certainly sounds like an appealing value as well as a bit of a challenge. Of course, most people today want to save money. As actor Woody Allen said humorously, “Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.” Is there a way to save money, and have good meals? The answer is a simple yes: the five-dollar meal plan.


Five Dollar Meal Planning

The reasons for creating a five-dollar meal plan include saving money (of course,) saving time, making life easier, conquering stress, losing weight, and improving nutrition. Even having a more ready answer to the ever-asked question, “what’s for dinner?” So, it is not about grabbing a cheap fast food meal, and it does not involve only rice, beans, and ramen. It is very possible to plan and achieve healthy and affordable meals at around five dollars. No chef’s hat is required.

Here are some key planning principles for a productive five-dollar meal plan:

  1. It is important to become plan oriented. Planning ahead can reduce impulse shopping (and excessive spending), reduce shopping guesswork, and make shopping days more efficient. Also, taking inventory of what is already stocked at home will save money and potentially wasteful duplication. Further, planning ahead makes planning in bulk possible, again saving money.
  2. Knowing prices and doing price comparisons will help get the best quantities of items for the best prices, thus the best deals. Buying fresh produce in season results in lower prices too.
  3. It is no shame to use coupons. There are coupon apps to use like Coupons, Honey, and Ebates.
  4. Make less-frequent shopping trips so they become efficient and routine. Of course, never go grocery shopping when hungry because that leads to less-healthy and less-frugal choices. With a shopping list in-hand, every shopping trip is more effective and time-efficient.
  5. Use what is on-hand at home and stretch the use of meal items. For example, if a pork roast is the main focal point of Sunday’s dinner, the leftover pork could be used for enchiladas, or wraps, or even salads on subsequent days.
  6. Reduce waste by paying attention to expiration dates when you buy. Also, storing food properly, bagging, and freezing food that can’t be eaten quickly enough, and building leftover foods into later meals will make every dollar count.
  7. Making meals by scratch is very budget friendly.
  8. Meal simplicity is better than complexity.
  9. Vegetable-oriented meals generally cost less than meat-oriented meals.

To compose your five-dollar meal plan, ask these questions:

  1. How many meals need to be planned and which meals during each day need to be planned. That requires a concentrated look at the household calendar for the week. What work schedule impacts influence the week’s eating schedule? What sports, drama, social, family, and other types of activities need to be accounted for? (Do not forget the challenges of competing schedules and the myriad of transportation challenges that are faced by many households.)
  2. Similar to the challenges of calendaring is the need to identify how much time each day is available for meal preparation.
  3. Finding a way to record (and remember) the meal plan is also important, whether that be the “old fashioned” pen and paper method, the use of Google Sheets, or an Excel Spreadsheet, or even a home whiteboard or chalkboard.
  4. Have a “plan B” for the days or meals when someone’s schedule goes haywire and you must resort to something else.


With the foregoing questions being well-addressed, think about this calendaring approach:

  • Pick a meal planning day.
  • On that day, work out the meal calendar for the week.
  • Set a regular shopping day.
  • Pick a preparation day (or several, if necessary) for the week. On that day (or days,) review the preparation needs, save time with multi-ingredient preparation, and complete what you can.
  • Safely store what can’t be used in a day or two.                          

Five Dollar Meal Plan Samples

Here are some interesting takes on a five-dollar meal plan sample:

Eating for one? Try these:

  • A veggie omelet. Use two eggs, 2 cups of frozen vegetables, cheese (40g), and ¼ cup milk.
  • How about a stuffed potato? Use one baker, canned tuna (95g), one tomato, and cheese (40g).
  • A favorite—tuna pasta. Use one box of pasta, one can of tuna, one cup of pasta sauce (your choice,) and two cups of frozen vegetables.
  • Bean soup to stretch to several meals. Use one cube of stock, 420g can of beans, 420g can crushed tomatoes, one large carrot, one onion, one potato, and cheese (20g).

Feeding a family on a budget? Try these samples:

  • Roast Chicken. Oven bake a 2 ½ pound chicken or cook it in a crockpot all day on low. Add to that brown rice, make a side salad, and prepare crescent rolls.
  • Chili Mac. Blend elbow macaroni, black beans, tomatoes, corn, and ground beef in a crockpot. Add spices like pepper and onions and two cups of water.
  • A poor man’s stew. Crockpot to the rescue, using potatoes, carrots, onions, and beef.
  • Make a chicken pot pie without a crust. This one is a tasty combination of pasta, chicken, and vegetables using a tasty chicken broth.

And some more simple ideas:

  • Sloppy joes with salad.
  • Baked spaghetti with fresh fruit or watermelon
  • Homemade pizzas.
  • Simple black bean soup.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Five-Dollar Meal Prep

All the careful planning comes to naught if the meal prep is blown, so use these suggestions to make the five-dollar meal prep fantastic:

There are several ways to go about meal prep:

  1. Make a meal ahead. Fully prepare and cook a meal ahead, then refrigerate it for your planned mealtime.
  2. Batch cooking. Make a large batch of a specific item and then freeze it into portions to be used in future meals.
  3. Individually portioned meals. Make specific meal items and portion them into grab and go bags for individual selection and use.
  4. Prepare ready-to-cook ingredients.

The best ways to economize on preparation time is to:

  1. Stick to a preparation schedule.
  2. Pick the optimum combination of ingredients or recipes to prepare at one time.
  3. Organize the workspace in your kitchen.
  4. Double-check meal ingredients before starting so preparation goes uninterrupted.
  5. Plan your preparation so that the recipe requiring the longest cook time is prepared first. Save the cold items for last since they can be prepared while the other things are cooking. 
Concluding Thoughts

First, it is important to remember that a five-dollar meal plan is not “junk food.” Rather, this is good food that is planned wisely in advance and prepared carefully. The aim is to be both healthy and budget conscious. As author Karen Salmansohn suggested, “Healthy does NOT mean starving yourself EVER. Healthy means eating the right food in the right amount.” So, check your calendar and take that first step at planning. Perfection likely won’t happen overnight, but progress will come, and it will be satisfying indeed.


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