Meal Planning on a Budget: How I Feed My Large Family for $25/Week!

Food, Meal Planning Tips, Video

It's time to talk all things meal planning and eating on a budget! You may not think it's possible to feed a large family on a low budget during Shelftember… But I'm here to show you that it's not only doable, but easy!

Jordan holding up a dry erase board with meal plan, representing how easy eating on a budget is, from Fun Cheap or Free

Hey Freebs Nation! You guys have been begging me for a while to sit down and walk you through eating on a budget. You're in luck because I'm going to show you just how easy it is to feed my growing family of 10 for just $25 a week during #Shelftember.

*Note: When you click the links in this post, we may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

The key is shelf cooking and meal planning. Once you get those two things down, eating on a budget will be so simple and will even start coming naturally to you! So, you ready to see how we do it?

Make sure that you subscribe to my YouTube channel, I have new videos every Thursday! Click to watch the video online HERE, or click and watch me discuss meal planning and eating on a budget below:

See, that wasn't so bad! Meal planning and eating on a budget sounds like a daunting task, but it's really not so terrible once you get in the habit of doing it weekly. Follow how I meal plan for my family of 10 and you'll be a pro in no time!

Quick disclaimer: Having a budget of $25/week isn't the “norm” over here, just something that we do during Shelftember! I usually recommend $100/person/month, starting at $300. You can find more info on that in THIS post.


It's really quite simple to meal plan and keep a low grocery budget! Follow these easy steps and you'll be on your way in no time!


List of kitchen inventory written down on a notepad to make eating on a budget easy, from Fun Cheap or Free

The first step when I'm meal planning is to inventory my fridge, freezer, and pantry and see what absolutely needs to be used up before it goes bad. Keep in mind, you don't have to inventory your kitchen staples, since those are items you probably always have on hand. It can take a while to do the initial inventory of all your food, but it goes much smoother once that's done — as long as you update it every week!

The fridge is the first place you should look and include in your meals for the week because it's the food that will go bad the quickest. I like to grab a notebook and my favorite erasable pens, then go to town. I'll write down what I have that's either about to expire or is in a partial container that's taking up too much space. (I obviously can use other items in the fridge as well, but I make sure to notate what needs to be used up for the week.)

When I get to the freezer, I look for leftovers that need to be eaten or bulky items that are taking up space. I may have a freezer (or seven) and use them to the best of their abilities! So I'll make sure I'm rotating through my food in there and using up items before they go bad.

Once I get to the pantry, I pay special attention to open items that need to be used up first (like open bags of chips, bread crumbs, pancake mix, you get the idea)! Pantry organization is key to meal planning and eating on a budget. Always keep the items that are open or will be expiring soon where you can see them and easily grab them.


My next step to meal planning for my large family and eating on a budget is to plan meals for the week based off what I have and need to use. This can sound scary, but it's really not that bad as long as you use my tips! Don't run to the store because you've run out of something that you typically use in a recipe. Instead, find a substitution for it using items that you have at home!

Pro Tip: has some great resources for making substitutions or modifications to recipes! Google is always a great resource, too.


The first place that I start is by looking at which proteins I have. Some meals come together really easily! Looking at my list above, I see that I have sausage, spinach, pasta shells, and lots of cheese. I know that I'll be able to make spinach-stuffed shells for dinner one night without having to try too hard! #Winning

Sometimes, I'm left with random ingredients I know could go together but don't necessarily know how. When that happens, I look in my recipe binder. It's where I keep ALL of the recipes I've made that my family loves. I have it organized by meat and meal type. It's an easy place to look to get ideas!

I also like to turn to (or Google) when I'm left with random items that I'm not quite sure how to put together. It's great because you can put in the items you have and it'll bring up recipes using those exact ingredients. It seriously makes your life so. much. easier.


Weekly meal plan written down on a notebook, from Fun Cheap or Free

As I'm meal planning, I write down everything I have and will need for each meal. This includes what I'll need to use from my inventory, what I'll need to buy from the store, and what I'll need to do for the meal (such as making rice, baking bread, and roasting veggies).

Then I'll figure out the best day to have that meal. If you look at the list above, you can see we're eating rice twice for the week. We're having white rice with egg rolls and Mexican rice with the taco lasagna. Instead of making two separate batches of rice for each of those meals, I chose to make the egg roll meal with white rice first.

I can grab my Instant Pot and make a double batch of white rice in no time. I'll serve half of it with the egg rolls meal. Then, I'll take the leftovers and transform it into Mexican rice to eat with the taco lasagna meal. When you think this way and repurpose your leftovers, it makes your life so much easier!

Always remember to work in one or two nights for leftovers. That allows us to clean out our fridge weekly and keeps us from being wasteful. Plus, it makes eating on a budget totally doable because you're basically getting a “free” meal out of leftovers!

Pro Tip: Our world changed once I learned how to reheat and repurpose our leftovers properly! Yours will to, so make sure you learn how to eat leftovers and make 'em tasty!


Once I know which meals I'm having, and the order of those meals, I write them down on a magnetic dry erase board that we keep on the fridge. My meal planning board is a great way for the whole family to see what we're having for dinner every night and keeps the incessant “what's for dinner?” questions at bay!

Our meal planning printable sheets are another great way to write everything out and keep it organized, so be sure to check those out!

Alright, well there you have it! I'm curious to know what meals YOU would've made using my list of ingredients that I had to work with. Let me know in the comments!

Jordan holding a meal planning dry erase board and cookbooks, showing how easy eating on a budget is, from Fun Cheap or Free

Have you checked out yet? Our brand new site is dedicated to helping you cook delicious, homemade, down-home-cooked meals for your family without spending all your time in the kitchen!

Basically every parent's dream, right? Join our Shelf Cooking Community today!

If you want even more help with your budget, then make sure you check out Budget Boot Camp! It's our awesome online video program that makes getting your finances in order and understanding your budget easy.

We're so sure you'll love it, we've even got a 10% off offer for you! Use the code FCFBLOG at checkout.

Want more? Check out these posts!

Jordan Page Signature from Fun Cheap or Free


  1. Vy

    Where did you get that cute notepad at?

    • Jordan Page

      It’s from TJMaxx! 🙂

  2. Kayla

    I would have made Broccoli Cheddar Soup with Turkey and Ham rollups (using broccoli, cheese, cream, ham, turkey, flour tortillas)

    Nacho Bar Night- using the steak and ground beef, shredded cheese, avocado, cilantro, onions, corn tortillas or make your own corn tortilla bowls and make it a taco salad bar

    Stuffed shells- using ground sausage, pepperoni, bell pepper, tomato puree, onion, carrot, bell peppers and make your own sauce

    Oven Backed lemon pepper talapia with a steamed white rice and edamame side or make that a fried rice and use the soy sauce in it, a little egg, onion, carrot

    (i’m the worst at side dishes though lol)

    • Jordan Page

      Oh, those are all GREAT ideas!!! They all sound so delicious 🙂

  3. Tamie

    Baked chicken Parmesan with green beans and pasta

    Mexican Bar with taco, nacho and quesadilla fixings and Spanish rice

    Grilled vegetables with Tilapia

    For kids lunches, mini bagel pizzas, ham and cheese roll ups, and chicken salad on croissants served with raw veggies and fruit

    And if you need one more breakfast casserole with sausage, spinach, onion, egg and cheese

    • Jordan Page

      Those are all GREAT ideas! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  4. Megan

    These are great tips! So thinking there are 7 nights in a week and you only meal planned for 4 with one night of events you mentioned. The other two nights are leftovers? Or like cereal lol

    • Jordan Page

      Leftovers for sure! And I always have a freezer meal that’s ready to go into the oven. So if we were to somehow blow through all of this food and leftovers, I’d just throw a freezer meal in the oven and we’d have the last meal that we needed.

  5. Elisa

    Pepperoni Lasagna with the pasta, spaghetti sauce, cottage cheese, mozzarella cheese, and parmesan cheese (sounds weird, but it’s delicious, lol)

    Cheeseburger pie with the ground beef, eggs, cheddar cheese, and pancake mix, and green beans on the side

    Steak and zoodles with the the zucchini, uncooked steak, garlic, soy sauce, lemon, and rice, but I would probably just dive up the zucchini instead of turning into zoodles, lol, and would supplement with a few spices I always have on hand and some sesame oil (or olive oil if on hand)

    • Jordan Page

      Oh man, those all sound delicious! You’ve got my mouth watering now 😉

  6. Erin

    Breakfast pancakes with home canned pears with sweet spiced cottage cheese e.g. honey, cinnamon, nutmeg

    Teriyaki meatballs with edamame and cilantro rice,

    Stuffed croissants- fill with scrambled egg, ham and shredded brick cheese

    Philly cheese steak inspired egg rolls- cooked steak, onion, bell peppers, cheese

    Crusted salmon and green beans- crust salmon with breadcrumbs and parmesan

    Yard fruit crumble- use spiced cake mix and chopped pistachios to make crumble. combine dry cake mix with chopped pistachios and rub in cold cubed butter sprinkle over fruit and bake. Serve with cream (not totally sure what yard fruit you have but nearky all fruit is nice as a crumble)

    Tilapia with a lemon cream sauce and sauteed spinach

    Homemade pizzas- use naan bread as pizza base- thin out tomato puree slightly with a touch of water add some olive oil and some dried herbs if you have any on hand makes delicious pizza sauce- use pepperoni, cooked bell pepper, cooked ground sausage, red onion.

    Homemade chicken nuggets- cut chicken breast into pieces put in freezer bag add enough plain yoghurt to coat chicken pieces well. Set aside. Yoghurt will tenderise chicken and also is what makes coating adhere rather than the whole flour, eggs, breadcrumbs saga. Blitz up tortilla chips until resembles breadcrumbs take pieces of chicken out of freezer bag and roll in tortilla chip crumbs. Put if fridge for little 15-20mins to help coating stick. Bake, shallow fry or deep fry.

    Okay, I should probably stop now.

    You are an inspiration and an absolute rockstar at life Jordan Page

    • Jordan Page

      Wow, those are all great ideas! I need to try all of those, now. Thanks for the love 🙂

  7. Jackie Tucker

    My kids are grown with families, but I’ve told them (and their friends) about your websites, videos etc. I’m trying very hard to keep my “one person budget” low. I haven’t mastered the $25 a week yet
    I love learning new ways to save money and not waste food- even at this stage of life. I do not cook on Sunday, that’s morning church and fun afternoon day. Leftovers are huge for me on Sunday.
    Love the emails I get too. Keeps me on my toes.

    • Jordan Page

      Awww, thanks for sharing the love with your family! I love to hear when people pass my site and videos on to others, I love helping as many people as I can 🙂 The $25/week is really only for Shelftember whenever you’re using up your stockpiles. But if you do a good job of not having too much food and staying on budget, then it’s hard to spend that little at the store if you don’t have a lot of food to use up at home! As long as you’re keeping a reasonable budget and not being wasteful (which is sounds like you’re doing great!), then that’s all that matters. XOXO

  8. Sara

    Thanks so much for sharing, your content is so helpful for me and my family!
    I would love to see a quick glance inside your recipe binder. Are the recipes all printed on uniform-size cards, or is it literally all different sizes/shapes/media? How is it organized?

    Also, what do you use the *two* calendars for on the wall of your kitchen? I’ve been curious for awhile now 🙂
    Thanks Jordan!

    • Fun Cheap or Free

      I print recipes off on my computer and then add them to the binder, so they’re all 8.5×11 sized pages. The recipes are sorted by appetizers, soups, desserts, and main ingredient (ground beef, chicken, pasta). I got the 2 wall calendars from TJMaxx and they’re just how we keep up with our family’s activities for 2 months at a time! 🙂

  9. Kimber

    Jordan. This was the first of your videos I watched on YouTube. Yesterday. I am now addicted. I e watched no less than a dozen videos and now I’m reading your blog.
    I’m 53.
    2 of my 5 adult children live with me.
    I work full time.
    But you have wisdom even for me. Working on my envelope today.

    • Fun Cheap or Free

      I’m so glad that you found us! Good luck working on your envelopes! 🙂 XOXO

  10. Mandy @ Making Home Simple

    Jordan, what a wonderfully helpful post and video! I was so inspired I started my own pantry challenge with a group of friends. Life has been a chaotic whirlwind and I was once an organized mama, things fell apart, and now with my 6th baby I need to get it back together. Your post was so informative and helpful. For the first time in years I made a loose meal plan based on what’s in my fridge and freezer. Bummed I missed shelftember, but looking forward to checking out your new site. A quick glance and it looks awesome!

    • Fun Cheap or Free

      I’m so glad that it was inspiring for you! I feel you, I definitely have my ups and downs of being more organized and less organized depending on the season of life. I’m bummed that you missed Shelftember, but you can definitely still try to do it on your own now! 🙂

  11. Lb

    Congratulations on your twins! I just found your channel and just a constructive comment (not trying to be negative)… would love to know your portion sizes and how much your kids eat. We have 2 boys with appetites of grown men, and we prioritize eating clean and organic, so that budget wouldn’t even work for our family of 4. I kind of get sad to see people compare their budgets to others without taking into account the quality of ingredients and appetites of family members. Gluten or dairy free and allergies increases cost even more. Just something for others to think about if they are feeling defeated with a higher grocery bill. Thank you. 🙂

    • Fun Cheap or Free

      Thank you! You definitely have to make your grocery budget based off of what works best for YOUR family, I just suggest $100/person/month as a starting point. The $25 for this week was because we were shelf cooking and using mainly what we already had in our house to help save some extra money for the month. Our kids ages range from 1-9 and our older ones are really active, so they can put away the food! But we make sure that they have a well-rounded meal so that they’re not just filling up on the expensive protein. If they’re still starving after they eat the appropriate amount of protein, veggies and fruit, then they get some bread or whole grains that help to fill them up the rest of the way. 🙂

  12. Susan T

    How do you handle kids with different taste preferences?
    I have 3 kids, 13 G, 11 B and 8 B and am finding it really hard to make meals that everyone will eat or those that can be adapted for the different taste preferences. This includes hubby and I who like more variety than the kids, who would be happy to eat bolognaise, chicken schnitzel and sausages every day of the week. 🙁

    • Fun Cheap or Free

      That’s a tough one! Try to include a few meals per week that you know that your kids will definitely eat. But don’t feel bad making meals for you and your hubby for the other meals! Your kids can eat it or they can be hungry. (You can save their plates if they don’t eat it and they can reheat it when they’re starving 30 minutes later.) They may not know if they like or don’t like something until they try it. And honestly, most things will probably grow on them after they eat it a few times and they’ll realize that they actually DO like it. However, if they do try it a few times and they still don’t like it, then I would maybe stop making it for a while and then try again in a few months to see if their taste buds have changed. Also, don’t try forcing super spicy foods or anything like that since all palates are different. You can always add spicy to your meal, but you can’t take it away from theirs. Hope that helps!

  13. Dawn

    LOL, it was easier AND harder than expected. Hubby would have been perfectly happy with most of the meats, but we’ve had an agreement since we started dating…he wants any kind of meat, either he preps/cooks it, or we go out (hey, it’s worked for us for 30+ years)

    So oldest & I are vegetarian (& I have strong vegan leanings), youngest will eat meat (like a bite or two – I think more to appease the Papa than because he really wants to eat meat…)

    Broccoli/Cheese soup with cheese stuffed crescent rolls
    Mini Veggie Pot Pies (using the tube of crescent rolls for the top crust) & a side salad
    Pancakes w/Fried Diced Potatoes, Onions & Bell Peppers w/scrambled eggs or a Veggie & Cheese Omelet
    Veggie Lasagna Casserole w/Mini Bagel Garlic Breads & a side salad
    Tex-Mex Buffet (Tacos/Nachos/Burrito/Quesadillas) w/rice & side salad
    Edamame, Veggie Stir Fry, Veggie Fried Rice & Veggie Egg Rolls
    Spaghetti w/Naan Garlic Bread…or a Naan Pizza

    • Fun Cheap or Free

      Wow, those are all great meals and they all sound so delish! Way to go!!!

  14. Marcy

    Can you share your chicken crescent recipe please? I looked through your site and did not see it. Thanks!

    • Fun Cheap or Free

      It’s super simple! You take whatever leftover chicken that you have – we had chicken salad that needed to be eaten – and you roll it up inside of a crescent roll. Bake at the temperature that the rolls call for until they’re done! Easy peasy and so delicious!

  15. Breanna

    Jordan, I know this an old post but I hope you can respond to this. I follow all of your videos and read your blog. That being said I have never been good about sticking to our grocery budget. My family and I eat gluten free and low carb. Any suggestions for cheap meals? We are a family of 7 and usually spend $1500-$2000 a month on groceries. I need to get our budget under control, it needs to be between $800-$1100 ideally closer to $800. Please help!

    • Fun Cheap or Free

      Regardless of your dietary restrictions, the key to cutting your grocery bill is to shop your inventory first and supplement with what you need from the store! Unless you’re just completely eating your fridge, freezer and pantry down to nothing each week, then plan meals based off what you already have. You should also be using part of your grocery budget to stock up when things are on sale on those staple items so that you can plan meals using what you have at home. Also make sure you’re shopping at the cheapest store, or the one that will get you the best deals! Most stores have a gluten free section and options now, so you don’t necessarily have to go to those more expensive, specialty stores to get what you need. We don’t eat gluten free or low carb, so I don’t really have any suggestions for cheap meals, so sorry! Just make sure you’re only getting groceries that you need for the week unless you’ve found a good deal to stock up on that will last a while. If you notice you’re throwing any food out because it’s going bad, then make a mental note to not buy so much of that. Make sure you’re making any leftovers work for the whole family! Turn them into something new that the whole family can eat as a second meal or save them for a weekly leftovers night where you clean out the fridge and everyone just figures out what they want to eat based off what you already have. Hope those tips help! 🙂

  16. Rick Gallegos

    It would be cool to create some kind of website/app that would keep all recipes that you cook (digital cookbook) and each item needed for the recipe would be recorded with amounts, so when I input what I have on hand it would automatically propagate the possible meals I could make. As you cook and remove items it would then reassess what you have and give you a new list of recipes of what is possible to cook. Will inform my wife on this method of creating a weekly planner. We have a family of 8.


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