Meal Planning for Low-Income Families

When I started MIM about a year and a half ago, I really wanted to write articles about frugal living that were realistic and practical for low-income individuals and families. I really missed the mark.

Why? Well, because I wasn’t food insecure. I wasn’t getting 50% of my food from food banks or pantries. I wasn’t living in a food desert or a homeless shelter.

Instead, I wrote articles about grocery delivery and online coupon clipping with the assumption that people living in poverty, living in the projects, living in shelters, could realistically afford the grocery delivery fee or even had access to the internet, or a computer, or a printer, or the literacy to do such a task.

Life has been funny to me, I’ve experienced several different kinds of poor, all of which is very different.

There is a difference between having a choice to spend $22 dollars a week on groceries, and not having a choice to spend $22 dollars a week on groceries. So, today, I write this article for a different demographic.

In the past, I’ve written specifically with urban living in mind, with New York City being its focal point. So, I will continue to gear my posts, at least minimally, to locals.

When it comes to meal planning, there are many variables to consider including, of course, access and affordability. For example, a low-income family living in New York City can buy a carton of eggs, quite easily, for $1, while that is certainly not the case elsewhere. So, although I’ve religiously recommended the consumption of eggs, I do realize that it is not a viable option for everyone.

What is a viable option for everyone? A lot of the time, it is the pantry goods, including canned goods. Why? Because they’re affordable everywhere and everyone has access to them.

No matter where you are, here is a list of easily obtainable food products that are universally affordable.


  1. Pancake mix
    1. Pancake mix can be extremely affordable if you don’t care for name brands. Generic brands of pancake mix, including those you can find at Dollar Tree, for example, might not be your Aunt Jemima, but they’re equally filling.
  2. Oatmeal
    1. Again, same concept. Oats are extremely cheap, even more so if you’re willing to ditch Quaker. To maintain some of the nutritional value, don’t buy Quick or Instant oats – stick to Old Fashion.
  3. Corn Flakes
    1. I’m convinced the government is stockpiling cornflakes because there is always a $1.79  gigantic off-brand box of this stuff on sale.


Lunch / Dinner

  1. Bread
    1. Buy the store-brand stuff. Wheat if you can manage it.
  2. Bologna
    1. You can fry it, you can eat it cold, it’s the cheapest deli meat.
  3. Canned tuna
    1. If you have an Aldi near you, GO THERE. It’s 69 cents.
  4. Canned beans AND dry beans.
    1. Canned beans spiced up to your liking paired with rice will fill you up.
    2. Buy dry beans, soak them overnight, and cook them in bulk.
    3. A bag of beans will often cost you about the same as 1-2 cans, but it produces 5x the amount.
  5. Rice
    1. Long grain, or whatever it cheapest near you.
  6. Canned pasta sauce
    1. It’s not as tasty as your Ragu, but it’s ⅓ of the price. You can season it up and add ground meat and anything else you has lying around.
  7. Hot dogs
    1. Keep in mind that although hot dogs are often eaten on bread, they also make great fillers.
    2. Buy in bulk, if possible.
    3. Buy a generic 10-pack.
    4. Drop them in your chili, pasta sauce or box mac n cheese.
    5. Fry in a pan with potatoes and cabbage.
  8. Instant ramen
    1. Buy them by the case, it’s cheaper.
    2. You can toss Spam, Vienna sausage, eggs –  just about anything to bulk it up.
  9. Cream of ___ soup (preferably mushroom)  
    1. With ground beef, frozen veg of choice, and pasta or egg noodles.
  10. OFF-BRAND ONLY canned meals and soups
    1. Go to Aldi or Dollar Tree. You’ll get the same product for $1 and it’ll taste exactly the same.


This list is definitely work-in-progress, and something I’d like to build over time. Feel free to add to it!

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