Eating good and healthy is not supposed to be an expensive and difficult thing to achieve, and if you are vegetarian it’s even easier. However, it does require to have some in advance preparation and also some research to learn how to properly meal plan on a budget. There are many resources out there that explain how to manage this but: I want to share my take on this subject because 1) I have done this during my student years and 2) I am a firm believer that you don’t need a million things to eat good, nutritious and fulfilling meals.
Meal plan on a budget in France
The first thing we need to take into account is where you live. It is not the same to live in the States than it is to live in France, or even Spain. The differences of price when it comes to certain products can be huge and they can also be huge within the country itself. In my case, I live in Paris, which makes things 5x more expensive than anywhere else in France (yes, I’m exaggerating, but I need to get my point across). Whether you live in Paris or not, living in a big city in France means that prices will be more expensive than in rural areas. Do not despair my friend, because I have the best places to get your weekly groceries in not-so expensive areas in Paris.
Before we begin, I want to disclose that this is my own personal experience and that some people might or might not have the same ones as me. The following article covers most of the stuff I did when I was living in a flat with two roommates (a friend and my SO), and my current situation (living with my SO).
Meal plan on a budget: Step by step preparation
Know your weekly budget dedicated to food.
This is really the first step. Before you start planning and what not, you need to decide how much money you can actually spend on the week. I will be basing my explanations and future plans on a 30€ weekly budget. I drew inspiration on this number because I actively follow a sub-reddit called 32 dollars with people doing a weekly spending of 32 dollars on groceries.
Make sure you have basic cooking ingredients.
Salt, pepper, olive oil/butter, and a couple of spices. I don’t like pepper so I will be switching that one with garlic powder. You will be using these on almost all recipes so it’s better if you grab the basics before you start.
Check out the grocery shopping options in your area.
This is the tricky one in Paris. It is not cheap to grocery shop here compared to Spain. There are many supermarket options in Paris: Monoprix, Carrefour, Franprix, Auchan, Intermarché, LIDL, G20, … and many more. The first three in the list are the most expensive ones and if you are on a budget, it’s best that you avoid those three. Before we discard them, I want to share some tricks to use in case you can’t avoid going there (I still go to Franprix, they open late and on Sundays and sometimes that is needed)..
Monoprix, Carrefour and Franprix all have “loyalty cards”. They are free, you should have them. You can either go to an actual supermarket or create it online. If you don’t want to be carrying around many loyalty cards, download the “Stocard” phone app. It stores all of them for you and it’s really smooth. Most french supermarkets have loyalty cards so honestly, do not hesitate getting them cause you can get some sweet discounts.
Franprix has a phone application that allows you to activate certain offers. These are pretty useful and can help you decide sometimes on what to buy or not. For some reason I still don’t understand, there is always an offer that reduces 70% of any toilet paper purchase. It is not food related, but it is still a big reduction.
Having these cards allows you to save up 50% on some specific products, or even get 2 for 1. I used to live close to a Monoprix before and I oriented my weekly groceries on these offers. You can find the offers on the online websites of each supermarket, they get updated weekly/monthly.
Supermarkets aren’t your only option. Check out local food markets.
There are many, many food markets in Paris. Some of them have prices off-the-roof, some of them have very cheap cheap prices. The vegetable market I go to is located in the 13th neighborhood but there are a lot like this one in the north of Paris and also in the 12th neighborhood. As a general rule of thumb, avoid shopping in the heart of Paris because you could potentially find 10€/kg tomatoes (yes, it has happened and I still am not over it).
Decide what you want to cook.
Deciding what to cook in advance of the shopping ensures many things : 1) You don’t spend money on things you don’t need, 2) You know what you are looking for so you spend less time shopping and 3) you shop smarter which leads me to the following and last point.
Having a meal plan is great and I am giving you an example at the end of this article but you should keep in mind adaptation. When I went to the supermarket yesterday I had in mind to use potatoes and sweet potatoes, yet when I saw the prices of each, I completely removed the sweet potatoes from the list. Potatoes were really cheap (Under 0,50€/kg) and sweet potatoes were extremely expensive (5€/kg). I changed the sweet potato for just your basic potato and my budget was reduced drastically.
A 30€ budget meal plan
My personal grocery budget rarely goes above the 120€/month per person, so the following meal plan is very close to what I usually buy. We eat all breakfasts at home and most dinners with some going-out exceptions. Both of us eat at our jobs so lunch is a bit different. I meal prep for most of the week, but my SO does not.
I came up with an under 30€ week meal plan that you can use as an inspiration or just use it as it is. There are three meal ideas for snacks and breakfasts and 7 different ones for lunch and dinner.
The actual serving cost of each recipe sums up around 30€ a week. However, I would like to highlight the fact that a lof of the products that I use cannot just be bought by “2 tablespoons”. This is actually okay because we use most of these ingredients (especially breakfast and snacks) weekly. 500g of peanut butter costs us 2.50€ but it lasts us over 2 weeks.
The products that require to be bought kinda weekly are fresh produce such as vegetables, fruits and eggs.
- Oats with fruit
- Eggs, beans and toasts
- Peanut butter toasts with fruit
- Basic chili sin carne
- Spaghetti bolognese
- Big protein salad
- Beans and rice
- Quick vegetarian risotto
- Roasted veggies with potatoes
- Buddha bowl
- Vegetarian couscous
- Spinach and ricotta ravioli
- Tomato and cabbage soup
- One Pot pasta
- Mapo tofu
- Leftover dinner: Grab everything there is left unused and make a great dish out of it. My spicy veggies with rice recipe was an example of this.
- Whatever fruit is on season
- Greek yogurt
Seasoning used for most of these recipes
- Olive oil
- Chili powder
- Some spicy sauce (gochujang, sriracha)
- Curry spices
In the following table you will find each of these recipes, the ingredients (without mentioning the seasoning) that you will need to buy and the estimated price per serving. I bought my groceries at LIDL which is by far one of the cheapest places to buy stuff in Paris. If you were to be doing these groceries in a much more expensive supermarket like Monoprix or Carrefour, I’d add at least 10 to 15€ more to it.
[table id=2 /]
Today’s weekly meal plan is a summary of a lot of my go-to recipes and meals. We love eating simple and healthy food and during week-days we do not want to spend more than it is required in cooking. Yes, I have a food blog now which means every now and then I will try different things or cook something special on a random tuesday, but most of the days we just eat basic dinners that still feed us well.
If you use this meal plan, grab some inspiration from it or just did not like at all, tell me all in the comments! All feedback is more than welcome as this is the first time actually writing down numbers and costs.