If you only had $300 a month to spend on groceries for a family of four, could you do it? Maybe you would need more than $300, but this guide to eating on $300 a month will show you the basics so you will know how to add on if necessary.

Whatever your reason for having a tight budget, the truth is that going to the grocery store without a shopping list and a plan is a BIG budget breaker and unhealthy to boot. You need to understand the overall strategy, write your list, then shop with care.

First you must divide the budget you have into three categories; weekly, bi-weekly and monthly. Once you have the totals fixed, try to find a way to make it work. If you budgeted too tight, only then consider how much more you really need to spend, and add to your budget proportionally.

Decide what you need in each of these categories. Your family's needs will determine what is in each category, what follows is only a suggestion. Just be sure you stick to your food budget, plan simple, rotating menus, and keep it healthy.

Second, identify your WEEKLY needs; milk, bread, fruits. These will be your saving graces when the troops are hungry. You can load up every week and always have a healthy snack available. Think about $15/week; that's $60 of your monthly $300.

Third, identify your BI-WEEKLY needs; eggs, cheese, vegetables, meat and cheese for sandwiches etc. These items have a slightly longer shelf life but you will watch how much you use when you know there's still four days until your next purchase. Try $20 every two weeks, that's $40 a month.

Fourth, get the remainder of your groceries in one place. Use cash to pay (to avoid temptation of over spending) and work out your shopping list ahead of time. You only need to do this once as many of the items (cereal, meat, pasta, rice etc.) will need to be repurchased every month. Other items (sugar, flour, dry beans etc.) may be substituted every other month. In this example you have $200 to spend on monthly needs.

Fifth, have a schedule of meals that you can rotate. Cheap, healthy meals like stir fry can be inexpensive as they use less meat than full pieces of chicken or beef for dinner. Plan to have a major meat meal offset by a simpler dish like pasta every other night. This way your family will not go through 'feast-and-famine' when they eat like kings the first week and are eating canned chili every night for the last week. One trick for cooking meatless meals is to either use small quantities of meat for flavor only, or to season with broths and lots of herbs. You would be surprised at the amount of flavor a can of sardines, for example, can lend to a stir fry or pot of potato chowder.

As much as possible, buy items when they are in season, on sale and available in bulk. For example, buy ground beef in large quantities when it's on sale, divide it into meal-sized portions and freeze. Plan meals that can use small quantities of meat with larger quantities of rice, potatoes or pasta, such as goulash, spaghetti and meatballs, shepherd's pie, or stir fry. Prepare savory sauces in advance, such as spaghetti sauce, cheese sauce, sweet and sour sauce, teriyaki sauce, and garlic and herb butters, and refrigerate or freeze them. If you can, buy fruit and vegetables in season and freeze or can them yourself. Grow a garden. Trade at your local farmers market.

Always base your menus on what you really plan to cook. If you have easy weeknight staples, try to find the cheapest method of preparing them, and make do with fewer pre-packaged meals on other nights when you have more time. Using items like frozen vegetables can make eating cheap, healthy and convenient.

Clearly the $300 suggestion will depend on your family, the age of your children and how much your budget really allows. Whatever your budget, taking the time to draw up a plan and think about your choices will guarantee that you eat healthy and keep more of your money in your wallet.

Author's Bio: 

Cooking inexpensive, healthy meals doesn't have to be a long, difficult process. Quick, simple meals, menus and snacks - from soup to dessert - can fit into any busy lifestyle. Simple equals fewer ingredients, therefore more savings. Find some simple healthy recipes for every meal and season.