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I hate cooking.
There, I said it!
My schedule stays pretty packed, and I always feel like cooking takes time away from more important things I could be doing, like making more money with a side hustle, hanging out with my dog, or scraping a chalkboard with my fingernails.
You know the feeling.
Cooking feels like another unpleasant thing to add to the ever-growing list. Skip cooking, eat out, avoid the hassle, right?
At least that’s what I thought…but then I started meal prepping and everything changed. With a focus on weight loss, and the realization that I was still broke from college, I started to meal prep on a budget. When it was all said and done, I got my expenses down to under $50 each week ($48 to be exact).
How to Meal Prep on a Budget and Lose Weight
I had heard of “meal prepping” forever ago, but I finally decided to give it a try recently. At first it sounded like too much. Planning things in advance isn’t really my forte — I’m more of an off-the-cuff type.
But I recently started batching my tasks at work and noticed an increase in my productivity. This is what happened:
• Fewer distractions and interruptions
• Less time spent wondering what to do next
• Doubled productivity
• Projects completed ahead of schedule
If batching at work got me these kinds of results, then what could it do for other areas of my life? You can probably guess what happened next. I had to give meal prepping a go!
And after several weeks now of tweaking my system and learning how to meal prep on a budget, I have to say I’m loving it! The outcome:
• Less time fumbling around my kitchen wondering what to make
• Fewer trips to the grocery store (about every other day to once a week)
• Money saved from not eating out
• No more hangry rage
You can’t argue with those results!
In a relatively short period, I went from being someone who hated cooking and never had the time to making basically every meal at home. (I still cheat from time to time. Don’t judge.) All because of meal prepping.
So as someone who has experienced the life-changing magic of preparing your meals, here are my tips for how to meal prep on a budget and eat healthier by doing it.
1. Immediately reduce your food spending
I’m usually pretty frugal, but food is the one area in my budget where I’m a little lenient. Perhaps too lenient.
Since I started to meal prep on a budget, I noticed I was spending way too much money on food. Not only eating out but also on regular grocery items. That’s when I started using Ibotta to save a few extra bucks at the grocery store.
Apps like Ibotta are pretty simple: just choose the rebates you want, answer a question or complete another simple activity to select your rebate, and send in a picture of your receipt after you’ve made the purchase. I usually save a few dollars per week with this one. Every extra dollar counts!
Another tool I enjoy is $5 Meal Plan. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Internet is a black hole of information. Every time I look for new recipes I end up watching penguin videos two hours later.
$5 Meal Plan helps me avoid these situations by sending me meal inspiration weekly. For $5 a month, I get a new list of delicious recipes sent to my email every week — usually Friday, which gives me time to look over and plan for meals on Sunday.
Every recipe they send is easy, relatively quick, and costs less than $2 per person. They even include a grocery list.
You might think that this $5 monthly investment isn’t exactly a money saver, but you would be wrong. This tool alone saves me hours of scouring the Internet for foodspiration. And for me, and probably you too, time = money.
2. Check your inventory
Before you head to the grocery store, see what you have on hand. This way you don’t end up wasting food (and money) by purchasing more than you need.
Taking stock of what you already have will also give you some inspiration for the next week’s meals. On my last meal-prep day, I found a can of coconut milk, an unopened bag of rice, and half a jar of curry paste. Just a few more ingredients and I had a simple, delicious chicken curry.
3. Eat the right portions
With every fast food restaurant serving extra jumbo heaping large cups of soda, I think it’s safe to say our portions are a little skewed. No wonder it has gotten so hard to lose weight.
How do you know what’s enough but not too much?
You know when you go out to a Chinese buffet and by the time you leave you think for sure your intestines have been punctured and food is slowly leaking into your bloodstream? That’s too much.
Meal prepping in advance let’s you control your portion sizes and allows you to choose healthy foods, which is so important.
Here are some guidelines out there on how many calories and cups of each food group you should consume. The number of calories your body needs depends on your age, activity level, and many other factors.
4. Don’t skimp on nutrients
Eating the right number of calories doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting all the proper nutrients. In fact, about three-fourths of the population doesn’t get enough vegetables, fruits, dairy, and oils.
The good news? Studies show that the greater the amount of time spent on home food preparation, the higher quality the diet. This includes eating more healthy foods like vegetables, salads, fruits, and fruit juices.
So if you’re planning your meals at all, you’re likely already ahead of the game!
To make sure your diet has the proper amount of nutrients, you may want to consider talking to a dietitian or supplementing your meals with a multivitamin.
5. Invest in the right tools
I’ve never heard of someone meal prepping who wasn’t saving money by doing so.
If you want to make life even easier, take some of that extra savings and put it towards some quality kitchen appliances and tools. A slow cooker for easy stews, large mixing bowls for bulk cooking, a blender for smoothies.
I’m not telling you to be frivolous and stock up on a bunch of kitchen appliances you’ll never use. But once you get into a routine and figure out what kind of meals you like best, it’s worth the investment to have some tools that make life just a little easier.
6. Designate time to plan and prep
Meal prepping can save you a lot of time (and money), but it calls for a bit of an up-front investment. I spend Sunday afternoons planning and prepping meals for the rest of the week.
Although it takes up the better part of my Sundays, meal prepping saves me extra trips to the grocery store during the week. Not to mention time spent walking back and forth between the pantry and refrigerator trying to figure out what to make. The fewer the decisions, the better.
Doesn’t this look amazing?
But what if you don’t have time to do all your planning, shopping, cooking, and prep on a single day?
At least set aside one day of the week to plan and buy groceries for that week’s meals. If you need to do plan and shop one day, then cook and prep the next, that’s okay, too.
Also, get back in the habit of writing down your grocery list and sticking to what is on it. It will help you resist the temptation to stick items in your cart that don’t belong 🙂
Consistency is the key to forming any habit. Making meal prepping part of your weekly routine increases your chances for success.
7. Eat what’s in season
Produce that is “in season” (as in, harvested in the current season) is more abundant, and therefore cheaper. It’s also more nutritious since most fruits and vegetables begin to lose their nutrients as soon as they are picked.
8. Meal prep on a budget by buying in bulk
I don’t mean stocking your pantry. I’m talking about the bulk bins at your local grocery or health food store.
Buying items in bulk means you can purchase exactly what you need, which will help you save money. This is especially useful for uncommon ingredients like spices, ancient grains, yeasts, etc. I like to purchase dried fruit and nuts and mix them together for a homemade trail mix. It makes for a nice snack throughout the week.
9. Get friendly with your slow cooker
When I started my journey to meal prep on a budget, I didn’t realize I would be making a new best friend.
Introducing my slow cooker. Oh, my, gosh.
Remember how I told you I hate cooking? Well, it’s not so bad when you have tools that do all the work for you. With a slow cooker, all you do is buy the ingredients, chop them up, throw them together, and wait.
Not only is it super easy, but slow cooker meals are usually also cost effective. You can find a ton of cheap slow cooker recipes on the Interwebs, or you can make your own with whatever is on hand.
10. Let nothing go to waste
To get the biggest bang for your buck, keep track of what you have and what you’re using. Look for new ways to incorporate spare ingredients, like tossing it in with a stew or salad.
The beauty of meal prepping is that you take inventory about once a week, which in most cases is enough time to catch items you forgot about and use them before they go bad.
Learning how to meal prep on a budget can change your life!
Like many other things, meal prepping can seem burdensome or pointless until you actually give it a shot. But once you’ve gone through several weeks and worked out the kinks, you’ll be prepping like a pro.
And your body, mind, and wallet will thank you.
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