Eating Well on a Budget: Meal Prep Tips

I’m a full-time freelancer who works from home, and while I have more time to prepare meals, that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to. I really covet my free time. So besides being super frugal, I love finding ways to save time on daily chores — everything from laundry to cleaning my apartment. My favorite way to save both time and money is to prepare my meals a week ahead. For the fellow budget-minded, here are some meal prep tips for home cooking that’s healthy and won’t break the bank:

Shop in Your Pantry
Before I head out to the store, I’ll do a quick inventory of what I already have in my fridge and pantry. It’s far too easy to double up on an item you already have just because you simply forgot you had bought that tub of unopened hummus a few weeks back. I took a quick peek and saw that I had half the ingredients to make one of my favorite staples — turkey quinoa muffins.

Buy What’s on Sale
Midday Wednesdays are my favorite time for grocery shopping. There’s no traffic, and there are fewer people out and about running errands. Plus Wednesday is double ad day at Sprouts, which means sale items from this week and from the week before are being honored. So there are more goodies at discounted prices to choose from. I also hopped over to Trader Joe’s (TJ’s) which was across the street from Sprouts. While TJ’s doesn’t always have the lowest prices, it’s convenient for anything I couldn’t find at my first stop.

While I have a general idea of what to cook — for instance, oatmeal with fruit for breakfast, a salad for lunch and some sort of protein plus veggies for dinner — I’ll see what the weekly specials are before I head out to the store, then make a list of what I want to buy ahead of time. To save money on food, I mainly buy healthy eats (i.e., veggies, fruit, grains and lean protein) on sale.

Set a Time Each Week to Prep
I do my best to set aside a chunk of time each week to prep my meals. I generally aim for an hour or two either on Wednesday or Sunday afternoons to cook for the week. I like to keep it simple, and if I don’t have an essential ingredient, I don’t necessarily freak out and run to the store. Usually, the dish turns out just fine if I go without it.

When I cook, I try to double-up on prep. While my water boils for the oatmeal I work on chopping the fruit and veggies. Likewise, I hate leaving a pile of dirty dishes sitting in my sink for days so I’ll wash them and clean my sink and counter space while I wait for the turkey quinoa meatballs to cook. With these time-saving hacks, prepping meals for the week only took me a little over an hour.

Use Leftover Ingredients as Snacks
I like to take any leftover ingredients and keep them as snacks. For instance, there was some leftover quinoa and berries, which I was able to mix together with a bit of honey for a little snack and I love eating cucumbers dipped in hummus. This saves me from buying bags of salty snacks and processed sweets, which also adds empty calories.

Here’s how much I spent (drumroll please):

Breakfast
Oatmeal: $1.50
Berries: $3.50
Almond Milk: $2.00
Total: $7.00

Lunch
Salad Greens: $5.00
Falafel: $4.00
Hummus: $3.50
Tomatoes: $1.50
Cucumbers: $3.00
Total: $17.00

Dinner
Broccoli: $1.50
Turkey Quinoa Meatballs: $6.00
Total: $7.50

Grand Total: $31.50 for 4 to 5 days worth of meals
$6.30 to $8.00 a day

With these meal prep tips, eating well under your budget can be a breeze. Don’t discount the effect it can have on your schedule, either. These tips can free up more of your time so you don’t have to worry about chores and can instead spend that time doing what you want.

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