Meal prep can be a crucial part of achieving your health, weight-loss and fitness goals. Now, you might think that healthy meal prep is for those who have plenty of time and money to spend, but experts beg to differ!! Plan well and you could save time and money, not to mention your health. Are you ready to get planning and save yourself some dough while eating healthier and getting in shape? Here’s how!
Make a Plan
A great first step in in meal planning and time saving is to have a pretty solid idea of your food needs throughout the week before you do anything else. Take a moment to think about the week ahead: Think about where you’ll be at mealtimes; home, work, out with friends, traveling and whether you’ll have the means to reheat food if you’ll need something that’s ready to go and the kinds of containers you’ll need to store that food. Most importantly, think about the clean meals and snacks that you want to eat. You need to not only eat healthy nutritious ingredients but they need to be foods you enjoy, even if that limits variety.
- See what you already have. Look in your freezer, cabinets, and refrigerator. Make a note of what you currently have on hand. You can save money by using these items in the upcoming week’s meals.
- Use a worksheet or notepad to plan your meals. I have added some planner pages below that can help you out!
- Create a list of a few recipes to try. Find new ideas for healthy and low-cost meals (a dozen fantastic ideas for appealing, healthy meals that cost between 45 cents and $2.72 per serving) based on what you have on hand, foods your family enjoys, and foods that are good buys.
- Think about your schedule. Choose meals you can easily prepare when you don’t have a lot of time. Save recipes that take longer for days off. You also can prepare meals in advance to heat and serve on your busiest days. Do some meal prep, especially for lunches. This will reduce the chance of you skipping making a healthy lunch to take and instead opt for fast food options.
- Plan to use leftovers. Use a couple larger recipes that have enough servings for multiple meals. This can reduce the number of ingredients you need to buy, and save you time preparing another meal. I use these for lunches!
Make a Clean-Eating Grocery List
Once you’ve thought about the clean, healthy, nutritious meals found a few new recipes you’d like to try and have a meal plan ready to go, work backward to come up with a grocery list. Beans or lentils are are a good (and less expensive!) alternative protein source instead of meats that tend to be higher priced and not always as good for you. “Consider serving budget-friendly meatless meals once or twice a week. Meatless meals are built around beans, lentils, vegetables and whole grains. These plant-based proteins tend to be less expensive and offer more health benefits than meat.” (The Mayo Clinic). Once you’ve made your list, think about where each of the items can be bought at the best price and get your groceries on a day when you’re not rushed. We have a store called Aldi’s that keeps prices low by stocking generic brands and forgoing fancy packaging. Buying in bulk is another way to save money.
Here are examples of healthy foods that should make up the core of your clean-eating grocery list!
Stick With the List
Ever gone to the store to buy groceries and come home to find that you bought a lot of things you hadn’t planned on and maybe even forgot some things you meant to buy? Did you know that grocery stores, and stores in general pay a lot of money to merchandisers to make sure that customers stray from their lists and make impulse purchases? There job is to make displays stand out and pop so you will snag the item. I know it’s bad for my budget, so likely yours too. And because impulse buys are generally not the healthiest items, bad for health goals too. Do you ever go shopping with a hungry belly? Well stop! A 2013 study showed that when people go shopping when they’re hungry or they’ve gone a long time without eating, they tend to buy foods with a higher caloric density.
Shop Bulk Foods
What do beans, grains like quinoa and barley, nuts, seeds, rice, and legumes have in common? Most supermarkets offer these items in bulk bins. Not only does shopping in bulk save you money because you’re not paying for the fancy labels, you can also take as much or indeed as little as you need meaning that you can experiment with new things and new meals without getting stuck with something that’s not up your alley and not over spend or have waste that you’ll be tempted to eat. Like opening a box of pasta for 2 and devouring the whole thing in one sitting together. At least make that pasta cover 2 meals for 2! Beans and lentils are rich in both protein and fiber and are particularly cheap when bought dry and from the bulk bins. Soaking beans might sound like a hassle but if you’re already planning your meals for the week, it’s just one extra step really. To save even more time, you might consider investing in a pressure cooker or Instant Pot. One upfront cost might be to get some airtight jars to store them in. Put them on a shelf (avoid placing them in direct sunlight), and they have the added bonus of making your kitchen look pretty homey too.
Shop Seasonally and Locally!
The farmers market can be a big win for your health and budget. You can find fresher, locally grown food that may actually be cheaper than what’s at your grocery store. Plus you’d be supporting small business along with eating healthier! So if you come across fresh produce at your local farmers’ market, then, by all means, add them to your week’s meals!
Go Big or Go No Frills
Consider investing in an annual membership to a wholesale market like Costco, especially if you’ve got a family. Or shop at a no frills, plain packaged kind of store like Aldi’s, they keep prices low in part by forgoing all the fancy frilly packaging, store design, and display cases. But, get your quantities right on your store list. The savings you make by bulk buying will disappear if you don’t eat what you buy before it goes bad. Plan ahead and figure out what can be stored in the fridge, what has good shelf life, and what you can freeze for later. If you’re freezing food, write the date on the package or container so you don’t have to guess whether you should keep it or toss it when you defrost.
Ready Set, Cook
You had a bulk mindset when you bought this stuff, and to really unlock your savings, you should adopt a bulk mindset when cooking. Set aside a few hours on a Sunday (or whatever day is most convenient) putting together three or four dishes that can be frozen in batches to give you the benefits of variety and economy. My husband and I meal prep 4 lunches for 2 and 3 dinners for 2 every week. And while you’re putting food into containers, make sure portion sizes are in step with your weight-loss goals. Or take the guesswork out of the equation and use Ultimate Portion Fix containers to assemble your meals, then freeze. (Don’t freeze the containers themselves!) If you are not measuring your portion sizes you could not only be consuming too much food and costing more money. By keeping foods at the correct portion size you will be trimming your waistline and also trimming costs.
Make it Public
Use your blog or Twitter/Facebook or a public forum or just email to let people know how your meal plan is going. Or get a partner and report to each other. Making it public or having a partner gives you accountability and motivation, and works like a charm. Don’t skip this step.
The Bottom Line
It may seem daunting at first to plan an entire week of healthy meals, shop, then cook it all. But if you stick with it and start meal prepping on a regular basis, you’ll figure out what works/what doesn’t work, and you’ll save yourself time and money. I know Keith and I found we actually have more time during the week to live life instead of being stuck in the kitchen. And Sunday meal prep has become an us thing we do. And because we are doing it together, it takes less time and we are both then taking charge of our nutrition and health. So get your whole family in on a fun day of meal prep and cooking. It will bring you closer, help you be accountable and if you have kids, teach them healthy nutrition.