If you’re always on the run, trying to lose weight or just want to have take the guesswork out of what’s for lunch or dinner all the time, then it’s time to find some meal prep ideas and give meal prepping a go!
Meal prepping is one of the best ways to…
- eat better meals,
- lose/maintain weight through portion control,
- save money by avoiding last minute fast food runs,
- reduce daily kitchen clean up, and
- save time during the week.
Cheap Meal Prep Ideas: The Step by Step Guide
This post was written by our amazing staff writer, Kerah Kemmerer!
In theory, meal prepping is fairly simple, but like anything that helps improve your life, you need to develop a solid plan and stick with it.
Here are five steps to get you started on developing a system that works for you.
Related: How to Feed a Family of 4 for Less Than $400 a Month
Step 1: Plan out your meals for the week
Planning in general may come easy to you and this first step may be one you really enjoy.
A quick Google or Pinterest search will lead you into an endless black hole of recipes and meal prep ideas sand should be more than enough to get you started. After finding some recipe inspiration, it’s time to break out that notebook or download your favorite meal planning/list app to start getting organized. (Mealtime seems to be a favorite among users.)
Not sure where to start?
If the plethora of online meal prep ideas makes your eyeballs bug out and your brain implode, start with the basics.
Stock up on staples like:
- quinoa, and
These items can be purchased for fairly cheap in bulk and provide a quick base for almost any meal.
Add-ons that can make a solid meal include:
- fresh/frozen veggies,
- vegan or meat protein, and
You can mix and match so many of these items without much planning. Just grab whatever you have on hand and create a new blend for a quick and easy meal.
After you get a little more comfortable with the recipe building, you can start to get more creative and begin branching out into some more advanced culinary delights.
Step 2: Bulk grocery shopping for meal prepping
If you’re not a member of a bulk goods store than plan on going to check one out! Sam’s Club, Costco and BJ’s offer some great prices on bulk items and save you the hassle of having to shop more than once a week or so.
Don’t forget to consider your local grocery store as well though!
- Giant, and
- others similar stores
They’re well-known for having discounted items or manager’s specials that can save you quite a bit. They also run weekly deals and specials that are great for stockpiling staple items.
One way I keep organized it to use an excel doc of all the main items I purchase with the price included.
- I can tally up what I need for the week,
- project how much of my grocery budget will be used, and then
- use the “leftover” to work in some new food or splurge on items like fresh berries for oatmeal or pre-made pizza crusts for a quick and easy meal.
Step 3: Invest in the right kitchen gear
While you don’t need to go crazy investing in new kitchen gadgets, there are a few items that will make it a bit easier to turn your meal prep ideas into a reality.
If you don’t already own a rice cooker, I highly recommend one! The one I own (Vita Clay) cooks rice, quinoa, soups and stews. Others are in love with the Instant Pot. Both of these will save so much time when it comes to bulk cooking.
Other items I recommend:
- Non-stick (ideally teflon-free) pots and pans for easy clean up
- Glass containers with easy snap-on lids
- A sharp and solid Chef’s knife (read reviews before purchasing)
- A chest freezer (if you have a larger family, this will be well worth the investment)
Related: My Favorite Money-Saving Tip: Learn to Cook
Step 4: Batch cook/freeze your meals
Next, you will need to designate a day for the actual meal prepping. Usually weekends are recommended so you can hit the ground running for Monday.
I plan my grocery shopping for Saturday evening and immediately begin separating and repacking items as I get them in the door. This helps the produce stay fresher longer and gives me a visual on what I’m working with.
Once you are ready to begin, get that rice (or whatever you’ve chosen) cooking, start chopping those veggies and frying up that protein.
Count out the containers you need for the week and assemble all the recipes. Most items will freeze well, but be sure to double check if you aren’t sure about an ingredient. Since our freezer is pretty small, I throw half the week’s meals right in the fridge and the rest in the freezer.
I don’t usually prep dinner into containers, but I will keep items pre-cooked in larger containers so I can just throw some recipes together quickly. Proteins like chicken and tofu can be frozen in a marinade so you even have pre-seasoned foods to work with.
I usually do some form of oats for breakfast – traditional oatmeal with peanut butter, overnight oats or oatmeal bars. What can I say? Oats are cheap!
Step 5: Grab and go
Now that you’ve taken the time to:
- turn those meal prep ideas into actual food for the week,
- clean up the kitchen, and
- have everything ready to heat and throw on the table at a moment’s notice…
…you can kick back and relax!
If someone wants something to eat, don’t even look up from your book. Just point at the fridge.
Those Are the Meal Prep Ideas: Are You Ready to Get Started???
It can be challenging to get organized at first, and your grocery bill could end up higher initially as you get yourself loaded up on staples and work through meals that are worth the time and effort. After you get into a flow, you should hopefully be able to keep your food costs at a max of $50 per person, and ideally even less, for the week. Of course, where you live and the size of your family will alter this estimate.
The other challenge is staying committed to the process. The key is to make the process as fun and simple as possible so that it doesn’t feel overwhelming. Throw on some upbeat and inspiring music, set yourself time challenges and see if you can reduce your meal prep time each week. Whatever works to keep you motivated!
Now, if only there was a way to laundry prep. If you have ideas on that, please send them my way!
Are you a meal prepper? Do you have some additional meal prep ideas? Has meal prepping saved you a ton on food costs? Please share!
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