If you are a little like me, then it is most likely that you find pleasure in enjoying a good meal. If I had to describe some of my favorite daily habits, it would be eating. I genuinely enjoy eating a well prepared delicious dish any given day. I don’t hold back when it comes to ordering food at a restaurant or getting my grocery shopping done. The setback however, is that I enjoy eating and preparing meals so much that most of the time I tend to overspend paying for expensive dinners at restaurants, or going out of my budget buying ingredients that end up rotting in the pantry.
I got into a habit of spending around $50 on dinners and $15 for simple lunches multiple times per week. This all added up to financial chaos. For a moment, things got out of control and it was imperative for me to find balance and figure out a way that allowed me to still enjoy my favorite meals while still being able to stay within, and even under my monthly food budget!
How did I achieve this?
I gave meal prepping a chance, and it basically became part of my routine. I learned that by using the right shopping lists, not only did I start eating healthier, but I was also efficient in organizing my time. I was able to be creative while saving time and making my budget go a long way.
Here’s how I saved money with meal prep.
Planning Your Meals Ahead
I don’t know about you, but when strolling through aisles at the store, especially if I am hungry, I tend to place items in my cart that I don’t really need and therefore end up paying more than I need to for groceries. If I didn’t have time to do groceries and face the horrific situation of an empty fridge, I spend over $120 a week eating out for multiple meals. So how to avoid these catastrophic situations?
You plan ahead.
For me, I find a meal plan or recipes that work with my hectic schedule. I look for recipes that are healthy and easy to make. Pinterest has several healthy easy-to-cook ideas anyone can follow. In essence I look for easy Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Snack ideas.
I use my Grandma’s Jars grocery shopping list to outline all the essential items I need to purchase for the week (or 2 weeks if I feel ambitious), and let me tell you, having a well thought out organized grocery shopping list makes the grocery shopping experience painless! It’s a good idea to plan your grocery shopping around your pay-days, so that you use the budget you have set aside for food, and refrain from spending more on food until the next pay check.
Once I get my shopping done, I set my Sunday afternoons aside and I transform myself into a Sous Chef.
The Shopping List is KEY
The key to successful meal prepping and actually saving money is crafting the right shopping list. I personally like to take a look at grocery sales first, and then plan my meals around it. Be aware, if you are like me and have to cook for more than one, you have to multiply the ingredients and quantities when you add them to your list.
If I already have an existing meal plan for the week, I use the grocery sales to see if there are any ingredients I can substitute to decrease the overall cost.
Not only does this help me save some cash, but it challenges me to get creative. For instance, if I plan to cook a scrumptious chicken pesto pasta, but I see that quinoa is on sale, I substitute the pasta for quinoa and end up cooking a savory quinoa dish instead of pasta. Sous chef points, going up!
You should also look for items you can buy in bulk and include them on your shopping list. This works well with staple items in your pantry. Shopping in warehouse clubs such as Costco often saves you money as they offer competitive prices on high volume items. Buying in bulk lowers the cost per unit, and you can store some of the items so that you can use them in your future meal preps.
If you meal prep the right way, you will save time and save money. Packing your lunches for work means you don’t have to go out and eat and will now have time to be efficient in other areas. Never factor out the value of your time. It can take you hours to create a meal, but it can also take you just a few minutes if you follow my tips above and stay organized.
Being a master at meal prepping will help you challenge your creativity and culinary skills (your family/loved ones will appreciate) will reduce your overall monthly food costs, and give you more time to do things you enjoy - whether working a few hours, talking the dog for a walk, or reading that book that has been sitting on the shelf for a while now.
Meal prepping does not mean you will never have the opportunity to eat out again. It just means you will be more efficient at sticking to your food budget, eating better, and having more time. When you factor everything out, getting in the habit of meal prepping can be a huge time and money saver.