People have been meal prepping for decades, and probably even centuries, to some degree. Modern meal prep ideas usually involve a huge grocery haul, reusable or disposable storage containers, and a good portion of your Sunday—but it doesn't have to be this way.
You don't have to spend a fortune to prep great meals, no matter your diet or tastes. In this article, we’ll look at five ways that almost anyone can meal prep, even with a limited food budget. We'll also talk about how you can find tools to help you save money on your grocery shopping bill and other shopping, like the Comrade browser extension—just install it and start saving right away!
First up, let's go over the five ways to meal prep on a budget.
Find easy meal prep recipes online
A simple Internet search for “meal prep on a budget” will return hundreds, if not thousands, of results for cheap meal prep recipes. You can look specifically for recipes that are:
- Dietary-friendly (gluten-free, vegan, heart-healthy, etc.)
- Based on certain ingredients
This provides you with plenty of inspiration to get started. In no time, you’ll probably be coming up with your own creative meal plans to fit your budget and lifestyle!
Recipes with fewer ingredients are generally cheaper, as are those that make large quantities (such as a casserole or meatloaf). And if you’re on a budget, don’t think you can’t get fresh foods—sales and seasonal items are your best friends for produce, chicken breast specials, and other items that usually hit the grocery shopping bill hard.
Plan Meals Based on Sales or Seasonal Items
Speaking of sales and seasonal foods, that’s tip number two for meal prepping: when you’re planning, take seasonal produce, specials, and sales into account. For example, if there’s a special on organic ground chicken when you buy in bulk, you might want to plan a week or two’s worth of chicken dishes so that you can capitalize on the deal. Of course, the other option (and one worth considering) is to buy the special items and store them in your freezer until you need them. Then, your grocery bill will be cheaper in the future because you already have major items on hand.
If you want the best prices (and flavor) on out-of-season produce, try frozen vegetables and fruits instead.
Buy Pantry Staples in Bulk
Costco and other warehouse stores make it easy for you to meal prep on a budget when it comes to those essential pantry items. Their fresh food selection is improving, too, but you can save big when you stock up on things like canned goods, snacks, coffee, and more. Even if these items aren’t part of your meal prepping, it means you’ll have that much more to spend on meals since you’re spending less on other essentials.
If you eat a lot of salads or greens for healthy lunches, you can also find these in bulk at your local wholesale store (or even a discount store like Aldi). A huge container of greens will usually cost less than $10 and provide you with several options for meals throughout the week. Just make sure that you’re going to use whatever you buy so leftover vegetables don't go to waste.
Use Your Slow Cooker
Meal prep doesn’t have to be all salads, grilled chicken, and other basics. You can create a lot of nutritious meals ahead of time and for an impressively low cost when you take advantage of batch cooking. Homemade macaroni and cheese with smoked sausage, for example, costs about $20 in total, depending on what you spend on the various kinds of cheese, and a crock pot full is six to eight servings. That’s just $2.50 to $3.34 per meal, and it’s a hearty alternative to sandwiches and salads.
The meals you can make in your slow cooker are nearly endless—do some research and see what kind of great freezer-friendly recipes you can find to add to your meal prep list. For even faster cooking, consider investing in an instant pot to help you meal plan and eat healthier in less time.
Planning and preparation can go a long way in helping you meal prep on a budget, no matter what your financial situation might be. By taking the time to plan, you can choose meals based on sales or seasonal items, come up with great slow cooker recipes, and stock up on bulk essentials so you can save more (or put more towards your meal prepping)!
Pick a day and time each week to sit down and do your weekly meal prep planning. This includes the meals that you want to prep for the work week, dinners, and other planning that you want to do. Perhaps you’ll do this on Thursday evenings, for example, because the new sale flyers are out, and that gives you time to prepare for weekend shopping and prepping.
This will help you utilize your money effectively, even if you are trying to stick to healthy eating, as well as reduce food waste and make sure that you're getting the most for your money. Plus, you won't be eating the same meal (or a few meals) over and over again.
Bonus: Top Budget-Friendly Ingredients and Meal Prep
To help you get started, and to show you that it's easy and affordable to meal prep when you know what you're doing, here are some of the most popular ingredients and healthy meals for prepping, no matter what you like:
- White and brown rice
- Frozen and canned foods
- Ground beef and ground turkey
- Fresh vegetables and fresh fruit (when in season and on sale)
- Sweet potatoes
- Chicken thighs
- Chickpea salad
- Chicken salad
- Tuna salad
- Chicken soup
- Chili and other soups
Add these items to your meal prep and grocery list, and you'll be off to a great start! Dietary concerns? Trying to lose weight? Find foods and meals that fit your needs; there's plenty to choose from.
It’s All About Dedication
As you can see, when you dedicate time and energy to your meal prepping, you can do it no matter what your budget might be. It takes practice and preparation, but in no time, you’ll be a budget meal-prepping expert! And if you want to extend that dedication to savings, you can download and install the Comrade browser extension.
Once you install the extension, simply create a free account and start saving. Every time you interact with one of the recommendations offered by Comrade’s partner brands, you get paid. We work with various partners to provide relevant recommendations and ensure that you’re getting the best deals on everything you buy online while giving you cash back for your time.
Are you ready to start dreaming of all the ways you can spend the money you’ve saved on meal planning? Perhaps you’re just happy to have a little relief on the grocery bill. In either case, you’re ready to take on meal prep by yourself. Just remember to be patient and dedicate time to your meal prepping so that you can maximize your savings (and your meal options). And don’t forget to check out Comrade, where you can get great recommendations and cash back just for browsing so you'll have more to spend on meal prep!
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