Dining in restaurants daily is much more expensive than eating at home, but the cost of home-cooked meals is also rising. However, meal prepping is one of the best ways to lower your grocery bill. Planning and preparing your meals in advance sounds daunting, but it can save you money and time during the week.
What Is Meal Prepping?
Meal prepping is a process of preparing entire meals ahead of time. You prepare main dishes and side items, then portion them into reusable containers to create grab-and-go meals for later. You only cook once or twice a week, can buy in bulk, and eat at home more, saving you time and money.
How Much Money Can Meal Prepping Save?
The amount of money you save by meal prepping depends on the types of meals you make, the ingredients you choose, how many people you’re feeding, and how you grocery shop. However, meal prepping can significantly cut your food spending. You’ll eat out less, you don’t have to buy a lot of different ingredients, and you’ll reduce food waste.
Inflation, supply chain issues, and labor shortages are causing big spikes in food prices. According to the USDA, eating at home increased by 5.0 percent in 2023, but dining out increased by 7.1 percent, so there’s never been a better time to start taking meal prepping more seriously. Read on for tips on maximizing your grocery budget and free up more cash for savings.
How to Save Money by Meal Planning and Prepping
Here’s how you can get started with meal prepping to keep your grocery budget down:
1. Incorporate What You Already Have
Take a tour of your kitchen. What do you have in your refrigerator, freezer, and kitchen cabinets? Anything you can use as a side dish or with your sale items means less to buy at the supermarket. Using what you already have makes meal planning easier and saves money while reducing food waste.
2. Plan Your Meals Around Sale Items
Start planning your meals for the week by firing up your web browser. Go to your local supermarket’s website and see what’s on sale. Most grocery store websites have a page with all their sale items or a downloadable PDF of the weekly flyer. Make your meal plans based on what’s on sale. As long as you stick to your grocery list, you’ll save automatically.
3. Use Simple Ingredients
Save the gourmet cooking and the exotic ingredients for holidays and special occasions. A great-tasting, healthy meal doesn’t require fancy ingredients or a complicated recipe.
4. Buy Versatile Ingredients in Bulk
Buying groceries in bulk is an excellent way to save cash. You can prepare many meal prep recipes with ingredients like chicken thighs, chicken breast, or ground beef.
Buy the family pack when they’re on sale at the supermarket, or head to Costco or Sam’s Club if the warehouse stores have the best prices where you live. You can make different healthy meal prep recipes with the same main ingredient or freeze some for later.
Versatile sides like white or brown rice, quinoa, beans, and oats can be purchased in bulk and served in many ways. Check the bulk bins for grains and dry items and compare the per-unit pricing on larger bags or cans. You can also save big by buying large quantities of individual ingredients you often use, like olive oil, tomato sauce, and flour.
Large bags of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions are usually cheaper, but be careful with perishables. Ensure you have adequate storage space and can use any product you buy in bulk before it spoils or expires.
5. Use Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
Frozen fruit and veggies are usually much cheaper than fresh, especially if you’re buying fresh fruit or vegetables out of season. You can grab a bag of frozen mixed vegetables to serve as a side or throw into soups and stews. Frozen fruit works in overnight oats for breakfast, desserts, or make-ahead smoothie packs.
When you buy frozen, you won’t sacrifice nutrition or ruin a healthy diet. Frozen produce is picked at the peak of freshness and then frozen. Studies have shown frozen produce to be as nutritious as fresh.
6. Have a Meal Prep Day
Set aside a few hours on the weekend and make all the meals for the week. Try doing it right when you get home from grocery shopping.
If you can’t get it all done at once, get as much of the prep work out of the way as possible. Washed, chopped, and peeled foods will be kept in the fridge for a few days. That way, you can still put a meal together quickly during the week or make full meals for the week when you have more time.
7. Buy Reusable Storage Containers
You can buy glass meal prep containers or BPA-free plastic airtight meal prep containers in different sizes to portion your food. You may also want to invest in meal prep containers with two or three compartments for whole meals. Mason jars work nicely for salads.
For convenience, look for plastic or glass containers that are freezer-safe, dishwasher-safe, and microwave-safe. Go for clear containers or containers with clear lids so you can see what’s in them without opening them.
8. Embrace Repetition and Leftovers
You’ll likely repeat some recipes if you’re bulk-purchasing ingredients and making large batches of food. There will probably also be some leftovers. You’ll love meal prepping if you’re happy to eat the same meals often and repurpose leftovers into lunches to save money.
If you need a little variety, you can make multiple main dishes and different side items to mix and match. Another meal prep idea is to swap with a friend who also does meal prep so you can have more variety in your weekly menu.
Does Meal Prepping Save Money?
Meal prepping saves money because you can buy in bulk, freeze meals for later, and spend less on fast food or restaurant meals. You can save even more if you choose versatile ingredients, repurpose leftovers, and eliminate food waste.
What Is the Cheapest Way to Meal Prep?
The cheapest meal prep method is to plan your meals around sale items plus what you already have in your pantry, freezer, and refrigerator. By using what you already have and buying only food on sale, you’ll save money automatically and reduce food waste.
Saving Money With Meal Prepping
While meal prep or cooking all your meals for the week in one day might sound impossible or overwhelming, it’s not. It does require some planning and a few hours of dedicated time, but anyone can do it.
Once you go through the meal prep process a few times and enjoy the benefits of meal prepping, you might wonder how you got along without prepared meals. The cost savings and the time you free up on low-energy weeknights are worth it. You may also find that you’re eating healthier meals since you’re eating out less.