Eating in restaurants every day is much more expensive than eating at home, but the cost of home-cooked meals is on the rise.
Inflation, supply chain issues, and labor shortages are causing big spikes in food prices. According to the USDA, grocery prices increased by 11.4 percent in 2022, more than three times the rate in 2021 (3.5 percent).
One of the best ways to lower your grocery bill is meal prepping. Planning and prepping your meals in advance sounds daunting, but it can save you money and time during the week.
- What Is Meal Prepping?
- How Much Money Can Meal Prepping Save?
- How To Save Money By Meal Planning and Prepping
- Does Meal Prepping Save Money?
- What Is the Cheapest Way to Meal Prep?
- Saving Money With Meal Prepping
What Is Meal Prepping?
Meal prepping is preparing entire meals ahead of schedule. 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?
How much money you can 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. You can cut your food spending significantly by meal prepping, however. You’ll eat out less, you don’t have to buy a lot of different ingredients, and you’ll reduce food waste.
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. 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 whatever is on sale. You’ll save automatically as long as you stick to your grocery list.
Read: 16 Ways To Spend Less Money on Groceries
2. Incorporate What You Already Have
Next, 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 ingredients you can use with your sale items means less to buy at the supermarket.
Using what you already have makes meal planning easier and saves you money.
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.
Batch cooking and once-a-week meal preparation are about saving time on busy weeknights and saving money by keeping it simple. Jars of random ingredients you won’t use more than once are a waste of money.
4. Buy Versatile Ingredients in Bulk
Buying groceries in bulk is a good way to save cash.
You can make many main dishes 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 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 different ways. Check the bulk bins for grains and dry items if your favorite grocery store has a bulk section, or compare the per-unit pricing on larger bags or cans.
You can also save big by buying individual ingredients you often use, like olive oil, tomato sauce, and flour in large quantities.
Large bags of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions are usually cheaper, but be careful with perishables. Ensure you have adequate storage space, and you can use any product you buy in bulk before it spoils or expires.
Read: 68 Cheap Foods To Buy When You’re Broke
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.
You won’t sacrifice nutrition or ruin a healthy diet when you buy frozen. Frozen produce is picked at the height 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 keep for a few days in the fridge. 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 or BPA-free plastic airtight containers in different sizes and use them to portion your food. Or you may want to invest in meal prep containers, which are designed with 2 or 3 compartments for whole meals. Mason jars work nicely for salads.
Look for plastic or glass containers that are freezer safe and microwavable for convenience. Go for clear containers or containers with clear lids, so you can see what’s in them without opening them.
Read: How To Save Money on Meat
8. Embrace Repetition and Leftovers
Chances are you’ll repeat some recipes if you’re bulk-purchasing ingredients and making large batches of food. There will probably be some leftovers as well.
If you’re happy to eat the same meals often and repurpose leftovers into lunches to save money, you’ll love meal prepping. If you need a little variety, you can make multiple main dishes and different side items, then mix and match.
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. If you choose versatile ingredients, repurpose leftovers, and eliminate food waste, you can save even more.
Read: How Much Should I Budget for Food?
What Is the Cheapest Way to Meal Prep?
The cheapest way to meal prep 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 cut down on food waste.
You can trim your food budget even more by using coupons, buying items in bulk, and shopping at discount grocery stores.
Saving Money With Meal Prepping
While the idea of 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 start enjoying the benefits of meal prepping, you might wonder how you ever 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.
Image credits: Unsplash
Sara Graham is a frugal living and household budgeting expert. Her writing has appeared on MSN Money, The Good Men Project, Fairygodboss, and several other online publications. She is the co-founder of KindaFrugal.com, a personal finance and frugal living blog.