We are all incredibly busy, and it feels like the schedule is only growing more cramped by the month.
It can prove challenging to cook every night, whether you have a family, a filled schedule, or aching heels from a particularly arduous shift.
With restaurants costing an arm and a leg and your free time becoming more of an idea than a reality, is it cost-effective to meal prep?
Well, depending on how you swing it, absolutely. Meal prep has become one of the more popular solutions for the more career-focused and health-conscious person, and like all trends, businesses have found a way to make it absurdly pricey. But there are ways to reduce the cost of meal prep.
So, to save you a few extra bucks or a few extra calories swapping out Burger King for home cuisine, we will cover everything you need to know to prepare meals frugally.
My personal belief is that people think meal planning is expensive because of the shockingly expensive meal plan services, inexperienced shoppers, and a decent bit of bad press on the internet.
Many people will get into meal prepping for a month or two, then get discouraged because their bank account is still dwindling and their Saturday is spent cooking for nine hours, and then post their frustrations on a forum, board, or social media site.
This is a perfectly natural response that comes from frustration and a lot of free time you thought you would gain going down the drain as you toil over pounds of chicken and uncooked rice.
I think meal prep is a lot like most hobbies or skills: you start inexperienced, sloppy, and a bit slow, but you become better as you do it more.
This early discouragement will typically scare off those that feel they have overinvested, and while their experience may not be the whole story, their account lives on in the annals of the internet.
This article is not meant to shame meal prep services, which for many people are essential, healthy alternatives to going out to eat after work or when they have no leisure time between shifts.
If you use a meal prep service, more power to you, but they can add up in cost for those less financially endowed. If you are eating out every day, the cost of a meal prep service will probably be economically preferable.
However, for those who struggle to pay bills already, this is likely not the road you should cruise down.
Depending on which service you use and what ingredients are being offered, prices can range as high as double what you would pay at the grocery store.
At the risk of sounding like everyone’s parents, with the way the economy is, it may be wiser to just go to your local grocery store with a few coupons and a membership card.
But if you can’t afford the few hours needed to prep yourself, meal prep services may be a more financially taxing solution that could pay off.
Ingredients and Shopping
I love salmon more than most of my relatives, but if I buy it with every meal, I’m gonna have to move in with one of them.
When we start meal prepping, it usually is due to us going to restaurants on an almost daily basis.
When this becomes a daily occurrence, we start to forget how to shop conservatively and begin blowing out our bank account with triple-digit shopping ventures that could be trimmed by at least half.
How to Cheapen Grocery Shopping
There are several ways to cut costs when we do venture to the grocery store, and they are far simpler than one might think.
Plan Your Meals
Make sure you plan out all the recipes you need, so you don’t waste money or waste it on groceries that will only sit in your fridge until expiration and then have to be tossed out.
Make sure you know what’s on sale and find meals that work with these items.
Avoid Instant Foods
Try to avoid instant foods or prepared foods, as they are typically much more costly than their uncooked alternatives.
A good example of this is uncooked rice, which is far healthier, far cheaper, and comes with much more than its ready-in-a-minute alternatives.
Buy in Bulk
Speaking of more, you should purchase bulk options whenever possible, which will almost universally cost less per serving.
Ration Pricy Items
Some people can’t stand the idea of a meal without some chicken or steak on the plate, but going without meat a few meals a week can significantly cut costs.
Speaking of expensive, most organic produce that isn’t in season will be absurd in price, so when possible, look for frozen alternatives.
Take Advantage of Perks
Finally, you can also look to build up membership perks or rewards to cut down the total cost of your grocery expedition!
How to Cheapen and Speed Up Meal Prep
As listed above, there are several ways to lower the final price you spend per week on food and the time needed to make all your weekly servings.
Put Your Meals in Separate Containers
It’s easy to overeat when you are starving, but this can cause you to eat more than you intended and deplete the food you planned for later in the week.
To prevent this, portion out all your meals for the week in separate storage or Tupperware containers. Some people even like jotting down the meal and date on the top lid. If that helps you, then, by all means, do so.
Repetition is Vital
Meal prep is something that you will at times have to accept as not always incredibly exciting.
This will make you far more skilled at cooking the recipe and let you save on ingredients when you have all the seasonings you need, plus any leftover items from previous weeks.
Speaking of looking up cheap recipes…
Experience is the one thing you can’t buy, so let other veteran preppers help you out initially.
The beauty of the internet is that we can rely on those who have been in the trenches of a hobby or skill much longer than ourselves. So when you first start, take some of the stress off your shoulders by leaning on others who have set out recipes for you.
This not only helps your wallet, but these recipes will likely be far easier to make than the ones you will make yourself.
Folks that have been at this for a while have gotten pretty clever with efficiency and will likely have a plan worked out that takes less time, is cheaper than you previously thought possible, and is far healthier than any restaurant you could eat at.
If you are already a locally-renowned master chef in your kitchen, this step is probably meaningless to you, though, for most newbie meal preppers, cooking is a relatively new skill.
There’s absolutely no shame in learning something new, but you will need a few tools to help you get started. I have found that putting down a few extra bucks for quality utensils and pots will save you in the longer run.
I cook for myself almost daily and can’t begin to tell you how many knives, pot handles, and melted spatulas I have had to replace over the years because I was too cheap to go and buy some solid, durable tools from the get-go.
I recommend these tools:
- a good metal spatula
- a couple of solid knives
- a meat tenderizer
- and a solid cutting board
If you have don’t any pots or pans, get these:
- a saucepan
- a non-stick frying pan
- and a cooking sheet or two
Get a Crockpot
If you are feeling extra lavish, then maybe spring for a crockpot.
You can make a meal that looks like it was prepared by someone on the Food Network in less prep time than it takes to put your shoes on in the morning.
A crockpot is especially good if you are low on prepped meals and need something simple after work with very little time.
Throw a few ingredients in, set it on low, and eight hours later, you have a home-cooked meal that would make Martha Stewart jealous.
Meal prepping is a handy skill that can save you money and time and probably shave off a few calories. So, the next time you are out in town, fetch some groceries instead of visiting your nearest build-a-burrito chain!