This guest post was written by Richmond Howard for Good Financial Cents. Richmond runs the MealPrepify blog.
Four years ago, my wife and I were almost broke. It was our first year of marriage and I had been unemployed for almost five months.
I didn’t make any money and was just about to go to school. It’s hard to pay for graduate school when you’re broke, so I applied for scholarships.
For one of the scholarships, you had to enter a monthly budget for your expenses. Makes sense – you want to make sure that you are a good steward of your resources and that you actually need financial help.
The problem was, I had no idea what we were actually spending. We just felt a little bit and tried to be frugal. We created an account with Mint and synced all of our accounts.
I still remember when my wife and I sat there and watched the screen, waiting for all the data to be sorted out to see the breakdown of our monthly expenses.
At first everything looked normal. Our rent was $ 725. Auto insurance was $ 200. Wifi was $ 30. The phone bill was $ 100. Gym $ 40. All but one category checked out.
Food / Restaurants: $ 825
Neither of us believed it, but it was our anniversary month so we brought it up to the fancy dinner we went to. Sure it was … we went back another month and saw $ 760. Then $ 730. Then back to $ 800.
The realization hit us hard.
In the last six months when I was unemployed and we were struggling to make ends meet – we watched our bank accounts start to decline – we spent more on food than on rent for just our small family of two.
Like most people, we have eaten out too often for fun and convenience.
Like most people, we threw away too much food that was never cooked.
Our grocery bill was out of control. We knew we had to find a way to save money on groceries, but we didn’t know how. We were already feeling frugal when it came to food and we didn’t want to go back to the college diet of ramen and the chicken tagged because it’s about to expire.
We wanted to eat real food that was good for us and good for our wallet.
We made some important changes:
- We stopped eating altogether for about two months.
- We planned our meals and didn’t waste anything.
That worked for a while! We ate all of our meals at home and our meal expenses went from over $ 750 to around $ 350.
It was exhausting though. We cooked and cleaned several meals a day. It felt like we lived in the kitchen.
Then we started preparing the meal.
We got up early on Sundays to choose a few recipes and see what we were going to eat that week. After church, we went straight to the grocery store and spent our afternoons preparing food for a week.
It took us some time to get the hang of it, but meal prep was a total game changer for us. We started saving money and didn’t spend 15 hours a week in the kitchen.
Here I am three years later, and now I run a blog called MealPrepify, where I help people learn how to prepare meals and find great recipes so that they can save time and money while eating healthily.
Today I want to share with you my best tips and tricks so that you can save money by preparing meals! I also shared our favorite meal plan that we used almost every month to save money on groceries.
Meal Preparation 101: 9 tips for starting meal preparation
- When I started preparing the food I was totally overwhelmed.
- How do I choose recipes?
- How much should i earn?
- How long does the food last?
- Do I have to have a meal plan or just cook things and hope they go together?
When I started looking for meal preparation resources, most of it was not helpful. The recipes they recommended were consuming or unhealthy. The meal plans did not suit my preferences and I usually spent more time and money than I saved.
Here are some helpful meal preparation tips to get you started:
1. Freeze restaurant spending
If you are ready to start preparing meals, the first thing you must do is stop eating out. If you’re anything like me, this is the hardest part. My wife and I are foodies, and we love trying new places all over Houston, especially grilling.
But there is no way around it. If you want to save money on groceries and make meal preparation a habit, you have to force yourself to do it.
The freeze on your restaurant spending doesn’t have to be forever, you need to commit for a month and see what happens. You will be amazed how much money you save when you stop eating out.
2. Start small
The biggest mistake people make is over-cooking the first time. Start small. Pick 1-2 recipes that you know you love and double the ingredients. The last thing you want to do is prepare some foods that will be wasted.
3. Look in the freezer and pantry
The best place to start meal preparation is with things you already have. Make a list of all the meats you have in your freezer and find a way to use them to prepare meals. You save money, reduce waste and free up space.
4. Make a list of super cheap meals
The key to saving money on meal prep is finding inexpensive meals that you can cook over and over again. My wife and I have a 7-10 meal rotation that we absolutely love. They also keep our food budget in line and allow us to indulge in other locations.
5. Find ingredient overlap
The best hack for meal preparation is finding ingredients that work for multiple recipes. The fewer ingredients I have to buy, prepare, chop and cook in the supermarket, the better!
Grilled chicken is one of those for me. I eat grilled chicken with a side dish of roasted vegetables, on a salad or in a sweet potato. When I’m in a hurry, I grab a bag of grilled chicken for a protein-rich snack.
Paprika is another. You can use peppers for fajitas, Asian stir-fries, or on their own as a healthy snack.
6. Set a fixed time to prepare meals
If you want to be consistent in meal preparation, choose a set time to prepare meals each week. My wife and I cook lunch every Saturday afternoon for a week. Then we double the amount for everything we cook for dinner on Monday.
7. Get good storage containers
Now that you’ve completed all of your meal preps, you need to find a way to keep and store everything. We used to use regular plastic containers for Tupperware, but after a while we decided to upgrade to these glass containers, which are better for heating, storing in the freezer, and cleaning in the dishwasher.
8. Plan your week
Meal preparation requires meal planning. Every Saturday morning my wife and I wake up and we plan our entire meal week.
We actually put our meal plan on a Google spreadsheet so we can see exactly what we’re going to be eating. Then we put together a shopping list of everything we need to buy this week. We usually try to stock up on healthy snacks as well.
The best part about keeping track of your meal plans is that you have your own bank of meal plans to draw from. Whenever we’re in a rush, we just pick a meal plan that we made beforehand and go to the store!
9. Use the crockpot
There’s no question that using a crock pot is the easiest way to prepare meals. All you have to do is toss your ingredients in, press a button and wait 6-8 hours.
Turn it on before you go to bed and wake up with lunch and dinner already cooked. Here are some of our favorite cheapest crockpot dishes that you can make for less than $ 3 a serving!
Meal Plan Example: How we made 20 meals for $ 25 in one hour
People make meal planning a lot more complicated than it has to be. I always choose three recipes that I want to have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Ideally, they’re cheap, healthy, and have some ingredient overlap.
This is one of my meal plans. It takes me about an hour of work to prepare 20 meals for $ 25.
Breakfast: overnight oats
Preparing meals for breakfast is difficult. Leftover eggs are rubbery and coarse.
I started making oats overnight about a year ago and it was a game changer. Easy to make and incredibly cheap.
Oats don’t have to be cooked overnight. Put them in a mason jar with milk or water the night before and you’re ready to go in the morning. The ratio is typically two parts liquid to one part oats. I usually make 1 cup of oatmeal, 1 cup of water, and 1 cup of milk.
You can add anything you want to the oat to fix it! My favorites are strawberries, blueberries, bananas, peanut butter, and chocolate chips.
The oats take at least four hours to soak, but they last for 3-4 days. I usually add liquid to half of my glasses and on Wednesday I add milk and water to the second batch.
Take a mason jar out of the fridge every morning and you are ready to eat. Overnight oats are good cold or warmed up.
European summer time. Price: $ 0.50 / serving
Lunch: Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas
My wife and I love using tin pan recipes because they save time cleaning up and we can cook a week’s lunch in one batch.
You can make these chicken fajitas in a few easy steps.
- Place 2 pounds of chicken breast / thighs in a ziploc bag or bowl and cover with the marinade of your choice. I use a store-bought marinade to save time and make it as easy as possible. Marinate for 30 minutes to a couple of hours.
- Cut 1 green pepper, red pepper and onion into slices.
- Cover the sheet pan with foil and toss the peppers and chicken on top.
- Cook for 20 minutes at 350 ° C and check that this is done.
- Once the fajitas are made, you can eat them however you want! Fill some tortillas or eat them with rice and beans. Eat the fajitas with some mixed greens and avocado for a healthy salad.
European summer time. Price: $ 1.50 / serving
Dinner: Quick Coconut Chicken Curry
This coconut and chicken curry recipe is one of our midweek meals! It’s cheap, healthy, and here’s how you do it:
- Place 2 pounds of chicken breasts or thighs in a zipper or bowl. Rub 4 tablespoons of curry paste over it.
- Put 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan and get hot. Add red onion and sauté with 2 more tablespoons of curry paste. Let simmer for 5 minutes.
- Put the chicken in the pan and fry both sides (2 minutes per side).
- Add coconut milk and place in the oven at 400 degrees for 12 minutes.
- When it’s done, you can eat the chicken curry with flatbread, rice, or on its own!
European summer time. Price: $ 2.50 / serving
If you want to try this menu, you will find a shopping list here that you can print out and take with you to the store.
- Optional oatmeal toppings you want: fruits, berries, nuts
- 2 pounds of chicken breast
- 2 green peppers
- 1 onion
- 1 can of black beans
- 1 cup of rice
- Fajita marinade
- 2 pounds of chicken thighs
- 1.5 cup coconut milk
- 4-6 teaspoons of red curry paste
- 1/2 cup of diced red onion
Take your next step in meal preparation
I don’t know where you are in life, but I firmly believe that meal preparation can help anyone.
It can help the entrepreneur eat healthily and save money to get back into business. It can help the young professional save money for retirement. By preparing meals, parents can save hours each week on planning, shopping, cooking, and cleaning.
Take your first step today!