At some point, you may have looked back at your monthly budget and noticed a huge spending black hole draining your wallet of hard-earned cash: your food budget. Most of us lead busy lives, and though we’d love daily time to cook delicious and nutritious meals, it’s just not possible. It’s true that time is money, though, and the price we pay for convenience is resorting to unhealthy and expensive convenience foods or dining out, which is the priciest option yet.
There is a solution to ending the spiral of meal spending: meal preparation. A concentrated few hours of cooking can supply you with homemade food throughout the week. Planned meals using groceries that stay within your food budget will keep your spending on track while still supplying you with tasty meals during your busy work hours. Also, you’ll find that cooking at home usually leads to healthier choices and fewer calories consumed. You can choose to do either weekly or monthly meal prep. Weekly meals are the more common choice, but either option is sure to save time and money.
How to Start Meal-Planning
Before you begin your meal-planning adventure, you’ll need to follow these steps:
- Make a list of 20-25 meals that you and/or your family enjoy. Knowing your favorite meals will help you rotate options that you always enjoy.
- Check out your calendar for the week so you can see which nights are busy and require a super-quick meal or something to go. Choose one to three free days or nights that will allow you to spend time in the kitchen.
- Look in the pantry, fridge, and freezer for ingredients that are going to go bad soon and need to be used. Do you have some produce in the fridge and rice in the pantry? Plan a stir fry for early in the week.
- If you’re a coupon user, start snipping and make sure to check ads for grocery store sales. This can help you choose which meals you’re making for the week. Avocados on sale? It’s a good time to make Mexican food.
- Choose “connected” meals. This means that you can use one item for two meals. For instance, if you buy a whole chicken, it can be roasted and served with mashed potatoes, and then the leftovers can be used for quesadillas later in the week. You’ll save money and waste less food this way.
- Focus on choosing meals that use seasonal ingredients to prevent over-spending on produce or seafood.
Meal-Planning Recipe Ideas
If you’re having trouble coming up with favorite meals and you’re looking for inspiration, check out these quick and inexpensive recipe ideas:
- Burrito Bowls ($2.26 per serving)
- Tomato and Lentil Soup ($0.63 per serving)
- Stuffed Peppers ($2.14 per serving)
- Crockpot Chili ($0.57 per serving)
- Bean and Cheese Freezer Burritos ($0.55 per serving)
- Ratatouille ($1.80 per serving)
- Black-Eyed Peas and Greens ($1.65 per serving)
- Apple Chicken Lettuce Wraps ($1.25 per serving)
- Tandoori Chicken Wraps ($2.98 per serving)
- Hamburger Casserole ($0.67 per serving)
In the event of a financial emergency that makes it difficult to put food on the family table, it is important to understand all of the lending options available to you. Alternative lending solutions may be a good option for those who may not qualify for traditional bank loans.