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How to Meal Prep on a Budget

Meal prep is simply preparing and cooking meals ahead of time, usually making your meals for the entire week over the weekend. If you'd like to try meal prep, but you're looking to keep your costs low, follow these tips below.

10 Tips for Easy Meal Planning

grocery list and basket

Tip 1: Plan out your groceries in advance.

The first step of meal prep is planning out your recipes for the week and making a grocery list based on that. Choose your recipes and then check your fridge and pantry to see what ingredients you already have. You can also start with the ingredients you have on hand and then select recipes to use them up.

Tip 2: Seek out cheap, doable recipes.

There are many recipe blogs and websites that specialize in cheap recipes for singles, couples and families. Do some research and select some recipes that call for affordable ingredients. If you're new to cooking, making sure that you choose meals that you're confident you can cook successfully so you don't accidentally ruin the food. As you cook, keep track of the recipes that you like so you can build up a collection of favorite meals over time.

Tip 3: Experiment the smart way.

You'll never become a better cook if you don't push yourself, and varying up your meals is key to avoiding menu fatigue. However, it's important not to go too fast, too soon on the challenging recipe front or you might end up throwing out more food than you eat. Over time, you'll get a better grasp of what you like and what your capabilities are as a cook, which will help guide the recipes you choose.
shopping for groceries

Tip 4: Shop and cook on different days.

Doing all your meal prep in one go can be tiring, especially if you're new to meal prep and don't have a lot of stamina built up yet. Spread out your meal prep so you shop on Saturday and cook on Sunday (or whatever days work best for your schedule). This will ensure that you have the most energy and willpower to avoid costly impulse purchases and cooking mistakes.

Tip 5: Buy in bulk.

If you're wondering how to meal prep on a budget, buying large quantities of ingredients is usually cheaper—as long as you use them up. Purchasing large quantities of ingredients that will keep for a long time, such as lentils, dry beans and grains, can help you save money. You can also buy in bulk and select the exact quantity of ingredients that you need to avoid awkward leftovers.

Tip 6: Keep a close eye on unit pricing.

To make sure you're getting the best deal, check the unit price on the price tags in the grocery stores. Unit prices say how much an item costs per ounce or pound and makes it easier to compare costs across brand and quantities. You might be surprised to discover that some items you thought were less expensive actually cost more.

Tip 7: Cook in large batches.

The same principle also applies to cooking your recipes. Larger recipes mean you can eat the food for more meals, which means you won't have to cook as many different recipes and therefore won't need to buy as many ingredients. If you can't eat it all up before it goes bad, you can always freeze it and thaw it later.
crockpot soup

Tip 8: Use a slow cooker.

Speaking of cooking in bulk, using small kitchen appliances is a great way to cook a lot of food that can be used over multiple days. A slow cooker is an excellent way to do this while cutting down on the time you spend in the kitchen. As with all recipes, you do have to prep the food ahead of time by cutting vegetables, etc., but then you just put it all in the pot and let it cook on its own. Some popular and affordable slow cookers include Ninja, Instant Pot and Cuisinart.

Tip 9: Think about convenience vs. price.

Occasionally, paying a bit more for food you'll actually eat makes more financial sense. For example, whole raw carrots are cheaper than baby carrots, but if you know you won't take the time to peel and prepare them, you should buy the baby carrots instead of getting whole carrots and leaving them to rot.

Tip 10: Just say no to food waste.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American sends 218.9 pounds of food to disposal every year. That's more than four pounds of food waste every single week, which represents a lot of money. Try not to buy more ingredients than you need, and make a point of eating all your leftovers. It does no good to meal prep and then leave it sitting in your fridge until it goes bad.

Wrapping Up

Meal prep on a budget with these 10 tips for keeping costs low while cooking at home. If you're in the market for small kitchen appliances like slow cookers and rice makers to help with your meal prep journey, be sure to browse our selection.

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