Eating healthy foods on a budget is a significant challenge and a leading factor in obesity around the world. However, meal prepping can help you save money by preparing healthy meals in advance to produce a week or so of quick, inexpensive, and healthy meals. But where do you start? Creating a cheap meal prep grocery list is a big hurdle many people have yet to attempt to try it in their homes.
Thankfully, we can help people on a tight budget create a healthy meal prep grocery list that won’t break the bank. We’ll talk about several inexpensive items you can (and should) add to your grocery list. Then, we’ll discuss ways that you can keep these products fresh for a long time. You should feel comfortable creating an affordable and healthy grocery list when you’re done reading.
Building Your Cheap Grocery List for Meal Prep
Your grocery list is the backbone of your meal prep. A detailed, affordable, and high-quality list of delicious foods can help you make tasty and healthy dishes that your whole family will love. Thankfully, there are many surprisingly affordable food options that can reduce your budget and ensure you eat well. Let’s take a look at these items by food type to ensure that you’re satisfied with your options.
Your body needs protein to build muscles, maintain organ health, improve your digestion, provide strong energy levels, balance your hormone levels, support a proper pH level, and regulate fluids in your body. Often, they make up the most expensive portion of your grocery list. Thankfully, many protein sources store very easily, which helps make them affordable when purchased properly, such as:
- Pork Chops: Pork chops are not among the most popular meats but have minimal fat, pair well with various types of seasonings, and are fairly affordable.
- Kielbasa: Kielbasa works well in many recipes and is usually quite affordable, especially when purchased directly from a butcher.
- Eggs: The great thing about eggs is that they’re so useful in many meals. You can eat them as a main dish or a side dish or use them to bake various foods.
- Canned Tuna: Even in today’s post-inflation economy, canned tuna and other types of fish are affordable and healthy, making them a great investment.
- Chickpeas: Did you know that chickpeas are a strong source of protein? They’re also easy to integrate into various meals and never very expensive.
- Ground Turkey: Most grocery stores charge less for ground turkey because it’s not as popular. That said, it’s useful as an inexpensive beef replacement in many meals.
Fruits and Vegetables
While everyone knows that fruits and vegetables support their health, they’re typically costlier and don’t last as long. That said, there are many great fruits and veggies that will last longer than you might think and reduce your food budget. Here are just a few healthy and inexpensive produce items that you should add to your cheap meal prep grocery list:
- Bananas: While bananas might initially seem kind of expensive, they last a pretty long time and work well as a snack or as an ingredient in bread and cakes.
- Apples: When properly stored, apples can last for weeks and provide you with a healthy ingredient for various meals.
- Bell Peppers: Bell peppers are definitely underrated as a food staple but are very healthy, inexpensive, and easy to store for a long time.
- Potatoes, Onions, Cabbage, Carrots: These staple foods are so widely available that they’re inexpensive in most areas. They’re also easy to integrate into various meals.
- Garlic: Buying whole or minced garlic isn’t that expensive, and you can add it to just about every meal to bring a touch of flavor and health.
- Green Beans: Yes, this classic vegetable is typically very inexpensive and adaptable to just about every meal situation, making them a great investment.
Tasty grains (whole and multi varieties) provide you with a heavy dose of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein, and other ingredients to lower your heart attack, stroke, obesity, and diabetes risk. They also improve your digestion, reduce chronic inflammation, and may reduce cancer risks. Even better, they’re among the cheapest and healthiest foods and include:
- Rices: Try to buy brown rice or couscous instead of white rice because they’re just as cheap and provide far more health benefits.
- Beans: Various bean types (including red and kidney types) provide a dense source of fiber and protein and are almost always as cheap as dirt.
- Pasta: Inexpensive pasta is a staple diet of poor college students and is a great option for meal prep because it’s easy to cook and very healthy.
- Oats: The best oats provide the most fiber-dense grains and can work well in many meals. The easiest ways to eat them include cereals, granolas, and oatmeal.
Healthy dairy foods provide you with a strong source of protein, calcium, saturated fat, vitamin A, and various B vitamins. Fortified dairy is also one of the best ways to get vitamin D, an often difficult-to-obtain mineral. Thankfully, there are inexpensive options that can work well for your meal prep and save you good money. These items include:
- Oat Milk: While oat milk might seem more expensive initially than dairy milk, it lasts far longer in the fridge, meaning you won’t have to worry as much about spoilage as you do with cow or goat milk.
- Yogurt: Yogurt provides a healthy source of various microbes that you need for gut health. It’s also diverse enough to use in many meals, making it a great investment.
- Block Cheese: Rather than buying specialized block or sliced cheeses, just buy discount block cheeses that you can slice for your meals or shred to make a simple salad topping.
Tips for Cost-Effective Meal Planning
Now that you have a very in-depth cheap meal prep grocery list let’s take a look at a few of the best cost-effective meal planning tips. These focus heavily on buying foods that maximize your savings and reduce your risk of waste or spoilage. Make sure that you:
- Buy items in bulk to reduce shopping trips and have plenty of ingredients for prepping
- Start with what you already have and base your meals on that
- Purchase seasonal produce to cut back on your expenses further
- Focus on diverse foods, like rice and eggs, to use in multiple meals
- Buy foods based on sales to save yourself even more money
- Set and stick to a strict budget and eliminate unhealthy snacks
- Download food rescue apps to identify huge sales of surplus foods
- Sign up for loyalty programs, use coupons, and price-match deals online
- Support local farmer’s markets, as they often provide fresh and inexpensive foods
How to Store and Preserve Ingredients Economically
At this point, you probably have a pretty good idea of what foods you want to include on your cheap meal prep grocery list. However, it’s important to utilize proper storage tips to keep these items fresh and save yourself even more money. Thankfully, there are multiple techniques that you can use that can provide you with these benefits. Let’s examine a few of the most popular options.
The cheapest way to preserve your meal prep dishes is to refrigerate them. This option requires minimal preparation and reduces mineral and vitamin loss. Furthermore, it keeps your meals fresh and ready to eat. Obviously, meals will spoil faster when just refrigerated. Here’s a tip: store foods you plan on eating that week in the fridge and prepare the others for different storage options.
If you’re looking to save your food a long time and save yourself money, try canning. It requires you to clean all the food you plan on canning and store it in lemon juice or vinegar in air-tight, self-sealing containers. While you’ll lose 30-50% of some vitamins and minerals when canning fruits, meats, and other foods, they’ll last a long time and cook pretty easily when you need them.
Many people freeze foods to keep them for a very long time. You must store each item in carefully sealed plastic bags and containers to help them stay fresh and avoid freezer burn. We like this option for people on a very tight budget because it’s inexpensive – most people already have a fridge in their home to use. The downside? You lose a lot of vitamins and minerals.
Drying or Dehydrating
While dehydrating or drying your foods costs a little more, it can potentially preserve them almost indefinitely. For example, you can buy a drying or dehydrating machine to remove the fluid from fruits and make them into cheap snacks. The vitamins and minerals do tend to stay strong with this process, though sugar increases. If properly air-sealed, your food can last for months or longer.
By now, you should feel pretty comfortable creating a cheap meal prep grocery list that saves you money and keeps you and your family healthy. Remember: meal prep doesn’t have to feel like an impossible challenge! Nor does it have to cause you serious financial problems. When done correctly, meal prep will improve your finances and diet and ensure you’re satisfied with your meals.
Please don’t hesitate to experiment with these fun, healthy, and budget-friendly meals and find ways to make them even better! For example, mixing various proteins, like chicken and tofu, into a grain bowl can help you to create a potent, healthy, and diverse meal. The choice is yours, so make sure that you play around with what’s available to find a grocery list that makes the most sense.