Meal prepping is shorthand lingo for meal preparation. It references a type of practice that involves planning/preparing meals ahead of time – which may mean prepping meals for several days or a week or more. Ultimately, the primary objective of preparing a meal in advance is to avoid unnecessary stress and save time and money when trying to maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet.
With some smart planning/shopping, saving money with meal prep is easily within reach.
Does Meal Prepping Save Money?
Yes, if done correctly, economical meal planning does pay off financially.
The most significant and inevitable drawback associated with dining out is its impact on your wallet. Eating a meal at a restaurant, on average, can be almost three times more expensive (or more in certain states) than preparing the meal at home. Over time, the cost of dining out can eventually add up to amounts equal to a car payment or consistent contributions to your retirement or savings accounts.
With inflation that once stood near historic levels, feeding your family has become challenging for many people. And while it is no secret that eating at home has always been more cost-effective than the convenience of dining out, many people negotiating the modern 21st-century landscape simply run out of time to prepare healthy meals when hunger strikes. So, in a pinch, they choose take-out or dine-out because there is no time.
According to the USDA Economic Research Service, in 2022, food prices increased by 9.9 percent. All food categories grew faster than their historical averages. The same USDA webpage reports that in November 2023, food prices were nearly 3 percent higher than the same time twelve months earlier.
The level of inflation varies and is dependent on where the food is consumed –
- The food-at-home CPI category showed a ½ percent decrease between October 2023 and November 2023; however, in November 2023, at-home food prices were 1.7 percent higher than a year prior.
- The food-away-from-home CPI category increased by 0.4 percent between October 2023 and November 2023; however, in November 2023, food-away prices were 5.3 percent higher than a year prior.
Other Benefits of Meal Prepping
In addition to saving money with meal prep, economical meal planning also provides these benefits–
- Better control over ingredients used.
- Allowance for portion and nutrition control, which can help with weight maintenance.
- Saves time on daily cooking needs.
- Reduction of stress by knowing meals are prepared.
10 Tips for Budget-Friendly Meal Prepping
Budget-friendly meals require planning but do not require you to compromise on nutrition. Simply follow a few of the following economical meal planning suggestions –
1. Plan Your Meals and Menus
Develop a weekly meal schedule centered around budget-friendly and versatile ingredients. Choose recipes that use readily available pantry essentials to reduce additional expenses.
Create a comprehensive menu and grocery list for your next trip to the store. When you have a plan in place, you will be much less likely to spend impulsively or mindlessly on fast food or convenience meals.
2. Choose to Purchase in Bulk
Buy non-perishable essentials and staples in larger quantities to capitalize on reduced per-unit prices. Look for bulk discounts on frozen vegetables, grains, proteins, etc.
In the long run, buying non-perishables in bulk helps you stockpile staples that last a long time and prevents impulsive decisions to eat out due to an empty pantry.
Dried beans, lentils, nuts, and rice are great items to buy in bulk.
3. Shop Smart
Make it a habit to compare prices at different stores, choosing the stores that offer the best deal for that week. Take advantage of coupons, cashback apps, and store loyalty programs to help save and stay up to date on current sales.
4. Use Frozen Produce
When fresh fruit/vegetables are out of season (and hugely expensive), choose frozen fruits and vegetables, which are just as nutritious as the fresh version of vegetables and fruit, only they offer a longer shelf life at a reduced price.
Often, produce is frozen at the peak of freshness, which offers better nutrition than fresh counterparts at times. Frozen veggies are for stir-fry lunches, soups, or crockpot meals. Frozen fruit is great for healthy baked goods, overnight oats, or part of a morning smoothie.
5. Select Seasonal and Sale Items
Plan meals around seasonal produce because these items are both fresh and affordable. In addition, check out store flyers and online coupons to take advantage of sales on items that have long shelf lives – like grains, dried beans, canned goods, and more.
6. Cook in Batches
Cook in large batches, as this helps reduce overall energy costs and maximizes your efficiency of time. For example, if chop meat is on sale, make two pans of lasagna. Freeze portion-sized pieces to make it easy to reheat for one or many dinner guests.
7. Limit Convenience Foods from the Grocery Store
Avoid a store’s pre-cut, pre-marinated foods because the price reflects the fact that your prep work has been done for you. Instead, purchase whole foods and prepare them yourself. In addition, buy snacks in bulk and individually package a snack-size portion yourself to save money.
8. Get Creative and Repurpose Leftovers
Transform your leftovers into new and delicious meal options. For example, reinvent your grilled chicken by using it in a salad or sandwich. Use the chicken bones to craft a delicious soup or broth – add other leftovers to create a tasty meal.
9. Make Do-It-Yourself Snacks
It is more cost-effective to make your own snacks. Consider making your own popcorn, trail mix, etc. Invest in earth-friendly reusable containers to use for your portions rather than overspending needlessly on single-serve portions.
10. Minimize Food Waste
Store perishables properly, as this helps to extend their freshness. Use leftovers quickly so there is no food waste. For example, do not toss those roast chicken bones or your vegetable scraps in the trash; use them to create homemade stock that can be stored in the freezer.
Avoiding Common Meal Prep Financial Mistakes
As you consider your budget-friendly meal ideas, avoid these common pitfalls –
- Failing to create a shopping list, which causes shopping inefficiencies and impulse buying.
- Not designating and sticking time a food preparation timing plan
- Failing to appropriate portion prepared meals
- Not properly storing meals or labeling containers appropriately with dates and contents identifiers.
- Not reheating food properly.
- Overbuying perishable goods leads to food waste.
Does meal prepping save money? The answer is a resounding YES.
Meal planning is one of the best ways to save on the cost of food while making sure you are eating a balanced and nutritious overall diet. In addition, being thrifty in the kitchen is all about getting creative and seeing the potential in everything.
Start small and build on your success, because the best motivation is watching yourself learn how not to waste money in a world where overspending and impulse buying are the primary objectives of some high-paid marketing masters.