Scroll through TikTok or Instagram, and you’re likely to see countless influencers discussing their meal prep routines. While some people meal prep so they can stick to their diet every week, others do it for the cost-savings, since buying food in bulk (and freezing what you can’t use right now) is one of the best ways to save on food costs.
Overall, meal prep is one of the best things you can do if you’re looking to save money and cut calories, and thankfully you don’t have to be a weightlifting champion-in-training or spend your entire weekend food shopping and prepping in order to reap its benefits. Here’s a look at the top 10 secrets of successful meal preppers, and how you can use their tried-and-true philosophies and best practices to get started.
Designate One Day a Week for Meal Prep
Thankfully, meal prep doesn’t have to be a 7-day-per-week gig. Hardly. I keep my Sundays open for cleaning, grocery shopping and batch cooking, and I encourage you to do the same. Doing everything in one day helps me know exactly what my week will look like in terms of food and groceries, which helps me prevent overspending when I’m out. The only tricky part here is that if you want to be successful, you have to carve out time every week. Otherwise your best intentions will get thrown to the wayside, and you’ll find yourself ordering takeout again before you know it.
Check Your Inventory (A.K.A. Your Pantry)
Before you shop, take a long look inside your pantry and fridge and see what ingredients you already have. And yes, this means getting your step ladder out and finding that giant jug of garlic powder that got pushed to the very back, or those cans of chickpeas that you know you have but can’t seem to remember where you put them. Before you buy anything new, plan your next few meals around those ingredients so you’ll use them before they spoil, and your next grocery bill will be lower as a result. A win-win.
And try not to stress too much about what you don’t have. If you haven’t been cooking for long, you probably don’t own every spice on the market, and that’s okay. Each week as you buy ingredients for new recipes, you’ll slowly build your spice rack and other vital ingredients such as vinegar, oils, sriracha, etc. As much as you may be ready to become a master chef overnight, you don’t need everything right this very second.
Write Up a Weekly Meal Plan & List
When you do make it to the grocery store, it’s important that you go in prepared with a list… And not just for dinner. If you can, plan ahead and think about what you want to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and maybe a snack or two!) Google or Pinterest the recipes you think you’ll want to make for your three daily meals and write down all the ingredients you need to buy.
Limit Trips to The Grocery Store
Also, try to work toward cutting back on your overall number of trips to the grocery store. If you can get everything you need in one trip per week, you’ll find your monthly bills will be lower overall since there will be fewer impulse buys happening (and less money spent on gas, too!)
Check the Serving Size(s) of the Recipes You’re Making
How many people are you cooking for each week? If you’re cooking for yourself, try to opt for recipes that will give you five servings so you’re covered for every day of the work week. Or if you’re cooking for yourself and a partner or parent, opt for a recipe that will yield 10 servings. The important thing is that you make meal prep work for you and your lifestyle. For example, if every Friday you have a standing lunch date with a friend, then you’ll only need to cook four lunch portions that week. Keep in mind that some recipes may need to be doubled, tripled, or cut in half in order to work. As you’re computing your costs, this should be part of the equation.
Check Your Tools & Containers
We don’t all have the kind of luxurious kitchens we’ve salivated over on Food Network. But hopefully you do have the basics, including pots and pans, mixing bowls, measuring cups, a good knife, a spatula, a can opener, etc. If there’s a gadget you find you’re continually missing but that’s a big expense (like a blender, for example) check out your local Buy Nothing group and see if someone might be giving one away. (You can post in the group with your #ISO, which stands for “in search of.”) Oftentimes, people give away kitchen equipment when they’re moving, so the end of the month may be your best opportunity to score some freebies.
Also, true meal prep warriors know the importance of good storage containers for each portion once your food is ready. Ideally, you’ll invest in glass containers, the kind that you can freeze and microwave. These should also be dishwasher-safe and preferably have similar lids so there’s not a lot of confusion in your cabinets. (We like the Pyrex Fresh Lock and the Snapware sets!)
Batch Cook and Enjoy
Once it’s finally time to cook, it’s also time to get excited. Don’t be scared if you’re a novice chef — if you can read, you can cook. Just follow the recipe carefully, and you’ll be fine. Once you’re done making the food, divide everything up evenly into your different containers and store them in the fridge for an easy grab-and-go option in the mornings.
If you’re looking for inspiration, try to think of your cooking as a weekly activity, and make it a fun project. You’ve got 52 weeks each year to think of something delicious and creative to make, but it’s not like you’re on your own in the ideas department. Keep a pinterest board. Save reels on Instagram and keep them in a folder as an easy reference. Save TikTok videos. In this modern era we live in, it won’t take the algorithm long to pick up on your favorite foods, and before you know it, you’ll feel like every recipe that pops up on your feed is made just for you!
Find a Community
Don’t stop at the Buy Nothing groups. There are social media groups for all kinds of cooks: moms of picky eaters, folks doing the Whole30, Keto, Paleo, Vegan, etc. A quick search of the terms you’re most interested in should take you right to your people. You can even find groups that may gather in-person via Meetup or Facebook.
Challenge Your Friends
And if you don’t immediately find a community, consider doing a meal prep challenge with your friends, or make it a 2023 goal to try a new recipe every week with your BFF. You both may find a new favorite recipe, because learning to cook and planning meals for yourself is a lot more delicious when people are there to support your financial and dietary goals.
More from HerMoney:
- 5 Affordable Meal Ideas to Try This Week With Recipes
- The Foods You Need to Buy in Bulk to Save Money
- How to Cut Out Food Waste and Save Money in the Process
- The 8 Best Food Swaps to Make During Inflation
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