Feeding a family is hard work. Heck, just feeding one person requires a lot of planning and effort. Personally, I take pride in being able to feed my family nutritious and budget-friendly meals.
I understand how determining what to eat and when can be overwhelming and cause most people to resort to expensive fast food and takeout. On top of that, that cost of food seems to be increasing overall so it’s important that families know how to meal prep and cook delicious but affordable meals.
Each month I keep tweaking and improving my meal planning strategy. Here are some of my best home cooking prep and meal ideas to save more money.
Meal Plan First, Then Shop
Don’t try to do this the other way around. When you feel it’s time to go to the grocery store, stop and pull out your meal plan to map out what you want to prepare. Sort through what’s in your cabinets to see if you can make a meal out of it. For example, if you see some leftover past in your cabinet, you may want to add some pasta sauce and chicken sausage to your grocery list to make a full meal.
We typically meal plan for 1-2 weeks and I write our shopping list based on the meals that are already on the plan. I picked up a small meal planning whiteboard that I stick on our fridge to keep track of what we’re preparing each night. This also helps eliminate food waste since I shop based on the meal plan.
In the past, I’d think of cool meals, shop for them, then forget what I wanted to make. I’d wonder why certain foods were in the fridge or freezer which often led to food waste. I’m so thankful for my improved meal planning methods that I use today.
Cook in Batches
Most people prefer not to cook each night. Even if you love cooking, it can be tiring after a long day. This results in the desire to pick up something quick from a restaurant for convenience. If you know that you prefer not to cook each night, plan ahead and cook some meals in batches.
We live on leftovers at my home and I purposely prepare batch meals like stews, crockpot dinners, and more because I know it will last us a few days and save both me and my husband from having to cook.
Try making a list of your favorite meals as well and trying out new recipes every now and then.
Consider Freezer Meals
No, I’m not talking about cheap TV dinners that you buy in the frozen section at the store. I’m talking about actually preparing your meals then freezing them to use later. If you’ve never heard of this concept before, you may want to try it.
We all have busy weeks and even times where we get off the meal plan. If you need something to eat for dinner and are low on options, you can always pull out a prepared meal from the freezer.
My Freez Easy is what I use to get delicious, easy, and budget-friendly freezer-meals and instructions.
Know the Shelf Life
It’s important to know the shelf life of certain foods to eliminate waste. If there’s an item in your fridge or pantry that always seems to go bad, make sure you look up how long it’s supposed to last after opening so you can plan to incorporate it into one of your meals.
For example, I always buy beef or chicken stocks for stews or other meals. In the past, I’d try to save the remainder of the box in the fridge but I’d notice it always seemed to go bad. When I looked on the container, the sell-by date would be several months away.
After researching the shelf-life date, I realized that once you open the container, it will only be good for 7 days in the refrigerator. Realize that you can also freeze some foods that are about to go bad as well. To check the appropriate storage time for all your foods, I’d recommend visiting EatByDate.com.
Look Up Recipes
Not sure what to prepare? Keep it simple and use the internet to your advantage. There are tons of recipe sites and videos showing how to make all kinds of meals. You can search for a meal you’re interested in making, or just list out the ingredients you have on hand in Google followed by the word ‘recipe’ to see what you come up with.
There have been times where I tried out recipes to mimic some of my favorite restaurant meals. I also recently started getting into cookbooks and sourcing new recipes that way.
Another clever option would be to look at meal ideas from meal delivery services like Hello Fresh and Acorns. They list out sample meals all the time and while you don’t have to sign up for their services, you can use their meal ideas as inspiration.
Keep It Simple
My final tip is to always keep it simple when you’re starting out with meal planning and prepping your food. Focus on putting ingredients together instead of buying ready-made food. Here are some easy and low-cost foods to prep for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Breakfast Meal Planning Ideas
- Boiled eggs
- Homemade pancakes or waffles
- Egg cups with cheese and spinach
Lunch Meal Planning Ideas
- Stir fry
- Salad with mixed greens + a protein
- Tuna salad
- Cheeseburger casserole
- Pasta salad
Dinner Meal Planning Ideas
- Beef stew
- Stuffed peppers
- Chicken alfredo
- Baked chicken
Learning how to plan and prep meals have saved me so much time and money. I hope you consider integrating some of these meal planning ideas the next time you shop for groceries.
Food is a necessary purchase but when you don’t have a plan or any guidelines it can easily balloon to a huge part of your budget. You can still eat well and eat healthy at a fraction of the cost by utilizing these meal planning ideas.