“Is it even possible to meal prep on a budget?”
The answer is a resounding Yes!
Before we go on, let’s get the stigma out of the way.
Choosing to meal prep on a budget doesn’t make you “cheap” and it certainly doesn’t mean you need to starve yourself or that you’re limited to scrap food.
We all have various reasons why we want to save money and eating healthily can definitely be affordable.
In light of our new circumstances brought about by the Coronavirus (COVID-19), we all need to start making smart decisions for ourselves in case of any unexpected circumstances or unlikely emergencies we may need to deal with.
One of the best places to begin with is cutting down on your grocery bill.
It just takes some creativity and the willingness to be flexible in your diet for you to effectively meal prep on a budget.
That’s how you save both money AND time.
With that let’s get started.
Here’s a quick rundown below.
HOW TO MEAL PREP ON A BUDGET
- Create A List (and stick to it)
- Check Your Pantry Stock
- Plan Your Meals
- Buy Only What You Need
- Don’t Shop Hungry
- Shop For Deals
- Buy Generic Brand Products
- Buy In Bulk
- Purchase In Season Items
- Save On Produce
- Shop The Perimeter
- Stock Up On Non-Perishables
- Cook In Batches
- Make Use of Leftovers
- Add Some Variety to Your Meals
- Buy Less Meat
- Use Coupons
- Stay Away From The Junk Food
- Shop Online
- Invest In The Right Kitchen Appliances
- Do What Works For You
21 Smart Ways to Meal Prep On A Budget
1 - Create A List
If you want to save money on meal prep, you need to create a list.
If you really want to save money on meal prep then you need to create a list AND stick to it!
The last thing you need when you’re shopping on a budget is to walk into a store and buy things haphazardly.
90% of the time you’ll end up without the items you needed in the first place.
Maybe the 90% is a bit exaggerated but truth is if you go grocery shopping without a list you’re more likely to spend more than you need to.
Create your list and stick to it.
2 - Check Your Pantry Stock
You should always take a look at what you have at home before you head out to the store.
It’s the easiest way to avoid duplicate items and there’s no point spending money on things you already have.
Plus it is an effective way to save time to actually meal prep.
You really don’t want to make multiple trips to the store just to return different items.
In my experience it’s always the smallest things that end up costing you – spices, condiments, veggies, etc.
3 - Plan Your Meals
Once you have your list and know what’s in your inventory your next step should be to plan your meals.
If you know exactly what you’re going to make ahead of time then it’s so much easier to stick to your budget.
The whole point of planning is to help you shop with purpose.
4 - Buy Only What You Need
This is where the 3 previous points come full circle.
If you’re on a tight budget or want to save money, you really need to avoid buying stuff just in anticipation for your next recipe.
What usually ends up happening is you probably change your mind in the future then all those things just sit in your pantry or refrigerator for months.
Even worse you end up forgetting about them.
All of that not only prevents you from saving money but could potentially lead to food waste.
I know firsthand it’s tough to resist the temptation but try to stick to what you need at the moment.
5 - Don't Shop Hungry
Do. Not. Shop. Hungry!
The hungrier you are, the more food you buy.
Not only that but also the more likely you are to buy junk food.
In fact the temptation doesn’t end only with food. Hunger actually makes you more inclined to buy anything else.
It’s really not a good idea to go shopping on an empty belly.
6 - Shop For Deals
Sales and discounts are always a good thing but even more so when you’re working with a limited budget.
Be careful with sales though. You don’t need to go buying everything with a yellow tag on it.
Look at the prices and compare them to make sure you’re actually getting a good deal on that item.
Just because an item is discounted doesn’t mean it is the best option to save you some money.
7 - Buy Generic Brand Products
A lot of people cringe at the thought of buying store brand products but they really aren’t as bad as you may have been led to think.
There are many generic brands that taste just about the same as name brand items and are equally as nutritious.
The upside is the generic brands are much cheaper and affordable which is what you need when you’re meal prepping on a budget.
If you’re curious you can always check the labels and the ingredient lists to make sure you’re getting products of similar quality.
8 - Buy In Bulk
This is sort of a two-edged sword because if you’re not careful then buying in bulk can be costly.
There’s a big difference between buying more than you need or overstocking (see point #4) versus “getting your money’s worth.”
If you know you’re going to be using a lot of a specific item then it makes sense to buy a lot of it at once.
For example I personally use a lot of rice and chicken for my meal prep so it’s smart of me to buy them in bulk especially when they’re on sale.
It’s more cost efficient at that point.
If you’re not going to be using the entire item then it’s best to stick to what you need at the moment.
9 - Purchase in Season Items
Food that is in season is typically at the peak of its supply which means you can buy them at a much lower price.
It’s basic supply vs demand.
Another added benefit is in season items are also usually fresh and highest in nutritional content at that point.
10 - Save On Produce
It’s cheaper to buy produce by the bag or pound compared to the chopped or pre-cut items.
You should also consider buying frozen produce if they’re on sale.
They last longer in your freezer and often contain just as much nutritional value as the fresh ones.
11 - Shop The Perimeter
Perimeter shopping (yes, that’s a thing!) is another excellent way to cut down on your grocery bill.
The outer perimeter usually contains healthy foods at a much lower price (although some stores are starting to get smart).
The idea here is you want to stay away from navigating the aisles as much as possible so you’re less likely to pick up extra stuff.
12 - Stock Up On Non-Perishables
If you’re buying in bulk then you should consider items with a long shelf life.
The non-perishables obviously last longer and the fewer grocery runs save you both time and money.
13 - Cook in Batches
Batch cooking is exactly what the name suggests – cooking food in batches.
You may think it’s a lot of work but it’s really worth the effort when you’re meal prepping on a tight budget.
- It keeps you away from the grocery store.
- Makes it easier for you to resist the temptation to order out.
- It is cheaper than making individual meals in the long run.
14 - Make Use of Leftovers
If you make a huge meal, then make use of your leftovers.
And not just the food, you can also be creative with any leftover grocery items you buy.
There are a thousand different recipes you can make with rice for example.
Leftovers are just another way to reduce unnecessary spending.
15 - Add Some Variety to Your Meals
Broadening your palette is not only a good way for you to create balanced meals but it can actually help with your budget.
You’d be surprised at how many cheaper options there are out there once you decide to try something new.
16 - Buy Less Meat
If you’re a meat lover then you’re probably going to grapple with this point.
But the simple truth is meat is expensive especially for anyone on a small budget.
If you really need to then you should go for the cheaper cuts.
Or better yet you can use different substitutes to maintain an adequate protein intake.
17 - Use Coupons
This is self explanatory.
But you still need to make sure you’re actually getting a good deal with whatever coupon it is you’re using.
Some stores also offer price matching which is another option you can take advantage of.
18 - Stay Away from the Junk Food
As tempting as it may be, splurging on junk food will do you no good when you’re trying to meal prep on a budget.
The cost of the snacks, the drive-throughs and all the takeout orders all add up.
19 - Shop Online
This works best if you’re someone who is easily distracted when you go to the store.
Another added benefit is you can actually watch for the total cost in your online cart instead of a surprise at the register.
Keep in mind that there are usually some fees associated with online shopping so you may need to factor that into your overall costs as well.
If online shopping isn’t quite your thing then another alternative is to shop different stores for deals.
20 - Invest in the Right Kitchen Appliances
Spending some money upfront on the right kitchen appliances can actually help save you some money – if you actually use them!
If you drink a lot of coffee for example then a coffee maker is a lot more cost efficient than Starbucks everyday.
If you enjoy juicing then maybe get an affordable juicer.
I personally think an instant pot is a lifesaver for anyone who meal preps a lot.
The appliances may seem expensive at the moment but if it’s something you use often then you’ll be saving more money in the long run.
21 - Do What Works For You
There is no right or wrong way to meal prep.
What matters most is that you’re able to achieve your goals in whatever capacity that may be.
You don’t need to compare yourself to what others are doing online if your budget doesn’t allow you to.
What works for you is totally fine and there’s nothing wrong with prepping within your means.
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Sample Cheap Meal Prep Grocery Lists
In need for some inspiration?
Here are a few sample cheap grocery lists to help you meal prep on a budget.
Use them to get an idea of the kind of items you can buy at affordable prices and create your own list that works best for you.
200+ Budget Friendly Meal Prep Ideas
Not quite a definitive list but here are some incredible recipes you can use to meal prep on a budget.
They’re all healthy and certainly won’t break the bank.
These lists were created by some incredible bloggers so be sure to show them some appreciation if you check them out.
Cheap Breakfast Ideas on a Budget
Cheap Lunch Ideas on a Budget
Cheap Dinner Ideas on a Budget
Choosing to make your own meals doesn’t have to be expensive.
You can very well eat healthy and meal prep on a budget.
It ultimately comes down to some creativity, understanding your limitations and the willingness to spend no more than you can afford.
To be fair, we all have different interpretations of what a “budget” looks like so there really isn’t any right or wrong answer here.
However if you’re on a tight budget or just need to cut down on your grocery bill then all the tips mentioned above are going to help you.
At the end of the day you need to make the most of what you have.
Yes it is.
Making your own meals is definitely cheaper compared to the added the costs of dining out or ordering food all the time.
The average meal prep for a week can range anywhere from as low as $25/week to about $150/week (if you’re on a budget).
You have to keep in mind that there are several things that will affect the price such as the number of people you’re feeding and how many meals you plan on making each week.
The average meal prep will last about 3-5 days in your refrigerator.
Anything longer than that should be kept in your freezer.
Frozen foods can last 3-4 months as long as they’re foods that freeze well.
Here’s a list of 20 best healthy foods to buy on a budget:
- Oats & Oatmeal
- Fresh Vegetables
- Fresh Fruits
- Brown Rice
- Multigrain Pasta
- Wheat Bread
- Low-fat Dairy
- Peanut Butter
- Grains (Beans, Peanuts, Walnuts, Lentils, etc.)
- Lean Meats (inexpensive cuts)
- Canned foods (tuna, sardines, sauces, vegetables, etc)
- Frozen veggies & fruits (if they’re on sale)
- Seasonings & Condiments
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