How to Meal Prep on a Budget

When you hear the phrase 'meal prep', what do you think of?  Copious amounts of grilled chicken, sweet potatoes, and brown rice, arranged in perfectly portioned containers?  A monotonous task (and weekly menu) that takes up your entire Sunday?  Luckily, meal prepping does NOT have to be like this (contrary to what you've seen on Instagram).  With the proper technique and recipe selection, it takes little time to prepare delicious, unique weekly meals that help you save money and stay on track with your wellness goals.  Want proof?  See below for details from an All-Inspired Wellness Meal Prep 101 session.  

With only 13 ingredients (pictured above), we prepared 5 days worth of breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals for only $27!!  Selecting from the All-Inspired Wellness recipe index, the client chose a Mediterranean Frittata, Low-Carb Tuna Melts, and Southwestern Chicken Soup to prepare for the week.  The preparation of all three was very simple and took us less that 1.5 hours total!  Each recipe also involved different protein and vegetables to add variety and give her a well-rounded nutrition profile.  

Check out the tips below to make your meal prep as quick and easy as ours:

Meal prep on your least busy day(s) of the week

A lot of people assume that meal prepping has to be done on a Sunday afternoon, however, meal prepping can be done any day of the week! In fact, some people who meal prep later in the week, on a Thursday or Friday, have better success sticking to their nutrition plan over the weekend.  To prepare the recipes above, we spent less than 1.5 hours cooking and only 10 minutes cleaning!  Choose one or two days in the week where you have a little extra time and plan ahead to have your ingredients ready to go. 

Plan before you shop

The night before shopping, make a grocery list composed of only the ingredients in your recipes for the week.  Doing so will decrease your likelihood of deviating from that list, because you know all of the ingredients are enough to get you through the week.  Planning your weekly menu before you're at the grocery store also prevents wasting money.  As you can see from the picture above, preparing ahead helps you select simple ingredients that give you the most nutrient bang for your buck. 

STICK TO YOUR LIST

Thanks to the brilliant minds of junk food marketers, we all have the tendency to spend a little too long in the processed food aisles (especially with kids!).  To avoid this, shop the perimeter of the grocery store and only go into the center aisles for something on your list.  The majority of your shopping cart should be fruits, vegetables, and lean meat, especially if you're buying whole grain starches in bulk (for example quinoa, rolled oats, brown rice).  

Buy in-season (fresh) or frozen produce

Most of the time you can find great deals on in-season produce at your local grocery store or farmer's market.  It can get a little trickier to do so during the winter months, when frozen produce is your better option.  Most fruits and vegetables are frozen at their peak of ripeness so can be even more nutrient dense than their unripe, fresh counterparts.  Though it can be the cheapest option, avoid canned produce, which generally have a lot of added sodium or sugar.

Cut up vegetables the moment you get home, even if you don't have time for the entire meal prep

Vegetables tend to be the number one food item thrown away.  Why?  Because they take more effort to prepare than processed snacks and tend to get lost/forgotten in the refrigerator.  In order to increase your likelihood of actually consuming all the vegetables you purchased, cut them up the second you get home from the grocery store.  It only takes a few minutes to chop and store them for the week, and doing this prevents you from having to wash knives and cutting boards daily.  Once the vegetables are cut up, make sure to put them in the front and center of your refrigerator.  Studies show that we're most likely to choose snacks in our line of eyesight, so doing this will set yourself up for success! 

Utilize crock pots and slow cookers when you're REALLY short on time

It only takes an extra 5 minutes in the morning to throw some meat into the slow-cooker.  If you've previously prepped your veggies and whole grain starches for the week, you can come home from work and whip a meal together in no time.  My favorite quick and easy recipe is putting a jar of salsa in the crock pot with any sort of shreddable meat (pork, lean beef, or chicken breast).  If you do this in the morning, you will come home to tender, flavorful meat you can easily make into a meal with tortillas (whole grain or lettuce wraps), Greek yogurt (instead of sour cream) and sliced avocado.  Simple and delicious!

Invest in high quality Tupperware for safe re-heating

Sure, the higher quality containers may cost you a couple extra dollars, but they'll last a lot longer than the cheap ones (goodbye easily torn lids that make you feel like the hulk!).  It's important to look for containers that are BPA free and microwave safe if you're going to be heating food inside them.  Even though these are a lot safer than the generic, flimsy alternatives, glass containers are your best option in preventing chemicals from leaching into your food.

Prep foods you actually enjoy 

One of the most common reasons people give up on meal prepping is because they're cooking healthy, yet BORING dishes week after week.  If you eat the same flavorless meal every day, you're likely to say 'screw it' and order out (costing more money AND calories).  To keep your taste-buds interested, prepare simple recipes with ingredients you already enjoy.  Pasta-lover?  Make zucchini lasagna or meaty marinara with spaghetti squash.  Pizza-lover?  Try cauliflower crust or portobello mushroom caps for a base.  

Eating healthy can be as simple as making substitutions to consume more nutrients and help you feel better daily.  To take the guess-work out of meal prepping, book a session of Meal Prep 101 and try it out for yourself.  With All-Inspired Wellness's wide variety of recipes, there are meal options for everyone to enjoy.  You'll be surprised how much easier your life can become when you have simple, healthy meals for every day of the week!