A delicious home-cooked meal that’s quick to prepare and budget-friendly? That’s a win-win. But for anyone who regularly cooks at home, you know that quick and affordable don’t usually go together. (The grocery shopping and cleanup alone can take as much time as the cooking!) But this doesn’t have to be the case. In an exclusive interview with First for Women, celebrity chef Rachael Ray says that the key to making cooking on a tight budget and an even tighter schedule is proper meal prep. Ray’s tips for efficient meal prepping – how to do it and how much time and money it will save you – are below.
Meal prepping helps save time and money.
If you’re new to meal prepping, it involves getting a complete meal (or multiple meals) ready to cook or reheat later. Just like making a to-do list helps you identify priority tasks, a meal plan helps you identify necessary ingredients. Sitting down at the start of each week to decide what to cook, when to cook, and what you’ll need to buy, will save you tremendous time during the week. (The phrase “a stitch in time saves nine” comes to mind.) Ray also points to the budgeting benefit that comes from cooking in advance and making ingredients from scratch. “The more you get into cooking, the more power you have over your budget,” she says. “I was largely raised by my grandpa. My mama was his first born, but when she was at work, grandpa was in the kitchen and he was always cooking. So, I know how to butcher a chicken, make stock, freeze, blanch vegetables, and process foods to be very budget-conscious.”
You’ll reduce food waste.
Another perk of meal prep? There’s hardly any food waste – whether you’re getting the ingredients ready to store in the fridge and freezer or you’re buying a meal prep kit that’s delivered direct to your door. Ray’s new partnership with Home Chef (a weekly meal delivery service) is a prime example of this. “When you buy a [prepared] kit, you know the cost of that meal and you’re getting just enough to make that meal,” she explains. “So you’re not going to end up with food waste, right? And right now with inflated prices on every item, that’s a huge plus.”
For six months, Ray’s recipes will be available for delivery to Home Chef customers. (There are 26 recipes in all, including Buffalo-Style Turkey Chili, Pork Chops with Sweet Onions and Apples, and Tilapia Piccata.) This marks the first time in her 20-year career that Ray has partnered with a food delivery service. “We met in the middle [when developing the kits], which was lovely, and we’ll see what the reaction is. We just want to make cooking and dinner a little easier for people,” she says.
You can be more creative.
Finding dinner inspiration can be tricky, especially if you have specific dietary needs or picky eaters in your home. But Ray knows how to avoid a cooking rut while also appeasing everyone at the table. “The more adventurous you are with your life, the more adventurous you will be in the kitchen,” she notes. “Talk to people you don’t normally talk to. Try a cuisine you’ve never tried. The more adventurous you are as a human, the more you talk to people and educate yourself as to what they like to eat, [the more] you’ll find yourself trying new things.”