After you learn how to meal prep from experts like Nikki Sharp, you probably want to make every recipe under the sun and stock your fridge to the brim with color-coordinated Tupperware containers. Not so fast! While meal prep can be an excellent way to help you to eat healthier and manage your time better, it can also get pretty darn expensive if you're not careful.
As tempting as it might be to stock up on exotic ingredients and create a to-do list full of complex dishes, it's best to start small when you're new to meal prep. Once you get comfortable budgeting your grocery runs for your specific needs (and for anyone else in your home who wants to try meal prep), then you can branch out and explore the virtually endless possibilities. But first, check out the best ways to save money on meal prep below.
1. Opt for meals that freeze well.
Freezer-friendly meals will allow you to make a big batch of dishes that you can save for later. That way, you don't feel pressured to eat more food during the week than you're able to. Bonus: This will give you a little bit of a break if you don't feel like cooking too much the next week.
While most foods can be frozen, there are a few ingredients that should never go in the freezer, so double-check your recipes for any of them beforehand. Also, keep in mind that some foods freeze better than others. Most original recipe authors will note whether their dish is meant to be frozen, so always check before going to town with a batch. The last thing you want is to be left with a giant mushy mess that you don't even want to eat!
2. Try "pre-prepping" your meat before the actual prep.
Good news: Many popular meat cuts last longer in the freezer than you might think. Check the freezer expiration date on your chicken or beef (or whatever meat you're using), and then simply cut, prep, and freeze your protein until you're ready for the final step: cooking. Don't forget to put your meat in a freezer-friendly container or bag and mark it with the date that you put the food inside.
3. Start buying your pantry staples in bulk.
Dried beans and legumes are excellent sources of plant-based protein, and they can offer a healthy addition to a virtually endless list of meals. When it's cold outside, they can shine in your soups and stews. And when it's warm out, they can serve as a great salad topping. This practice can also be helpful when it comes to healthy complex carbs, such as brown rice and whole-grain oats.
4. Look for produce that's in season.
There's no question that healthy meals typically involve lots of produce, but unfortunately these nutritious foods can be pricey. However, some fruits and veggies are less expensive when they're in season, according to the Produce for Better Health Foundation. And if you happen upon an especially good deal, you can always buy in bulk and freeze any leftovers for later.
5. Don't ignore frozen or canned produce.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, canned fruits and veggies are canned at their peak freshness. So, as long as you opt for canned food with no added sugar or sodium, you can feel good about your less expensive choice. Frozen produce also tends to be cheaper than fresh produce, and it's just as nutritious and delicious.
6. Embrace breakfast food — even if it's not breakfast time.
Eggs are not only chock-full of protein and health benefits, they're also an inexpensive way to create a base for your meal prep. For example, consider a frittata (also known as a crustless quiche). A customizable baked egg dish, the frittata allows you to add whatever ingredients fit your mood that week (protein, veggies, cheese, leftover food etc.). Sounds like a tasty lunch to us.
Not a fan of eggs? Oats can also be an inexpensive way to fill your plate anytime during the day. Plus, adding ingredients like peanut butter and chia seeds can easily up the amount of protein of the dish, not to mention the tastiness.
7. Remember that simplicity is key.
As long as the ingredients are healthy, 4-ingredient and 5-ingredient meals are your friends when it comes to meal prep. Don't feel tempted to stress yourself out putting together a restaurant-worthy dish every single week. Instead, give yourself a break and cut yourself some slack: not every meal you eat needs to be a gourmet experience. Save that for a weekend outing at a restaurant — they call it "treating yourself" for a reason!