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Every once in a while you come across an idea that completely changes the way you do something.
Marie Kondo changed the face of organization and doing away with hoarders all across the country. Seriously, raise your hand if Marie Kondo has had an influence in your home.
There’s a short list of ideas that have revolutionized my life in some way. There might be more, but these are the ones that stand out.
- The interlock grip to make me a better golfer
- Living on a budget to get out of debt
- Learning to trust Jesus more than myself
- Learning how to meal prep to save time and money in the kitchen
While I’d love to tell you story after story about my golf game, you probably don’t care that much. You’re probably here to read stories about saving money. So today I’m going to share everything I know about meal prep.
These are things my family has learned in the last few years to really make our money stretch and survive on $60 a week food budget.
Hopefully a few of these tips will help you save time and money cooking meals from home.
Changing Your Habits Doesn’t Happen Overnight
The first thing I want to stress is that you might not be able to implement all of these tips at once. That’s okay! Master one or two steps at a time, and slowly add more to your plate. Eventually you’ll be able to apply all of these tips with relative ease.
Let me tell you a quick story.
Right now I’m in my 8th year teaching middle school history. I’m definitely not the best teacher in the world, but I’m pretty damn good at what I do. But that didn’t happen overnight.
I still remember my first year of teaching, and it was pretty disastrous. In my head, I had all of these theories and strategies I learned in college of how to challenge students to be their best, the best research based instructional strategies, and I figured my enthusiasm would make my students crazy interested in what I was teaching.
Boy was I wrong.
During my first year, I had students sitting under tables shrieking, kids eating the erasers off their pencils (are you freaking kidding me!), so many assignments not turned in, and behavior I couldn’t control.
There are so many things college just can’t prepare you for and a classroom full of 30 middle schoolers is one of them.
I felt like my job was to hold 100 wine corks underwater at the same time. Every time I got a few pushed down, about 15 more would pop above the surface. It was a losing game no matter what I did. I couldn’t do it all, at least right now.
But every year I learned a few more skills. Every year, my classroom management got a little bit better. I watched other teachers and applied what they did.
Today, I have very few major classroom problems or disasters. No more kids eating erasers or shrieking from under tables (thank goodness). My students generally work hard and do their work, and I’m a lot less stressed out. With each year, I can handle a little bit more on my plate.
The same is true for meal prep. Master one or two strategies at a time and slowly add more. Before you know it, you’ll be able to do everything on this list flawlessly.
Meal Prep Helps Save Money and Save Time
Meal prep is awesome for two major reasons. First, you’ll save money hand over fist. I was shocked at how little we actually had to spend on food once we got started. $60 a week is our budget and we very rarely stray from that. We’re still going strong almost six years in.
The second reason I love meal prep is the time it saves wandering around a grocery store. Grocery shopping is at the top of my list of annoying things I have to do. Right next to mowing the lawn. The only saving grace for both of these annoying chores is when I can do them by myself and listen to my favorite Dungeons and Dragons podcasts.
When you start meal prepping you can say goodbye to extra trips to the grocery store. No more stops after work when the grocery store is the busiest. You get your time and energy back to spend with your family or doing other things you actually like.
Quick shout out to everyone who LOVES grocery shopping.
If you love grocery shopping, I think you’ll still love meal prep. You’ll be so organized and efficient, and you’ll probably have tons of fun finding recipes, comparing stores and prices, and finding the best deals.
Alright, here we go. On to the meal prep guide.
Invest in Tupperware that Will Last
A big benefit of following a meal prepping guide is to save money. So it feels a little weird telling you to spend money on tupperware right away. But once you get the meal prep party started, you’ll be glad you did.
We put good tupperware on our wedding registry because we knew we needed an update. Our favorite brand is Pyrex. The containers are glass and very durable. Unless the lids break or we drop them and they shatter, we’re set for a long time.
The premise of meal prep involves cooking meals in batches so you only have to cook once a week. At least that’s the version I’m sharing with you. The next step after your meal is cooked is to sort your giant meal into small, meal sized containers.
This is what it looks like for us. We set up 10 tupperware containers on the counter and portion out every meal for the week. Sometimes we even use a measuring cup so we know each dish has the same amount of food and it helps us avoid over eating.
Then we put them all in the fridge until we need them during the week. Now all of our meals are a three minute microwave ride from being hot and ready to eat. No assembly required.
Reliable tupperware will help you be more efficient and save time and energy. Avoid the cheap, crappy plastic stuff that will eventually melt and wear through.
The alternative is keeping your giant meal in a big bowl in the fridge. We definitely do this sometimes. It just takes a little bit more prep time every morning to get your lunches and dinners ready for the day.
Use Pinterest to Find Staple Recipes You Love
If you love eating it, chances are you won’t mind cooking it.
Over the years, we’ve found a handful of staple recipes we absolutely love! We reuse some of them every couple of months. Everytime we find a great meal, we add it to our growing list of Griffin Staples.
Here are a few off the top of my head: (find pinterest links)
- Honey, Lime, Sweet Potato Tacos (vegetarian)
- Pulled Pork Sandwiches
- Bacon Corn Chowder (you can use regular milk, I promise)
- Calzones (SOOOOO GOOOOD!!!!)
- Pancakes – perfect for pancake Saturday, or a week of Brinner
- White Chicken Chili
Pinterest is the best search engine for finding great recipes. You can be as specific as you want and you’ll get a giant list of pins with mouth watering images. What better way to find yummy meals. The easy part is you can just pin the recipes to a meal prepping board and come back to them over and over again.
If you need inspiration, you can check out my Pinterest Board of Cheap Easy Meals.
Shop at the Same Store Every Week
I was a little skeptical the first time I read about this meal prepping hack. But once we started doing it, I was amazed at how much time we saved. It helped us save a bit of money too once we found a store we love.
Grocery stores are a trap and can suck the time out of your day. It’s like being in a casino. There are no windows or clocks, and the music is just slow enough to encourage you to putz around and spend more money.
Not anymore! If you shop at the same store every week, you’ll know the layout like the back of your hand. You know exactly where to find every single ingredient and are less likely to get distracted by things not on your list.
Last year we started shopping at Aldi, which is a sweet little discount grocery store chain. We first made the switch because we heard from so many people how much money they saved shopping there. Since saving money is our jam, we gave it a try.
The first few times took us so long to do our shopping. We didn’t know where anything was and wandered around like lost puppy dogs. But now, we can get in and out in less than 20 minutes. It’s a small store and we know where to find everything. We save time and money, and that helps our food budget and our sanity.
If you don’t have an Aldi near you, research other discount grocery stores or rely on Wal-Mart. There food is pretty darn cheap even if you can never find anything because there stocking system doesn’t make any damn sense! (I seriously get a little annoyed everytime I shop there because it takes us forever to find the right aisle)
Save Money with Meal Prep – Use Ingredients You Already Have
After a few years of meal prepping under my belt, I learned that there are hundreds of variations of the same recipe. I also learned that it’s really easy to forget about the ingredients you already have in your pantry.
I’m horrible at this. I forget what food we have in our house all the time. On the flip side, my wife remembers EVERY ingredient we have in the house. Somewhere along the line my brain decided that it wasn’t important to remember food or something. Quick shoutout to my amazing wife Jenna who has a memory like a steal trap.
I even forget about ice cream. Can you believe that? Who forgets about ice cream!
But thanks to my wife, we do a pretty good job of consistently using ingredients from our pantry instead of buying new ingredients every week. It saves us a lot of money throughout the year.
The first thing we do when we find a recipe we like is check out the list of ingredients. If we don’t have a lot already on hand, we look for other variations of the recipe until we find one fits into the ingredients we already own.
It’s not a perfect system, but more often than not we find a comparable recipe. And if we can’t, we just choose a different meal that fits into our budget better.
Stock Up on Staple Ingredients
When we first got married, we had hardly any food in our house. We didn’t move in together until we got married and didn’t had to merge our limited food supply together.
As a bonus though, we did have about 30 to go containers with leftover food from our wedding. We had a breakfast buffet and it was AMAZING! I thought it was a little strange to do brinner for our wedding, but eating the leftovers for a few weeks after was worth the money itself!
One of the smartest things we did right away was to hit up SAMs club and stock up on staple ingredients we knew we would use all the time.
We took a few hundred dollars from our wedding money and came back with a ton of food. Here’s a brief rundown:
- Giant bags of frozen chicken
- Frozen veggies
- Frozen fruit
- ALL the spices – fighting against bland food since 2014
- Oatmeal so I had breakfast for the next year
- Pancake mix – you can’t do pancake Saturday without it
- Flour, sugar, baking powder (my wife likes to get her bake on)
Every few months we take time to replenish our basics so we can save money in the long run. If we can avoid buying a few ingredients every week, it keeps more money in our food budget and helps our food budget stretch.
Make a Grocery List and for the Love of God, Stick to it!
Okay, so I might’ve been a little dramatic with that headline, but what’s the point of making a list if you buy a bunch of things that aren’t on it? You’ll probably end up spending more money and breaking your budget.
The beauty of a list efficiency. When you walk into the store, you know exactly what you need to buy. Now you can walk straight to the right aisles and snatch it off the shelf.
You become a grocery buyer instead of a grocery shopper.
No more wandering the aisles aimlessly thinking about what would make a good dinner this week. That’s what grocery stores want you to do. The more time you spend in a grocery store, the more money you’re going to spend.
That’s why they play slow music, have no windows, and no clocks. It’s like a casino without the slot machines.
Don’t be fooled by these classic tricks. Make a list, stick to it, and beat the system.
You come home with more money in your pocket and a cart full of only food that you actually need!
You Have Your List, Now Figure Out How Much It Will Cost
My students ask me all the time, “when are we ever going to need to know this stuff?” Sometimes I get it. I haven’t had the Missouri Compromise of 1820 come up in conversation too many times. You either? I guess maybe we didn’t need to learn that. (please never tell my students that 🙂 )
But if I taught math, it would be different. Not all students need to know how to solve complicated algebraic formulas, but everyone needs to know how to estimate.
When you make your list, start guessing how much everything will cost. If you can tell before you even get to the store that you’ll go over budget, head back to the drawing board and find a new recipe. Or leave out a few of the expensive ingredients.
My wife and I play The Price is Right at the register. As the cashier is swiping our food, we both guess how much everything will cost. Over the years we’ve actually gotten pretty dang good. It puts a fun little twist on grocery shopping.
If you’re a student and reading this, it’s okay if you forget about the Missouri Compromise. But don’t you sluff off with estimation. You’ll need it forever.
When You Find Recipes You Love, Save Them
This seems pretty self explanatory, but as a teacher I’ve learned it’s okay to state the obvious.
There are tons of ways to do this:
- Organize your recipes on Pinterest – make a board for meals, and then a separate section for recipes you’ve tried and loved! That makes it super easy to find them again. Your pulled pork sandwich recipe is only a few clicks away.
- Use cookbooks and sticky notes – maybe not the most efficient way to save recipes but you bet it will work. If you’re constantly going back to cookbooks, leave sticky notes with labels on them. You’ll save time flipping through the pages. Just make sure the sticky notes stay stuck.
- Write your favorite recipes in a personal recipe book – my wife does this and loves it. She got a notebook as a gift and writes all of her favorite recipes in it. Yes she uses Pinterest, and yes she uses cookbooks, but this notebook is for special recipes. It takes a special dish to make the cut
Obviously there are hundreds of ways to save and organize your recipes. Find one that works for you.
Cook in Batches to Save Time, Energy, and Probably Money
I don’t know about you, but my time and energy are important. On a week day, I get about 3 hours of time that isn’t specifically scheduled for something.
In the morning, I get ready for work, take care of the dogs, and help get my daughter ready for her day. Then it’s a full day of work teaching middle schoolers how to be kind, decent human beings (a lot harder than it sounds, and it sounds hard to begin with).
When I leave work, I pick up my daughter and spend a couple hours hanging out with her and my wife while we eat and play. Once our daughter goes to be around 7:15, I finally get a few hours that are free and open.
If I have to spend extra time in there running to the store for ingredients or cooking a fresh meal, it takes away time from being with my wife and daughter. I already get precious little time with them, why would I want to spend it at a grocery store by myself?
Because of all that, we cook our meals in batches. Sunday afternoon is spent prepping and cooking giant meals that we can just reheat all week. We save time in the kitchen and get to invest more time into our family during the week.
More quality time, less stress, sign me up! If you’re stressed for time during the week and cooking is the last thing you want to do, meal prepping and cooking in batches can change your life.
Eat Balanced Meals – You Crave Less When You’re Full
My wife is so good at helping us eat balanced meals. She always makes sure we think about adding fruits and veggies to our meals, and finding a good side for our main meal.
For example, two of our favorite meals are chili and pulled pork sandwiches. I’d be perfectly happy just eating that. It’s yummy, it’s filling, boom, let me at it. But Jenna always reminds me we need a side or two to balance out the meal.
When we take the time to plan a balanced meal we spend more money up front. But with fruits and veggies in my diet, I stay full longer and don’t crave snacks or seconds. I’m the farthest from “hobbit” meals as I can be. No second breakfast, elevensies, lunch, dinner, and supper. Just the three normal meals for me thank you very much.
Are You Ready to Go All in and Trust the Meal Prep Process
Think back to the last time you went to the beach. When you went in the water, how did you do it? Did you walk in slowly, each step more agonizing than the last as the cold water slowly moves up your body? Or did you say screw this, and run and dive in baywatch style?
If you truly want to save money on food, throw all of the excuses aside and just trust the process. Dive in head first. Get wet and start adjusting to your new grocery routine.
The truth is, it will probably take a few weeks, or even a few months to get into a good flow. No routine changes over night, so don’t expect to love the process right away. Meal prep for a few months and see for yourself how much money you save, and how much less time you spend cooking and grocery shopping every week.
Once you find your rhythm, I think you’ll be happy with the results.
Leave a Comment
What do you think? Have you ever tried meal prepping? Is meal prep worth the savings?