Meal prepping on a budget
Plan ahead to save yourself money, time, and sanity.
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Okay, so you’ve heard all the hype about meal prep….and you’re wondering if it’s overrated.
“Will I really eat healthier if I meal prep every week?”
“Could meal prepping actually save me money or is that bogus?”
“I don’t think I could do that - it looks so overwhelming and complicated.”
Let’s break down a few myths about meal prep:
Meal prepping does NOT have to be crazy time-consuming or elaborate.
Meal prepping - when done correctly - will absolutely save you money and help you eat healthier.
Meal prepping isn’t just for fitness influencers you follow on Instagram. It’s something we all should be doing.
Did I catch your attention? Good. Before we dive in, let me introduce myself.
My name is Kathrine Kofoed, and I’m an ACE-certified health coach at my business, Passion for Plants. I help my clients lose weight with a balanced lifestyle, break up with emotional eating, and create healthy habits that last for life.
I got into meal prepping on a budget a few years ago when my busy college schedule was so demanding that I needed to maximize my time. While this might not be the case for you, you should still consider making meal prep (in some shape or form) a regular part of your lifestyle.
But first...what is meal prepping?
Meal prepping simply means that you prepare food ahead of time to eat later. It doesn’t mean you have to prepare all your breakfasts, snacks, and lunch for the next 5 days, it means that you figure out what meals would be most helpful for you to have made in advance, and then you do that.
I love activities that help me be proactive and streamline my schedule so I can make the best use of my time and I’m sure you do, too. Meal prepping is amazing because when the work week begins, I have time and mental energy to focus on my work, instead of looking up at 1pm ravenous and cranky, eating everything and anything in sight.
Meal prepping saved my life when I was in college: I was so busy with classes, my part-time job, and an internship, and I needed that extra time that I was otherwise spending making lunch at home, or the money I would have spent to purchase a meal. I couldn’t understand why more people didn’t prepare healthy lunches!
Meal prepping is the secret sauce to getting healthy, saving money, and saving time.
Once you create a plan for what you want to eat that week, it’s so easy to get into the weekly routine and you will be thanking yourself every single day.
Here’s my formula for a budget-friendly and nourishing meal prep that I use with myself and my clients:
- Plant-based protein (chickpeas, lentils, beans, organic tofu/tempeh) or your preferred protein source
- Mixed raw and/or cooked veggies of choice
- A whole grain or complex carbohydrate (quinoa, brown rice, sweet potato, rice noodles, etc)
- Herbs, seasonings, and sauces to spice things up (think texture and flavor here: avocado, spices, hot sauce, salsa, dressing, etc)
This formula is so flexible you can make meals as simple or complex as you want, and make a wide variety of lunches and dinners with this.
Meal-prepping schedule: Can pre-made meals go bad?
Cooked and prepared food usually stays fresh for 2-4 days, depending on the kind, so prepping lunches or breakfasts for 3 days at a time (for instance, Monday-Wednesday) works very well. On Wednesday nights, I’ll usually make a double batch of whatever I’m cooking for dinner and use that for my Thursday and Friday lunches, too. Cook once, eat twice (or many times, in our case)!
With a 3-day meal prep schedule, you’re also less likely to get tired of eating the same food for lunch, and you can mix it up when Thursday comes around.
Remember not to be unrealistic or too ambitious with your meal prep: don’t choose a kale salad if you hate kale, or choose super healthy recipes that you don’t actually like. Find something nourishing and satisfying for you, so you’ll actually want to eat your meal prepped lunch come noon on a Monday.
Top tips for planning meals like a health coach:
Here’s my approach to what we’ve covered and what’s most important to me when it comes to preparing my weekly food intake ahead of time:
Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed.
Meal prepping on a budget can feel daunting if you haven’t done it before, or if you don’t spend much time in the kitchen. Start with simple recipes, double the portion, and just make that for the week ahead. Don’t take on more than you can chew until you get comfortable with it (pun intended).
Focus on food that’s filling and that you can look forward to.
It’s easy to be idealistic about our fitness goals when we’re meal prepping, but if you don’t season your food and use recipes that taste good to you, you definitely won’t be satisfied with your meal prepped lunches. Ignore the noise and find recipes that work for you. You know yourself best: don’t make food that you don’t actually like to eat or wouldn’t eat.
Choose a recipe or two for your meal prep, then grocery shop accordingly.
There’s nothing like being halfway through cooking and realizing you don’t have a key ingredient for your recipe. Read the recipe thoroughly, make your grocery list based on that, and grocery shop the day before your prep so you don’t have as much to do the day of.
Easy Make-Ahead Lunch Recipe: Mexican Lunch Bowl
For the black beans:
- 2 cups black beans
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp cumin
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp avocado or olive oil
- ½ cup chopped cilantro
- Splash of water, as needed
- In a small pot, heat the oil over medium heat. When hot, add the minced garlic. Stir for 1 minute until fragrant.
- Add the black beans, cumin and salt. Add a splash of water as needed to prevent the beans from burning. Cook for 3 minutes.
- Add the cilantro and stir to incorporate. Cook for an additional 2 minutes. Taste and add more salt or cumin as desired. Remove from heat and set aside.
For the fajita veggies:
- 2 bell peppers (any color), sliced into ½ inch slices
- ½ large onion, sliced thinly into ½ inch slices
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tbsp avocado or olive oil
- Pinch of salt
- Prepare the bell pepper and onion slices. Separate the onion slices so they cook separately. Mince the garlic and set aside.
- Place a large pan on medium heat. Pour the oil in and when the oil is hot, add the minced garlic. Sauté for 1 minute until fragrant.
- Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the bell pepper and onion slices. Stir to coat in oil. Sauté for 5 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning.
- After 5 minutes, reduce heat to medium. Add the pinch of salt. Continue to sauté an additional 5 minutes. The veggies will start to get a bit charred – this is what we’re looking for!
- When finished they should like similar to this:
Set the veggies aside to cool down. Save this pan – you can use it to cook the cauliflower rice before cleaning it.
For the brown rice:
1 cup brown rice
2 cups water
1 tsp salt and pepper each
- In a small pot, combine the rice and water. Turn up the heat.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover. Bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat so that the liquid is just barely simmering, then cover the pan.
- Cook for 45 minutes and do not lift the lid.
- Check the rice - it should be done by now. Drain off any excess water, and let it stand an extra 15 minutes to lose a bit of the wetness.
- Fluff the rice and serve it up.
For the avocado-cilantro crema:
- 1 large avocado
- ½ cup unsweetened coconut milk
- ½ bunch cilantro, washed
- Juice of 1 lime (about 4 tbsp)*
- ½ tsp salt (more to taste)
- Pinch of black pepper
- Combine all ingredients in a small blender. Blend for 1-2 minutes, scraping down the sides of your blender as needed. Taste and add more seasonings as desired.
Set aside until other components are finished cooking.
*to get more juice from your limes, microwave them for 10-15 seconds before juicing.
To assemble your Mexican lunch bowls:
This recipe will make 3-4 portions, depending on how much you normally eat. Prepare 3 containers for your lunches, then portion the brown rice into each container. Add the fajita veggies and black beans on top. I recommend storing the avocado crema in a separate container until the night before or morning of eating each serving – this way it’ll stay fresher than sitting in your meal prep container for 2-3 days. Then add the crema before you leave for work that day, or simply add it to your meal before you eat.
Meal prepping on a budget is a great way for you to save time, stick to your budget and get healthy. What are some of your favorite meal prep recipes?