When my schedule gets super busy I tend to fall off of the "healthy eating" train. I begin to justify picking up pizza or ordering Chinese take-out because I'm just so busy. I end up eating so many processed things that wind up dragging me down. To avoid falling into that trap I have been really trying hard to meal prep before the week gets too crazy. Here are a few things that I do to ensure that my meal preparations are nutritious, simple, and financially smart.
1. Take Stock
The first thing I do prior to grocery shopping is take stock of what is in my fridge and pantry, This week we had a lot of frozen vegetables left in our freezer so I knew I could use those as a side for two or three of our dinners. We also had a roasted chicken and meatballs in our freezer that could easily be added to any dish. Make note of what you have and use it to write your meal plan.
2. Write Up A Meal Plan
I typically only plan for four dinners a week because with there only being two of us, we end up eating leftovers the other three nights. I used to plan for six or seven because I hated having leftovers, but I have now come to appreciate the practicality of them and our grocery bill has decreased dramatically. I usually also plan one or two different lunches that we rotate throughout the work-week. Generally a soup or salad because they're cheap, simple, portable, and filling.
I usually look back at the items that I found in my fridge and pantry and think of recipes that will utilize them most fully. Fortunately for me, this week's frozen vegetables and meats are so versatile that the possibilities are many.
Another way I try to save money on groceries is sticking to really simple recipes. If I look at the recipe and see that it has more than like ten ingredients, I pretty much disregard it. It's not because I don't think the recipe is good, I just don't have money to waste on buying a lot of ingredients. That being said, if the recipe has a lot of ingredients, but they are all ingredients that I have on hand, I will consider it. I do prefer recipes that have 5-7 ingredients though.
3. Make a list
When You're making this list, only think about the items you need for this week. I have found myself too often picking up an extra bottle of ketchup, only to realize that two weeks later, I haven't even opened it. If you're not going to use it this week, don't buy it.
Don't add processed snack foods to your list. I know that this is a difficult one because there are so many delicious treats to to purchase, especially at Trader Joe's. I'm not saying, don't ever buy snacks, but maybe limit yourself to one snack a week or once every few weeks. This was a major grocery bill reduction for us. It was really hard at first to go without having snacks on hand, but now if we are hungry between meals we will just grab a piece of fruit, pop some popcorn, or make our own snacks (trail mix, smoothies, etc.).
4. Set A Budget And Stick To It
Set a budget. If I went to Walmart without a budget I might be okay, but the moment I step foot into Trader Joe's, my cart would fill up and I would pay double or maybe even triple what I really could afford. Cookie butter is a necessity, right?
It doesn't matter if your grocery budget is $150 or $50, you have to stick to it. Sometimes I find it easiest to add up the price of the items as I go along. That way there are no surprises when I get to the check-out and I have the opportunity to choose which items to put back before I am under pressure by the people waiting in line behind me.
Prepare as much of the food in advance as you can. I find it easiest to do these on the same day that I grocery shop. I don't do all of these every week, but here are a few of my preparation ideas for you.
- Make a soup on Sunday night, put it in mason jars and keep it in the fridge to take for lunches during the week.
- Cut up and portion out vegetables
- Make your own trail mix with nuts, chocolate chips, and dried fruit. If you have this portioned out already, you're less likely to overindulge. It's a really great on-the-go snack.
- Cook up chicken breast. We don't buy lunch meat so the chicken works as a great protein addition to a lunch or if I am making chicken tacos, half the work is already done for me.
- Make meatballs. The recipe at the bottom of this page is so versatile. Every other week I make a batch of these meatballs and we will use them to make spaghetti and meatballs, put them on pizza, or serve them alongside roasted zucchini and Marianna. They are less processed than store-bought meatballs, cheaper to make, and much tastier! They freeze super well.
- Make salads in a jar. Here are some tips to ensure that your salads are top-notch. These are amazing for lunches or even quick dinners if your evening ends up being busier than anticipated.
6. Shop Weekly
We grocery shop every week. I don't know if that's really right or wrong, but to us it ensures that our produce is the freshest. We are more likely to eat our vegetables knowing that they haven't been hanging out in our fridge for two weeks. No one wants to eat bitter lettuce.
I'm sure I will think of more tips and ideas on meal prep and be sharing them with you, but these should be enough to get you started. The recipes below is one that Josiah and I can not get enough of. They're so easy and so delicious. You have no excuse to not make them! So let's get back on the "healthy eating" train together.
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup oatmeal
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon basil
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 egg
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease a baking sheet. Combine the parmesan, oatmeal, garlic powder, basil, and oregano in a large bowl. Add in the ground beef and mix until it is thoroughly combined. Then add in the egg and combine. Scoop the mixture into 1" balls and place on baking sheet. I usually end up with about 24 meatballs. Put the meatballs in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving, or allow them to cool fully before refrigerating.
Notes: The size doesn't have to be exactly 1" as long as all of the meatballs are roughly the same size. This will ensure they are able to cook evenly. I have made them without the parmesan before and they are still really good, so if you don't have any on hand, no worries. You can also make these by cooking them in a skillet (as pictured). I prefer the baking method, but sometimes I change it up.
I would love to hear how you meal prep. Leave some of your own tips and tricks in the comments!
Happy meal-prepping, friends!