In today’s fast-paced world, achieving financial freedom is a goal that many strive for, yet often struggle to attain. Working every day is hard, and with the allure of apps like DoorDash, UberEats, and the like, instant gratification is a convenience many of us simply cannot resist.
We all know about the costs of eating takeout, but it is still very easy to lose sight of this—and the long-term benefits of smart financial decisions in general.
Yet, one of the most effective and often overlooked ways to save money and build wealth is still by taking control of your food expenses. This is where meal planning and batch cooking come into play.
Meal planning and batch cooking are two simple techniques that can help you keep yourself on a budget, while giving yourself some other wonderful benefits such as reducing food waste, and encouraging healthier eating habits.
By incorporating these methods into your daily routine, you can not only improve your overall well-being but also take a significant step towards achieving financial freedom.
In this article, we will explore the benefits of meal planning and batch cooking, provide tips on how to get started, and discuss how combining these strategies can lead to substantial savings and long-term wealth building.
What are the benefits of meal planning?
Meal planning may seem like an extra chore on your already busy schedule, but the truth is, it can actually save you both time and money in the long run.
Better for budgeting
The cost of groceries is on the rise, and we have better things to do with our time. It is too simple to fill up your shopping basket with impulse buys and fast food from the drive-thru on the spur of the moment.
However, the word “plan” is the most important operative word that stands out here. To really strive for financial freedom, you must take deliberate action in this, as in every other facet of life. That is why it is so important to master the art of meal planning to save money on food.
Before we get into the specifics of meal planning, or ‘meal prep’ as some people call it, we first need to define it. What we mean by “meal planning” is deciding in advance, on purpose, what we will eat for each meal and snack each day of the week.
By preparing meals in advance, you can avoid buying unnecessary items. For one thing, you will already have a good idea of what you need to buy because you have already looked at the recipes you will be utilizing. Then you will know exactly what to put on your shopping list.
That means you should stop making impulsive purchases of products you may or may not end up using. That rules out any impromptu visits to the vending machine or fast food restaurant.
You are going to have a far better diet and spend a lot less money. Since the whole point of a meal plan is to be strategic about both food and money. Everybody benefits.
Meal planning is an excellent way to save money, but it does need some preparation time up advance. Let us discuss how to put together a diet that complements your lifestyle.
By dedicating just a little bit of effort upfront to plan out your meals for the week, you’ll reap the rewards of a more organized kitchen, a healthier diet, and a fatter wallet.
Fewer and cheaper grocery shopping trips
By planning your meals in advance, you can consolidate your shopping trips and avoid those last-minute dashes to the store. This saves you time spent traveling and wandering the aisles, as well as money on transportation and impulse purchases.
When you have a plan, you’re also more likely to stick to your shopping list and avoid buying unnecessary items.
Less food waste
Planning your meals helps ensure that you use up all the ingredients you buy before they spoil.
Research published by the American Journal of Agricultural Economics found that that the average American household throws away over around $1,800 to $2,000 worth of food each year – that’s money you could be saving!
What are the most common challenges to meal planning?
If meal planning was so beneficial, why don’t more people do it? Well, there are a number of obstacles that make meal preparation a chore for many people.
If the idea of planning a week’s worth of meals seems daunting, start small. Plan just a few days at a time, or focus on one meal per day, like dinner.
The time and energy required to prepare and organize meals for a whole week is a major deterrent, especially for people with hectic schedules. It can get even more complicated when you have to think about everyone’s individual food preferences and limits.
Lack of variety
In addition, some people may lack the innate creativity necessary for meal planning, which is essential for maintaining variety and avoiding monotony.
To avoid getting bored with your meals, try rotating through different cuisines or experimenting with new recipes. You can also plan for a few “flexible” meals each week, where you can use up any leftover ingredients or make a last-minute decision based on your cravings.
Difficult on a budget
Last but not least, it may be difficult to arrange healthy and varied meals within limited financial resources. This is why so many people avoid doing meal planning on a consistent basis.
The benefits of meal planning are clear: it saves you time, money, and stress while promoting healthier eating habits.
By implementing a meal planning routine and incorporating strategies like batch cooking and freezer meals, you can take control of your food expenses and work towards achieving financial freedom. So why not give meal planning a try? Your future self will thank you!
How do you start meal planning on a budget?
Embarking on your meal planning journey doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. In fact, one of the main goals of meal planning is to save money! Here are some practical steps and tips to get you started with budget-friendly meal planning.
Assess your eating habits and preferences
Before diving into meal planning, take some time to evaluate your current eating habits and preferences. Consider factors such as:
Dietary restrictions or preferences (vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, etc.)
- Favorite cuisines and flavors
- Time constraints and cooking skills
- The number of people you’re cooking for
Having a clear understanding of your preferences and needs will help you create a meal plan that is both enjoyable and budget-friendly.
Prior to the start of the week, take some time to plan your meals.
When you are first learning how to meal plan, give yourself at least 30 minutes per week. You will grow faster as you go. Gather a piece of paper and proceed to the pantry. Or, you can sign up with many online diet planners for free!
If you want to prepare the finest meal plan possible, you need to be in your kitchen. Examine your resources (we will get into it in the third phase). Do not rely on your memory! You will end up having five cans of black beans but no salsa for taco Tuesday if you do that.
Plan a schedule around sales and seasonal produce
One of the easiest ways to save money with meal planning is to plan your meals around sales and seasonal produce.
Check your local grocery store’s weekly ads or use apps like Flipp to find the best deals. Seasonal produce is typically more affordable and flavorful, so incorporating them into your meal plan is a win-win.
Look for discount flyers and vouchers. As a first step in learning how to meal plan, this is a significant money saver. The time spent perusing circulars and clipping coupons is time well spent.
Get yourself online or get the app for your local supermarket. Meat and fresh fruit may grow rather expensive if you do not plan your purchases in advance to take advantage of these sales.
Choose budget-friendly recipes that you actually like
When selecting recipes for your meal plan, look for budget-friendly options that use inexpensive ingredients. Some tips for choosing budget-friendly recipes include:
- Opt for recipes with fewer ingredients
- Focus on plant-based meals, as they are often less expensive than meat-based dishes
- Utilize versatile and affordable ingredients like beans, lentils, rice, and pasta
- Look for recipes that use similar ingredients to minimize waste and maximize savings
- Browse the contents of your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry and use up perishables before they go bad as well. Make use of what you have on hand when planning meals for the week.
- You can save money by using the food already in your cupboards and refrigerator, and you will not have to throw away perfectly edible produce.
- Those extra ingredients can be used in another dish. Plan some chicken and cheese quesadillas for early next week with the leftover chicken from last night’s salsa chicken rice bowl.
- Stock up on nonperishables like rice, frozen vegetables, pasta, spices, and sauces when they are on sale, rather than only buying what you need for the week. Get a few of them and use them all through the month.
- Look around for some tried and true recipes. Then, plan meals around the sale items and the food you currently have on hand. Make sure you actually like what you plan on cooking.
- If you try out a new inexpensive dish and it is a hit with your family and friends, be sure to write down the recipe.
- Put it away in a dusty old cookbook or upload it to the cloud. If you find yourself staring at the calendar and feeling uninspired, take the book out and try one of these tried-and-true recipes.
Create a weekly meal plan
Now that you have a better understanding of your preferences and have chosen budget-friendly recipes, it’s time to create your weekly meal plan. Consider the following tips:
- Plan for leftovers by scheduling them as lunches or repurposing them in another meal
- Include a mix of easy and more elaborate meals to accommodate your schedule
- Schedule a “flexible” meal each week to use up any remaining ingredients or enjoy a spontaneous meal choice
Your schedule and your meal plan should go hand in hand. Check the schedule and prepare accordingly. This week, you may need to make extra food to feed a large group, or you may want to have a quick supper on hand for times when you have to rush the kids from one after-school activity to the next.
As a first step, always double recipes if you have the space. The other half can be stored in the freezer for nights when you are too busy to cook. Schedule a leftovers night and serve what you have previously prepared for the week.
You might do this while browsing recipes, checking out bargains, or organizing your pantry. You might also wait till you know your status before making any firm plans for the week’s meals. Make a list of what you want to eat this week whenever you are ready.
Even if you eat the same item for breakfast, lunch, and snacks every day, it is still a good idea to write down some suggestions. A well-thought-out meal plan can aid in the creation of a comprehensive weekly food shopping list.
Using your meal plan, make a shopping list and stick to It
Once your meal plan is complete, create a detailed shopping list based on the ingredients you’ll need.
Use your meal plan to inform your grocery shopping. Make a list of everything you will need (from vegetables to seasonings) to prepare the meals you have planned.
Organize your list by category (produce, dairy, grains, etc.) to make shopping more efficient. When you’re at the store, stick to your list to avoid impulse purchases and stay within your budget.
Do not be reluctant to settle for generic brands. Top restaurants actually buy generics. When comparing ingredients and overall quality, they often come out on par with the leading brands.
You might be paying more than necessary for all of the fancy branding and logos. If you want to save money, go with the plain label.
Adjust and refine your meal planning process
As you become more experienced with meal planning, you’ll likely discover new strategies and preferences that work best for you.
Continuously refine your process to make it more efficient and budget-friendly. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new recipes, ingredients, and meal planning techniques to keep things fresh and enjoyable.
The most important thing is to keep to the plan! It is okay if you realize you overlooked something important; it happens to the best of us.
But buying anything that looks interesting on the displays at the ends of the aisles is a certain way to blow your grocery budget. Do we have room for the triple-stuffed sandwich cookies? No? Then you can do without them.
Have you considered doing your grocery shopping online? Your online shopping cart is accessible 24/7. It may be more cost-effective in the long run to pay the price if you are the type of shopper who gets sidetracked in the actual store, tempted by all those munchies and BOGOs on products you will not even eat.
You should calculate your budget at the beginning and conclusion of every time you plan meals. If it helps, divide your grocery budget for the month into weekly increments.
Consider a household of four who spends $800 a month, or about $200 per week. Prepare your meals so that you do not go over that limit. Then, keep a tally of your shopping total in your budget as you pay. That way, you can easily track your progress from week to week.
If you find yourself spending more than you would like on groceries in a given week, save money the following week by making strategic use of the food already in your pantry and refrigerator. In the end, that will assist you maintain a positive cash flow for the month.
Always buy in pairs if it makes sense to do so. Take the case of a 10-pound bag of frozen chicken, where the price is lower than that of two 5-pound bags.
If you have a chicken recipe planned for the week, double the value by include a second chicken recipe. You can save time by cooking all the chicken at once and then using it throughout the week.
It is the same with ingredients you would only use for half of a single meal. Plan a salad for later in the week if you buy a whole head of lettuce for rice bowl night and realize you will not eat it all. Reduced trash. Reduced spending.
By following these steps and keeping budget in mind, you can successfully implement a meal planning routine that saves you both time and money while contributing to your journey towards financial freedom.
The time spent slicing vegetables or preparing meals for the week will pay off in the form of significant financial savings. Instead of paying someone else to do it, it is worth your time to portion out and chop your own food.
If possible, involve your children in the process as well! Find a method for them to help you prepare for the week, even if they are too little to use the knives (use your best judgment there!). Make it a job they can get paid for doing! Thus, all parties benefit and everyone is happy.
To save even more time and money, consider incorporating batch cooking and freezer meals into your meal plan. This allows you to cook in large quantities and have meals ready to go when you need them.
What is batch cooking and should I do it?
Batch cooking, the practice of preparing large quantities of meals at once, is an excellent complement to meal planning.
You don’t have to do it to meal prep successfully, but it really helps as not only does it save time and money, but it also encourages healthier eating habits and reduces the temptation to order takeout.
In this section, we’ll explore the benefits of batch cooking and provide tips on how to start batch cooking on a budget.
Why should you try batch cooking?
By cooking in bulk, you can take advantage of economies of scale and purchase ingredients at a lower cost. This also reduces the number of shopping trips, saving you time and money on transportation.
Preparing multiple meals at once allows you to make the most of your time in the kitchen. You’ll spend less time cooking and cleaning throughout the week, freeing up more time for other activities.
Promotes healthy eating
Having home-cooked meals readily available makes it easier to resist the temptation of fast food or takeout. You can also control the ingredients and portion sizes, ensuring that your meals align with your dietary goals.
Knowing that you have meals prepared and ready to go can significantly reduce the stress associated with meal planning and cooking during busy weekdays.
How to start batch cooking on a budget
The first thing you should know if you want to cook your planned meals in batches is that you do not have to make it more complicated than it has to. Just keep things simple. If you need a bulletin board and thumbtacks to keep track of your food plan, you have gone too far.
Choose budget-friendly recipes
As with meal planning, opt for recipes that use affordable and versatile ingredients. Focus on dishes that can be easily scaled up and are suitable for freezing or storing for later consumption.
- Start by selecting recipes that are suitable for batch cooking. Look for dishes that:
- Can be easily scaled up
- Use budget-friendly ingredients
- Freeze and reheat well, if you plan to store them for later
- Cater to your taste preferences and dietary needs
- Some examples of batch cooking-friendly recipes include soups, stews, casseroles, and slow cooker meals.
Based on the recipes you’ve selected, create a detailed shopping list of the ingredients you’ll need. Organize the list by category (produce, meat, dairy, etc.) to make your shopping trip more efficient. Remember to look for sales and buy in bulk when possible to save money.
Be smart about your ingredients
Literally anything goes dinners work very well. Both the burritos’ leftover black beans and the tetrazzini’s rotisserie chicken can be used in these recipes.
Combining recipes with improvised meals helps you discover new favorites and hone your resourcefulness in the kitchen while also teaching you to be less wasteful with your food. (Really, all that is required is a bowl of grains or some hearty soup.)
Another method of batch cooking is to rely on ingredient ratios, such as 1 part protein to 1 part carbohydrate to 1 part raw vegetable. To maximize your culinary expression, prepare these items with minimal seasonings or marinades.
Take this as an illustration: Salt and pepper diced sweet potatoes from the oven. Mix with warm quinoa and shredded rotisserie chicken. All of these are rather flavorless, making them easy to pair with other ingredients.
The finishing touches are where your culinary skills can really show. To give it a Mexican twist, sprinkle on some cotija cheese and squeeze in some lime juice.
To add a touch of the Mediterranean, toss remaining basil with feta cheese and a rich balsamic vinaigrette. They also go very well with a green goddess dressing. The possibilities are practically unlimited, and you need only cook three unique components.
To store your batch-cooked meals, it can also pay dividends to invest in a set of reusable containers that are freezer-safe, microwave-safe, and dishwasher-safe. This will save you money in the long run and reduce your environmental impact.
Plan a batch cooking day
Set aside a day each week or month for batch cooking. This will allow you to dedicate time and energy to preparing multiple meals at once, making the process more efficient and enjoyable.
Choose a day when you have enough time to dedicate to batch cooking, such as a weekend or a day off work. Planning your batch cooking day in advance will help you stay organized and ensure that you have all the necessary ingredients and tools on hand.
Make a lot of food and put it in the freezer. Taking a day to cook does not count as meal prepping. It is a mindset that makes it easier to discover shortcuts for future meals every time you fire up the stove.
One such shortcut is to prepare food in bulk and store it in the freezer for later use. After all, if you are going to get the dishes dirty anyhow, you might as well be rewarded for it in more ways than one.
You can make twice as much rice, beans, or sauce by doubling or tripling the recipe. Put the surplus in the freezer for later. When time for dinner preparation is tight due to a hectic schedule, you can pick those goods out and save yourself a little bit of work.
Grains like rice and quinoa, as well as sauces, meatballs, meat loaves, soups, chilis, beans, legumes, muffins, breads, casseroles, and more, all freeze nicely.
Potatoes, greens or lettuce, meals with mayonnaise or cream cheese, and so on should not be frozen. Soups with cream in them should also not be frozen.
Organize your kitchen
Before you start cooking, make sure your kitchen is clean, organized, and equipped with all the necessary tools and equipment. This will help streamline the cooking process and make it more enjoyable. Also, have your reusable containers ready for storing your batch-cooked meals.
Be mindful of storage space and the shelf life of ingredients to avoid waste. Label and store meals properly.
Also keep in mind how your food and ingredients will hold up. You might find out the hard way if we did not warn you: not everything in a meal prep recipe holds up well in the microwave. Planning ahead is essential.
Adding the fresh mozzarella and diced avocado on top of your farro burrito bowl might sound like a fantastic idea.
However, the avocado will turn warm and gooey if you do not remove the other foods from the plate before reheating it. It is best to store the avocado separately (along with the cheese and salsa) and add it after the dish has been microwaved for a few minutes to warm it through.
A well-organized kitchen can make batch cooking much more efficient. Ensure that you have all the necessary tools and ingredients readily available before you begin cooking.
Stay away from perishables that go bad or slimy quickly. Salads may seem like the perfect dish for prepping multiple meals at once, but that is not the case. Because when covered with a pile of roasted veggies and cold steak, greens tend to become soggy and slimy.
You may make a jar salad by layering the heavier components below the more delicate leaves. That strategy could be effective for planning ahead by a day, but you should not use it for longer periods of time.
It is important to plan ahead for salads by preparing everything but the lettuce for a dish. Throw in some of the greens just before you head out the door or sit down to eat. Dress your salad just before you sit down to dine.
Extras can be frozen or refrigerated for use later in the week. Cooking quinoa for a recipe like Broccoli-Quinoa Casserole with Chicken and Cheddar allows you to save enough for a breakfast grain bowl the next day.
Make some extra hard-boiled eggs when you make egg salad for protein-rich snacks. Preparing ground beef for chili by browning it? While you are at it, throw in an extra pound for a quick batch of spaghetti sauce.
It is easy to stock up on wonderful meal prep components for future weeks if you know how to recognize possible meal prep moments in the meals you have booked.
Remember that it is okay to have “lazy” meals
When batch cooking, make individual portions whenever possible. There are times when producing individual portions is preferable, even while feeding a family of four.
This because if you do not have time to cook throughout the week, your family can still eat well by selecting a single serving of a favorite dish, heating it in the microwave, and eating on their own.
Find recipes that call for using muffin tins or individual casseroles to cut down on serving size. Single-serving versions of oats, soups, and meatloaf are simple to prepare.
Still, you should not stop making casseroles altogether. They were the first mass-prepared food. When you are expecting everyone at home for dinner, a casserole is the perfect way to have everyone fed quickly and easily.
Not everything in your meal-prep recipes needs to be made from scratch. If you are a fan of frozen brown rice, rotisserie chicken, bottled pesto, and pre-chopped bell peppers, you can have nutritious dinners on the table in a flash.
Do not attempt to be superhuman and cook everything you need for your meal prep. When possible and practical, opt for ready-made meals. Because of your shrewd food procurement, you will have more free time and will be able to prepare more meals.
To maximize the shelf life of your batch-cooked meals, label them with the name of the dish and the date it was prepared. Store meals in the freezer or refrigerator in an organized manner, so you can easily find and enjoy them later.
By incorporating batch cooking into your meal planning routine, you can save even more time and money while enjoying the benefits of home-cooked meals. With a little planning and organization, batch cooking on a budget is not only achievable but can also be a rewarding and enjoyable experience.
How do you maximize the benefits of meal planning with batch cooking?
To effectively combine meal planning and batch cooking, it’s essential to select recipes that work well for both strategies. Here are some tips for aligning your meal plan with batch cooking recipes:
Choose scalable recipes
Opt for recipes that can be easily scaled up to accommodate multiple servings. This will allow you to prepare large quantities of food at once, saving time and money.
Consider storage and reheating
When selecting recipes, consider how well the dishes will store and reheat. Soups, stews, casseroles, and slow cooker meals are typically excellent choices for batch cooking and meal planning.
Mix and match recipes
To keep things interesting and avoid mealtime boredom, include a variety of recipes in your meal plan. This will also allow you to take advantage of different ingredients and cooking methods for maximum efficiency.
Make the most of your technological resources.
You should not feel guilty about utilizing convenience meals to save time on cooking, and the same goes for the tools at your disposal.
Use your slow cooker to prepare a big pot of oats, stew, or soup. Pureeing soups and sauces is a breeze with a stick blender. Lots of chicken that needs to be shredded? Shred chicken using a stand mixer. Chop your onions, peppers, and carrots with a small chop.
There is no appliance too tiny to be enlisted for weekly food preparation sessions, and doing so can free up a substantial amount of your time.
Also search around for the best meal planning apps, or easy meal planning services. There are plenty of free resources on the internet if you know where to look!
To further maximize your savings, incorporate sales and seasonal produce into your meal plan and batch cooking routine:
- Plan around sales. Check your local grocery store’s weekly ads or use apps like Flipp to find the best deals on ingredients. Plan your meal plan and batch cooking recipes around these sales to save money.
- Focus on seasonal produce. Seasonal produce is typically more affordable and flavorful. Incorporate these ingredients into your meal plan and batch cooking recipes for a budget-friendly and delicious option.
- Buy in bulk. When possible, purchase ingredients in bulk to take advantage of lower prices. Just be mindful of storage space and the shelf life of ingredients to avoid waste.
- Finally, make the most of your meal planning and batch cooking efforts by utilizing leftovers and repurposing ingredients.
- Plan for leftovers. When creating your meal plan, schedule leftovers for lunches or additional meals throughout the week. This will help reduce waste and save money on additional ingredients.
- Repurpose ingredients. Look for ways to repurpose ingredients from one meal to another. For example, leftover roasted vegetables can be used in a frittata or pasta dish, while leftover grilled chicken can be added to a salad or stir-fry.
- Freeze extras. If you find yourself with more leftovers than you can consume in a week, freeze them for later use. This will help reduce waste and provide you with a convenient meal option for busy days.
By combining meal planning and batch cooking, you can further maximize your savings while enjoying the benefits of home-cooked meals. With a little planning, organization, and creativity, you’ll be well on your way to a more efficient and budget-friendly meal routine.
With your recipes, ingredients, and kitchen ready, it’s time to start cooking! Follow the steps for each recipe, making sure to scale up the quantities as needed.
To save time, consider multitasking by working on multiple recipes simultaneously, such as having a soup simmering on the stove while a casserole bakes in the oven.
Once your meals are cooked, allow them to cool to room temperature before transferring them to your reusable containers. Label each container with the name of the dish and the date it was prepared. Store your meals in the refrigerator or freezer, depending on when you plan to consume them.
Throughout the week, enjoy the convenience and satisfaction of having home-cooked meals ready to go. Simply reheat your meals in the microwave or oven, and serve!
By following these steps, you can successfully incorporate batch cooking into your meal planning routine, saving time and money while enjoying delicious and healthy home-cooked meals.
You have just learned the fundamentals of food preparation. You may feel overwhelmed at first, but after you learn the ropes, you will not want to go back. Because you are about to make some significant time and financial savings. Your sanity, too!
Stress levels tend to go down when weekly food planning is practiced. You will not have to make last-minute dashes to the supermarket in the hopes of stumbling across a meal idea.
Instead, you will have a relaxing trip back to your house. Listen to an episode of your favorite podcast while relaxing in the knowledge that you have all the ingredients on hand to make a delicious meal.
As you gain experience with batch cooking, you can continue to refine your process and experiment with new recipes to keep things fresh and exciting.
If the thought of preparing food for five days in advance for three people is daunting (and it is!), begin with fewer people and fewer meals. Focus your initial meal planning efforts on solving a particular issue with your family’s eating habits.