It’s official: Meal prep can be a crucial part of achieving your weight-loss and fitness goals.
A study shows that people who spend more time thinking and preparing ahead about what they’re going to eat tend to make better choices, incorporating more fruits and vegetables into their diet.
That same study also showed that spending less than an hour a day preparing food at home is linked to eating more fast food and spending more money eating out.
Now, you might think that healthy meal prep is for those who have plenty of time and money to spend, but experts beg to differ.
“Healthy meal prep can actually be very economical,” says health and fitness specialist Jim White R.D., A.C.S.M. “Plan well and you could save time and money, not to mention your health.”
Ready to get planning and save yourself some dough while eating healthier and getting in shape? Here’s how!
1. Make a Plan
A great first step in making a saving is to have a pretty solid idea of your food needs throughout the week before you do anything else.
Take a moment to think about the week ahead: Think about where you’ll be at mealtimes — home, work, on the move — whether you’ll have the means to reheat food if you’ll need something that’s ready to go and the kinds of containers you’ll need to store that food.
Most importantly, think about the clean meals and snacks that you want to eat. If planning clean meals becomes a drag or a bore, you’ll resent the whole endeavor.
2. Make a Clean-Eating Grocery List
Once you’ve thought about the clean, healthy, nutritious meals you’d like to have ready to go when you want them this week, work backward to come up with a grocery list.
“The biggest expense will be your protein,” says White. “Getting the chicken thigh instead of the chicken breast can be less expensive and not a huge difference in the nutritional profile. Or use canned tuna instead of fresh tuna for some of your meals.”
Beans or lentils are also a good (and less expensive!) alternative protein source instead of meat, he adds.
Once you’ve made your list, think about where each of the items can be bought at the best price and get your groceries on a day when you’re not rushed.
3. Stick With the List
Ever gone to the store to buy groceries and come home to find that you bought a lot of things you hadn’t planned on and maybe even forgot some things you meant to buy?
Turns out that supermarkets put a considerable amount of time, money, and effort into making sure that customers stray from their lists and make impulse purchases.
That’s bad for your budget and, because impulse buys are generally not the healthiest items, bad for your overarching health goals, too.
4. Shop Seasonally
The farmers market can be a win-win: You can find fresh, locally grown food that may actually be cheaper than what’s at your grocery store.
So if you come across fresh produce at your local farmers’ market, then, by all means, add them to your week’s meals!
5. Go Really Big
Consider investing in an annual membership to a wholesale market like Costco, especially if you’ve got a family.
One caveat: Get your quantities right. The savings you make by bulk buying will disappear if you don’t eat what you buy before it goes bad.
Plan ahead and figure out what can be stored in the fridge and what you can freeze for later.
If you’re freezing food, write the date on the package or container so you don’t have to guess whether you should keep it or toss it when you defrost.
Set aside a few hours on a Sunday (or whatever day is most convenient) putting together three or four dishes that can be frozen in batches to give you the benefits of variety and economy.
And while you’re putting food into containers, make sure portion sizes are in step with your weight-loss goals. Or take the guesswork out of the equation and use Portion Fix containers to assemble your meals, then freeze.
“If you are not measuring your portion sizes you could not only be consuming too much food and costing more money,” says White. “By keeping foods at the correct portion size you will be trimming your waistline and also trimming costs.”
The Bottom Line
It may seem daunting at first to plan an entire week of meals, shop, then cook it all.
But if you stick with it and start meal prepping on a regular basis, you’ll figure out what works/what doesn’t work, and you’ll save yourself time and money.
Here are some meal prep ideas to help you get started!