8 Meal Prep Ideas on a Budget
How many times have you found yourself staring into your refrigerator or pantry with no idea what to make with the food in it? You did all your grocery shopping, but you have a bunch of items that don’t exactly seem like they’ll make an appetizing meal. Even though you promised you would try to avoid takeout to save money, you now find yourself scrolling through delivery options.
When you find yourself in this predicament, the answer might be to start meal prepping. And before you dismiss it, meal prep doesn’t mean you have to spend your entire Sunday arranging beautifully made portions into a million containers.
Contrary to what you might think, meal prep can be very convenient if you dread the thought of cooking every night. Yes, you’ll have to do the bulk of the work upfront, but it’s worth it once you have dinner prepared every night for the rest of the week. Meal prep can be super easy, and it’s a great option if you’re trying to save money and time. Here are some ideas to get you started – whether you’re dining solo or planning family meals on a budget.
Start Your Day Off Right
Breakfast is probably the easiest meal to plan out for the week. Well, easy if you’re even a breakfast person to begin with. If you’re the type who defines breakfast as a strong cup of black coffee in the morning, maybe not so much.
Even though we know it’s the most important meal of the day, it’s always much more appealing to get in a few extra minutes of snooze time than getting up to cook before dashing out the door. With meal prep, you get the best of both worlds. You can have an easy grab-and-go breakfast, without having to sacrifice those extra Z’s.
Plus, if you’re just kicking off the habit of meal prepping, starting with breakfast is a great way to ease yourself into it. Breakfast meal prepping will help you get into a rhythm and get a healthy start to your day.
Here are some breakfast ideas you might want to try:
- Fresh fruit
- Avocado bowl with rice and fresh boiled eggs
- Breakfast burritos: load them up with whatever you want, like eggs, sausage, tomatoes, or cheese.
Level Up Your Lunchtime
Meal prepping for lunch is a great option to help you avoid spending cash when you’re taking a break during the workday. And like breakfast, if you’re just getting into meal prep, lunch can be fairly simple to plan out ahead of time.
Some ideas for lunch might be:
- Salad: Dress it up with your protein of choice, along with tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, or any other topping you like. While it’s easy and super healthy, sticking to a salad every day might get a little dull. In that case, switch it up with a lettuce wrap. Instead of mixing everything in a bowl, toss your ingredients into a big piece of lettuce and enjoy them that way.
- Burrito (bowl): The same idea for lunch variety can work if you’re a burrito lover. A few days out of the week, pack your lunch into a container with chicken or ground beef, beans, rice, and veggies for a delicious burrito bowl. For those who don’t eat meat, simply skip the chicken or beef and enjoy a vegetarian bowl. On the days that you want to try something different, wrap it all into a classic burrito. It might be a little messier than a bowl so proceed with caution!
Delicious Dinner Options
Once you’ve mastered the art of meal prepping for breakfast and lunch, it’s time to take on dinner meal prep. This is probably the most important meal to get down to a science, because it means more free time at the end of the day instead of spending hours in the kitchen.
Foods that work well for dinner meal prepping are typically grains like rice or pasta, cooked meat (i.e., chicken breasts, roast, ground beef), and either cooked or fresh vegetables (think green beans, carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers).
Once you have your ingredients mapped out, now it’s time to put them all together to make up your meals for the week.
Some ideas to try if you’re in need of inspiration are dishes like:
- Chicken or ground beef (or turkey) stir fry
- Rice bowl with your choice of meat or veggies
- Stuffed bell peppers
Just like your lunch, it’s perfectly fine to put a different spin on your dinner so you don’t feel like you’re in the Twilight Zone every night. You can have your main course and pair it with a different side dish each day, like a salad, rice, or pasta. Or experiment with a new sauce or seasoning to give some extra flavor to the same dish.
With your meal prep technique locked in, you’ll have everything you need to make dinner easy and quick. And of course, the dishes you prep for dinner can serve double duty as lunch options too.
Work Your Way Up
While meal prep is intended to be a healthy way to eat on a budget, it takes some adjusting to figure out what works for you. It’s best to write out a list of the kinds of food you’ll be more likely to enjoy eating for a few days in a row. You don’t want to get bored after a day or two and wind up ordering takeout instead, so this step is important.
Most of all, have fun with it! Just because you’re planning your meals out doesn’t mean it has to feel like a chore. If you’re drawing a blank on meals to try, browse through Pinterest for inspiration. You can also plan out a theme for each week, whether it’s Asian-inspired dishes or classic comfort food.
It’s a challenge to get into the habit of meal prep, especially if you’re used to winging it most of the time. Still, give it a try and you’ll probably find that it suits your body – and bank account – way better.