Eating Well on a Budget
It’s no secret that eating nutritiously can be crazy expensive and time consuming. And it can also be made difficult depending where you live and what grocery stores you have access to. But, here is a secret: it doesn’t have to be.
As a soon to be “real” adult, there are a ton of transitions I am about to go through, some of which I have done my best to mentally prepare for, others which I can do nothing but figure out as I go along. Something I can prepare for: a routine revolved around 9-5 work hours, 5 days a week. Something I can’t: cooking every meal for myself out of my own pocket.
For the past four years of my life, I have lived off a meal plan. My first two years of college, I ate three meals every day at the dining hall. The second two, I ate two, opting to make breakfast in my room every morning. Before college, I lived off my high school’s lunch plan and my parent’s cooking (oh, and even further back, tons of dinosaur oatmeal). Aside from a semester in Copenhagen that gave me a brief look into meal prep and budgeting, I haven’t had a way to prepare myself for the multiple years ahead of me in which I will be cooking for myself on my own time, my own budget, and my own tastes.
However, while I may not be able to fully prepare for this now, there are pieces I can start to put together to make the transition easier, even if a little. I can start tracking my spending more accurately and meticulously- how much do I spend on groceries every week? Even if I just buy food for breakfast and snacks, this still adds up and will give me a greater idea of what to expect overall. How much do I eat out and what is this monthly cost? I can also start collecting recipes and meal prep utensils, such as recipes that are good on a budget and take little effort/time, and looking into instant pots or slow cookers. Little steps like this will make my life that much easier in a month when I am suddenly no longer a college student, but a working lady!
To get started, I’ve gathered some of my favorite meal prep recipes, as well as some great tips for eating well on a budget. You can bet I will be turning to these over and over again in the coming months, and I will update this list as I come across even more!
What are your favorite meal prep tips and recipes? How do you get excited about the task of cooking all your meals and how do you balance this with eating out on a budget?
MEAL PREP RECIPES: I searched through my favorite foodie sites for great and diverse meal prep recipes. Make these guys on a Sunday and save them for the week. I tend to make the bulk of my meal prep on Sunday and then a smaller round two on Wednesday (eating the same meal five days in a row is way too boring for me)
6. Even more slowcooker recipes! (Seriously guys, can’t emphasize this tool enough)
@Straighttothebutze’s EASY RECIPES ON A BUDGET:
2. Construction Oatmeal. Yes, the toppings can get a bit pricey. But using whole nuts or even grinding your own nut butters in addition to frozen fruit keeps this meal affordable!
TIPS: Some of these may be more practical for you than others, especially when taking into account your tastes, your geographical location, and your budget. But pick some that work best for you and try them out!
1. Lean towards stores’ brandname products. So when you’re at Whole Foods, check out the 365 nut butters, toaster waffles, oatmeal, etc. This is part of the reason I love Trader Joes- because pretty much everything is brand name and it saves a whole ton of money!
2. Look into sites like Thrive Market or Brandless. Thrive is a subscription site to which you pay a yearly fee and then get discounted prices on healthy products you would normally buy at Whole Foods, Erewhon, and other natural food stores. Even better? They ship the products to you, so if you are in a remote area, you can get all these great goodies! Brandless is the internet’s version of Trader Joes in my opinion- again, all those same great products you would get at a health food store, just less expensive because there is no branding. Oh and also? Everything is $3… how’s that for budgeting?
3. Factor eating out into your budget. I don’t know about you, but I can easily drop a whole ton of money in one weekend on food if I am not paying attention. I find myself going with the flow and attending brunches and dinners with friends and soon enough… there goes my budget. Being mindful of how much you eat out and making it clear to yourself how much a month you can spend eating out is important. Also, think about what food you consider worth it- is it fast food? Ice cream? A nice dinner? Drinks with friends at the end of the week? These all cost very different prices, so think about what you enjoy and make sure your budgeting goes to good use!
4. Invest in some good Tupperware and a fun lunchbox. I can’t tell you enough how much more fun it is to get creative in the kitchen when you have freezer friendly and microwave friendly Tupperware. And showing up to work with a cute bag to house your lunch? Even better.
5. Buy frozen veggies and fruit. Did you know that frozen fruits and veggies can actually be better for you than fresh? Since they are typically packaged immediately after harvesting, the nutrients stay at their best. Plus, these bags tend to last for about eight months unopened. Frozen fruit and veggies are great for smoothies, stir fry, pasta dishes, and tons more. Just make sure when you purchase these guys that the bag consists of plain veggies or fruit with no added anything (the fruit or veggie should be the only ingredient on the list). This means no sugar, no garlic, no nothing! Get these babies in their purest forms. Also, make sure that the fruit or veggies are not in a single lump in the bag- this suggests they have have thawed and refrozen at some point.
6. Buy produce that is in season. Out of season produce (think raspberries in the winter, butternut squash in the summer) tend to be a bit pricier. Take this into consideration when figuring out your meal prep and grocery lists for the week.
7. Look for daily deals. Yes, always go into a store with your list in hand (see #10), but also- if there is a sale on oatmeal and you are an oatmeal fanatic (in fact, you already have two cartons at home), I say buy some. You definitely will be using this oatmeal at some point (especially if you are me) and so you might as well get it now when it is on sale! But, don’t just use this excuse for everything- make sure it is something 1. That will last (aka not perishable) and 2. You actually do love a whole ton and always need on hand / go through relatively quickly.
8. Invest in some good meal prep utilities such as: instant pot, coffee maker, rice cooker, crock pot, grinder, matcha whisk, food processor, high powered blender, juicer, etc. Obviously don’t buy all of these (unless you are a food fanatic and want a stocked kitchen, haha), but think about where a lot of your money goes and what tools can help you reduce these costs in the long run. Furthermore, crock pots and instant pots are great tools to cooking dishes for the week with minimal effort.
9. Make your own nut butter and milks. For me, I love nut butters, but I can’t eat peanut butter. Peanut butter also happens to be the least expensive of nut butters. Almond butter, which I do consume a ton of, can be up to $15 a jar which is CRAZY considering I go through a jar every two weeks. That is $390 dollars a year on nut butter (I just realized that and am now freaking out). So, I probably will be investing in a quality grinder or food processor to start making my own almond butter!
10. Go into grocery stores with your list in hand. Okay… I don’t know about you, but the minute I get into a grocery store I am overwhelmed with happiness and immediately want to buy all the new products I haven’t tried yet. Before I know it, my cart is LOADED with tons of things I don’t need, probably totaling a bajillion dollars. I don’t have that money to spend, people. So going in with my list and knowing what exactly I need can really help me keep on track, especially if I…
11. Make it a game! How fast can I get in and out of a grocery store? If I am trying to make record time, I can’t stop at every single new nut butter that catches my eye, now can I?
12. Buy in bulk! The bulk food sections of any grocery store are great in the same way brandless products are- cheaper! Plus, you can buy just as much or as little as you please. This way, if you want to try a new recipe but are unsure if you will like the spices and ever use them again, you can buy just a tiny bit (as opposed to the pre-portioned spice in the spice aisle) and return later for more.
13. Canned foods. Tuna, salmon, veggies… canned food can be great and an alternative to “fresh” food. However, the way these cans get you is if they are packed with extra salt. Take a look at the sodium content before purchasing to make sure it isn’t crazy.
14. Rotisserie chicken. Buying a whole roasted chicken at the start of the week is not only a time-saver (Roasting a whole chicken by myself every Sunday? Uh... not appealing at all), but also a great way to buy enough meat to last you the entire week. Plus, you have dark meat and light meat all in one, so you can change it up throughout the week and don’t get bored!
15. Use a basket not a cart. Finally, when shopping just for you, try reaching for the basket instead of the cart. A cart means you can only carry so much (both because of weight and size) and won’t go overboard with buying tons you don’t need. Of course if you are prepping for a dinner party or cooking for a family than this may not be practical, but if you are a party of one (me!), then this may be right for you.
I believe budgeting is really important, especially with how expensive everything seems to be these days. That being said, don’t deprive yourself. Just because meal prep and eating on a budget are important, that doesn’t mean they have to be boring! Figure out where in your budget you have wiggle room to ensure that you are eating what makes you feel happy and your absolute best. Do you have a brand of gelato you just can’t live without? A high grade matcha powder? Are you a raspberry fiend all year round? Factor these into your budget and see what you can give up in turn. Maybe that means giving up cable, no longer stopping at Starbucks everyday, or buying Cetaphil instead of Chanel moisturizer. Deprivation is never the answer, but balancing is :)