Eat In, Save Dough: The Secrets to Meal Planning and Food Prep

Today it’s all about the plannin’ and the preppin’. If you missed my first post in the Eat In, Save Dough series about food budgeting, make sure to click here and get caught up!

Grilled chicken breast, roasted sweet potato, and veggies: a favorite easy to plan, easy to prep, go-to meal, of mine.

Anyways, let’s talk planning. I don’t know about you, but I am a big planner. I’m that girl who still has the old fashioned notebook planner and religiously pencils in just about everything. I like to know what is happening when, and I just about always seem to have an agenda set for my day. Now I have to admit that I don’t do the best when it comes to being spontaneous or flexible, and realize that sometimes it’s good to fly by the seat of my pants – but I am still working on that. One time I know where it always pays off to plan ahead, is mealtime!

Thinking about and planning out (at least some of) your meals ahead of time, makes it easy to stick to your budget, to avoid the temptation of going out or ordering in, and to choose healthy options.

Think about it. If you already know that you are going to make tacos for dinner, you won’t stress about having to figure out something to cook on your drive home, you won’t waste that chicken and those tomatoes that you bought at the beginning of the week, and you’ll know that you will have a good, tasty meal to look forward to and won’t be tempted to pick up a pizza. And get this, with a little pre-prep, those tacos could be ready in minutes!

So how does one go about meal planning?

Well it all begins with the budget. Once you have your budget set you will know how much you have to spend on groceries for the week.

Next it’s important to think about your schedule. Will you have time to eat breakfast at home in the morning? Do you need to pack a lunch? Will you be home for dinner? Will you have time to eat a full meal or would several mini-meals/snacks work better?

Plan to pack, so you’ll always have healthy, tasty food to fuel you through your busy days – and won’t be tempted to hit the drive-thru

It’s also important to consider what you have in your pantry or freezer, or what you might still have in your fridge that needs to be used up. It is best to have your meals planned before you make your weekly shopping trip so you can get what you need and stay on budget!

Oh, and of course, you must think about your cravings – what do you feel like eating this week? I like to browse Jenn or Lindsay’s blogs for recipe ideas and troll Pinterest for more meal and snack inspiration.

For me, I usually try to meal plan for the school work week – so, Monday through Friday, and like to leave the weekends open —> remember I am still working on that whole ‘being spontaneous’ thing.

For example, I know that I will need an on-the-go breakfast for early class two days a week, but can eat breakfast in the dining hall at home the other three days. Lately I have been baking a big batch of my morning glory muffins and have been pulling them out of the freezer and taking them to nosh on with an apple in between my morning classes – couldn’t be easier.

Here’s a look at my meal plan from last week (mind you, I am an RA living in the dorms so my eats may be a bit different from most of yours):

  Breakfast Lunch Dinner
Monday Oatmeal with Raisins + Banana Veggies, Cottage Cheese, Homemade Larabar Chicken, Roasted Sweet Potato, Steamed Veggies
Tuesday Morning Glory Muffin + Apple Dining Hall Grilled Chicken Salad
Wednesday Oatmeal with Raisins + Banana Veggies, Greek Yogurt + Frozen Berries, Crackers Dining Hall
Thursday Morning Glory Muffin + Apple Dining Hall PB&J and Greek Yogurt
Friday Oatmeal with Raisins + Banana Turkey Sandwich, Veggies Out

Stocked up on nannerz for the week. You know what they say an apple a banana (or two) a day, eh?

Snacks for the week included string cheese, roasted chickpeas, and oranges. I definitely ate other snacks that I had in my pantry, but these were the snack options I budgeted for and picked up at the store that week. Other grocery buys this week included carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, apples, bananas, Greek yogurt, chicken, cottage cheese, and sweet potatoes.

Keep in mind that even a rough meal plan is better than none since when you have a plan you are more likely to follow through on it! While you should try to stick to your meal plan in order to reap the benefits of pre-planning, we all have those nights when we have to stay at work or school late, or get stuck in traffic, and cooking up a meal just isn’t in the cards for us that night. That’s okay. Life happens. But one thing that you can do to make executing your meal plan even easier, is food prep!

Why Food Prep Will Make Your Life Easier

Let me just tell you, food prep is going to be your BFF. By taking the time to prepare some of your food when you aren’t so busy (that’s Sunday evenings for me), you will save precious minutes when your days are more hectic and you need something to eat stat.

Almost anything can be prepared in advance to some degree, but your food prep will depend on the meals/foods you choose for the week. Think about steps you could do ahead of time. For example, make a lasagna on the weekend but throw it in the freezer until Thursday, when you plan to thaw and bake it for dinner.

As I am living in the dorms, my food prep, and meals for that matter, are a bit different and limited to my use of the community kitchen. Food prep, for me, means cooking up a few chicken breasts, roasting some sweet potatoes, baking a batch of muffins, washing and cutting fruits and vegetables, and even pre-portioning servings of things like yogurt out, so I can just throw them into my lunch bag.

I like to slice chicken breasts into strips and cook them up on Sunday to throw in salads and wraps through out the week. Oh and I love pepper, in case you couldn’t tell 😉

Like I said, I spend about two hours on Sunday night getting my food ready for the week – that might sound like quite the time commitment, but when it only takes you five minutes to throw dinner together after a long, dragging Monday, you’ll thank me. 🙂

So take some time this weekend to look at your schedule, plan your meals, make a trip to the grocery store, and prepare yourself for the week ahead!

Have you tried meal planning?

What is your favorite make-ahead meal?

I love making up my healthy take on chicken or turkey potpie when I have time and eat it all week for dinner. Nothing beats a warm bowl of comfort, especially in this frigid winter weather!


2 thoughts on “Eat In, Save Dough: The Secrets to Meal Planning and Food Prep

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