Meal prep for weight loss on a budget has never been easier. With all the resources we have at our fingertips, you can start to save time and money while trimming your waistline. With meal prep, you can save money by eating food you prepare at home in bulk.
When you purchase food in bulk and cook it yourself, it tends to come out cheaper than eating out. Plus, your meals can be much healthier and help you reach your health and fitness goals faster.
For example, I make TONS of these protein-oat muffins with protein peanut butter to avoid spending $10+ on the fancy donuts I like from my favorite donut shop. In addition to saving me money, I also feel fuller and don’t get a sugar rush. These beauties don’t have anywhere near the same amount of calories as 2 or 3 donuts either.
Meal prep is the process of cooking meals in bulk then packaging the food in individual portions. This method of preparing food has become popular as people look to trim their waistlines and watch their wallets. You can follow Instagram account after Instagram account as well as Facebook pages that show beautiful, tasty pictures of meals prepared and packaged for 4-7 days of eating at a time.
Though meal prep for weight loss on a budget seems like a fad, studies show that it can actually help you reach your fitness goals. Meal prep sounds daunting but once you make it a habit, you’ll surely prefer it as a way to eat your meals.
What are the benefits of meal prepping?
Weightloss benefits of meal prep
When I got serious about my own health journey and weightlifting routine, my trainers suggested that I spend a lot of time and effort developing a consistent habit of preparing meals ahead of time. This would help me meet my calorie and macronutrient targets (protein, carbohydrates, and fats.) If you are not used to hitting certain targets in these areas, then preparing your meals ahead of time will be a huge help.
For example, you may need to eat more protein than normal or fewer calories than you usually eat (if you are trying to achieve fat loss) or both. When you have your meals prepared for the week according to your calorie and macro targets, it becomes easier to meet them. You don’t have to make a decision after your busy day about what to eat. The decision is made because the food has been made!
If you are looking to lose weight, then having meals prepared according to the calorie deficit you need to reach your physique goals will be that much easier.
So far, I’ve lost 13 lbs this year using this method to prepare my food. If I can do, I’m sure anyone can (and I really like to eat!)
Money-saving benefits of meal prep
How many times have you looked at your bank account wondering how you manage to spend so much money eating out? If it happens all too often, then meal prep could be the perfect solution to help you stick to your budget. If you buy your food from the grocery store, in larger quantities, you tend to spend less, per serving, than when eating away from home.
Instead of spending $10 or $15 on lunch every day, you could bring the total down to $2,$3 or $5 per serving with your groceries and meal prep routine. If you are trying to get out of debt or just save money on food, in general, preparing food in bulk is a great start.
How can I start with meal prep to save money and lose weight?
While I’m no personal trainer or fitness expert by any means, I can share what my trainer told me and what helped me drop 13 lbs and counting this year. Of course, you’ll want to consult a physician for instructions that take your circumstances into consideration. However, the best place to start is with your health and fitness goals.
Are you looking to:
- Lose fat?
- Build muscle?
- Alleviate chronic illness?
Once you determine your goal, you’ll then want to determine the diet that will work best for your goals: caloric deficit, counting macros, more whole foods, vegan, etc.
Find recipes that work within the guidelines of the way you will eat (Pinterest is a great search engine for this,) then choose a few recipes that will cover the meals you want to be prepared in advance. To start, you might decide that you only want to prepare your lunch during meal prep. As you get used to this routine, you may begin to add dinner and breakfast to your meal prep routine later on.
How do I start a meal prep routine?
First, start with a list of the items you will need based on the meals that fit into the eating plan you’ve selected. Then, create a list that you can take to the grocery store with you. Another great option is to get your groceries via delivery service. This can save you even more time and money, as you will know exactly what you will spend at checkout and be less tempted to make impulse food purchases that don’t fit into your budget like you would shopping in the store.
Grocery delivery services that may be in your area include:
I know that going to the store to get groceries can be totally overwhelming, add to that the idea of sticking to a very specific list and you could go bananas! Grocery delivery has been a true life saver when trying to stick to a certain eating regimine to meet my health and fitness goals.
Choose a day to meal prep
Some people do meal prep once a week on Saturdays or Sundays, others may do it twice a week, perhaps adding Wednesday or Thursday to make sure meal prep foods stay fresh. Some people don’t like the idea of eating food that could be 5,6 or 7 days old. If that’s you, consider doing meal prep twice a week. Personally, I like to handle it in one day, if possible. To keep my pre-cooked meals beyond the 5-day mark, I purchased a deep freezer.
This extra deep freezer to store pre-cooked meal has been one of the greatest purchases I’ve made as a homemaker. The ability to pre-cook a bunch of food and store it in the freezer to eat later saves so much time and money for our family that the cost alone pays for itself in a matter of a few months. Check out Amazon’s selection of deep freezers if you want to go this route to enhance your meal prepping efficiencies.
Purchase items that will make meal prep easier
We already discussed getting a deep freezer. It’s not necessary, but can be super helpful. Here are some other items that can come in handy if you want to save time, money and your waistline with your meal prep routine:
- Food scale– I use this to keep my portions on par with my calorie goals. It also saves money because I can stretch food purchases further with smaller, yet satisfying portions as my diet dictates.
- Sheet pan– I like to toss all my meat and veggies in the oven. I can cook 3-4 chicken breasts, 8 turkey meatballs, and 4 burger patties plus a bunch of veggies in one fell swoop this way. (It takes two pans, however.)
- Storage bags– These are great for storing any meat you might purchase in bulk. If you decide to make soup, storage bags are also helpful. I like to get different sizes (Ziploc Variety Pack) to accommodate the different types of meals and portion sizes I will eat.
- Meal prep containers– This is how you will store your individual meals. They can be used over and over again. Many are microwave and dishwasher safe.
- Water bottles– You don’t have to include preparing water bottles, but I do. At night, I try to fill up half-gallon water bottles with filtered water so that I will be able to drink the next day without thinking about it. If weight loss is your goal, water consumption will help you with this.
Purchase dry foods that can cut down on cooking
When I travel, I still want to eat according to my fitness goals. Having dry, pre-packed food can help with that. Also, if I am short on time and it’s hard to stay on track with meal prep, I use packaged foods as a way to “lazy meal prep.”
Though eating packaged foods is not ideal, it can help fill in gaps on days or weeks where you can’t dedicate as much time to meal prep. The plus is that you can still stick to your fitness goals and still save a lot of money because you won’t be eating out at $10, $20 or $30 bucks a pop. If you get these foods with a longer shelf-life, try to get them in individual portions so that you do not overshoot your intended calories or portion sizes.
If you are looking to build muscle, you might need to eat more than one serving (more calories.) Either way, the single portions are much help when trying to figure out how much you need to eat.
Here are some foods that you can keep in your pantry (or in a cool, dark place in your car) if you can’t complete a full meal prep or need to eat on the run:
- Tuna packets
- Oatmeal packets
- 100 calorie pack nuts
- SkinnyPop 100 calorie packs
- Beef or turkey jerky
- Protein bars
- Protein powder
Sample meal prep budget
If you want to know just how cheap you can do a meal prep for a single person per week here are some ideas:
- 1 lb of chicken breast – $3.99
- 1 lb ground turkey- $3.99
- 1 lb lean ground beef – $4.99
- 1 head of broccoli- $3.00
- 2 bags of mixed frozen vegetables- $3.00
- 2 bunch of asparagus- $5.00
- 2 lbs sweet potato- $2.99
- Blueberries- $3.99
- Blackberries- $2.25
- Bag of white/brown rice- $3.00
- 1 dozen eggs- $2.99
- Serving of oatmeal- $.25
Cheap meal prep ideas with a sample meal plan:
Of course, you could mix and match meals and ingredients as needed. The point here is that you can have plenty of meal options with a small, simple inexpensive grocery list. Of course, this meal plan doesn’t take into account your specific dietary needs or caloric intake. It’s possible that you will need to take away some food or add some snacks to this plan, which will also add variability to your final meal prep grocery budget. You can work with a physician, nutritionist or dietician to come up with the best meal plan for your needs and goals, then plan your meal prep from there.
How can I cook food during meal prep?
I’m the kind of person that likes to get things done super quick. With veggies, meat and starches like potatoes, I tend to lightly coat them with olive oil, add Mrs. Dash Seasoning (great for no-salt cooking) and cook on a single sheet pan. (Be sure to spray the sheet pan down with oil before placing your food on the sheet pan. Adding foil to the sheet pan works, too.)
See below how I throw everything on the pan and cook:
From here, I simply put everything in the meal prep containers and refrigerate until I’m ready to eat.
Of course, these aren’t the most explicit instructions because, well, I’m a pinch and dash cooker. I don’t have recipes all the time. I just guestimate and cook like I always have. I’ve been cooking pretty much all my life, so I tend to figure things out when it comes to preparing food. If that’s not the case with you, no worries. Here are some resources that can give super-specific instructions on how to get into meal prep:
Meal Prepping for Weight Loss: The Big Book of Quick & Healthy Make Ahead Recipes. Easy to Cook, Prep, Store, Freeze: Packable lunches, Grab & Go Breakfasts, … Wholesome Dinners (120+ Recipes with Pics)
They key is to be very patient with yourself. This is a new way of cooking and it takes getting used to. As I said, start small (maybe with one meal) so that you are not overwhelmed with too many changes and end up jumping ship because it’s just too much to handle.
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