If you’re a parent, you know that kids are usually one of two things: bored and hungry. The hungry thing can get expensive! Food costs can get out of control when you’re feeding multiple people.
I’ve tried all kinds of things over the years from extreme couponing (ugh, no thanks…) to driving around and shopping sales. These things made a dent in our food cost but we needed something more structured to reign in our food spending.
The answer for us turned out to be meal prepping. Finding a bunch of easy and cheap meal prep recipes was what we needed to turn our grocery spending right around.
For most families, food is the third most expensive item on their budget after shelter and transportation. A family of five like mine can easily drop $1200 or more per month just on food. That’s not including eating out!
What can you do about it? Simple – meal prep!
What is meal prepping?
Meal prep is simply making a lot of meals in in advance and storing them for later use. You can meal prep your lunches or dinners for the week, or you can meal prep weeks in advance by freezing ingredients in baggies or containers and cooking them when you’re ready!
There are a lot of ways to save money on food, I won’t cover them all here. The one thing that has really turned our food budget around though is learning the art of budget meal prep. Cheap simple meals prepared in advance are in my opinion, the best way to save money on food.
How does meal prepping save money?
Simple! Meal prepping allows you to build a simple shopping list of the ingredients required to make the meals you’ve chosen. You can make several of the same meal at once which allows you to save money by buying larger quantities of ingredients.
If you’re meal prepping more than a week in advance, you’re probably going to freeze your meals. This saves you more money by ensuring your perishables won’t have time to go bad. I don’t know about you, but I’ve tossed out a lot of fruit and veggies in my day just because we don’t use them fast enough!
You might also be interested in this article: 21 Proven Ways To Save Money On Groceries
Meal prep containers
Before you get started with meal prepping, you’re going to need somewhere to put that delicious food! When you’re prepping meals well in advance, they’re pretty much always going to go into the freezer, so you need containers that are freezer friendly and modular.
Here are some great storage solutions for meal prep:
While many people buy the plastic containers, I prefer to stick with Ziplocs and glass for one reason – plastic doesn’t last. All of the plastic containers we’ve had over the years get brittle and crack from freezing and exposure to heat in the dishwasher. In my opinion, it’s worth it to spend a little extra to get glass!
My Favorite Budget Meal Prep Recipes
To be clear, most of the recipes on this list aren’t mine. I didn’t create them, but I do use them! While I love to cook, I’ve never had the patience to fine tune recipes to perfection. Definitely a huge shout out to the bloggers on this list who have taken the time to craft these delicious recipes for us to enjoy for free!
I’ve just put this list together as a resource for you to help you learn how to meal prep on a budget. Head over to these blogger’s sites and show them some love with a comment or a social share for the hard work they’ve put into these recipes!
Meal prep recipes for beginners
So you’ve never done the cheap meal prep thing before and you’re looking to get started. The best meal prep recipes for beginners are simple. Tasty meals with few ingredients that are easy to put together.
Meatballs are a classic. They’re easy to make, requiring only a few ingredients. This recipe is a delicious take on a classic incorporating lots of veggies and spices. One of the great things about meal prep meatballs is that you can cook them a number of different ways. This recipe calls for frying the meatballs in a pan but if you like you can bake them or cook them in a slow cooker. I’ve even done meatballs on the barbecue!
Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
Ok, I know I said that none of these recipes are mine, but this is a favorite that I’ve kind of developed on my own. I love pulled pork and have tried a lot of different pulled pork meal prep recipes but found that most of them were needlessly complicated. Forget all of that. Here’s my variation, it only requires 3 ingredients for the whole meal!
Pick up a cut of pork from the store. I like to buy large pork roasts from Costco and cut them down to make several meals. Fatty pork shoulders make the best pulled pork! All you need to do is drop the roast into your slow cooker with a cup of water (or chicken stock) and leave it on low for 6-8 hours (depending on your cooker and the size of your roast!). When the roast is cooked all the way through, shred the pork with two forks and add your favorite BBQ sauce. Mix in as much or as little as you like.
Voila! Amazing, simple pulled pork without a dozen fussy ingredients. All you need to finish this off is some buns and a bag of coleslaw salad mix!
Ever since I found this recipe by Chef Savvy, I’ve been using it for both lunch and dinner meal prep. It’s every bit as good as it claims to be and it’s super easy to make! You can modify this recipe by adding some chicken, shrimp or beef if you want to bulk it up into more of a standalone meal. I like to match the cup of peas with a cup of corn too. Either way, you won’t regret trying this one out.
A classic from Taylor at The Girl On Bloor. I love meals that are simple, filling and can be modified to suit my tastes without too much trouble. This beef stroganoff recipe delivers. A great take on a classic, you should definitely add this to your collection of cheap meal prep recipes. Make a huge pot for the week, or freeze the ingredients for slow-cooking later.
I really love my slow cooker. Anything that can be done in my slow cooker gets made that way. This chicken is a great weeknight meal that will go nicely with some potatoes or even just rice. I like that it used chicken thighs as they tend to be cheaper than boneless chicken breasts.
Another slow cooker favorite. This also makes great lunches for the week!
I love a good meatloaf. This take on a classic is absolutely delicious. This one makes a great lunch or dinner. If you’re not really into beans like me, you can substitute steamed broccoli instead!
Split pea soup is a great budget go-to when you’re trying to save some cash. It’s easy to make in a pot or a slow cooker. Of course the recipe calls for ham but you can cheapen this one up by omitting it. It still tastes good without it. I like to do this meal after we’ve used a ham for something else and keep the bone for the soup.
This is more or less just flavorful shrimp and veggies. It’s a super healthy, easy meal prep recipe. I like to buy shrimp frozen as it’s considerably less expensive.
While this isn’t vegan, it’s a great vegetarian option for when money is tight, or you’re looking for an easy meal prep option. This is super simple to make and is comprised mainly of cheap staples – rice and lentils. Give this one a try.
Everybody loves good chili. Serve it up with some sour cream and you’ve got a great dinner with lunches for the next few days.
This post by the confusingly-named ‘Cook With A Shoe’ walks the reader through how to make a great budget stir fry. I like putting stir fry on the menu every couple of weeks because though my kids often gripe about the veggies, it’s an easy meal that’s inexpensive and you can throw just about anything in.
Homemade Frozen Pizzas
Ok, so you could pick up the frozen pizzas from Costco and be done with it, but homemade ones are so much better! Grab some shells from the grocery store and add whatever you want. Cheese is a must of course, and I like to do BBQ chicken, tomato, onion and bacon. Sooo good. Make yours however you like!
Anything that cane be made from a Costco roasted chicken is good with me. This meal is also microwaveable. You might not think you can get a quality dinner from a microwave but you should try this out, it’s incredible.
Cheap breakfast meal prep recipes
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I don’t eat it as often as I should because I wake up super early and I’m often either not up to cooking, or I’m in a hurry. This is where cheap breakfast meal prep comes in.
Having healthy and cheap breakfast options prepped and ready to go at 6am makes my days much easier. The great thing is, there are a ton of options!
This strikes me as the type of thing you might find on the menu at Denny’s which is awesome, I love Denny’s. Simple and tasty with potatoes, eggs, and cheese in a bowl with onions. You can easily beef it up with bacon or some sausage (I like chorizo).
This simple sandwich is what I eat now most mornings. It gives me a little kick of protein to get my day started and they’re simple to make. You can cheapen it up by eliminating the meat if you like or make it healthier by adding spinach or avocado (best added the day of). Larger quantities are good to freeze but I like to make them weekly and just keep the in the fridge.
This is a great meal for taking with you for your drive or to eat at work. It’s more or less just yogurt, fruit and granola. I like to use frozen berries because they’re way cheaper and honestly when it’s mixed with yogurt and granola, I don’t notice the difference. Your mileage may vary on that one.
Smoothies are great for summer mornings. I like to put fruit and veggies (typically just spinach or carrots into a sealable cup with some protein powder and then set it in the freezer. When I’m ready for my smoothie I take it out and add some juice or water, blend it up and then enjoy. Magic Bullet cups work great for this.
While this isn’t the cheapest option on the list, it won’t break the bank either. Making a large baking pan of this casserole on Sunday evening should be enough to keep you and the kids fed for breakfast all week. You can add some tomatoes or green onions for some extra nutrition and flavor. I like to do a layer of pre-baked yam on the bottom. It’s really delicious!
Scrambled Eggs On Toast
A great way to have cheap breakfast for the week is to simply scramble up a dozen eggs on Sunday evening and put them in the fridge. A quick trip through the microwave warms them up the morning of, throw them on some toast and you’ve got a great breakfast for under a dollar!
This meal by Fit Foodie Finds is a great alternative to a breakfast sandwich. Wraps are a little more versatile than sandwiches, as they wrap closed, you can put anything you want inside without fear of it spilling out. Ground sausage, turkey, avocado, whatever!
Cheap lunch meal prep
Learning how to meal prep cheap lunches is super important when it comes to saving money. Many of us are tempted by McDonalds, Subway Burger King or other fast lunch options. Not only do these foods cost lots of money in the long-term, they’re also really, really bad for you.
I’m hoping that these cheap lunch meal prep ideas inspire you to try something new and get out of the expensive (and often unhealthy) habit of buying your lunches.
Chicken is my favorite for lunch or dinner. I love finding new ways to cook it! This teriyaki chicken recipe makes a delicious lunch or dinner. This recipe from Gimme Delicious makes a great lunch in under 20 minutes.
I love Asian food, and this dish kicks a**. Throw a few of these together and you’ve got awesome, (mostly) healthy lunches for the week.
This meal by Jar Of Lemons is tasty and relatively inexpensive. The most expensive part of this one is naturally, the chicken. If you’re super tight on the budget you can eliminate the chicken from this one. You’re still getting some protein in the black beans and a good helping of veggies.
This bowl by Sweet Peas And Saffron is a healthy and delicious option for a cheap meal prep lunch. Lots of protein and veggies here.
As the first line of this recipe says, ranch and chicken are a match made in heaven. I agree :). I love simple chicken wraps for lunch and it’s stupid easy to throw a weeks worth of these together in 20 minutes. Since I hate cilantro with the fury of a thousand suns, I leave it out out :). If you’re so inclined you can cheapen this recipe up by reducing or eliminating the cheese in favor of more lettuce.
I love to make huge, veggie filled sandwiches for my work lunches. I like to use deli meat, cheese pickle, lettuce, tomato and sprouts. Sprinkle on some parmasan, salt and pepper and whatever sauces you like to use and you’re good to go. Switch it up by using havarti or another cheese and new meats each week to keep it interesting.
Grilled Cheese With Tomato Soup
This is a childhood favorite of mine and couldn’t possibly be simpler to prepare. Butter some bread and place cheese in-between. Heat some tomato soup straight out of the can and boom, lunch!
Cheap pasta recipes for meal prepping
While there’s not a ton of nutrition in this one, it’s super cheap, and it’s great comfort food. Pesto pasta is a super simple go-to for when you’re low on cash and need to get through the week. For a more gourmet and less budget-friendly version, you can throw in a bit of chopped chicken.
Spaghetti is versatile, easy to make and best of all, it’s cheap. This recipe from Budget Bytes is a great option for making filling lunches for the whole week.
This meal probably won’t help you lose weight, but man is it ever good! I love these types of pasta meals because it’s really hard to screw them up!
Who doesn’t love macaroni? Check out this tasty and filling take on a classic by Slow Cooker Kitchen. This is a great way to feed a crowd on a budget, and it’s a crowd-pleaser!
This is great filling comfort food for a cold day. It’s filling and tasty, exactly what you’d expect of a pasta bake.
This delicious dish makes a great midweek meal when you just don’t have the energy for something complicated.
Ok, Mac and Cheese isn’t necessarily the healthiest meal, but this recipe kicks it up a notch with sweet potato. It’s great recipe that tastes a lot like typical mac and cheese and my kids ate it without complaint…always a bonus!
Building a meal prep recipes grocery list
Building a grocery list to use for meal prep is actually a lot easier than how I used to shop. Back in the day, I would go into the grocery store, pick out a bunch of things that I recognize, and then buy them.
Naturally, I bought a lot of things that I didn’t need and missed a lot of things that I needed to make meals throughout the week. This would result in several more trips to the store. It’s a waste of time. Here’s how I shop now:
- Go through our cupboards and see what we already have and try to incorporate those things into the meal plan.
- Plan out our meals for the week.
- Go through each recipe and add things we don’t already own to the grocery list
- Add non-dinner items that we always need on-hand to the list (eggs, bread, apples etc.)
- Buy bulk items at Costco, Wal-Mart or a similar big-box store
8 tips to help you succeed with cheap meal prep
Plan your meals ahead of time
All of our dinners are planned out two weeks in advance. We write out the dinners we’re going to make on a planner on our fridge and then I build a shopping list off of that. I add on some common items that we use for breakfast and lunches such as lunch meat, eggs etc. and that gets us through the two week stretch nicely.
Package your own snacks
Buy your snacks, drinks and treats in bulk will always be cheaper than purchasing pre-packaged stuff. It doesn’t take that long to cut up some carrots, or divy up crackers into small containers or bags. Things like Chips, gummy bears, cheese and crackers can easily be split up into small ziploc bags and they’re significantly cheaper in bulk.
Build your meals off of cheap staples
I like to plan meals that use large quantities of relatively cheap foods such as corn, rice, beans and potatoes. Chicken is also reasonably cheap in quantity. Basing your meal plans off of cheap staples rather than expensive beef, fish or other expensive items can save you a ton.
Buy in bulk
Costco is a testament to the fact that literally everything is cheaper in quantity. If you want to succeed with cheap meal prep and dramatically reduce your food costs, you’ve go to start thinking bigger.
At first it can feel like you’re spending more, because you’re spending more money up front. You’re buying food to last you longer though and over time, you’re going to save a lot of cash.
Keep a price book
Grab a cheap notebook from the dollar store (or use a free app like Google Keep) and write out all of the items you buy in a given month. Next to that, note the usual unit price for that food. It’s important to use the unit price to compare by so that you get an accurate price, no matter the size of the package.
Knowing what a normal price per 100 grams of cheddar is helps you know how much you’re actually paying and helps you find better deals.
Shop on a full stomach
This is fairly self-explanatory. When you’re full, you’re less prone to making impulse decisions based on what looks good. Eat a good meal or at least a snack before going shopping to avoid impulsive purchases.
Split large quantities
If you want to get a better price on cheese, but just can’t handle having a 4lb block of cheddar taking up space in your fridge, find a friend or family member to share the cost with. You can cut the block in half and share the cost. This works with all kinds of foods and can not only help you save money, but it can reduce the frequency of your trips to the hell on earth that is Costco.
Invest in a deep freezer
Owning a freezer can help you save both money and time. If you’re going to buy larger quantities of things, you’re going to need somewhere to put the stuff. A freezer is also a great as it gives you more storage space for pre-made meals. We bought a freezer just like this one a few years back and I couldn’t go back to not having one.
Stop wasting food
According to this article by The Guardian, Americans waste 150,000 tons of food per day. Canadians are no better. If you want to save money and do you part for the environment, a good place to start is addressing food waste in your home.
Most food waste occurs because food that you bought goes bad before you use it, or leftovers go bad in the refrigerator. Planning your meals will go a long way to addressing the first problem. The second is easy, eat your leftovers before making a new meal.
When my kids have leftovers from yesterday’s dinner, I often reheat it and add it to their current meal as a side. It’s also worth noting how much of certain things your family eats so you can avoid making too much for a single meal.
Have the right tools
A good food processor can cost around $100, but can make life in the kitchen much more efficient. For example, we all know that grating cheese sucks, which can lead to purchasing the pre-grated type to save time. A food processor can make short work of the problem and grate a block of cheese in a matter of seconds.
Same goes for coffee, owning a good grinder can save you money over time by allowing you to purchase the cheaper, unground coffee instead of pre-ground.
Plan your meals around local, seasonal foods
A couple of hundred years ago, people only ate what was in season locally. Now, we’re used to having apples in January and mangoes in Canada. The cheapest way to eat is by planning you meals based on what is in-season locally. Let expensive out of season and imported foods be a treat that you eat sometimes, rather than part of your regular meal plan.
Keep snacks in your car
Impulse fast food purchases are a major budget killer. Keeping a few cheap and healthy snacks in your car will help you avoid stopping for fast food when you’re hungry.
Wrapping it up
Figuring out how to do budget meal prep can feel like a bit of a chore at first. Stick with it, it gets exciting once you start to see the results of your effort!
After a few weeks of buying and preparing your food based off of cheap meal prep recipes, you’re going to have more groceries in your home, and more money in your pocket to spend on things that you enjoy.
Question for you:
What is your best cheap meal prep recipe or tip?
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