There's nothing worse than being a broke foodie. However, just because you're not tapped into a huge bank account doesn't mean you can't enjoy good food. Through careful planning and some creativity, meal planning can let you eat much better than you’d think looking at your bank account.
Why meal planning works:
Meal planning (also called meal prep) takes a task that’s usually spread out and condenses it. This works to save you both time and money. It saves time because things you’d have to prepare multiple times (pulling out all the right pots, the cutting board, heating up the stove) only have to be done once, the day you’re preparing the meals. You also get to buy food in larger bulk: when you’re making a big grocery trip every week or two, instead of every few days, you can buy the larger containers, which cost you less over time.
You do have to invest more time and money upfront, but you make it up later. Besides, would you rather spend time cooking after you get home from work tired, or on a weekend when you’re full of energy?
Some basic tips:
Do the preparation on the weekend, rather than during the week: Weekdays are rough, and you’re working to save yourself the trouble of having to cook on weekdays. By saving it for Saturday or Sunday, you have more energy, as well as more time if your meals take longer than expected to prepare.
Don’t shop and cook on the same day: Since you’re buying groceries for at least a week, you’re going to have to spend a while shopping. You’re also going to be making enough food for a week, which is going to take you a similarly longer than expected amount of time. Unless you want to spend the entire day shopping then cooking, it’s probably better to spread these out over the weekend.
Look at unit prices instead of whole prices: Most price tags on shelves have, in smaller font, the price per ounce/liter/whatever the measurement is. Buy the option that’s cheaper per unit if it’s not perishable or something you’re going to use in its entirety over the week. It’ll feel like you’re paying more, but it’ll be cheaper over time.
Experiment, but not too much: You want to eat more than just the same five things, right? This gives you a good way to experiment with more meals, so add about one new thing every week or two. It’s tempting to always try new things, but you’re saving money and time by buying a lot of the same things and getting faster with making the same meals over time. It’s hard to find a balance, and you’ll likely fail a few times, but that’s how you learn to cook better and just how much you can explore.
Plan and eat before you go shopping: Grocery stores are designed to make you want to buy more things all the time. To fight that, have a definite plan for what you’re making this week, and eat something before you go. Stick to the items that are on the list of ingredients you need, and not being hungry will keep you from buying everything you see.
Set a hard limit on your budget: You don’t have a lot of money, so this step is crucial. Whatever it is you can afford, set that as a hard limit on the groceries you buy. Not only does this keep you from spending too much money, it forces you to be creative about what you can make, and isn’t that novelty why you love food in the first place?
What to make:
Well, you can make just about anything, but that’s not the advice that you came here for. This is simply too big of a topic to try and cover everything but check out these videos to see how you can impress your palate without depressing your bank account.
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Just because your budget isn't cooperating doesn't mean you can't eat well. Prior preparation prevents poor eating, particularly when money is low. What are your favorite meals to prep for a week? Could you ever do a week's worth of meal prep?
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