I truly believe that learning how to cook for yourself is one of most life-changing habits to step on the gas and fast track your way to Financial Independence! This meal prep guide alone could help you save an additional $215,000 for retirement.
Don’t believe me?
Check out our recent post on “How Meal Prepping can save you $215,000 for Retirement” where I break down the food spending of the average American and show how big of a difference meal prepping can make.
Meal Prep Guide
I know the idea of cooking 90% of your meals at home can seem daunting. But I promise you… you can do it! Even if you have no background in cooking. There have never been more resources available to help you learn how to cook.
The Biggest Advantage of Meal Prepping
There’s no doubt that meal prepping can help you on your journey to financial freedom. You can eat healthier, lose weight, spend more time with your family, have a cleaner kitchen, and spend a lot less on eating out and wasted food.
Those are all important, but the biggest advantage meal prepping several meals at once has over cooking as you go is that it will save you time and energy. If you eat three meals a day, the idea of thinking through and preparing 21 different meal options can be exhausting. And that doesn’t even include the time spent cooking and cleaning up after each one!
My goal with meal prepping is to maximize my time, health, and effort by cooking in bulk. I’d rather spend a couple hours each week making 3 lbs of roasted chicken and vegetables than spend an hour each day cooking and cleaning.
Meal Prepping is Not a New Concept or Idea
- Ancient cultures used to store up grain to eat in times of famine.
- Farmers planted and harvested extra food to barter for goods.
- Pioneers preserved meat and stocked up their food stores to prepare for harsh winters.
- Heck, even my parents would cook extra food to eat leftovers the next day!
Meal prepping is simple. All you have to do is pick a recipe you like, double or triple the ingredients, and eat that same food several times throughout the week.
Unfortunately, most fitness experts and nutritionists make a living out of making some of the most simple concepts difficult.
I want to make this as easy as possible for you. Let’s get started!
How To Meal Prep
Step One: Make Priorities
First, you need to decide what your biggest priority is. This will affect the way you plan out your meals.
Are you trying to make the cheapest meals possible to save money on groceries and eating out?
Is the main goal to cook as much food in as little amount of time as possible? Think instant pot and crock pot meals.
Or are you hoping to meal prep healthy options to be healthy or lose weight? Think Whole 30, Paleo, and Gluten-free recipes.
Unfortunately, most people think that healthy eating and cheap meals are mutually exclusive. There’s no doubt that healthy food can tend to be more expensive, but when you start to eat more meals prepped at home, you will save hundreds of dollars a month by avoiding eating out and watching food going to waste.
A loaded salad with chicken, avocado, dressing, and croutons will run you about $2.50 if you make it at home. That same salad will run you $10-$12 at most restaurants.
My advice? Stop trying to save an extra $1/lb buying chicken and start saving $10 every day by not eating out for lunch.
Step Two: Decide How Many Meals You Want to Make
For a lot of people, their first exposure to meal prepping is seeing pictures of refrigerators completely stocked with meals for the entire week! Or maybe you first came across an account like RPStrength on Instagram and saw immaculate pictures of delicious meals laid out for the week!
A bit of time spent on #mealprep might save you time on cardio later on! ⏱😎 # Credit to @sblaho : I’m no authority on this but meal planning and prepping will change your life -legit-!2 hours for 24 meals (6 not shown) will save you 100 hours on that damn stair master! # #rpstrength #sundayfunday #mealprep #rplifestyle
That can be a bit intimidating to do that your first go around.
Instead, start by choosing which make-ahead meals would make the biggest difference in your week.
For many people, the reason they eat out so often may not be the social aspect, but rather the convenience.
- Are you always snoozing through your alarm and skipping breakfast every day?
- Are you trying to stop eating out for lunch?
- Do you work crazy long hours? Maybe you want to come home, heat up some food for dinner, and crash for the night.
Meal prepping can be as little or as extensive as you want it to be.
Quick Tip to Starting Meal Prep
If you’re new to meal prepping, don’t try to make and prepare an entire week’s worth of food in one go. Take some time to learn what recipes you love and start small. Try some delicious, proven recipes that are easy to cook. You don’t want to waste a bunch of time and money on a meal you won’t enjoy. Scroll to the end of this post to see 7 Meal Prep Tips for Beginners.
Step Three: Map Out Your Meals
Once you know what meal you’re looking to sub-in and how many meals a week you need to put together, it’s time to map out your meals for the week.
There are a couple of ways to do this. If you have experience in the kitchen then I would recommend creating different combinations of carbs, proteins, and vegetables. Healthier foods tend to be slightly more expensive, but still cost significantly less than eating out. You can obviously change-up the following depending on your health goals, but this is a good start.
Carbs: Brown Rice, Sweet Potato, Spaghetti Squash Lentils, Legumes, Whole Wheat Pasta, Quinoa, Low GI Fruit
Protein: Chicken, Turkey, Lean Ground Beef, Lean Cuts of Steaks, Tuna, Eggs, Fish
Veggies: Spinach, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Green Beans, Asparagus, Cucumbers, Brussel Sprouts, Kale, Mushrooms, Carrots, Bell Peppers
If I was new to meal prepping, and wanted to balance eating healthy with saving money, here is the exact plan I would follow. I tend to eat low-carb and eat around 2,500 calories a day.
3 Eggs with sauteed Mushrooms and Spinach (olive oil and a bit of cheese to top it off)
1 cup of Frozen Blueberries
Frugalwood’s Rice and Beans
4oz of Ground Beef (90/10 or leaner)
1 cup Green Bell Pepper
6oz any lean protein
2 cups any vegetable
1 serving Brown Rice
2 tbsp Peanut Butter
Now, if you have zero cooking experience and don’t have a favorite way to prepare some of the foods above, then I would stick to following recipes for at least the first few weeks of meal prepping. You’ll learn some tips, flavor combos, and cooking techniques along the way.
17 Amazing Food Blogs
If you’d rather go the recipe route, then here are links to some of the best food blogs and articles out there for different dietary goals.
Simply the Best Food Ever
High Protein / Keto
To wrap up this guide, I want to end by giving you some quick tips to get ready for your first meal prep.
7 Meal Prep Tips for Beginners
- You don’t have to cook everything you prep. I prefer to eat most of my vegetables freshly cooked rather than after 3-4 days in the fridge, so whenever my wife and I finish our weekly grocery trip, I usually spend an hour listening to a podcast while I chop up and bag a week’s worth of vegetables. The less work I have to do to eat healthy, the better.
- If you’re trying out a new recipe, stick to the regular amount. After you’ve tested it out, feel free to double or triple the amount so you can have more leftover. The last thing you want to do is spend a bunch of money only to cook a meal you don’t like at all.
- Get a meal planner. This could be a simple notepad, a Google Doc you share with your spouse, or a paid app like Plan to Eat.
- Take notes. Whenever I try a recipe, I always try my best to follow it exactly as suggested. If it’s worth repeating, then I’ll take some notes on what I would do differently the next time.
- Buy in bulk. No explanation needed.
- Schedule your meal prep. There’s no doubt that cooking like this can save you time and money each week, but you have to set aside the time to make it happen! I work from home and usually prep most of my food for the week on Monday mornings.
- Find ingredient overlaps. This is one of the best things you can do. My favorite thing is to make 3-4 lbs of meat and then find ways to incorporate it into different meals.
- Freeze it. Whenever we make chili or soup, we love to make enough to freeze for the days where you haven’t made it to the store and have no food available. The biggest weakness when it comes to eating out is the desire for convenience.
There’s no doubt that learning how to meal prep can save you hours of time and hundreds of dollars every month. Everyone wants to learn life hacks that will make or save them hundreds a month–meal prep is one of those. It isn’t sexy, but I can guarantee that it can radically speed up your path to Financial Independence.
Share in the comments below some of your favorite meal prep tips and recipes!