Meal planning is an excellent strategy to not only eat healthier but to save you money and time as well. According to The Motley Fool, Americans spend an average of more than $2,600 per year at restaurants.
By making your meals ahead of time, you’ll have a pre-made breakfast, lunch, or dinner, reducing your likelihood of eating out. Additionally, meal prepping can help cut your food waste as well.
Below, we’ll outline how meal prepping makes you more efficient, cutting back on your food waste. We’ll also detail the ways how you could save money and time by meal planning.
Meal Prepping Ensures Efficient Shopping
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Americans waste anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of the food they buy, costing nearly $220 billion. When meal prepping ahead of time, you plan for and pre-portion your meals, which cuts back on waste considerably. Meal planning ensures that you’ll use every item you buy from the grocery store.
When you grocery shop now, you may come home with a variety of ingredients that don’t work well with one another. When meal prepping, you’ll plan your recipe and ingredients list ahead of time. Also, when meal prepping, you’ll use the ingredients within a day or two of purchase, which prevents the likelihood of them expiring before you can use them.
Meal Planning Saves You Time
Every time you cook, you spend time:
Taking food out of the refrigerator and cabinets
Cooking the food
Cleaning pots, pans, and utensils
Imagine taking the time to do this every night for dinner. Between the time it takes to prepare and cook the food, you’ll have wasted at least an hour, if not longer. When you meal plan, you’ll likely spend an hour or two to do everything for the week. The only thing you’ll then need to do is heat the food in the microwave.
Many people prepare meals on the weekend when life is not as hectic, and they can dedicate a couple of hours to making food. However, you can choose a day that is most convenient for your schedule. So long as you’re preparing multiple meals at once, you’ll end up saving yourself considerable time in the long run.
Meal Planning Saves You Money
How often do you go home, rummage through the refrigerator, decide that you don’t feel like cooking, and then order takeout? If this sounds familiar, you’ll want to look into meal planning. Each time you do this, you cost yourself money that you could put into savings or use to pay down debt. Additionally, when you go to the grocery store, you’ll only buy food that you need.
Try a Planning App
If you are looking for a bit of assistance as you begin to meal plan, try using a planning app. For instance, an app called $5 Meal Plan will send you a weekly menu of recipes. The company says that its meals cost about $2 per person, which is far less than even the cheapest of fast food restaurants. They also offer gluten-free meals.
Another app that you could look into is Emeals, which allows you to input criteria such as how many people you’re cooking for and how many meals you need. The app then comes up with meals and lists the ingredients, making it easy for you to go to the grocery store, come home, and prepare your meals for the week.
Use a Calendar
Before going to the grocery store, you can also use a calendar and notepad ahead of time. Take a look at your weekly schedule to determine when you’ll need meals. Perhaps one day at lunch you have a client meeting that’s going to require you to eat out. You don’t necessarily need to meal plan for every weekday meal, but even a few meals could go a long way.
If you are someone who eats out frequently, we recommend easing into your transition. If you try to meal prep for every meal of the week, there’s a good chance that you’ll quickly grow bored with your meals. Start by planning three meals. The next week, prepare an additional meal. Within a couple of months, you’ll have seamlessly transitioned to a week-long meal planning cycle.
Build in Space for Leftovers
Another thing to consider is whether there will be leftovers with your meals. If you have already planned out all of your meals for the week, you won’t have any time in which you could eat the leftovers. Doing so will cause you to waste food, contradicting the point of meal planning in the first place.
Be sure to give yourself a buffer during the week for leftovers, which should further cut down on food waste.
Don’t Forget About Breakfast
When people begin meal planning, they often put much attention toward lunch and dinner and neglect breakfast. Doing so could cause you to eat unhealthy processed food, like a muffin or pastry. It could also increase the chances of you going to your local coffee shop beforehand for a quick breakfast on the go.
The cost of coffee can add up quickly. One study found that millennials are spending roughly $1,100 annually on coffee, and putting more toward their coffee than they are their retirement funds. Be sure to plan a healthy, nutritious breakfast.
Even performing a simple task ahead of time like slicing fruit could cut back on the likelihood of you eating out.