How to Meal Prep on a Budget

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Before I get into the post, I have a couple disclaimers:

  1. Since I am vegan, my example meal plan is vegan.  Although, these general tips would work for anyone with or without dietary restrictions.
  2. I tend to eat lower carb and stay away from grains, so everything is friendly for people who are gluten free.
  3. This meal plan totals about 1500-1600 calories/day (including a serving of almonds as a snack).

So a few weeks ago, I posted on Instagram about trying to save money by not driving on the weekends and how I was super pumped since I only spent $20 on groceries for the week (including transportation to the grocery store thanks to biking and walking). Thankfully, I live within walking and biking distance to a lot of grocery stores.  I personally love the local farmer’s market (which is more like a grocery store with super cheap veggies with a huge selection of stuff I’ve never heard of), Sprouts Farmer’s Market, and Aldi.  Luckily, the Aldi and Sprouts are pretty much in the same parking lot so it’s only one trip.

Why Meal Prep?

Meal prepping is great since it makes it easier to track meals throughout the week (I use myfitnesspal), saves time, and allows me to focus on working out and work during the week. It also saves money since you don’t have to run out last minute for something or go out to eat for lunch at work, and you don’t waste as much food.  This week I literally spent what you could spend on a single nice dinner for meals for the entire week (that’s 3 meals per day).  But let me preface this by saying, I did just recently move to a new apartment and so I stocked up on basics when I moved in and already had a few things at home.

Plan your meals

Before you go grocery shopping, sit down and plan what you want to have to eat for that week.

  1. Try to use things you already have at home, especially if they’re about to go bad!
  2. Look at the sales flyer for your local grocery store(s) and see what’s on sale. Base your meals off of the sales. Typically, what items on sale for produce are seasonal items, so they’re the best anyways!

I tend to use Pinterest for inspiration, but I don’t know the last time I followed an exact recipe.

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Make a list of all the ingredients you need, the quantities, and where you are going to buy them. Write down the sale prices you found in the flyers so you know if something is labeled wrong in the store or if you happened to miss it being on sale for cheaper elsewhere.

Transportation

IMG_1670Go to the grocery store. If you’re lucky enough to live close to one, walk or bike.  But don’t forget to bring your own bags (a book bag is definitely helpful if you’re walking or biking).

If you’re not able to walk or bike, you can always stop by the store on your way home from work or you know, the gym…or anywhere else you may be.

Check your receipt

Check your receipt or prices as items are rung up to ensure every price is correct.  It’s not often, but every once in a while you can catch a mistake.

Some grocery stores will give you an item for free if you find a mistake!

 

Sample Vegan Meal Plan

Prepped for 5 days

As an example, this is what I meal prepped a few weeks ago.

Breakfast:

1 piece of fruit paired with chickpea protein things…no, I was not meant for food blog things

This week I decided to get bananas and freeze them.  I got 6 bananas at $0.39/lb ($0.92 total)

Chickpea protein things

Inspired by: https://www.emilieeats.com/chocolate-covered-chickpea-protein-balls/  Adjusted for my laziness and also originally for desert at a family event with those who couldn’t eat a lot of sugar (due to diabetes).

Makes: 6 servings at 286 calories and 22.3g C, 10.7g F, 26.6g P

Place all ingredients in blender.

  • 1 can rinsed and drained chickpeas ($0.55 per can at Aldi)
  • 6 scoops Sprout’s Vegan Vanilla Protein Powder…best cheap protein powder I’ve had at $25.99 (sale price) for 33.9 oz (the chocolate flavor is also amazing)
  • ¾ cup unsweetened applesauce ($1.89 for 46 oz at Aldi)
  • ¾ cup almonds ($3.99/lb on sale at Sprouts)
    • Can also sub 6 tbsp peanut butter (highly recommend Trader Joes for reasonably priced PB with only 1 ingredient!)  or ¾ cup peanuts (can get at Aldi for $1.89/lb)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract ($3.55 for 2 fl oz at Aldi)
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon ($8.99 for 18.3 oz at Kroger)
  • Add just enough water to blend, but ideally should be able to form into protein balls if desired.

Since I’m super lazy, I pour/scoop it into a muffin tin for 6 perfectly portioned breakfasts (2 muffin sized “protein balls” a piece).  But yes, you do eat this with a spoon, or your fingers if you wanted I guess…who am I to tell you how to live your life!

Disclaimer: I already had the protein powder, almonds, vanilla extract, and cinnamon at home this week.

Lunch:

Cauliflower bread veggie sandwich with avocado spread

Inspired by http://www.cookiestokale.com/2015/07/12/cauliflower-bread-veggie-sandwich-with-avocado-spread/

Cauliflower bread

Makes 10 pieces for 5 sandwiches at 416 calories and 70g C, 9g F, and 26g protein per sandwich.

  • 14 cups riced cauliflower ($2.49 for one massive head at the local farmer’s market)
  • 7 tbsp Flax
  • 1.75 cups whole wheat flour ($2.49 for I believe 5 lbs at Kroger) –can sub any type of flour to make gluten free
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder ($9.49/lb at the local farmer’s market)
  • 1 tbsp basil
  • 7 tbsp nutritional yeast

Combine all ingredients into bowl and mix with hands.  Grease cookie sheets (I used <1 tbsp of canola oil—cooking sprays are typically more expensive, so I just use oil and a finger to spread!).  Form bread mixture into 10 huge balls.  Form into fairly thick patties.  Bake for 20-30 min at 450ºF.   The bottoms should be browned.

Toppings: you can choose whatever you want to put on your sandwich, but here’s what I decided to try this time.

  • Easy avocado spread:
    • 1 avocado, mashed ($0.88 each at Sprouts)
    • ½ medium onion, diced ($2.89 for 5 lbs at my local farmer’s market)
    • 1 habanero pepper ($2.99 per lb at my local farmers market, so only 1 was $0.06)
    • ½ to 1 tbsp lemon juice ($1.89 for 32 fluid oz at Aldi)
    • 2 tsp cilantro
    • Black pepper to taste
  • Other toppings:
    • Tomato ($0.79/lb at the local farmer’s market)
    • Spinach ($1.19 for 10oz at Aldi)
    • Alfalfa sprouts ($2.99/lb at the local farmer’s market) …this was my first splurge of the week!
    • 1 lb extra firm tofu (sliced and marinated in a little lemon juice)
    • 2 medium carrots, shredded ($3.49 for 5 lbs at the local farmer’s market)

For meal prepping, all I did was cut everything up and put in containers.  Then, on the day I planned on eating the sandwich, I assembled everything!

Disclaimer: I already had the flour, flax, garlic powder, basil, nutritional yeast, carrots, tofu, onion, lemon juice, cilantro, and black pepper at home this week.

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Dinner:

Sweet potato, black beans, arugula thing

Literally, the easiest meal ever is sweet potato, black beans, and salsa.  Microwave the sweet potato for 8 min, open a can of black beans, add some salsa, and voila a balanced meal in less than 10 min.  But, this week, I decided to make it a little fancier after a little inspiration from https://www.thenaturalnurturer.com/blog/the-best-slow-cooker-black-beans and https://saltedplains.com/roasted-sweet-potato-black-bean-and-fried-quinoa-skillet-recipe/

Makes 5 meals:

  • About 5-6 lbs of sweet potato ($0.69/lb at the local farmer’s market; paid $4.33 for 6.27 lbs), cooked in my slow cooker when I was had to run errands
  • Black beans (used my slow cooker for the 1st time!):
    • 2.5 cups uncooked black beans (on sale for $0.79/lb at Sprouts so I stocked up and got 2.71lbs for $2.14), soaked over-night or quick soaked (bring to boil, turn head off, and let sit for about 1 hour)
    • 1 medium onion, diced ($2.89 for 5 lbs at my local farmer’s market)
    • 1 tbsp garlic powder
    • 1 tbsp oregano
    • ½ tbsp bay leaves
    • 1.5 cups salsa ($4.99 for
    • 6 2/3 cups water
    • Add all ingredients into slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hrs
  • 3-5 cups baby arugula ($1.99 per bag at the local farmer’s market) …this was my second splurge/”treat” for the week!

Disclaimer: I already had the salsa, onion, and seasonings at home this week.

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