Meal Prep and Planning Saves Money and Boosts Nutrition

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Are you hoping for a healthy and prosperous 2024? Making meal prep and planning part of your routine can set you on the right track.

On average, Americans spend over 11% of disposable income on food, with half being spent on groceries and half on food away from home. The lower your income, typically a higher percentage is spent on food. Eating fewer meals away from home saves money and allows you to have control over ingredients.

Planning meals before shopping lowers your grocery bill and reduces the amount of food that you waste. Go to Cooking with Margie to download templates for a weekly meal plan and list of favorite meals.

8 Meals Prep and Planning Tips:

Make a list of your favorites for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Refer to this list during your meal planning before grocery shopping.

Use a weekly meal plan template to write down meals. But first, think about your schedule for the week. What evenings are you planning for a workout, a kid’s event, a meeting, church or other commitment? Consider what you might do for meals on those evenings. Do you have time to eat at home if you have something prepared to heat up? That’s where cooking once and eating twice comes in.

Use easy, health promoting recipes that you repeat every week. Could even be on the same day each week, like “taco Tuesdays”, and “Friday pizza night”. Have a pantry stocked with essential ingredients for these meals, and purchase the same perishable items each week.

For a plant-forward approach add more fruits and veggies to meals. Consider onions and bell peppers in taco meat, extra veggies on pizza, fresh spinach and peppers added to spaghetti sauce, or chopped mushrooms mixed into lean hamburger meat.

When you have spare time, chop and slice ingredients so they’re ready-to-go for quicker meal prep the next few days.

Cook once, eat twice. Cook large batches of favorite recipes so that you have left-overs for dinners and/or lunches.

Cook large portions of vegetables and protein as your schedule allows. Then add a starch, like rice or quinoa and a sauce to create a bowl. Or quickly assemble a salad, burrito or pasta dish with your ingredients.

As your schedule allows, cook large batches of soup, casseroles and other dishes that freeze well. Divide into meal-sized portions. This way, you eat one or two meals that are the same and then pull meals out of the freezer for more variety each week.

After meal planning and prep is part of your routine, keep track of how much money you save by eating out less and not wasting food. Then do something special for yourself. Whether it’s paying off a credit card balance, getting a massage, or something else, you’ll definitely feel more prosperous.

Margie Mansure is an extension agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension. As a registered dietitian/nutritionist chef, she offers nutrition and cooking classes to community members.