Ever wonder how much time you spend shopping for and preparing meals? How much money you spend on unhealthy processed foods because you just don’t have time to prepare homemade food every day? If you’re anything like most people, your busy schedule dictates the foods you eat, meaning you rely on convenience and commercially-prepared foods for at least part of your diet. Not convinced? Read on to find out how you can improve your diet with homemade meals while saving time and money.
The Mathematics of Meal Preparation
If you typically spend 10 minutes making breakfast, 20 minutes packing lunch & snacks (assuming you take a lunch rather than buying it) and 45 minutes cooking dinner, in a typical workweek you’re spending up to 375 minutes or over 6 hours just preparing food!
Now let’s look at it the other way around: you don’t have 6 hours to spend preparing meals each week and instead choose to buy all your meals. You might spend about $5 for breakfast, $8 for lunch and $12 for dinner, which adds up to over $125 per week if you buy a few snacks! And let’s not talk about the nutrition in that food…
Now you probably fall somewhere between those two extremes, maybe cooking when you can and buying meals when you run out of time, or supplementing with bars and convenience foods. Either way, we’ve got a few tips to improve the quality of the meals you eat while saving time and money.
5 Ways to Make Meal Preparation Work for You
#1. Plan your meals.
Meal planning can be as simple as sticking a piece of paper to the fridge or making an “appointment” in your calendar, but there are also a variety of meal planning apps that let you create custom recipes and grocery lists, and even suggest foods based on what you have eaten in the past. I really like MealPlan for iPad because it’s simple and shows the week at a glance, but there are lots to choose from with a variety of uses and features.
Once you’ve planned your meals, prepare a shopping list and buy only what’s on that list. You’ll save money on groceries you don’t need, you’re less likely to pick up a bag of chips on impulse (which you’ll eat just because it’s there) and you’ll save time by only making one trip to the grocery store.
#2. Prepare all your vegetables at once.
Chances are you have more time on the weekend than you do on a weekday anyway, so put it to good use by preparing all your vegetables for the week in one go. Once you’ve gotten out the cutting board and green bin, it doesn’t take much extra time to chop a few extra carrots and onions; you’ll save time during the week and be more inclined to cook if everything is ready when you get home.
You can also save money by cutting up your own vegetables for snacks during the week: remember, the key to eating better food is to make it available.
#3. Start your day off right with a homemade breakfast.
If you’re grabbing a coffee and running out the door in the morning because you don’t have time for breakfast, bake a batch of healthy Spiced Lentil Muffins on the weekend so you can enjoy one on your way to work or school – they’re guaranteed to be cheaper and healthier than a store-bought muffin (because commercial muffins are no better than donuts anyways) or sugary cereals (even the ones pretending to be healthy).
You can also have cut up fruit ready in the fridge, frozen homemade pancakes ready to warm up in the toaster…you get the idea. Just make it yourself.
#4. Prepare all your breakfasts and lunches on the weekend.
Packing all your lunches on the weekend saves about an hour and a half during the week. One batch of Quinoa Lentil Bowl costs about $1 per serving, makes enough for four healthy lunches, and only takes about 40 minutes – and most of that is just cooking time when you can do something else (like maybe make up a batch of Power Chia Pudding for snacks).
Add in some chopped veggies for munching, and here’s what our kitchen looks like on Sunday afternoons:
#5. Make extras and freeze them.
If you’re already making one lasagna, it doesn’t take much more time to make two or three; freeze the extras and pull them out again when you need an easy dinner. Same goes for soups and stews, casseroles, sauces, even regular dinners. Some recipes can easily be made in advance then baked during the week; vegetable lasagna is one of our favourites, but most casseroles and meatloaf or nutloaf also adapt well to this method. Even a big batch of rice can be handy for making a quick fried rice dish or sugar-free rice pudding.
Wondering where to start?
Check out our meal preparation recipes for some inspiration! It’s easy to make a few meals on the weekend that will save you time during the week.