Would you like to save time and money cooking delicious and healthy meals for you and your family?
Let me introduce you to the wonderful world of meal prep and make ahead meals!
By spending just a couple of hours (if that) in the kitchen once or twice a week, you’ll be amazed at how many delicious and healthy meals you can prepare for the whole week.To help you get started, here are some of my top tips and meal prep ideas, which will save you so much money and help you avoid any unhealthy, mid-week temptations.
What is meal prepping?
First things first, you might be wondering “what on earth is meal prepping?”
Basically, it’s when you prepare meals ahead of time to help you save time cooking throughout the week.
Many people swear by it! Including my fellow money bloggers.
It can also really help you stick to a budget and save money on food.
Are meal preps worth it and how much time does it take?
Absolutely! Meal prepping is definitely worth it and it doesn’t actually take as long as you might think. It all depends on a few things, including:
How many meals you’d like to make
Who you are making meals for, just you or your family too?
What ingredients you’re using & what dishes you’re planning to meal prep
Where you shop - some stores may have better deals (we’ll get into that later) and also be closer, have less queuing etc.
Once you get into a habit of meal prepping, you’ll quickly develop systems and routines to help you whip up meals in no time!
Is it cheaper to meal prep?
It’s definitely cheaper to meal prep.
There are a few ways that meal prep can help you save cash on your weekly food budget. Think about breakfasts and lunches.
How much do you spend buying bacon rolls, fancy pastries and meal deal sandwiches at work each week?
Meal prepping will cut down this spend.
Also, knowing you’ve got a healthy, quick meal ready to heat up definitely helps to resist the temptation to eat junk food and snacks all night.
Does meal prep help with weight loss?
Many nutritional experts recommend meal prepping, as it helps you become more conscious of what you’re eating.
By prepping each meal for the week, you can weigh out portions to monitor calories and portion control, and add more fruit and vegetables to your diet.
By making breakfast, lunch and dinners ahead of time, it also means you’re less likely to skip meals, which can lead to bad habits later in the day.
Plus, again, the urge to order a takeaway becomes much less when you know you’ve got a healthy, wholesome meal in the freezer with your name on it.
Is it safe to reheat food?
It is safe to reheat food if you do it correctly. Always check the right way to reheat food, especially ingredients prone to food poisoning like rice and chicken.
Follow advice and guidance from health-regulated sites like the NHS.
How long can I keep my food in my fridge/freezer?
As with anything you Google these days, you will find conflicting advice online about how long you can keep food fresh for.
Again, this guide from the NHS, offers sound advice on how to store and defrost food in your fridge freezer.
Which meals are best for meal prep?
There are hundreds of meals that you can make and store!
Here are some of my favourites to help you get started...
Cheap and healthy meal prep breakfast ideas
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
These breakfast meal prep ideas are so quick to make and packed full of protein and energy to help you start your day.
All these ingredients are available at your favourite budget supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl.
Here are my top 5 meal prep breakfast recipes:
Greek yoghurt & granola jars (or a bowl is fine, it just looks fancy and more inviting in a recycled jam or mason jar!)
Overnight oats & berries (oats last up to 5 days in fridge)
Breakfast smoothies (top tip - chop your fruit & veg in advance and freeze in sandwich bags or buy frozen fruit & veg to help you save time and money)
Pancakes - yes you can meal prep delicious, fluffy pancakes in advance and freeze them for up to a month!
Frittata egg muffins - load up egg yolks and your favourite veggies in a baking tray and pop in the oven for 20 mins (these last 4-5 days in the fridge or 3 months in the freezer)
Healthy meal prep lunch ideas
With lunch, it’s best to keep things quick and easy. These simple, healthy ideas will help you grab a decent bite on the go:
Buddha bowls - similar to a salad, buddha bowls are veggie-friendly and super healthy, consisting of whole grains such as quinoa or brown rice, plant proteins like chickpeas and loads of vegetables packed into a bowl
Soup - sometimes, nothing beats a hot, hearty bowl of soup, which can stay fresh in your fridge for 3-4 days and can also be frozen
Sandwich wraps - chuck your favourite ingredients into a wrap or pitta bread and enjoy cold or warm it up in the microwave
Salads - cheap & cheerful with salad leaves & your favourite ingredients (chicken, turkey, chickpeas, etc.)
Pasta - If you fancy something more filling, batch cook your favourite pasta and go-to sauce for the week
The good thing about meal prepping your lunches is that ingredients for things like sandwiches and salads can all be prepped and stored cold and don’t require cooking.
Also, items like bread, pasta and rice are all fairly cheap to buy in bulk at supermarkets.
Just make a note of expiry dates on any fresh produce, as it can go off slightly quicker.
Healthy meal prep dinner recipes and ideas
So you’ve had a long day at work or have been busy taking care of your family, and the last thing you want to do is cook a big meal. This is where batch cooking dinners really pays off!
All of the meals I recommend below are cheap and cheerful and will satisfy your hunger without splurging on calories.
Let’s start with a classic and a real family staple meal - spaghetti bolognese. Spaghetti is around 40p per pack in places like Aldi, and pasta sauce is also relatively cheap at around 60-80p a jar.
Mince is one of the more affordable meat options to buy in supermarkets, at about £2-3 for 250g, and is quick to fry and portion out This makes it a perfect for meal prepping. You can also go for meatballs too, if you prefer.
Think of your favourite chicken curry. Is it tikka masala? Thai chicken curry? Something hot and spicy or smooth and coconut infused? Whatever your preference, curry is another great option to cook in bulk and portion out across the week.
Cook up your chicken either in the oven or fry it on the hob. To save time, you can also buy it pre-chopped to just chuck straight in the pan.
You can also buy pre-made sauce and rice packs to help save even more time and money buying expensive herbs and spices.
Chilli Con Carne
Another favourite of mine! Chilli con carne is perfect for whipping up and popping in the microwave to serve leftovers during the week. This is where it pays to stock up on items like rice and kidney beans, as you can use them in dishes like this over and over again.
Top tip: Buy a bigger pack of mince and cook your spaghetti and bolognese at the same time to feel the full benefit of meal prepping!
If you have any leftover ingredients, shepherd’s pie is great for using up what’s left in your fridge and around your kitchen. Pack it full of vegetables and try a meat-free version to mix it up and make a healthier version for you and your family.
Top tip: buy loose potatoes in the fresh vegetables section to only use what you need and stock up on frozen vegetables that are cheaper to buy in bulk, and are smaller and pre-chopped to throw into pies and other dishes.
Burgers are a great treat and are ideal for batch cooking, as you can make a load in advance and freeze them. Turkey is a much healthier option, packed full of protein and less fat. While it may sound fancy and expensive, it’s actually a similar price to other alternatives.
All you have to do is figure out how many burgers you want to make and the rest is pretty easy.
Simply mix your chosen meat and seasoning or herbs in a bowl and make a burger shape with your hands and an egg to bind them.
Then wrap in cling film for the fridge or use sandwich bags for the freezer.
Healthy Mac & Cheese
You can’t beat a lovely hot bowl of Mac & Cheese! It’s so cheap and easy to make and doesn’t have to be high in calories. Use low fat cheese and load it up with veggies to help make it guilt-free and taste amazing.
Cottage pie is another delicious, filling meal to add to your meal prepping list. It’s worth experimenting with various vegetables and mixing it up to try it meat-free to help bring down the cost and calorie content.
Similar to shepherd’s pie, it’s so easy to make in a big portion and eat leftovers for lunch the next or freeze for later on in the week or month.
I couldn’t leave out lasagne, could I? Lasagne is a fab staple meal. You can make the classic version using mince meat, but I’ve included the veggie one as an option too.
It works out much cheaper this way, as you can pack yours full of budget-friendly vegetables including onions and carrots, and cupboard classics like tins of chopped tomatoes.
It does take a little longer to cook originally in the oven, but it’s easy to portion out across the week and tastes delicious once you’ve done all the hard work at the start.
A hearty lentil stew tastes amazing and feels so wholesome and healthy, especially during winter months! Plus, like with all my recommendations, it’s cheap, healthy and easy to make. If you have a slow cooker, now is the time to use it.
You can simply throw all your ingredients into the pot and leave them to cook. Load it up with healthy lentils (red, green or brown) and onions, celery, carrots and potatoes to help fulfil your appetite.
Last but not least, the ultimate comfort food - pasta bake! Serve up a healthy version like tuna & broccoli, tomato or classic chicken. Use up any spare ingredients in your fridge like vegetables and low fat cheese to make it healthier.
You can be as simple or as creative as you want here, the choice is yours! Once cooked, you can tuck into this throughout the week or store in your freezer for longer.
How do you meal prep for the week on a budget?
Feeling inspired and ready to get started on your meal prep mission?
Or maybe you are reading this and feel like you can’t afford to take time out of your life to cook all your meals in advance and spend a fortune on plastic tubs.
Am I right? Good news, you don’t have to!
Follow my top secret ways to save a fortune on make ahead meals…
Beginner meal prep tips
Shop your cupboards first when meal prepping
It’s easy to get all excited and carried away when you first start out but hold your horses!
Check what you’ve got in your fridge, freezer and cupboards first.
That will help you fill in any blanks and get your meal prep off to a good start.
Keep your meal prep simple
Don’t overwhelm yourself and throw yourself in the deep end when you start to meal prep.
Check out sites like BBC Good Food for loads of beginner-friendly meal prep recipes, vegan and gluten-free options, plus lots of cooking tips to help you get started.
Top tip: keep a food diary a week or two before you plan your meal prep session.
This will highlight patterns in your meals and alert you to your favourite foods.
Buy staple foods in bulk
Popular pantry Items like rice, pasta and lentils are all cheaper when you buy in bulk. Even meat can work out cheaper per portion when you buy a bigger pack.
I also highly recommend buying items to use across multiple meals. For example, buying a rotisserie chicken from a food counter and splitting it across two to three meals during the week, or using up a full pack of mince like I mentioned earlier.
Invest in a meal planner
A meal planner is a fab tool to pop on your fridge (or have with your budget in your financial manual) and help you plan out your meals and stay organised.
There are a variety of styles online and you can even pick one up in Poundland.
Your meal planner also doubles up as a shopping list to keep on top of grocery essentials.
Sign up below to get our printable meal planner for FREE!
Fancy getting organised using a cute printable meal planner?
Get it below.
Compare prices of items before you shop
Ever feel like you’ve got a bargain but then you see an item cheaper in another supermarket?
Say goodbye to buyer’s remorse with the Latest Deals Supermarket Comparison app, where you can check items in advance.
Cross check your shopping list and add up where it’s cheapest to save money on food and other items on your shopping list.
Take advantage of yellow sticker bargains
Look for yellow sticker bargains and reductions in your local supermarket to bag deals on meat, dairy products, bread, and loads more fresh produce.
You might think this goes against meal planning.
It all depends on what’s there and everything is reduced because of its impending expiry date.
However, you can always pick up items and freeze them.
Just make sure you’re constantly checking your freezer and use them next time you meal prep.
Look for free food on supermarket cashback & food waste apps
Supermarket cashback apps like Shopmium and CheckoutSmart are great for bagging food freebies.
There are always offers on each app for exciting new brands and traditional favourites too.
You can get all sorts.
From free herbs and spices, to a generous discount on pantry basics like pasta and rice.
Apps like OLIO and Karma are another great way to source free food.
Download the apps for free and check in your local area for kind neighbours giving away food that is about to expire (or is perfectly good, sometimes they just don’t need it!)
Don’t forget to return the favour...
Use leftover tubs & jars
Tupperware can actually work out quite expensive, especially if you plan to meal prep a lot of food or do it regularly.
Collect leftover takeaway containers, jam and coffee jars and loads more to help you store your food and make ahead meals.
Ask friends & family to get involved
I thought I would end on quite a fun idea!
Why not ask friends, family or flat mates to get in on the meal prep action and take turns hosting?
Sort of like Come Dine With Me?
Even if you don’t go all out, you can ask them to come round and keep you company while you cook. Who knows?
You might inspire them to start meal prepping too!
Joleisa, two sisters, and fellow UK money bloggers, also kindly shared even more tips for meal prep for beginners.
Meal prepping will change your life - go on, take the leap!
There are so many opportunities to save money by meal prepping. Meal prepping can also reduce waste, get you reusing containers and be more eco-friendly in ways you didn't even realise!
Always remember to follow expert guidelines when reheating any food.
Enjoy using the meal planner and let us know how much you save!