When you think about preparing meals for the upcoming week, what do you think of?
Do you imagine a time-sucking chore that requires planning and slaving over a hot stove every. single. night? Or studying while your soup simmers to perfection because you really don’t have the time?
Is your idea of prep running by the freezer section in Aldi on your way home from Uni?
Whatever you are picturing, it’s not as hard as you might think. With effort and planning, you’ll create a well-rounded menu, save some money, and reduce waste in no time.
A little heads up – you have to be patient with yourself and set time aside for planning each week. After the first two weeks, you will be able to tackle planning with no problem. You’ll wonder why you didn’t start implementing these steps sooner.
As a result of unstable finances, time constraints, and lack of cooking knowledge and skills, students lack healthy meals.
But you’re not going to fall into that category.
How do I make a weekly meal plan on a budget?
Plan around your schedule and lifestyle.
Everybody has varying schedules. Some go to university, go to work, study, and go to bed. You only go to uni but have a heavy workload. A night out with your mates, after school clubs, or just needing a night off. You know your own schedule and what you have planned for the week. Take those previous plans into consideration. Figure out how many nights you actually need to prepare a meal. Stressed from exams or classes? Cooking may help you relax, or not. Find your sweet spot.
What’s in the fridge?
Always see what you already have on hand. Use ingredients already in your cupboards or fridge. Use these items to create the base of different dishes, without having to spend more money. Is the weather going to be cold? You might want soup instead of salad. How many meals do you want to make? Seeing what you have before going to the store, helps you save money and waste less.
Make a List.
This may not be the most fun part, but it will make the whole process so much easier for you. Start by making a list of all the ingredients you need for your meals. Cross off items you already have (because by this point, you know what you have on hand in your flat). Are you an overachiever? Be a superstar shopper. Group food items according to aisle or type of ingredient – protein, produce, dry goods, and so on. Lists prevent impulse buying and help you stick to your wellness goals – good for athletes.
Remember what’s leftover.
Leftover food is your freebie meal. You have an extra meal or two by making a little extra. When you don’t spend precious time cooking, you give yourself back some time to use as you wish. Doubling ingredients provide extra food. You have premade lunch or dinner. All you have to do is heat it up. Perfect for crazy days when you feel like you don’t even have time to eat. Now, there is no excuse.
Keep your pantry stocked.
Pantry items last longer than fresh ingredients. Stock up on these items so you have a backup plan. You want dry goods for those nights when you don’t feel like making food, but you definitely need to eat. Dry ingredients like spices, quinoa, and peanut butter beef up average ingredients. Make dishes more filling. Staple items are great for on the go snacking or an afternoon pick me up.
Make it different ways.
If you buy items in bulk (which saves pennies) you can make the same ingredients taste totally different. Buy a big pack of chicken on sale. Grill, sauté, or bake it with different spices, sauces, or dressings and you have 4 meals from that one food item. The most versatile and affordable food is the oh so humble… egg. You can scramble, poach, sunny-side up, or make a frittata to use up wilting fresh ingredients. See, you just got four breakfast ideas from a single ingredient.
Make a backup plan.
Many food items can substitute for something else. If you run out of milk and have coconut milk on hand you can add this to smoothies, porridge, and desserts. Almost anything can swap out for healthier options as well. Veggie noodles instead of pasta. Instead of sour cream, use Greek yogurt. You can find so many substitutions online when you find that you are out of an ingredient you forgot to pick up.
It’s going to be ok. You’ve got this.
Make food that sounds delicious.
Are you one of those people who love food? Do you pin recipes but never actually make them? You’re not the only one and one day you might get around to those beautiful, mouth-watering dishes. But for the everyday grind, make your life easier. Look for recipes that are under 30 minutes, have few ingredients, and require food items that you’ve heard of before. Start a Pinterest board for meal planning. Be realistic as to what you add to your list of meals. You want to make things that will taste good and fit your life.
The freezer is your friend.
Frozen fruits and veggies last longer and are cheaper. You can always use fresh ingredients early in the week and switch to frozen so you avoid waste. Berries are perfect for a quick smoothie in the morning. Add peanut butter for some protein. Voila, you just made breakfast with minimal work. Some frozen veggies come pre-cut, so you cut down on prep time as well. Win, win.
Don’t forget food prep.
Set aside time to cut fresh veggies and makes staples like hummus or dressings. If you take forever to chop ingredients, like some of us, you may need a little more prep time. But you will be so happy that your ingredients are ready to go when you come home feeling tired and exhausted. Put on some music while you prep to help the time go by. You may find that you actually enjoy this crucial step to meal planning.
Create a balanced plate.
Eating balanced meals is not as difficult as it might seem. If you divide your plate into thirds. One section of lean proteins and fats. Another with healthy carbs. Lastly, fruit and vegetables. You never go wrong with meat and veggies. They are so versatile. You can make so many different meals with those simple ingredients. Remember not to overdo red meat. Limit it to twice a week. Chicken or fish is a better option. Your plate should be colourful. Think of it as a form of art. You’ll get the hang of it.
Add green to your plate.
Keep leafy greens on hand. Rinse kale, spinach, lettuce, and store for later use. If stored in a plastic bag after washing, they will keep for 5 days to a week. Sometimes the shelf life varies depending on which store you go to. Add greens to smoothies, stir fry, or as a simple salad with any meal. You want to see a lot of green on your plate. It may not be your favourite thing to eat. But green foods are known to aid memory. Anything that helps with memory while studying is worth a try.
Don’t waste anything.
Use every part of a vegetable, fruit, or meat in some way. You may have to get a little creative to use what you think are unusable parts. Be sure to use everything. Use cauliflower and celery leaves in soups. Bake peeled potato skins for a yummy snack. Use a whole chicken to roast, shred, or even use the bones to make broth. (You may need another Pinterest board.)
Use what’s in season.
Fruits and vegetables in season are usually cost-effective. Think about what is in season right now. You can substitute with in-season ingredients to save yourself some money. During autumn, many types of squash are in season but they are more expensive in the summer. If a recipe calls for strawberries in October, substitute with raspberries. The beauty of cooking is you can do whatever you want. Change things up and try new things you haven’t had before. You’re sure to find new foods you love.
Give yourself a break.
You deserve a night or two (or three) from cooking. No one wants to cook a new dish every night of the week. Be realistic and plan a few nights off. This is where those leftovers come in handy. Enjoy your night away from the kitchen with a glass of vino and pat yourself on the back. You crushed meal prep this week.
You deserve a night off.
Know that you will have a learning curve at first, but it will become second nature real quick. You’ll wonder how you ever got by without food prep and a shopping list. Check back in with this guide when you need a refresher.
Ready. Set. Meal Prep.