Meal prepping doesn’t have to mean eating the same meal five days in a row. The new trend isn’t just efficient and budget-friendly — it can spare your taste buds from boredom, too. By adding different ingredients, your basic protein-veg-and-starch combo will feel completely new. Take a batch of quinoa, for example. You can add herbs to it and pair it with some baked salmon for one day. The next day, prep the quinoa with spices and beans to pair with tacos.
If all this is starting to sound pricey, fear not. We tapped Kevin Curry, creator of FitMenCook and the newly launched FitMenCook Meal Prep App, for his money-saving meal prep tips. Curry’s number one rule when it comes to meal prepping is to start small — only one or two meals a week — to avoid feeling overwhelmed. “When I search for recipes, I look at the number of ingredients as well as the number of steps in the instructions. You don’t want a recipe that takes too long to prepare.” Read on for more of Curry’s cooking shortcuts.
5 Tips to Save Time and Money on Meal Prep
1. Nail down your essentials.
Think of all the foods, flavors and textures you enjoy in a meal. What are your favorite spices and herbs? Curry personally loves bell peppers and green onions. “They add flavor without adding so much spice,” he says. For $1-2 per bell pepper, you can use them to prepare breakfast frittatas, stir-fries and pasta dishes. Coconut milk is another go-to. “It has the right balance of sweetness, and you can use it to dress salads or make a dairy-free Alfredo sauce,” Curry says. For $3 to $4 per carton, it goes a long way when you use it to prepare smoothies, overnight oats, soups and marinades.
Meal Prep This: Steak Fajitas Recipe
2. Stock up on non-perishables.
Curry always keeps his pantry and freezer stocked with frozen vegetables, tomato sauce, peanut and almond butter, beans, rice and quinoa. “I love frozen vegetables because they’re easy to prep, and they don’t go bad. Some people buy all this fresh produce, but when they can’t use all of it, it just goes to waste,” he says. You can steam or sauté frozen veggies with some brown rice and turn it into a healthier ‘fried rice’ side dish. Beans are also cheap (less than a dollar a can), and versatile enough to work in a variety of dishes. Think tacos, chili, Budha bowls or even post-workout protein brownies.
Meal Prep This: Fudgy Black Bean Brownies
3. Use veggie scraps for sauces.
Don’t let your cauliflower stems, kale ribs and carrot leaves go to waste, Curry says. Stretch your dollar and use them for pestos, marinades and bone broths. Got pasta and pizza on your mind? Roasted veggie scraps can help round out your tomato sauce. Curry suggests stocking up on a few 50-cent cans of tomato sauce, since ready-made pasta sauces can be pricey and packed with preservatives. “I store small servings of tomato sauce in Mason jars in the fridge. Just blend it with roasted veggies, some minced garlic, a little salt and pepper, and whatever herbs you have,” he adds.
Meal Prep This: Spaghetti Squash with Chickpea Tomato Sauce
4. Vary your cooking techniques.
Whether you have filets of steak, fish or chicken, Curry is all about “remixing” preparation. “I love the smoky, charred flavor that grilling infuses into your food. Roasting meats and veggies tenderizes them and brings out their natural flavor,” Curry says. Instead of grilling an entire haul of chicken breast, save some to make foil packets. Wrap the chicken breast with mini red potatoes, green beans, parsley and grated Parmesan in foil. Bake the packets in the oven for about 30 minutes, and you’ve got a few days’ worth of delicious lunches. If you’re a kitchen novice, check out this guide to cooking every protein.
Meal Prep This: Grilled Pesto Salmon Kebabs
5. Get creative with your leftovers.
Changing up your food presentation is just as important as your preparation. Have an extra batch of overnight oats? Toss them up in these blueberry muffins to save a buck (real talk: a whole box of oats can cost less than a single muffin from a cafe). Stuck with leftover roasted veggies from a sheet pan recipe? Use the rest to brighten up proteins (we love these tequila-glazed shrimp skewers). Or, chop them up to add extra veg to your omelets or grain bowls for a well-rounded meal.
Meal Prep This: Grilled Veggie Wraps with Sundried Tomato Pesto
Your $20 Weekly Meal Prep Grocery List
Check out our grocery list to help you plan out a week’s worth of meals on a budget.