2. Buy (and prep) in bulk.
Bulk meal prep is one of the simplest ways to balance your budget with nutritional goals.
Overall, groceries purchased in bulk usually cost less per unit — up to 89% less than smaller-portion packages.
Shopping and cooking in bulk is a little different than preparing smaller portions, but it’s not as complicated as you might think. With a few adjustments to your routine, you can make the jump this week.
Meal prep strategies
Join (and strategically shop) a wholesale club.
Wholesale clubs (AKA warehouse clubs) offer members-only bulk pricing on items ranging from grocery to paper products and home goods. Creating a monthly meal plan will allow you to buy nonperishable/freezable ingredients in bulk (and reduce the number of visits you’ll have to make the club monthly). But even if you don’t plan a month’s worth of meals in advance, it makes sense to buy pantry staples like rice, flour, oats, and certain meats in bulk.
When planning your bulk shopping list, The Simple Dollar’s founder Trent Hamm recommends asking yourself: Am I going to be able to use all of this before it goes bad? If an item has limited shelf life and can’t be frozen, you could end up wasting some of it, which negates the per-unit savings. To avoid waste, think critically before purchasing perishable items in bulk. If you can freeze extra portions or need a lot of it in the near future — say, prepping for a family barbeque — buy it at the club. If not, it might make more sense to buy that particular item at the grocery store.
Want to try a wholesale club but afraid to commit to an annual membership fee? Take a trial membership for a spin! Watch for promotions in mailers, in the newspaper, or on deal sites like Groupon. If you don’t find a trial advertised, it’s worth calling your local club. In addition to trial memberships, many offer special “open house” days when you can shop without a membership card or single-day passes.
Get friendly with freezer meals.
The freezer meal phenomenon deserves all the positive press it gets! The idea is simple: designate one day per week or per month to prep multiple meals, then freeze them to enjoy later. By opting to prepare homemade freezer meals, you can save money and time.
When you’re preparing multiple meals at once, you can buy groceries in bulk to save per serving. Plus, having meals on standby will help you avoid the temptation of fast food on hectic days. Once prepped, freezer meals are the ultimate convenience food. Consolidating meal prep for the week or even for the month means minimal time in the kitchen outside your prep day — and who doesn’t want that? It’s efficient, too; you’ll only have to clean the kitchen once.
Strategies that go hand-in-hand with freezer meal prep
- Slow cooking
If you don’t have a slow cooker, you should! Slow cooker freezer meals are incredibly low maintenance, and they require very little cooking know-how to get right. Simply pull the prepared meal from your freezer, drop it in/turn the cooker on, and go about your day. A hot, home cooked meal will be waiting for you when you get home — no babysitting a skillet or preheating an oven required.
- Meal swapping
Making extra-large batches of meals is efficient and cost-effective. But eating the same meals on a regular basis can get old. Solution: organize a meal swap to vary your freezer meal selection and share your favorite frugal recipes with friends and family.
- Disposable pans
Try freezing casseroles and other baked items directly in disposable foil pans (if you have the space in your freezer, that is). When you’re finished, simply rinse and recycle the pan. That way, you can enjoy a homecooked meal without prepping or scrubbing a pan the night of!