Looking for ways to cut back on grocery costs? Feeding a family – or even a single person – can be costly. However, there are ways to save big on meal prep.
Knowing a number of powerful meal prep ideas and having a list of meals that are inexpensive to make can save you money. You just have to know how to work the system.
It’s important to note that the savings mentioned here might not be the same in all areas. Because grocery prices vary across the nation, you might find more or less savings than what’s mentioned here.
However, by using these cheap meal prep ideas you will save money. Here are our family’s top cheap meal prep ideas.
1. Use Money Saving Sites and Apps
Luckily, there are a few websites out there that make it easy for you to save money on meal prep. Here are some of our favorites.
Ibotta helps you save money by letting you browse through hundreds of money-saving offers before you shop. I earned over $30 in my first two weeks of using Ibotta.
Their easy-to-use app makes it super simple to save. Once you’re in the app, just click on the offers you want to take advantage of.
When you’re done shopping, just hit “redeem offers” and scan your receipt into your phone. Your Ibotta account will credit you for your total money savings.
Whenever you’re ready, you can transfer your savings to your PayPal account. Bonus: Ibotta often has sign-up bonuses for new members and pays you for referring others as well.
You know those coupons you get in the Sunday paper? Well, Coupons.com just made it a whole lot easier to use them.
When you go to the coupons.com site, you will find a list of coupon options. You can browse them, or search for something specific. If you want a coupon, just click on the “plus” sign at the top right-hand corner of the coupon.
After you’re done choosing coupons, just click “Print Coupons” in the upper right-hand corner. Your coupons will print out and you can bring them to the store!
Bonus: Coupons.com shares cash back offers and other offers as well. Lots to love here, and lots of ways to save.
SavingStar aims to replace coupons altogether.
Here’s how it works: After you join SavingStar (it’s free to join) you enter your grocery store reward card information. Once you link your rewards cards to SavingStar, all you have to do is click on the rebates you want from each store.
When you use your rewards card at the store, your savings are added to your SavingStar account. Then you can transfer those savings to your PayPal account. SavingStar works with most major store chains.
2. Have a List of Cheap Meal Options
You don’t have to eat like a pauper every night, but it’s important to have a go-to list of cheap meal options. By doing so, you can offset meals that might cost a bit more.
For instance, if you decide to have salmon for dinner one night, you can offset the price by serving cheaper meals the next two nights. Or, if you have steak one night, you can have something cheap the next night.
Here are some of the “cheap” meal options we have on our list. Note that we don’t eat these meals all the time, but they’re good for tight budget times.
Potatoes and Steamed Veggies
The nice thing about this meal option is that you can choose any variety of veggies or style of potato. That will help you mix up this cheap meal. One night you might serve mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli.
Another night you might serve cooked carrots and fried potatoes. Be creative so your family doesn’t get bored with the same old thing. You should be able to make this meal for under $5 for your family.
Chili can be another great option for a cheap meal. Tomato paste, onion, green pepper and kidney beans make a great basic chili. Adding a little meat, like a half a pound of hamburger, will spice it up. And the right spices – we use Chipotle Chili Powder, regular Chili Powder, Cumin and Garlic – add extra flavor.
This recipe is one we fashioned after the rice at the famous restaurant. We usually serve it with black beans or lettuce and Pico de Gallo.
- 3 cups cooked white or brown rice (we use Jasmine rice)
- ½ bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
- ½ red onion, diced
- Lemon lime sauce (juice from one lemon, ¼ c. olive oil, ½ c. water, salt and pepper to taste)
Combine and serve – that’s all there is to it!
Here’s another cheap meal that holds the potential for a lot of variety. Simply choose any combination of three or four veggies. Grill them on kabobs, or set them on tin foil, spray olive oil on them and season them up.
Cook in the broaster on the oven, or on the grill. Here are some of the vegetable combinations we use when doing this.
- Zucchini, carrot and tomato
- Broccoli, carrot and yellow squash
- Asparagus, carrot and red pepper
- Cauliflower, red onion and zucchini
The possibilities really are endless, and if you get your fresh veggies at stores like Aldi you’ll save a ton of cash. Hint: you could sprinkle a bit of chicken or steak in there and still stay under $5 per meal if you wanted.
Some other cheap meal ideas might include:
- Macaroni and cheese
- Buttered noodles with broccoli or pea pods
- Chicken noodle soup
- Tomato soup
And more. Search the Internet to get an expansive list of cheap meal options you can serve during the month. Doing so will help ensure the costlier meals don’t break your budget.
3. Menu Plan – and Do it Around the Sales
Menu planning is key to cheap meal prep. Use the Internet, your favorite cookbook or other resources. Make a list of 7 dinner ideas for the week. In another column, list what you need to buy to make them.
Then add milk, breakfast, lunch and snack staples to the list as well. Using a menu plan when you shop for groceries will help you save money in two ways.
First, it will help you avoid last-minute take-out runs and restaurant stops because there’s nothing to eat at home. Second, a menu plan gives you the ability to control your grocery bill because you’re not just putting random items in your cart.
The problem with “random” shopping is that you’re often left with ingredients that don’t combine to make anything specific. That lures you right back into take-out meals because there’s nothing concrete in the house to make a meal with.
Making your menu plan around what’s on sale will also help you save money. For instance, if chicken is on sale, plan several of your meals to be chicken-based.
Tip: Use 5 Dollar Meal Plan to help take the stress out of meal planning.
Or, buy your family the fruits that are on sale so they have cheap, easy snacks available. Stocking up on staple items during sales can be helpful, but only if you’ll use the stuff before it expires.
4. Plan “Double Dip” Meals
Another way to save money on meal prep is to “double dip” with your dinners. As an example, let’s say you make pot roast one night for dinner. Make enough so that you have leftovers. Then take the leftovers and turn them into beef stew the following night.
Or, use leftover meat loaf and turn it into a casserole the next evening. Double dipping doesn’t always have to mean making a whole other meal, either.
You can just double your batch of casserole, soup or whatever you’re making. Then freeze the second meal to use at another time.
The USDA states that up to 40 percent of the U.S. food supply is wasted. Trim your food waste by double dipping and save yourself some serious cash.
5. Cook from Scratch
Cooking from scratch will help you make really cheap meals. Here’s an example. The store-bought tortillas we used to buy cost $2.79 for 8 of them. Several years back we started making our own tortillas with this recipe:
- 2 cups flour
- 3 T. oil
- 1 t. salt
- ¾ c. water
We press the tortillas with a tortilla press, and it costs us about a dollar to make 12 tortillas (we double this recipe). It really amazing how much money you can save when you cook from scratch.
Some of the other items we regularly make from scratch include baked goods like cookies and bars. Items that are just as cheap to buy instead of make? Bread and pasta. We get good deals on bread by buying at Walmart, and pasta by buying at Trader Joe’s or Sam’s Club.
Bonus: We also make pizza from scratch and it gets rave reviews and is super easy to make. You start by making thin pizza crust.
Then, top the crust with your favorite spaghetti sauce, or even with a cheap pizza sauce. Add your favorite toppings next (we use veggies or pepperoni to keep it frugal). You could even skip the toppings and just make it a cheese pizza.
Next, add mozzarella and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Bake at 425 degrees until the cheese is melted and golden. That’s it!
Cooking from scratch not only saves you money; it’s healthier as well.
6. Know Where the Cheapest Prices Are
If you’re going to buy at costlier, upscale grocery stores you will not be able to save much money on food. We do the majority of our family’s shopping at two stores: Aldi and Walmart.
Provided you have access to these to stores, I highly recommend using them for grocery shopping. If not, find the cheapest stores in your area and do the majority of your shopping there.
However, Walmart has over 4,100 stores in the U.S. and Aldi has over 1,600 stores in the U.S. That should cover many of you reading this post. I’m told Winco has cheap groceries as well.
Check your area for the cheapest grocery stores and make it a point to shop there if you can.
7. Determine if Buying at Warehouse Stores Makes Sense for You
Buying in bulk at warehouse stores, like Costco, can result in amazing savings – or it can be a waste of food and money. Here’s the deal about buying in bulk:
First, you have to spend the money on the annual membership fee. Second, you have to know that you’re going to use what you buy. We do have a membership to a warehouse club store. We find they have cheap prices on a lot of the stuff we buy regularly.
Here’s a list of what I regularly buy:
- Dried spices such as salt, pepper and garlic powder
- Fresh and frozen veggies (organic)
- Butter and cream (organic)
- Organic flour, sugar and maple syrup
- Bulk cheese blocks
- Cakes for parties
- Towels and linens
- Some canned goods
As you can see, I buy quite a bit of our food supply at the warehouse club. With four kids we go through a lot of food, so it makes it worth having the membership. But that’s not the case for everybody.
Before you join a warehouse club, consider the size of your family and decide whether the cost is worth it. Determine how much food and what types of food you eat. If you eat primarily fresh fruits and veggies, the club stores likely won’t be worth it. Also, a warehouse club probably won’t be worth it if you don’t eat a lot of foods with long shelf lives.
Although many prices are cheaper at the warehouse club, not all prices are cheaper. Soda, for instance, generally isn’t cheaper at the warehouse clubs.
Get to know the clubs, what their prices are and whether or not they’ll help you save money before you join. Most warehouse clubs will give you a free one-day pass to check them out.
All said, there are many ways to make meal prep affordable. By following the tips above, you can save money on groceries. Modify them as necessary and see what works for you.
What are your favorite tips for saving money on meal prep? Do you have any favorite cheap meals? Share in the comments.