How Once-Weekly Meal Prep Saves on Groceries
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Date: November 8, 2016
The average American spends $1,200 a year on fast food, as reported by the Daily Mail. That may not sound like a big chunk of your annual budget, but it’s $4,800 for a family of four – more than enough to fund a vacation instead of wolfing down food that’s not even particularly good for you. Cooking meals at home is far cheaper once you get organized and make the time.
Time Is Money
Figure out what your time is worth, then determine how much of it you spend in the grocery store each week. Keep a diary if necessary – yes, that quick stop for a carton of milk counts. Depending on how many other shoppers were also stopping on the way home for this or that, getting that carton of milk may have taken as much as 10 to 15 minutes out of your schedule. This can be avoided with planned, once-a-week shopping trips.
Next, sit down with all of your receipts for the week if you've made multiple trips to the store. Circle those items that were impulse buys and tally them up. How much extra did you spend? That’s money you could have saved by planning your meals in advance, entering the store armed with a list and sticking to it.
Planning Your Meals
The planning phase of once-weekly meal prep doesn’t have to take a lot of time – probably far less than multiple trips to the store. Sit down with the circular from your local market or go online to its website to find sales. This is your starting point. You’ll buy much of your food for the week at a discount if you build your meals from what’s on sale. Use coupons to increase the savings.
You’re not ahead of the game if you come home with a lot of mismatched items that won’t make a sensible meal, but there’s an app for that. FoodieView is a recipe search engine that allows you to enter a few items. The app then produces a list of recipes to choose from using these items. Just make sure you have the necessary common ingredients on hand, such as flour, stock and eggs.
All Those Leftovers
Don’t stress trying to come up with seven nights’ worth of dinners. The National Resources Defense Council reports that Americans throw out more than $160 billion in purchased, but uneaten, food each year. Plan meals for five nights and repurpose what’s left over for the rest of the week. There’s an app for this, too, called BigOven. Like FoodieView, it lets you enter what leftovers you have on hand, like the fettucine still sitting in your fridge from Monday night, and suggests recipes to use them up.
Of course, you don’t have to roll up your shirtsleeves in the kitchen and get cooking yet again to get mileage out of your leftovers. Freeze the remaining chili to eat next week or package it for lunch if your office offers a microwave to warm it up. That ham you baked on Sunday will provide several sandwiches after dinner is said and done. Business Insider indicates that buying your lunch rather than packing your own costs an additional $2,000 or so a year.