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4 ways meal planning can help you save on groceries
Easy meal-prep secrets that will slash your food costs, amp up your nutrition, and save time on busy weeknights.
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Let's face it, a Sunday well spent brings a lot more than a week's content—especially when it comes to food.
More people are preparing and packing meals ahead of time—and some of this is inspired by health-conscious Instagrammers posting gorgeous shots of their week's provisions, neatly organized in coordinating storage containers. As it turns out, this viral sensation has more to offer than likes.
"Going to your local supermarket can be expensive if you wait until the last minute to prepare a home-cooked meal," says Danielle Pashko, a nutritionist and author.
By scheduling meals, you're able to plan ahead and find the best deals. If you want to start meal planning, here are four easy ways to get the most bang for your buck:
1. Rethink your protein
Claudia Sidoti, head chef and recipe developer at HelloFresh, says buying a whole chicken to roast—or a quality rotisserie—can equal big savings. “It's less expensive than buying chicken parts separately and has more flavor," she says. “Smart cooks use the carcass for soups and homemade stock."
While Sidoti estimates chicken parts vary from 89 cents to $1.99 per pound (depending on where you're living, of course), a rotisserie can be as low as $1 per pound—not to mention you won't have to add any spices and oils, which can add up.
Chorizo and other dried sausage is another option for meat eaters. Vegetarians, meanwhile, may consider stocking up on cauliflower. Not only does it boast two grams of protein per cup, Sidoti says cauliflower is a great carb substitute—and frequently on sale.
2. Stock your pantry
Want to add more fruits and vegetables to your meals? Check out the canned foods aisle.
A lot of people stock up on fresh produce, only to have most of it go unused. Since canned food has a longer shelf life, you won't have to worry about wasting food or money. "Throwing away decaying food translates into a good chunk of grocery dollars at the end of the month," she explains.
Sidoti recommends using pickled veggies—jalapeños, carrots, green beans, and ginger—to give dishes a burst of flavor.
Beans are another must for meal preppers. With a high protein content and an affordable price tag, they're great for quick meals on busy weeknights. Similarly, Sidoti says canned diced tomatoes are an affordable ingredient for pasta sauce, chili, or soup.
3. Build on the basics
Though making one meal to last the entire week can be time and cost efficient, your taste buds may tire by mid-week. Keep your meals fresh by starting with basics—think grilled fish, tofu, or pork tenderloin—and making enough for leftovers. Then, add these basics into different dishes, like a sandwich, pasta, or quesadilla.
"Traditional dishes that feature protein, side, and vegetable usually have a protein portion of six to eight ounces," Sidoti explains. "When you use it in pastas or sandwiches, you use an average of four ounces. It's more food for half the price!"
Fresh herbs can also change up the flavor profiles. Sidoti estimates a bunch of herbs costs a couple dollars, plus you can keep them fresh for weeks by wrapping them in a damp paper towel and sealing in a plastic bag.
4. Cook in big batches
When it comes to meal prepping, bigger is better.
"Big-batch cooking is a smart way to stretch the budget," Sidoti says. "On average, a pound of meat would typically feed three people, but if used in pasta sauce, meatballs, or chili, it can feed up to six people comfortably."
Sidoti explains meatloaf, soups, and pasta dishes freeze well, so you can defrost or reheat as needed. If you don't have a microwave for lunch at work, Sidoti says cold dishes like tuna and chicken salads are great on sandwiches or over greens.
"Bulking them out with extra vegetables is a good way to keep it on the healthier side," she adds.
Ann Loynd is a Chase Newsroom contributor. Her work has been featured in Quest Magazine, Footwear Plus, and more. | Illustration: Allie Surdovel | Recipe: Danielle Pashko, nutritionist and author