We all know the struggle. Having enough time to cook healthy yet delicious meals or having enough money to buy anything besides ramen seems like a distant, unreachable dream. But I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be.
Saving money and time actually go hand in hand when you cook at home and plan ahead for the week.
I give myself a big pat on the back every week when I look at my grocery shopping receipt and realize it’s even lower than last week, or when I do the math and realize each of my meals only costs a few dollars when made at home. Here are some tips so you can eat healthy when you’re strapped for time and on a budget.
1. Make a meal plan and stick to it.
Plan your meals ahead of time. I know it takes a little mystery out of the week but saving money can be fun too, trust me! Figure out what you want to make or eat and buy the exact ingredients you’ll need. No point in buying ten tomatoes when the recipe only calls for 4. This will ensure you don’t have spoiled, leftover produce that end up being a waste of money and a waste of food. It also helps to plan meals that use some of the same ingredients. If you buy a huge bag of spinach, use half for a salad one day and then use the rest in a veggie stir fry the next time around.
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2. Work with what you’ve got.
Keep in mind those forgotten fruits or veggies in the back of the freezer, dusty boxes of pasta hidden away in the pantry and canned beans or veggies that you’ve left to the wayside. No need in buying new and fresh produce when you still have many meals worth making already. It just takes a little creativity and breaking out of the ordinary with new recipes and new ideas. So before you go splurge crazy at the store, take inventory of what you already have.
3. Stick to simple recipes that only use a few ingredients.
A simple salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and avocado is plenty versus a massively loaded salad with fatty cheeses, meats and more. The more ingredients you add, then the cost of the meal is bound to go up. Bigger meals with fewer ingredients make it easier to figure out portion sizes. Also keep in mind that taste buds as well.
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4. Set aside time to cook once, maybe twice a week.
Cooking every meal each time you want to eat is a big use of time plus who wants to wash that many dishes anyways? I like to spend an hour every weekend to cook meals I can enjoy for a few days. Make everything at once. Cook up some Brussels sprouts with mushrooms, then some quinoa and beans for the carbs and protein. Only 4 ingredients plus a few spices and I have meals for two days. Don’t add any sauces beforehand, that way you can combine it with different foods and have a variety of meals instead of the same thing day in and day out.
5. Only go to the grocery store once a week.
Running to the store every time you need every little thing eats up precious gas if you’re driving. Not to mention, it uses up time you could be spending doing other more important things. Keeping your pantry and freezer stocked with certain essentials will help with this. These include quinoa, pasta, rice, tortillas, onions, potatoes, tomato sauce, beans, olive oil and all the spices in the world of course. For the freezer, stock it up with corn, edamame, berries, spinach and bread.
6. Coupons are your best friend.
25 cents off may not seem like that much but little by little, those cents add up. If you’re planning your meals ahead of time, which you totally should if you like to save money, modify your recipes depending on what is on sale that week. That’s why they usually hand out coupons a week before they’re usable, so you can plan out what you will be buying next time.
7. Make it fun!
Cooking doesn’t have to be a miserable time. I used to hate it, thinking my time would be better spent on other endeavors. But after a few cooking sessions dancing to my favorite music in the kitchen, or having friends over and trying out a new recipe together, I was hooked. Love yourself, cook, experiment with recipes, dance to your heart’s content, sing like there’s no tomorrow and enjoy the experience.
Cooking can be incredibly therapeutic, especially if you’re cooking healthy, clean food. It feels good to take care of your wallet and your body in one swoop and cooking on a budget certainly accomplishes that.
Related: How to Balance Dating and Eating