15 Tips to Meal Prep on a Budget
by Richmond Howard |
Jan 11, 2019
I still remember the day I received my set of RP diet templates. I was motivated and ready to finally drop the weight I had gained in college and the early post grad life. I also remember wondering how the heck I was going to afford to eat all this food. Several servings of 6+oz of protein a day was going to add up quickly.
This is the shock factor that many people experience when they first start on an RP diet: “How do I afford to eat like this?” This is especially true for the bigger guys who are eating 8-10oz of protein a serving. There’s no question that the food costs can add up, but eating healthy and sticking to the RP templates doesn’t have to break the bank.
In fact, if you’re used to buying highly processed food, alcohol, or eating out regularly then you’ll break even or maybe even come out ahead. Your grocery bill will probably increase so you’ll feel like you’re spending more, but that will be offset by the healthier choices and habits you’re creating.
You also have to think about your health as an investment. People who exercise regularly, eat healthy, and maintain a healthy weight have been proven to save more money on health related costs (medicine, insurance), earn more in their careers (9% more), and live longer lives.
Now, who am I to be writing to you today?
My name is Richmond. I’ve been part of the RP community for several years now and have been using the templates off and on since 2015. Every week on my own blog, PF Geeks, I try to help people save and budget their money so that they can reach their financial goals. One day I realized that my wife and I were spending more money on food than rent and meal prepping has helped us cut our food budget by hundreds a month.
My #1 resource is this list of 46 easy meal prep recipes (all for less than $2 a serving)! Most of these are healthy and could be RP friendly with a few adjustments.
Today I want to give you 15 tips to help you stick to your RP diet and to your budget this year! Make sure to read all the way to the end to see the charts where I give you a breakdown of the most affordable sources for your protein, carbs, fats, and veggies on a per dollar basis.
15 Ways to Eat on a Budget or Meal Prep for Cheap
1. Eat the right amount of meat: 2/3rds rule
One important rule for the RP templates is to make sure that you’re using the raw weight of meat for your protein requirements. One mistake I see first-timer RP dieters make all the time is using the cooked weight of their meat.
Anytime you cook meat it will actually end up weighing less afterwards. A good rule of thumb is that the cooked weight will be about 2/3rds of the raw weight, so if your template has you eating 6oz of meat then you should be eating 4oz once it cooks down.
This also means that getting this wrong means you’re overeating meat by about 33% more than you actually need.
2. Avoid food waste
An easy way to save money on your RP diet is to actually eat all of the food you’re already buying. This seems obvious, but think about how much food you’ve thrown away over the last few months. The average american throws away between $600-900 worth of food every year. Revolutionary idea? No, but with some effort, this could make a huge difference for your grocery budget.
3. Don’t eat out
This is the most obvious tip on this list but it will honestly make the biggest difference in the world for your grocery budget. Meal prepping at home isn’t cheap, but buying the same food at a restaurant will cost you 3-4x as much easily. The average American spends about $250 every single month on eating out. My best advice is to stop worrying about saving $1 a pound on chicken and start saving hundreds a month by skipping out on restaurants and take-out.
4. Clean out the pantry & freezer
If you’re anything like me then you probably already have half-eaten bags of rice, oats, grits, and three kinds of pasta. It’s way too easy for pantry and freezer foods to start piling up on you
If you’re looking to save a bit of cash your first few months on RP then do a quick check on everything you have piled up to eat someday and start eating through your stash. You probably have at least a few pounds of frozen chicken stocked up that you pull out and prep this week.
5. Keep convenience meals on hand
One of the biggest diet & budget killers is convenience. When you’re in a hurry or tired after a long day at work, the easy option is to stop by chipotle on the way home. Those quick stops to grab take-out or heading out for lunch a few days a week at work can quickly add up.
Meal prepping can definitely help with this, but even the best of us forget to prep or get home and realize we’re out of food. Having a few convenience meals on hand can go a long way towards staying consistent with the templates and saving money. Buying pre-made stuff will be a bit more expensive at the store, but still way cheaper than eating out.
Our go-to’s for this are pre-cooked chicken you get in the freezer section and frozen chili we have left after a big batch.
6. Shop at cheaper stores
An easy way to save money on groceries is to make sure you’re shopping at the right stores. Places like costco, walmart, and ALDI tend to be cheaper than upper-scale grocery stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.
If you’re part of the RP Clients Facebook group, then you know how much love ALDI gets for being a great option for eating on a budget.
7. Watch the unit price for food
When you’re at the grocery store picking up a week’s worth of food you probably don’t want to sit there with your calculator app open trying to figure out which cut of meat or bag of rice is the most economical choice. Thankfully, you don’t have to! Every grocery store I’ve been to includes the unit price, typically per ounce, below the item. Simply put, the lower the unit price for food, the more food you’re typically getting for your buck.
8. In-season fruit
Fruit is an essential part of eating a healthy and nutritious diet but it is one of the more expensive carb sources. The trick to getting fruit at the best possible cost is to only buy fruit that is in-season. The less effort that grocery stores have to put into getting the food into your hands, the less you’ll have to pay.
9. Buying in bulk
Buying in bulk is one of the easiest ways to save money on groceries. Stores like Costco and Sam’s can be great for buying the food you need in bulk to get you a discount. Their prices aren’t always cheaper, so make sure to check first! The main downside is that this is one of those tips where you have to have money to save money.
One of my favorite ways to get protein for cheap is to load up on meat whenever its on sale. Walmart, HEB, and other stores do this, but typically when food is close to expiring, they’ll mark it 25% off. When they do, load up with as much as they’ll let you have and stick it right in the freezer when you get home.
A good way to get high quality produce at a discount is to check out your local farmer’s market. Ask the different vendors if they’d be willing to give you a discount for buying on a weekly basis.
10. Start small with meal prepping
If you’re new to meal prepping then this tip is for you. It’s easy to get ambitious and try to prep a whole week’s worth of food on your first attempt, but the smart thing to do is test out a recipe to make sure you like it before you cook a huge batch of it. Once you’ve got a few recipes that you know you like then feel free to go all out and meal prep until your fridge is full of tupperware.
11. Find some ultra cheap meals
One of my favorite tips to eating on a tight budget is to use some ultra cheap meals to help keep your costs down. If you can keep a rotation of extra frugal meals then that’ll free you up to splurge a bit elsewhere. Check out the charts down at the bottom to find the cheapest ingredients in each category: protein, carbs, fats, and veggies.
12. Meal plan based on what’s on sale
Most people approach store sales & coupons backwards. They typically plan out their meals before they get to the store and then hope to get lucky by finding a couple of coupons that work for them. Sure, you might save a few bucks every once in a while. If you really want to take advantage of store sales and coupons, the key is to look up what is on sale and plan your meals based around that.
13. Losing weight will lead to eating less
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to all of us RP dieters, but when you lose weight, you’ll have a lower maintenance level for your daily caloric intake. This means you’ll be eating less and thus spending less money on food.
14. Frozen veggies
Frozen veggies can be a super cheap way to get your bases covered on the templates. They won’t taste fresh or be the best for you, but sometimes getting the veggies in is better than not eating them at all. A huge bag of frozen veggies from your local grocery store will probably cost you about $1 a pound.
15. See if your insurance will lower your monthly cost for losing weight
This last tip won’t help you save money on your grocery spending, but you might be able to save a good amount of money on health and life insurance as a result of losing weight. The amount you pay for insurance is essentially a function of your health risks. The healthier you are, the less risky you are and the cheaper your insurance should be.
If you’ve lost a good amount of weight, check with your insurance agency to see if they are willing to lower it. If you haven’t lost weight yet, then maybe this is the motivation you need.
Each of the charts below were created with pricing data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Prices will likely vary region to region. If prices were not available, I used Amazon to give a reasonable estimate due to nationwide availability. Prices also reflect bulk pricing.
Cheap carb sources:
Cheap protein sources:
Cheap fat sources:
Cheap veggie sources:
Next Steps and Resources to Save more Money on Food
If you’re an active member of the RP community, then please use this article as a resource to point others to whenever they need help saving money on food! The RP team has some other great resources you could check out such as the RP Cooking Youtube channel or one of the great RP Cookbooks.
I’d love to see you over at my own blog where I can help you figure out how to make an effective budget that works for you or help you find new ways to save money.