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Cheap Meal Prep Ideas: The Basics of Healthy Meal Prepping

Expertly reviewed by Chris Icamen · Dietetics and Nutrition

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Sep 30, 2022

Cheap Meal Prep Ideas: The Basics of Healthy Meal Prepping

Meal prepping or meal preparation offers a lot of benefits not just for our health, but also for our pockets. Before you start listing the best cheap meal prep ideas, read this article for the must-know tips about make-ahead meals.

What is Meal Preparation?

In its literal meaning, meal preparation is the process of planning, preparing, and storing meals. Before, it only stands for preparing one meal on its own, just like how homemakers think of what to feed their family one day at a time.

Now, however, meal prepping is about:

  • Preparing several meals that would last for a few days, typically for the whole week.
  • Preparing the ingredients ahead of time so you will need less time to cook them later.
  • Having individually-portioned “grab and go,” meals which you can pop in the microwave at the office or stir-fry at home.

Meal prepping is used by many of those who want to lead a healthier lifestyle and eat cleaner, more nutritious food. Whether you are following a keto diet high in fat, a diabetic diet, or a low carb meal plan, you can use meal prepping to your advantage to help you stick to your health goals and diet.

There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to meal prepping. Some people find that it is beneficial for them to cook several meals at a time, giving them more control over the calories and nutrition of their meals.

The Benefits of Doing Healthy Meal Prep

Now that you have a general view of what meal prepping is about, let’s talk about its advantages.

  • It saves time. With prepping, you will need less time to think about what your next meal should be and, of course, you’re cutting down on either the preparation or cooking time.
  • Save more money. Buying lunches or dinners from fast food and other restaurants will add up in the long run and they are extremely unhealthy.
  • It helps you avoid temptation. Sometimes when we are really hungry, even if we want to eat healthily, we will usually grab the most convenient snack. This usually may not be good for us. Meal prepping ensures that you have healthy snacks and meals on hand and that you are able to eat at the right time.
  • It is simply healthier. Perhaps the best advantage of make-ahead meals is that it is healthier and helps people make more conscious decisions about what they cook and the meals they nourish themselves with. Knowing the ingredients you put in the dish and serving just the right portion helps you stay nourished without overeating.

Of course, there are other benefits to having cheap meal prep ideas, like gaining a new (and handy skill) and building a better relationship with food and nutrition.

cheap meal prep ideas

How to Meal Prepping

Before shopping for and cooking your healthy, cheap meal prep ideas, you need a solid plan. Consider the following when planning:

  • List down all the meals you want to include in your prepping. It would help to do some reading and recipe-searching. Another thing to consider is the likes and dislikes of your family members and of course, your budget.
  • List down the shelf-life of individual ingredients when you put them in the fridge or freezer.
  • If you want, you can buy cookbooks or collect the recipes in a binder or clearbook. Another option is to save recipes offline on your smartphone or computer.
  • Meal prepping is a great approach especially if you are dieting and choosing to eat more healthily. You can better plan the macros of your meal: from carbs, proteins, and fats.
  • Plot the meals on your calendar.
  • Start with small, simple batches. As a beginner, it is a good idea to test the waters first. So instead of meal prepping for the entire week, try to prep for just 2 or 3 days.
  • Consider traditions. Some people would like to expect a dish on a particular day of the week. For instance, many Filipino families like to have ginisang monggo every Friday.
  • Designate days for planning, shopping, and prepping.

Getting Started on Healthy, Cheap Meal Prep Ideas

Once you have planned for the meals, you can get started. Here are some tips for successful meal prepping:

Prioritize foods that take longer to cook or prepare

Some examples are:

  • Chicken, especially if you need to boil and shred them
  • Fish
  • Brown rice
  • Roasted veggies

Think about easy-to-grab staples and snacks

Great additions to your meal prepping are healthy ingredients and foods like:

  • Hardboiled eggs
  • Chopped and peeled fruits
  • Washed greens that you can toss in salads quickly

Prepare for oven or stir-fry protein sources

Oven and stir-fry meals are often quick and easy. For protein, you can marinate and store:

  • Tofu
  • Poultry
  • Fish

Tips on Storage

Refrigeration and freezing are crucial for successful meal prepping. Some tips for storage include:

  • Using airtight, fridge, and freezer safe containers. If possible, choose transparent ones for easy viewing.
  • Label the containers with the date of preparation; if you have an opaque container, include the name of the meal in the label.
  • Rotate using the FIFO principle. The first-in-first-out principle ensures that you are not wasting any of your cheap meal prep ideas. Highly perishable items are best placed in the front and center of the fridge or freezer.
  • The general rule is if you would not eat a cooked meal within 5 days, it is best to freeze them to avoid spoilage.
  • Before putting soups in the freezer, cool them down first within 2 hours. They may also expand when frozen, so leave a little space in their container to accommodate the expansion.

Key Takeaways

There are a lot of things to consider if you want to start your meal prepping journey, but a lot of people already testify to their numerous benefits, so it’s most probably worth it to give it a try.

Remember to start with simple, easy-to-make recipes so you can sustain the routine.

With healthy, cheap meal prep ideas, you will have more control over what you eat and the portions you consume. Make the most of meal prepping to help you achieve your health goals. However, to be healthier, please remember to prioritize healthy ingredients over empty calories.

Learn Other Healthy Eating Tips here


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Expertly reviewed by

Chris Icamen

Dietetics and Nutrition

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Sep 30, 2022

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